Saturday, 25 March 2017

Bird watching in the Yucatan (22nd Feb - 9th March) Chichen Itza cont.

For the second full day at Chichen Itza I engaged the services of the hotel's local bird guide who's name, I'm sorry to say, eludes me - old age getting to me.
Anyway Angie and myself met him at 6.30 am for a tour of the grounds and wildlife reserve. Things started slowly with him finding birds we'd already found ourselves then he started hooting/tooting and after a few minutes started getting a reply. To cut a long story short he hooted/tooted in a pair of ferruginous pygmy owls.



This actually took up a lot more time than it sounds especially as I wanted to get as close as possible and with the light from the most advantageous direction.
He also pointed out several "Yucatan" woodpeckers which were in fact more golden fronted woodpeckers (at the time increasing my confusion on the subject).
After that we went through the hotels large vegetable garden and down a track I hadn't found on my own - one of the reasons to hire the guy!

New birds seen where greyish saltador, black headed saltador, blue-grey gnat catcher,, female summer tanager, and red-throated ant tanager the latter appearing just a few yards away and disappearing just as fast.

Another Golden fronted woodpecker

Greyish saltador

Black-headed saltador

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Summer tanager (female)

In the afternoon I retraced our steps of the morning and added masked tityra, tourquoise browed motmot and grey headed tanager. The resident black headed trogon also came past our chalet late on.
A feature of the area was that whilst the bird density was low walking the same few tracks threw up new species on just about every visit.

Masked Tityra

Turquoise-browed motmot

Grey-headed tanager


Birding took somewhat of a back seat during the next 2 days as we did a bit of touristy stuff. We had a lengthy tour of Chichen Itza itself entering the grounds around 8.00 am. This was excellent with loads of explanation of the ancient religion, the buildings and their significance. One sad fact was presented. Chichen Itza is one of the foremost Mayan ruins and whilst our guide spoke Mayan (taught by his father)  it is no longer taught in the local schools. Sad really.



On the final full day at Chichen we went  along to Ik kil - a nearby cenote where you are allowed to swim (for a price). The water is some 60 feet below ground level, reached by stairs. The water is pretty cool and very deep - the sign said 50 meters.  It's strange the way swimming in 150 ft of water seems more worring than in 20 feet.



The rest of our time at Chichen I contined to go out both first thing (when I could)  and late afternoon but the number of new species found diminished everyday. Some I did find were yellow-winged tanager, rose breasted grosbeak, green backed sparrow, veux's swift, Ridgeways swallows and finally managed distant views of boat billed flycatcher.  Most of the time was spent trying to get better shots of what I had already seen.

Yellow-winged tanager

Add caption

Green-backed sparrow

Boat-billed flycatcher

I spent a huge amount of time trying to get close to the resident green jays finally getting some good shots on our very last morning. I also saw yucatan jay most days but as always happens our best views were returning from breakfast where a family group was around 10 yards from the footpath and completely in the open - needless to say I didn't have the camera.
I did rack up a few more patio ticks/photographs with the highlight being a very confiding turquoise motmot and got a lot closer to the black headed trogon.

Green Jay


Turquoise-browed motmot

Black-headed trogon


Then it was time to return to the coast (Akumal) for the beach/bar/sun part of the holiday.

The Hacienda Chichen Itza is a delightful hotel. the staff were superb as were the guides they organised for our bird watching and Chichen Itza tours.
The birding was hard work though. Social flycatcher, both motmots, golden fronted woodpecker, Altamira oriole, green jay, clay coloured thrush's were quite common but hummingbirds were very hard to find due to the lack of flowering plants around the garden - though the very dry weather may have had an impact on the number of flowers present.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Bird watching the Yucatan (Feb 22nd - 9th March) - Chichen Itza

I wanted to visit Chichen Itza to see the Mayan ruins. Just by chance there happens to be a rather nice hotel adjacent to the ruins that not only has extensive gardens but also a wild life reserve.

We arrived late afternoon where we were taken to our room - a rather nice detached chalet in the midst of the gardens:

Hacienda Chichen Itza

Our chalet.....and me on look-out

View from our chalet
After unpacking Angie settled down in the hammock and I had a quick look round the gardens and area immediately outside the hotel to see what I could find.
On the grass just outside the main building I found golden fronted woodpecker, clay coloured thrush, got a glimpse of a group of  plain chacalacas, white fronted parrots plus some really tame sociable flycatchers. High in the trees near the entrance to the ruins a couple of  Canivet's emeralds were feeding on the blossom.


Clay-coloured thrush

Canivet's emerald


Moving on I found turquoise-browed motmot, altamira oriole and melodious blackbird. Also around were kiskadee and a magnolia warbler but I'd seen these already at the coast.

Turquoise-browed motmot
Altamira Oriole

The second day I went out in the morning at first light, did another circuit after breakfast with Angie and did a final round late afternoon. Overall the birding was a bit of a disappointment - I'd possibly built up my expectations too much - always dangerous. The garden whilst very pretty didn't have any areas of flowing plants to bring the hummingbirds down from the trees, a lot of the planting around the garden was of palms (both tall and short)  and  there were few shrubs for the small stuff.  I did find one of the tracks into the nature reserve but this was quite narrow, more like a tunnel through the trees making birding a little challenging and everywhere outside the garden itself (which was copiously watered every night) was parched with a lot of the trees and scrub being devoid of leaves.

Those comments not withstanding notable additions to the holiday list were blue-crowned motmot, masked tityra, blue bunting, hooded warbler, yellow-throated euphonia, golden olive woodpecker, American redstart (female), yellow-bellied sapsucker (female), wedge-tailed sabrewing, squirrel cuckoo and common black hawk.

Blue-crowned motmot

Masked tityra

Blue bunting


Golden-olive woodpecker (from the chalet terrace)

Ivory-billed woodcreeper with one big bug.

Yellow-winged tanager

Summer tanager (female)

Squirrel cuckoo
Yellow-throated euphonia
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (female) 
Wedge-tailed sabrewing
Common black hawk

The list looks somewhat better now than it did at the time. !

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Bird watching in the Yucatan - last 2 sessions at Puerto Morelos

I did have another stroll around my hotel patch the after the visit to the botanical gardens and the next morning prior to our drive to Chichen Itza. It's ironic that after having spent several hours trying to photograph Green Jays in the botanical gardens I found a group in the hotel car park - right by our parked car- though the back-drop (a green fence) left a little to be desired.
Of the new species found the yellow-rumped warbler (myrtle warbler) was particularly difficult to id. Overall my efforts around the hotel and at the botanical gardens had delivered 51 species.

Yellow warbler

Cinnamon hummingbird

Yellow-rumped warbler

Ruddy ground dove

Green Jay

Rufous browed peppershrike


Before I close on the Puerto Morelos leg of our journey I'd like to say a few words about one of the woodpeckers seen on this trip. There are 2 woodpeckers in the Yucatan which look quite similar, the local version of the golden fronted woodpecker and the smaller endemic (and hence much sought after) Yucatan woodpecker. I saw and photographed dozens of this type of woodpecker during our trip and although I still have a lot of shots to check to me I was only seeing one species -golden fronted; nothing looked like the Yucatan as depicted in my field guide.  I then had a look at some shots on the internet which didn't help - a lot of shots had the bird I was seeing labelled as Yucatan. The upshot was I took loads of shots of woodpecker just in case.
Since getting back I've spent a lot of time on the internet studying photographs of the "Yucatan Woodpecker"  and it's clear a lot of them have been miss identified -they are in fact golden fronted woodpeckers (some by quite famous photographers). The yucatan is clearly different.
For reference the Yucatan woodpecker is by far the smaller ( 17cm vs 25 cm) has a smaller beak in relation to it's size, has broader white bands on it's back and has yellow nasal tufts that surround the beak..
Here's the best shot I managed at Puerto Morelos of the golden fronted and it clearly shows the relatively long beak, thin white bands on it's back and red nasal tufts. A lot more shots were obtained during the next phase of the trip so more will be posted.

Golden fronted woodpecker


Around midday we set of for Chichen Itza, a 120 mile drive that took about 2.5 hrs on largely empty roads though you have to watch out for Topes. These are huge speed bumps, often un-marked, that are there to slow you down as you approach a junction or town. They even exist on the main highways when it passes a junction so you are never safe.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Bird watching in the Yucatan - day 2. Jardin Botanical Dr Alfredo Barrera Marin

Day 2 of the trip was always going to be a trip to the above Botanical garden at Puerto Morelos.
Amongst other things the garden has one of the last stretches of conserved forest in the area.
The garden opens at 8.00 but we arrived about 8.30 due to the hotel restaurant not opening until 8.00.

Anyway we got there and on parking saw (obscured) several of the gardens spider monkeys.

We the first there and on entering the gardens we immediately started seeing birds - most shuffling around on the ground - but it was clear that getting any pictures would be a severe challenge it was so dark (most of the shots shown were shot at ISO 2500-4000). This was a bit of a problem because I need the photographs to be sure of what I was seeing. Over the next 15 minutes we saw ovenbird, Northern waterthrush (which I thought it was a Louisiana waterthrush at the time due to it's black and white colour), wood thrush and what I'm pretty sure is a Swainson's thrush (all new to me). The pictures are poor quality but if you think I've made a mistake please let me know.

Wood Thrush

Ovebn bird

Northen Waterthrush
Swainson's Thrush


We had a look at the  reconstructed mayan house where we  found a white-eyed virio and had a look at the gardens small set of Mayan ruins ("The Alter") where we found a grey catbird and saw (but failed to photograph) a group of green jays.

White-eyed virio
Grey catbird

Continuing round the gardens we picked up a Yucatan virio and in the tree tops a northern parula (lots of rubbish pictures that allowed the id but are not worth reproducing).

Yucatan virio
We then took the jungle trail but it was so narrow and enclosed we didn't really see anything until we were nearly back to the gardens proper where we found a party of Yucatan Jays (but only managed record shots). In hind sight we should have stuck around the gardens themselves and not taken the jungle trail because by the time we got back quite a lot of people had arrived and birding was effectively over.

Yucatan Jay (juv)

From the gardens we went into Puerto Morelos and had lunch in a beach-side cafe.

Puerto Morelos - Not quite Deal sea-front but pleasant enough.


Puerto Morelos -  after a hard mornings birding.


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