Comprehensive Birding Tour Around The Yucatan Peninsula, June-July 2021.
Comprehensive Birding Tour Around The Yucatan Peninsula (or maybe Tacos and Birding??)
I designed this birding tour for Lukas Musher, an ornithologist and birder from New York, who came to the Yucatan Peninsula for a 7-day birding trip. Originally, it was supossed to be him and one of his friends, but unfortunately, his friend, was not able to make it to Mexico.
On June 27, I left Mérida (the city where I live) and drove all the way to Tulum to pick up Luke and start driving towards our birding destinations.
Muyil Archaeological Site.
Our first stop, was at the Muyil Archaeological Site, this is a small place with ruins, but inside a very good patch of forest. As we did quite a short and easy walk around the site for about an hour we spotted some really nice birds like Blue Ground Dove, Black-headed Trogon, Collared Aracari, Collared Forest Falcon, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, both Tawny-crowned and Lesser Greenlets, Long-billed Gnatwren, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager and many more.
A pair of Blue Ground Doves (Claravis pretiosa) Male (left) and female (right).
After our very productive first stop, we went to our hotel at Felipe Carrillo Puerto to do the check-in and have lunch, so then, we could go birding to the next destination.
Siijil Noh Ha.
At 4:30 pm, we got to the entrance of Siijil Noh Ha, a reserve only 10 minutes from Felipe Carrillo, the road was FILLED with holes and because of rains, they were filled with water, anyways, we were driving slowly and stopping everytime we heard some good bird activity. While driving, I heard a Rose-throated Tanager singing, so we went outside the car to see it, it was a beautiful male with the grayish overall plumage and tinge red throat, crown, wings, tail and undertail coverts, just one of my favourite birds; at the same place we also saw our first Green-backed Sparrow, a very vocal bird, its song inmediately makes you think of a Northern Cardinal, we also saw our first for the trip Yellow-billed Cacique, very shy but very beautiful birds.
As we continued driving, we found another spot with very good activity, once again, we went outside the car, and started listening and watching. First a Piratic Flycatcher singing, then a couple Gray-throated Chats, all kinds of flycatchers where there including: Northern Bentbill, Greenish Elaenia, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher and Couch's Kingbird. There was also a couple Spot-breasted Wrens singing, the omnipresent Yellow-green Vireo calling all over the place, Mangrove Vireo, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Blue Bunting and many more!
We continued driving until we reached a birding trail, then we parked the car and started walking, as we were walking we started hearing some different birds like Thicket Tinamou, Caribbean Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo and Green Jays and after a few minutes I heard the song of the Black-faced (Mayan) Antthrush, we started looking for it and we got some really nice views of this bird walking and singing in the understory of the dark forest, then I heard a Stub-tailed Spadebill, this tiny flycatcher is a really shy and hard to photograph species, but we got some good looks of it and I even got a very bad photo.
Very bad picture of a Stub-tailed Spadebill (Platyrinchus cancrominus) at Siijil Noh Ha, Quintana Roo.
We spent some time walking the trail and we got some other interesting birds including: Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, White-bellied Emerald, both Gartered and Collared Trogons, Keel-billed Toucan, Ruddy, Tawny-winged, Northern Barred and Ivory-billed Woodcreepers, Red-throated Ant-Tanager and Red-legged Honeycreeper.
Northern Barred Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes sanctithomae) at Siijil Noh Ha.
Kohunlich Archaeological Site.
The next day, we left Felipe Carrillo Puerto early in the morning for a 2 hour drive towards the Kohunlich Archaeological Site. We added Laughing Falcon to the trip list on the way.
As we got to the small road that takes you to the site, we rolled down the windows and started listening while we slowly drove the road. After a few minutes we found a really nice patch where we saw four species of woodpeckers, Ladder-backed, Yucatan, Golden-fronted and Golden-olive Woodpeckers, all at the same place, we also heard some Plain Chachalacas and Black-throated Bobwhites, and got many other interesting birds including: Barred Antshrike, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Tropical Pewee, Social Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Olive Sparrow, Morelet's Seedeater and a flock of Yucatan Jays.
We continued driving down the road and reached a small water body, not many birds, but we got to see Northern Royal Flycatcher, Gray-headed Tanager and Green Heron.
After that, we went straight to the Archaeological Site, where we spent a little more than an hour birding. We got some amazing views of many birds including a couple Bat Falcons eating insects. Some other highlights from the Kohunlich Archaeological Site include: Scaled Pigeon, Roadside Hawk, Lesson's Motmot, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, White-collared Manakin, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Bright-rumped Attila, White-breasted Wood Wren and Grayish Saltator. On our way out we also came across two Gray Foxes and a Long-tailed Weasel (this weasel is really hard to see over here, it was actually my first one, lifer!).
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla anabatina) at the Kohunlich Archaeological Site.
Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.
So, after our morning birding at Kohunlich, we started driving towards Xpujil, a town only 30 minutes from the Calakmul Archaeological Site. On our way to Xpujil we saw an adult male Snail Kite carrying a snail and an Anhinga.
We got to our hotel, did the check-in, rested for a couple hours and then we went out for a little afternoon birding. First stop, a lagoon near Xpujil, again, not many birds, but we pulled a couple new for the trip ones like Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and Gray-breasted Martin.
Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) flying.
Then we went to a dirt road, this place was filled with Turquoise-browed Motmots, but I think probably the highlight for Luke was a couple Black-throated Bobwhites walking along the dirt road. We also got some very good views of White-bellied Wren and Wedge-tailed Sabrewing.
After a nice afternoon of birding, we went back to the hotel at Xpujil so we could rest and get ready for the next day.
The next day, after a stop for coffee, we drove for 30 minutes to the entrance of the Calakmul Archaeological Site, with our main targets being the Ocellated Turkey and the Great Curassow. We were probably the first people to enter the road to the site (which is 60 km from the entrance to the site) and the plan was to drive slowly until we found our first turkey, but a raptor made us stop before that. I'm sure that what I saw at the beggining was not the raptor that we saw, but it worked for us, a very vocal Bicolored Hawk was there were we stopped, not something you see everyday, also, at the same place we saw some Brown Jays and a Collared Aracari.
As we continued driving we found our first Ocellated Turkey, it was not a lifer for Luke as he already saw that bird 15 years ago in Belize, but they're just astonishing birds, so, see it again after so many years was nice. I also heard a Ruddy Woodcreeper while driving, so we stopped and had some nice views of it.
We reached Km 27 and we made a stop at two lagoons for waterbirds. Those lagoons right in the middle of the prime forest of Calakmul are usually very productive. At the first lagoon (which is a big one) we saw 5 Russet-naped Wood Rails (3 adults and a couple young ones), Northern Jacana, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret and Ringed Kingfisher.
Russet-naped Wood Rail (Aramides albiventris) at the lagoons in Calakmul.
Then, we went to the second lagoon (which is smaller and kinda more hidden) and it was just amazing. The first thing we saw while we were walking towards the lagoon was a huge group of Geoffroy's Spider Monkeys in one big tree, then, 3 Ocellated Turkeys looking for something to eat on the ground.
Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata) at the lagoons in Calakmul.
After that, we got to the lagoon and we found 4 Boat-billed Herons resting there in the open, we had amazing views of those birds to.
Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) at the lagoons of Calakmul.
At the same place we also had Blue-ground Doves, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Black-headed and Gartered Trogons, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Keel-billed Toucan, Yucatan Jay, Gray-headed Tanager, but definitely, the highlight was to see a Bright-rumped Attila feeding its fletchling with a spider. We also saw a Morelet's Crocodile at the lagoon.
Bright-rumped Attila (Attila spadiceus) and fletchling at the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.
After our stop at the lagoons, we continued driving slowly until we found our first Great Curassow, but this was just a glimpse of a female bird running into the forest because of our human presence. We went outside the car to try and spot the bird without any luck, nevertheless we saw a Northern Royal Flycatcher nearby. So again, we drove slowly for a couple minutes, and there it was, an adult male Great Curassow in the middle of the road, looking for food on the ground, so we stopped the car at something about 50 to a 100 meters from the bird, and started taking pictures of it.
Great Curassow (Crax rubra) walking on the road at Calakmul.
We continued driving until we got to the Calakmul Archaeological Site, we paid our fees and started walking towards the ruins. At the very beggining of the small trail that takes you to the site, we found a Crested Guan sitting quietly in one tree.
Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens) at the Calakmul Archaeological Site.
Bird activity was very good and we spent about two and half hours birding at the site and got 49 bird species, highlights include: Limpkin, Hook-billed Kite, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Bat Falcon, Olivaceus and Ivory-billed Woodcreepers, Northern Bentbill, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Yucatan Flycatcher, Tropical Gnatcatcher and Yellow-throated Euphonia. At the site we also saw both Geoffroy's Spider Monkeys and Black Howler Monkeys.
Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis) at the Calakmul Archaeological Site, picture taken from the top of the ruins.
Complete eBird checklist for the Calakmul Archaeological Site here: Birding at the Calakmul Archaeological Site, Yucatan Birding Tours, June 2021.
We finished birding at the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and we headed back to the hotel in Xpujil, where we had lunch and spent the rest of the day, resting and watching some common birds nearby the hotel.
Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) at our hotel in Xpujil.
The next day, we left Xpujil early and drove for about five and a half hours towards Merida, where we stayed for the next two days. Nothing really interesting on the road, but still, we managed to add some birds to the trip list like Short-tailed Hawk, Blue-black Grassquit, Cave Swallow and Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.
Mérida and the North Coast of the Yucatan.
On June 30, we went to the coast in the afternoon, we took the Sierra Papacal-Chuburná road, which goes across a big swampy area, really good for flamingos, shorebirds and many waterbirds. We saw a group of about 400 American Flamingos plus some other nice birds like Common Ground Dove, Zenaida Dove, Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorant, American White Pelican, Reddish Egret, Ridgway's Rough-winged Swallow, Mangrove Swallow and Mangrove Warbler.
Then we went to the beach and walked in some trails inside the coastal dune which is the habitat of Mexican Sheartail and Yucatan Wren. We saw both species, really easy and fast, so after that we decided to go and have a look at a group of gulls and terns that was sitting there on the beach. This group had mostly Laughing Gulls, but there was some other interesting birds including Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-bellied Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Least Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern and even a (not so common) Common Tern.
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) sitting next to two Laughing Gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla).
We went to the harbor of Chuburna looking for some more shorebirds, we added Wilson's Plover and Ruddy Turnstone to the list.
Then, we started birding while slowly driving back to Merida. On our way, I thought I heard a Mangrove Cuckoo so we went outside the car to try and see it, we didn't, but instead we saw a couple Yucatan Gnatcatchers, a Crested Caracara, an immature White Ibis and we heard some Common Tody Flycatchers. I told Luke that I had a very reliable spot for Ruddy Crake, so we did birding until we reached the Crake's habitat. We had some superb views of this bird, and because of that, it was maybe, the bird of the trip.
Ruddy Crake (Laterallus ruber) a very shy species, usally more heard than seen.
We made another stop on the road, because we saw a Roadside Hawk perched on a dead tree and then I heard an Orange Oriole, so we decided that it was a good idea to go outside the car and see what was there. Again, not disappointing, in this patch we had some really nice birds including Yucatan Jays, Groove-billed Anis, Lesser Nighthawk, Rose-throated Becard, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Mangrove Vireo, Scrub Euphonia, Altamira Oriole, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Yellow-faced Grassquit and a beautiful adult male Northern Cardinal singing from the top of a tree.
Adult male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) near Chuburná Puerto.
The next day, Luke and I went birding to Misnebalam which is a road that goes across pastures, ranches and dry forest near Merida, we had some very successful birding before that day, so our only "goal" was to get some better views of Orange Oriole at this place, and then, go to the coast again looking for some other birds on the target list.
We slowly drove for a little more than an hour, making a couple stops and walking a little and got to see and hear 43 bird species including: Black-throated Bobwhite, both Common and Ruddy Ground Doves, Lesser Nighthawks, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Yucatan Woodpecker, Barred Antshrike, Rose-throated Becard, Rigdway's Rough-winged Swallow, Yellow-billed Cacique and Orange Oriole.
Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis) at Misnebalam.
After it, we drove towards Progreso, until we reached the road where we were going to be looking for some other target birds. This was another old narrow road that goes across a swampy area with lots of mangrove trees, there we saw a group of about 300 American Flamingos, some Magnificent Frigatebirds, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Green Heron, White Ibis and Red-winged Blackbirds and after a couple kilometers, the vegetation along the road changes and becomes dryer. We found a fallen tree that was blocking our way to our next stop, so as I had my machete on the trunk, I decided that it was a good idea to cut it and continue driving, spoiler, it was not a good idea, as soon as I started cutting down the tree I felt some pain in my arm, when I looked at it, I saw that I was being stung by a wasp, and then I immediately felt even more pain in my eyebrow, another wasp, so I ran and quickly went inside the car, closed every window and door, and decided to try to avoid the falllen tree. We parked the car at a safe distance from the fallen tree, and went outside birding, there was some Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures and Black Vultures to welcome us (maybe they thought that I was alergic to wasps and that I would become their lunch? Hahaha!).
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus).
Our luck got better as we got past the fallen tree, we saw both Black-cowled and Yellow-tailed Orioles, Killdeer, Olive-throated Parakeets, Black Catbirds, Orange Oriole, Bronzed Cowbird and Grayish Saltator.
After that, we went back to the beach in Chuburna to see if there was any new for the list shorebirds, we added American Oystercatcher, saw many Mexican Sheartails and spent a good amount of time studying a very blackish gull that made us think of Kelp Gull. After further review, it was certainly a Kelp Gull! A very rare bird around here.
We went to have some seafood for lunch and then drove back to Merida to rest the hottest part of the day. Then in the afternoon, we left Merida again and drove to San Crisanto, another great place for shorebirds, egrets, etc.
Again, at this place we came across a huge amount of American Flamingos, about 450 at the same place, there was also some nesting Least Terns, so we kept our distance from this birds' nesting site and basically did stationary birding. Some other highlights from that day's afternoon birding at the coast include: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Zenaida Dove, Snowy Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Reddish Egret and Tropical Kingbird.
Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus) at San Crisanto, Yucatán.
The next day, we left Merida early in the morning, so we could get to Valladolid around 7 am. We went directly to one of the top spots for Yellow-lored Parrots, an open area on the edge of the forest near the Amazili Nature Reserve, and after half an hour, we already had 42 bird species! Some highlights include Roadside Hawk, Lesson's Motmot, White-fronted Parrot, Yellow-lored Parrot, Bat Falcon, both Black-crowned and Masked Tityras, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Olive Sparrow, Rose-throated Tanager, Northern Cardinal and Yellow-faced Grassquit.
Two Yellow-lored Parrots (Amazona xantholora) perched on top of a tree, look at the dark cheek and the yellow lores which are diagnostic.
Rose-throated Tanager (Piranga roseogularis) on top of a tree really far from where we were standing, these birds are usually found at mid to upper levels of the vegetation, often in the canopy like the one in this picture.
As we started driving towards the Amazili Nature Reserve, we came across a Lesser Roadrunner which was one of our target birds.
We got to the Amazili Nature Reserve looking for a Gray-collared Becard without any luck, nevertheless, we still had a good 38 species including some interesting ones like Red-billed Pigeon, Canivet's Emerald, Gartered Trogon, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Tropical Pewee, Tropical Gnatcatcher, both Yellow-throated and Scrub Euphonias, Rose-throated Tanager and Black-headed Saltator.
We left the Amazili Nature Reserve and on our way back, I decided to stop and try for the Gray-collared Becard, and luckily we got to see one. Then we went back to the Yellow-lored Parrot spot, and spent some minutes there just waiting in case something new would appear, and oh surprise, it did, two Hook-billed Kites, great views as they flew right above us.
Adult male Hook-billed Kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus).
After spending some minutes taking pictures of the kites, we decided to drive to another birding trail, but on our way, we stopped for a brunch, as we only had coffee and crackers for breakfast. We ate a yucatecan traditional dish called "Poc Chuc", which is basically grilled pork meat, accompanied with vegetables and handmade tortillas, it was delicious!
After a very well deserved meal, we got to the birding trail at 12:24 pm, probably not the best part of the day to do birding, anyways, it was the last day of the birding trip, so it was worth spending a little extra time on the field even at the hottest part of the day. Nothing really special, but many Black Catbirds there and we even got to see one building a nest.
Black Catbird (Melanoptila glabrirostris) at Xocen.
We left the trail and headed to our hotel at Valladolid to rest for a couple hours and then go back to the same birding trail to look mainly for nightbirds and maybe some other interesting birds.
At 6:40 pm, we were waiting for dusk at the spot for Yucatan Nightjar and Poorwill. While we waited we did a little walk and saw many Black Catbirds, a Boat-billed Flycatcher smashing a huge moth against a log, two Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Yellow-backed Oriole, Yucatan Jay, Tropical Pewee, Black-headed Saltator and a male Gray-collared Becard.
Gray-collared Becard (Pachyramphus major) at Xocen.
As it got dark, nightbirds started to sing, and we got to see a Yucatan Poorwill and heard a Common Pauraque, unfortunately, no Nightjar or Screech Owl for us that night, but on our way back we saw a Mottled Owl.
After that we went for dinner at Valladolid, to have some Cochinita and a very strong habanero and that was the end of the birding trip as the next day I took Luke to the Cancun international airport for his flight back to New York.
The overall total birds seen and heard was 196.
If you're still wondering why I said "Tacos and Birding", well, it was Luke's idea to call this birding tour like this, as we had all kinds of tacos during this trip, including pastor, carnitas, suadero, tripa, campechanos, asada, shrimp tacos and poc chuc tacos! It was for sure a gastronomic experience and many Taco-Lifers for Luke.
Written by Luis Trinchan.