10 days of birding and nature photography around the Yucatan Peninsula
10 days of birding and nature photography around the Yucatan Peninsula.
This birding and nature photography tour was designed with the intention to cover not only some of the best birding hotspots around the Yucatan Peninsula but to include chances to see other wildlife like mammals, reptiles, amphibians and plants.
Our client arrived on September 19 to the Mérida International Airport, where we picked him up and took him to his hotel, so he could rest and get ready for the next 10 days.
Day 1: Mérida's surroundings.
For our first morning, I picked up our client early in the morning and drove for about 25 minutes towards the north coast of the Yucatan state. With our goal being to see American Flamingos and many waterbirds.
Top birds for our first stop include: American Flamingo, Clapper Rail, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Barred Antshrike, Tropical Kingbird, Mangrove Swallow, Mangrove Warbler.
After that, we continued driving towards the west side of the state for some more coastal birding.
Highlights for the second stop include: 300+ American Flamingos, Common Ground Dove, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black Skimmer, Magnificent Frigatebird, Double-crested Cormorant, Crested Caracara, Yucatan Wren, Northern Cardinal, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture.
Other wildlife: Cozumel Spiny Lizard, Black Spiny-tailed Iguana.
Black Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) taking a sunbath at Chuburná Puerto.
After a very productive morning we went for brunch at a local restaurant with yucatecan food and then we rested the hottest part of the day.
We went birding to the coast again in the afternoon to another very productive place I know just 1 hour away from Mérida. We saw lots of Flamingos and many shorebirds and egrets.
Highlights include: American Flamingo, Mexican Sheartail, Snowy Plover, Wilson's Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Black Skimmer, both morphs of Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Osprey.
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) feeding on the saltponds at San Crisanto.
Day 2: Mérida to Rio Lagartos and Rio Lagartos vicinity.
The next morning, we left Mérida early in the morning and started driving towards the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. We reached the San Felipe-Panabá road and started birding on it, since this road goes across many ranches, pastures and flooded areas it is usually very good for raptors, egrets, rails and some other interesting birds and wildlife.
Highlights include: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Black-throated Bobwhite, Least Grebe, Groove-billed Ani, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Purple Gallinule, Ruddy Crake, Limpkin, Northern Jacana, Least Bittern, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Olive-throated Parakeet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Vermillion Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yucatan Wren, Scrub Euphonia, Northern Cardinal and Morelet's Seedeater.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) at the San Felipe Road.
Once we arrived to Rio Lagartos, we went straight to a small pond inside the mangrove forest, there we saw a juvenile Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Masked Tityra, Green Jays, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Northern Waterthrush and Prothonotary Warbler. We also saw two Morelet's Crocodile and some fish species like the Yucatan Molly and the Pike Topminnow.
After that, we went to the hotel for the check-in, lunch and after a good siesta, we went birding again to the San Felipe Road where we saw 45 bird species for the afternoon. Some highlights for the afternoon include: Blue-winged Teal, Mexican Sheartail, Limpkin, Solitary Sandpiper, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, White-fronted Parrot, Hooded Oriole and Bronzed Cowbird.
We also found a Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus).
Day 3: Rio Lagartos to Colonia Yucatan and back.
For the third day, we left Rio Lagartos very early in the morning and started driving towards Colonia Yucatán. Our first stop was because of a Gray Hawk perched at the top of an electricity pole. Then we stopped at a birding hotspot and walked for 15 minutes of birding, there we saw a couple interesting birds including Purple Martin, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and Blue-black Grassquit.
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat (Geothlypis poliocephala).
Then we continued driving until we reached the birding trail at Colonia Yucatan where we spent 1 1/2 hours birding inside the jungle. There was not as many birds as usual for this very productive place, but nonetheless we had quality over quantity.
Some of the top birds include: Squirrel Cuckoo, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Yucatan Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Barred Antshrike, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Northern Bentbill, Greenish Elaenia, Spot-breasted Wren, Clay-colored Thrush, Scrub Euphonia, Melodious Blackbird and Red-throated Ant-Tanager.
Rufous-breasted Spinetail (Synallaxis erythrothorax).
After some very good birding, we went back to Rio Lagartos for lunch and to rest the hottest part of the day, so we could go out again later.
We left Rio Lagartos for a 20 minute drive towards Las Coloradas, a very popular place in the Yucatan because of the pink water in the salt ponds, but also very good for birding, specially good for shorebirds and waterbirds. Highlights for Las Coloradas include: Blue-winged Teal, Black-throated Bobwhite, American Flamingo, Zenaida Dove, Mexican Sheartail, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Merlin, Mangrove Swallow, Tropical Mockingbird and Mangrove Warbler.
Merlin (Falco columbarius) at Las Coloradas.
Day 4: Amazili Nature Reserve and Hotel Okaan.
For the fourth day, we left Rio Lagartos and drove towards Valladolid for a morning birding at the Amazili Nature Reserve and its surroundings. This is a very good place to see the endemic Yellow-lored Parrot plus some raptors, songbirds and if you're lucky even a Lesser Roadrunner.
Our first stop was at the road, at one of my favourite spots to look for the parrots. We saw about 30 bird species including: Plain Chachalaca, White-tipped Dove, Roadside Hawk, Gray Hawk, Yucatan Woodpecker, Yellow-lored Parrot, Masked Tityra, Rose-throated Becard, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo, Yucatan Jay, Carolina Wren, Spot-breasted Wren, Olive Sparrow, Yellow-faced Grassquit and Black-headed Saltator.
After our first stop we went to the birding trail of the Amazili Nature Reserve, where we saw some other interesting birds like the Canivet's Emerald, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, both Lesson's and Turquoise-browed Motmots, Lineated Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Olivaceus Woodcreeper, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Yucatan Jay, Rose-throated Tanager and the Gray-throated Chat.
Yucatan Woodpecker (Melanerpes pygmaeus) at the Amazili Nature Reserve.
After a very productive morning, we went to our hotel for lunch and rest. Hotel Okaan (which is the name of the hotel where we stayed near Valladolid) is surrounded by nature and it is very good for birding and nature photography, so we decided to take some of the trails and start walking to see what was moving around. It wasn't dissapointing as we got a checklist of about 30 bird species, plus lots of flowerings plants and interesting insects. Some highlights for our afternoon at the hotel include: Squirrel Cuckoo, White-bellied Emerald, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Lesson's Motmot, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Yellow-lored Parrot, White-fronted Parrot, Tropical Pewee, Green Jay, Carolina Wren, Scrub Euphonia and Altamira Oriole.
Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus) at the Hotel's trail.
After dinner, we went for a little walk around the hotel using our flashlights and we came across two different species of frogs, the Yellow Tree Frog (Dendropsophus microcephalus) and the Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis taylori).
Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis taylori) at the hotel.
Day 5: Hotel Okaan to Cozumel Island.
The next day, we had to leave around midday and start driving towards the Calica Ferry Terminal so we could go to the Cozumel Island. So we did a couple hours of birding at the hotel's trail in the morning. It was very productive as we ended with a list of 50+ birds, including some really good ones like the Pale-billed Woodpecker, Yellow-lored Parrot, Ruddy Woodcreeper, Gray-collared Becard, Bright-rumped Attila, White-eyed Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Green Jay, Yucatan Jay, Cave Swallow, White-bellied Wren, Yellow-billed Cacique, Orange Oriole, Worm-eating Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Northern Parula, Chesnut-sided Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Red-throated Ant-Tanager and the Blue Bunting.
Yellow-lored Parrot (Amazona xantholora) also known as the Yucatan Parrot at the hotel's birding trail.
We left Valladolid and drove towards the ferry terminal where we waited patienly for the boat to take us to Cozumel Island. On the way to the island we saw a lonely Blue-winged Teal in the middle of the sea and a couple Sooty/Bridled Terns too far for a positive id.
Day 6: Full Day at the Cozumel Island.
The next morning, we left our hotel early and drove for 25 minutes towards El Cedral, a small town on the southern part of the island, very good for birding. We spent a little more than 3 hours birding at this place and got a checklist of 47 bird species including resident endemic species and subspecies plus some migratory warblers, flycatchers, etc.
Some of the highlights for the morning include: White-crowned Pigeon, Ruddy Ground Dove, Caribbean Dove, Cozumel Emerald, Cozumel Yucatan Woodpecker, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Cozumel Bright-rumped Attila, Eastern Kingbird, Cozumel Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Cozumel Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Yucatan Vireo, Cozumel Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Cozumel House Wren, Black Catbird, Veery, Cozumel Western Spindalis, Ovenbird, Prothonotary Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Golden Warbler, Cozumel Rose-throated Tanager and Cozumel Bananaquit.
Reptiles: Brown Basilisk, Brown Anole.
Cozumel Vireo (Vireo bairdi) one of the two Cozumel Island endemic species.
For that day's afternoon we went to the northern part of the island where we added a couple birds to the trip list. Some of the hightlights include: Olive-throated Parakeet, Cozumel Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Cozumel House Wren, Bank Swallow, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Cozumel Bananaquit.
Cozumel Island Rufous-browed Peppershrike (Cyclarhis gujanensis insularis).
Day 7: Travel from Cozumel to Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
This day was basically a lost day since the ferry schedules are very busy on Sundays and we had to be at the ferry terminal more than 3 hours before to be sure we would not lose our ship. We arrived late at Felipe Carrillo Puerto where we had dinner and slept that night.
Day 8: Kohunlich Archaeological Site and Chicanna Ecovillage Resort.
We left Felipe Carrillo Puerto and drove towards the Kohunlich Archaeological Site, doing birding on the way to the ruins, some of the highlights include Chesnut-colored Woodpecker, Red-capped Manakin, Northern Bentbill, Greenish Elaenia, Gartered Trogon, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Pale-billed Woodpecker. After doing some birding outside the site, we went inside at 8:20 am and we were welcomed by Scaled Pigeons, Black-cowled Orioles, Bat Falcon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Black-headed Trogon, Yellow-throated Euphonias and many more as we spent almost 3 hours doing birding there.
Chesnut-colored Woodpecker (Celeus castaneus) outside the Kohunlich Archaeological Site.
We left the site and drove for an hour towards our hotel outside Xpujil town where we had lunch and rested the hottest part of the day. In the afternoon we walked along the trails of the hotel looking for birds, flowers, insects and reptiles. The bird list was not so big with 19 bird species, but with a couple nice ones like Keel-billed Toucan, American Kestrel, Olive-throated Parakeet, Black-crowned Tityra, Yellow-lored Parrot and Brown Jay.
Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulphuratus) at the Chicanna Ecovillage Resort.
As for plants, we found lots of orchids including Belize's National Flower the Clamshell Orchid, Winged Encyclia and Night Scented Orchid. As it got dark, we started looking for frogs and reptiles, and it was certainly not dissapointing at all, as we saw 7 species of frogs, two geckos and two species of snakes, including Sheep Frog, Yellow Tree Frog, Vermiculated Tree Frog, Mahogany Tree Frog, Stauffer's Tree Frog, Yucatan Banded Gecko, Small-spotted Cat-eyed Snake and Black-striped Snake.
Small-spotted Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira polysticta) eating a Stauffer's Tree Frog (Scinax staufferi).
Day 9: Calakmul Archaeological Site.
For day nine, we left our hotel for a 30 minute drive towards the entrance of the Calakmul Archaeological Site. We paid our fees and started driving slowly looking for our first Ocellated Turkeys of the morning.
It didn't take long as after a few minutes we found the Ocellated Turkeys, plus Great Curassow, Green-breasted Mango, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Lesser Greenlet, Yucatan Jay, Spot-breasted Wren, Gray-throated Chat, Mayan Antthrush and Blue Bunting.
Ocellated Turkey (Melagris ocellata) at the Calakmul Archaeological Site's road.
After many birding stops on the way, we arrived at the Calakmul Archaeological Site at 09:35 am, and we spent almost 3 hours birding there. Some of the highlights include: Blue-ground Dove, White-bellied Emerald, both Black-headed and Gartered Trogons, Collared Aracari, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Bat Falcon, Royal Flycatcher, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Long-billed Gnatwren, Kentucky Warbler, Gray-throated Chat and Gray-headed Tanager. On the way out we also found a Gray Fox.
Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) at the Calakmul Archaeological Site's road.
We returned to our hotel for lunch and resting and then we went outside again in the afternoon. For this afternoon we took a different trail on the hotel where we spent an hour birding and got a list of 33 bird species including: Green-breasted Mango, Canivet's Emerald, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Yucatan Woodpecker, White-fronted Parrot, Yellow-lored Parrot, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Yucatan Jay, Yellow-throated Euphonia and Gray-throated Chat.
Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarynchus pitangua) at the Chicanna Ecovillage Resort.
Day 10: Calakmul to Mérida.
The last day of the birding trip was just a travel day, as our client had to be in Mérida for his flight back to California the next day. So we left Calakmul after breakfast and drove for 5:30 hours towards Mérida.
This was the end of another successful birding and nature photography trip!
Written by Luis Trinchan Guerra.