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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Mexico: The Yucatan and Cozumel

2022 Narrative

In Brief: The weather and birds cooperated resulting in a successful tour that saw us finding nearly all of our targets while also adding a half dozen new species to this long-running tour. Near Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the forests produced a good selection of Yucatán endemics such as Yucatán Poorwill, Yucatán Flycatcher, Yucatán Woodpecker, Rose-throated Tanager, and boisterous groups of Yucatán Jays along with other highlights such as Thicket Tinamou, Northern Potoo, Keel-billed Toucan, Laughing Falcon, White-necked Puffbird, and Bicolored Hawks all seen well. The latter two have never been seen on this tour before. Near Valladolid, we visited the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá, an ancient Mayan city, offering a glimpse of the past while nearby fields rewarded us with a couple Yellow-lored (Yucatán) Parrots. Further north we caught up with a couple Yucatán Gnatcatchers along with the gorgeous Mexican Sheartail and a pair of Yucatán Wrens. Rio Lagartos gave the trip list a major boost with shorebirds, waterfowl, and waders with American Flamingo, “Yucatán” Clapper Rail, Boat-billed Heron, Common and Great Black Hawks, and two Yucatán Nightjars being some of the highlights. Our final stop of the trip was Cozumel Island where we easily picked up the endemic Cozumel Emerald and Cozumel Vireo along with a whole host of endemic subspecies including the “Yucatán” Western Spindalis, House Wren, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Bananaquit.

 In Detail: The tour began near Puerto Morelos with a visit to an unfished housing complex where a series of roads cut through excellent habitat offering easy birding. Here we got our first taste of the locally common species such as Plain Chachalacas, Green Jays, and Groove-billed Anis. We also had our first Yucatán Woodpecker, Yucatán Vireo, four species of orioles including Yellow-tailed and Yellow-backed, superb views of a Turquoise-browed Motmot, which perched out in full view only a few yards away utterly oblivious to our presence! Further south we made a brief stop at the Muyil Ruins where we picked up a Lesson’s Motmot, a pair of Ivory-billed Woodcreepers, and a myriad of Neotropical warblers.

We checked into our accommodation in Felipe Carrillo Puerto and headed out later in the afternoon to bird the diverse Vigia Chico Road. We had our first Squirrel Cuckoos, obtained views of several hummingbird species such as Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Cinnamon Hummingbird, and White-bellied Emerald, compared Lineated and Pale-billed Woodpeckers, caught up with a Black-cowled Oriole, and picked out a Red-crowned Ant-Tanager in a group of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers. We stayed until dusk and attained stunning views of a Northern Potoo.

During our full day on Vigia Chico Road, we spent the morning birding a mile stretch listening to targets and mixed species flocks. At dawn we had White-fronted Parrots, Olive-throated Parakeets, and a Scaled Pigeon fly over, while a nearby fruiting tree hosted Masked Tityra, Rose-throated Becard, Bright-rumped Atilla, and Yellow-throated Euphonia. Further down the road we added Black-headed Trogon, Collared Aracari, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Eye-ringed Flatbill, and Green-backed Sparrow. We also caught up with some furnariids: Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Ruddy Woodcreeper, and Plain Xenops, along with another Ivory-billed Woodcreeper.

We returned to town for a delicious lunch and coffee and found a small tree growing out the side of a Catholic church, which hosted an impressive variety of birds including our first Blue-gray and Yellow-winged Tanagers and a half dozen Orchard Orioles. Later in the afternoon, we returned to Vigia Chico Road and birded until dusk. Thicket Tinamous were calling from every direction, a Collared Forest-Falcon also made itself known, and, with a bit of work, we were able to get a response from a Yucatan Poorwill.

Our final morning along the Vigia Chico Road saw us depart earlier than previous mornings in order to get to an open patch further along the road to greet dawn. Along the way we flushed a couple Common Pauraques off the road. The open patch was active with Red-billed Pigeons and Keel-billed Toucans constantly flying overhead and a surprise visit of two Bicolored Hawks, rare for this region and new for this long-running tour. Sharp eyes looking down the road spotted a Thicket Tinamou casually hanging out with several Clay-colored Thrushes right out in the open offering views of this seldomly seen species. The open scrub also provided Black-cowled and Orange Orioles, Black Catbird, Mangrove Vireo, the bizarre Long-billed Gnatwren, a flock of Morelet’s Seedeaters, and a female Blue Bunting. Working or way back, we made a few stops in the taller forest where we added Gartered Trogon, the tour’s first ever White-necked Puffbird, which perched right over our heads oblivious to our presence, Barred Antshrike, Gray-collared Becard, Greenish Elaenia, a Blue-winged Warbler among the masses of more common migrant warblers, and Gray-throated Chat, which is more closely related to cardinals and grosbeaks than chats. A nice surprise was a Russet-necked Wood-Rail, which crossed the road offering great views.

We returned to town for lunch and headed north to the beautiful town of Valladolid where we checked into our comfortable 17th century hotel and had the remainder of the day off to relax, do some local shopping, and enjoy a wonderful meal in a picturesque courtyard.

On the way to Chichén Itzá the next morning, we passed some time until the ruins opened by birding an area of agricultural fields. Our main target was Yellow-lored (Yucatán) Parrot and after a few dozen White-fronted Parrots, we had a pair and later a single Yellow-lored fly overhead. At the ruins, we spent a leisurely two hours traversing the vast archaeological site reveling in the magnificent ruins. The area can also be quite productive for birds with Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Cinnamon-bellied Saltator, and a Bat Falcon being some of the new additions.

After lunch we headed north to an area which hosts the Yucatán Gnatcatcher and after a short search, we had excellent views of this endemic bird. It was hard to tear ourselves away with an exciting assortment of birds around including Yucatán Wren, Mexican Sheartail, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, and a Lesser Roadrunner crossing the road.

With a full day around Rio Lagartos, we spent the early morning hours birding the tropical dry broadleaf forests. Some of the more arid species made appearances such as Common Ground Dove, Vermilion Flycatcher, Painted Bunting but also a Laughing Falcon, which perched atop a utility pole. A small freshwater wetland produced Blue-winged Teal, Sora, Northern Jacana, Least Bittern, Belted Kingfisher, and a small assortment of shorebirds. The rest of the morning was spent on a couple boats where we explored the mudflats and mangroves in the lagoon. American Flamingos allowed us to approach closely as we watched them feed while an assortment of waterbirds including Wood Stork, Reddish, Great, and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricolored and Green Herons along with Yellow-crowned Night-Herons fed along the shorelines. Among the masses of Double-crested Cormorants we picked out a few Neotropic. In the mangroves we called in a stunner “Mangrove” Yellow Warbler, the “Yucatán” Clapper Rail, and a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail. The mudflats didn’t disappoint either and we were able to approach close with our small boats and observe over a dozen species of shorebirds including American Oystercatcher, Marbled Godwit, Short-billed Dowitcher and hundreds of Western Sandpipers. 

In the afternoon, we wasted no time and checked out another freshwater pond which added Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Least and Pied-billed Grebes, and several vagrant Green-winged Teal. The salt pans east of town were also productive and we birded here until dusk picking up Red-breasted Merganser, Zenaida Dove, Snowy Plover, Boat-billed Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, and a surprise Central American Boa crossing the road.

As if we hadn’t had enough, we ventured back out after dinner and hopped into the boats once again for a nighttime spotlighting trip in the lagoon. Under a full moon illuminating the lagoon, we successfully found two Yucatán Nightjars! This was a tour first and ended up being a trip favorite for some.

Raptors stole the show the following morning with the likes of Great and Common Black Hawks, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, and a good number of American Kestrels. Working our way east towards the coast, we took back roads which proved fruitful – we found Botteri’s Sparrow (second for this tour) and two Snail Kites (a tour first). We eventually made it to Playa del Carmen, hopped on the ferry, and checked into our hotel on Cozumel Island.

Our full day on the island, we started off in El Cedral, a small community, where we birded some quiet roads. Our main focus was on seeing the endemic species found on Cozumel and quickly picked up Cozumel Vireo and Cozumel Emerald along with the endemic subspecies of House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Bananaquit and for some, a Western Spindalis. Other highlights were Caribbean Dove, Mangrove Cuckoo, Green-breasted Mangrove, Caribbean Elaenia, and Swainson’s, Worm-eating, and “Golden” Yellow Warblers.

After lunch and a siesta, we checked out a few beaches, which were fairly slow, adding only Whimbrel, before heading to the water treatment plant where Ruddy Crakes are common. After a little bit of work, we spotted two very close, crossing a clearing in the reeds in front of us. Glossy Ibis and Merlin were also new. On the drive back to the hotel we spotted several Common Pauraques along the road at dusk.

The final morning, we had a little time for some bonus birding before our flights home, so we ventured back to El Cedral where we had more views of the brilliant Cozumel Emerald, tallied 14 species of warblers, and picked up our final new bird for the trip, two flyover White-crowned Pigeons.

-          Ethan Kistler

Created: 15 December 2022