Comprehensive Birding Tour Around the Yucatan Peninsula, May 2021
This Birding Tour was designed for Raphaël Jordan a French birder who spent one month in Mexico looking for around 150 target birds. We had about 7 and a half days to do a comprehensive birding tour around the Yucatan Peninsula, this meaning we should try to get all of the endemic birds plus some other of Raphaël's target birds.
Mérida and the North Coast of Yucatan.
The birding tour started near the city of Mérida, we drove for about 20 minutes to a road in between ranches and dry forest, we were looking for some targets like Black-throated Bobwhite, Orange Oriole, etc.
After spending no more than an hour birding at this place, we saw every target bird we needed from that place. Highlights include:
Black-throated Bobwhite, Orange Oriole, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Yucatan Woodpecker, White-fronted Parrot, Yucatan Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo, Yucatan Jay, Ridgway's Rough-winged Swallow, Yucatan Gnatcatcher, Carolina (White-browed) Wren, White-bellied Wren and Gray-throated Chat.
Link to the complete eBird checklist here:
Male Orange Oriole (Icterus auratus) near Mérida.
Since we've had a very productive morning birding and Raphaël was feeling a little under the weather, we decided to stop for that morning, go back to the hotel and then go out again in the afternoon.
So after a good rest, I picked up Raphaël and drove for half an hour towards Chuburná Puerto, we had only three target birds for the afternoon, Yucatan Wren, Mexican Sheartail and Ruddy Crake.
So the plan was to go for the first two, and after that wait until the sunset to try for the Ruddy Crake (they're usually more active at that time of the day or very early in the mornings). We started walking through some trails inside the coastal dune, and no more than five minutes later we saw our first Yucatan Wrens. Unfortunately for us, the afternoon was very windy, so Sheartail was not as easy as usual, but we managed to see one female Mexican Sheartail. We spent some extra minutes looking at some shorebirds, terns and gulls and then, we started driving slowly on a road where I always hear the Crakes. After some minutes, we saw two Ruddy Crakes go across the road and they stayed on the side of the road enough for Raphaël to take some record pictures!
Highlights for the afternoon at the coast: Mexican Sheartail, Yucatan Wren, Ruddy Crake, Reddish Egret, Zenaida Dove, Snowy Plover, Roseate Spoonbill, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Mangrove Vireo.
Valladolid and the Amazili Natural Reserve.
On the second day of the birding tour, we left Merida early in the morning for a 2 hour drive to Valladolid with our main targets being the Rose-throated Tanager and the nightbirds (Yucatan Nightjar and Poorwill and Middle-American Screech-owl). We arrived to the birding trail around 7 o'clock, and we spent about 2 hours there, getting a total 58 bird species for the morning. Highlights include: Thicket Tinamou, Squirrel Cuckoo, Gartered Trogon, Lesson's and Turquoise-browed Motmots, Barred Antshrike, Northern Bentbill, Yucatan Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher, Yucatan Jay, Black Catbird, Rose-throated Tanager, Gray-throated Chat, Gray-headed Tanager and Green-backed Sparrow.
A pair of Rose-throated Tanagers near Valladolid (Male on the right and female on the left).
For that day's afternoon, I decided to get in touch with my friend Ismael Arellano Ciau who is the co-owner of the Amazili Natural Reserve, he was kind enough to join us for birding in the afternoon and night near the reserve and also share with us the location of a roosting immature Northern Potoo.
Northern Potoo perched at the birding trail near the Amazili Natural Reserve.
So we started walking at the birding trail until it got dark, we had some good bird activity in the afternoon, as we had 30+ bird species seen and heard, including: Thicket Tinamou, Northern Potoo, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Yellow-lored Parrots, Olivaceous and Ivory-billed Woodcreepers, Yucatan Jay, Black Catbird, Orange Oriole and Rose-throated Tanager.
Then, the nocturnal birding started, bad luck for us, the weather was not very helpful as we didn't hear a single poorwill or nightjar. Anyways, nature was kind enough to give us good views of a Brown morph Middle American Screech-Owl.
Brown morph Middle American Screech-Owl near the Amazili Natural Reserve.
Next day, we started driving early in the morning towards the Amazili Natural Reserve again, we went back looking for Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Black-headed Trogon and Yellow-lored Parrot. We made a quick stop at the main highway because we saw a Bat Falcon perched on an electricity post. After that, we made another stop at some small, local agricultural fields, those open areas were very good places to get some good views of the Yellow-lored Parrots and they didn't dissapoint as we saw them and Raphaël even got some good pictures of 3 Yellow-lored Parrots flying together.
After that, we arrived to the Amazili Natural Reserve, and we started walking the birding trail, bird activity was very good, but none of our actual target birds were calling or showing, so after an hour, we decided to go back to Valladolid, have a late breakfast, rest a little and then go back to the other birding trail we visited on the first day at Valladolid.
Highlights for the Amazili Natural Reserve include: Thicket Tinamou, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Yucatan Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Yellow-lored Parrot, Gray-collared Becard, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Yucatan Jay, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Black Catbird, Rose-throated Tanager.
So, the plan was to get to the other birding trail at 5 pm and stay until dark, so we will have chances for Black-headed Trogon, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing and of course, Yucatan Nightjar and Yucatan Poorwill.
We got there and spent almost 2 hours birding until it got dark. We saw 40 bird species and found 2 Wedge-tailed Saberwings, so we were quite happy that we saw one of Raphaël's targets, we also added some new birds for the trip list like Lineated Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Caribbean Dove, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Yellow-billed Cacique and Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.
At 7:30 pm, we were standing outside the car, a few kilometers into the birding trail and in the middle of the dark, surrounded by a dense tropical forest, and then we started hearing some different birds, the omnipresent White-tipped Dove calling with its typical who-oooo, a Lesson's Motmot "jut-jut" and even an Olive Sparrow, then, a Pheasant Cuckoo starts singing its three note song, very far away but very distinctive "whee-whe-wheee". But, it was only after a few minutes that we started hearing one of the main targets, a Yucatan Nightjar started singing, we saw it and Raphaël took some good pictures of it, after that, we started hearing a repeated "huirrr huirrr" I said to Raphael "Yucatan Poorwill!", we started looking for it and we did see the bird, although this one was a very shy individual.
Yucatan Nightjar near Valladolid. © Raphaël Jordan.
Our night was over and we had a long way to go the next day, so we went back to our hotel at Valladolid for a good night sleep.
Tres Garantías en route to Xpujil.
We left the city of Valladolid and drove towards Tres Garantías, a very small community in southern Quintana Roo, as we had three target birds for that area (Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Northern Schiffornis and Black-throated Shrike-Tanager). We arrived to the Tres Garantías road at 11:30 am and we started birding along it; at our first stop, we saw a big tree filled with Montezuma Oropendola's nests, and there was also a Giant Cowbird parasiting the nests of this birds.
Montezuma Oropendola perched above nests at Tres Garantías.
Then we continued driving, until we saw two raptors perched on dead trees, two Plumbeous Hawks! So we went outside the car and started birding around this patch, we found some really nice birds like Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Black-headed Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Yellow-tailed Oriole.
Plumbeous Kite perched on a Cecropia Tree at Tres Garantías.
We continued driving until we reached a small reserve, we parked the car outside, and just as we started walking I heard the drumming of a woodpecker, I told Raphaël "Chesnut-colored Woodpecker!" then, after some pictures, we continued walking for a minute, and I started hearing a song "cheeeeo-oo-i" it was the Northern Schiffornis singing. The only bird we missed from Raphaël targets that day, was the Black-throated Shrike-Tanager as this bird was not calling or showing at all, nevertheless, birding at Tres Garantías was amazing. Some other highlights for Tres Garantías include: Rufous-naped Wood-Rail, Blue Ground Dove, Long-billed Gnatwren, Green-backed Sparrow, Thicket Tinamou, Scaled Pigeon, Roadside Hawk, Stripe-throated Hermit, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Ruddy and Sepia-capped Woodcreeper, White-collared and Red-capped Manakin, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Blue Bunting, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Rufous-tailed Jacamar.
At this trail we also saw a troop of Geoffroy's Spider Monkeys feeding on Zapotes.
Geoffroy's Spider Monkey feeding on Zapotes at Tres Garantías.
After that, we continued driving towards Xpujil town, so the next day we could visit the Calakmul Archaeological Site.
Calakmul Archaeological Site.
We left our hotel in Xpujil early in the morning and drove to the entrance of the Calakmul Archaeological Site, where we started driving slowly, listening to the birds outside the car and making stops if we heard anything interesting. There was certainly lots of good birds around, but the main target for the Calakmul site was the Ocellated Turkey and we did come across a group of about 15 Ocellated Turkeys, so we got out of the car for Raphaël to take some pictures, and we even had a chance to make a video of this Ocellated Turkey displaying for the females.
Ocellated Turkey at the Calakmul Archaeological Site's road.
We had very specific targets for this area, so we didn't spend that much time doing birding along the road, nevertheless we had some very interesting birds along the way, like: Black-headed and Gartered Trogons, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Caribbean Dove, Yucatan Jay, Wedge-tailed Saberwing, Black-faced Antthrush, Rufous-naped Wood-Rail, Collared Aracari, Yucatan Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Bright-rumped Attila, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Rose-throated Tanager, Roadside Hawk, Barred Forest-Falcon, Northern Bentbill, Mangrove Vireo, Gray-throated Chat.
After that, we reached the archaeological site's entrance, where we spent around 3 hours birding and had a checklist of 50 bird species including another one of Raphaël's target birds the Great Curassow. Some other highlights for the Calakmul Archaeological Site include: Singing Quail, Pheasant Cuckoo, White-bellied Emerald, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-faced Antthrush, Masked Tityra, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Tropical Pewee, Yucatan Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Lesser Greenlet, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Black-headed Saltator.
Pheasant Cuckoo perched on a tree at the Calakmul Archaeological Site.
Complete eBird checklist for the Calakmul Archaeological Site here:
For mammals, we came across both of the two monkey species for the Yucatan Peninsula, Geoffroy's Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) and Yucatan Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta pigra) and also with a Central American Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata).
Yucatan Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta pigra) at the Calakmul Archaeological Site.
We drove from Conhuas to the ferry terminal in order to get to the Cozumel Island, we arrived to Cozumel on May 23 in the afternoon.
The next morning on May 24, we left the hotel early in the morning for a 25 minute drive towards El Cedral, a really good place to see most of the Cozumel endemic species and subspecies. So, just as we arrived to the entrance of the town, I started listening to bird songs and I parked the car, we had 29 bird species in 25 minutes, including White-crowned Pigeon, Caribbean Dove, Mangrove Cuckoo, Vaux's Swift, Green-breasted Mango, Cozumel Vireo, Yucatan Vireo, Black Catbird and Cozumel subspecies of Yucatan Woodpecker, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Wren, Western Spindalis, Yellow Warbler, Bananaquit and Yellow-faced Grassquit.
We only needed the Cozumel Emerald and the Caribbean Elaenia to have every target bird we needed from Cozumel, so I took Raphaël to a birding trail I know, looking for the targets. We spent an hour doing birding at the trail and we got 30 bird species including our target birds Cozumel Emerald, Caribbean Elaenia and other interesting birds like Yellow-lored Parrot, White-fronted Parrot, Lesser Nighthawk, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Couch's Kingbird and Northern Cardinal.
Female Cozumel Emerald (endemic to the Cozumel Island) at El Cedral.
Complete eBird checklists for that morning at Cozumel here:
At this point of the birding trip, we already had every bird from Raphaël's target list but one (the Black-throated Shrike-tanager, which was not possible for this or the next areas). So, as we had some spare time, we decided to go back for a late breakfast and rest and then go birding in the afternoon when the sun was not so hot.
So in the afternoon we went out for a little birding at the coast near Punta Sur, looking to add some waders to Raphaël's Triplist. I took him to some lagoons I know, these lagoons were getting dry, but still had some birds like Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Black-necked Stilt, Northern Jacana, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Great and Cattle Egrets and Roseate Spoonbill. As we continued driving we also came across two Wilson's Plovers and a Least Tern.
Also, at Punta Sur there's a good place to see American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) so we made another stop to see them.
American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) resting at the Cozumel Island.
We had one more morning before I had to take Raphaël to the Cancun International Airport for his flight back to France, so we went to the northern part of the island, to a more swampy area and to a small parking lot with a good patch of vegetation around it, looking to add some more different birds to Raphaël's triplist. Highlights for our last morning birding at Cozumel include: Cozumel Emerald, Ruddy Crake, Yucatan Woodpecker, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Cozumel Vireo, Yucatan Vireo, Gray-breasted Martin, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Morellets Seedeater and Cozumel subspecies of Yellow Warbler, House Wren and Bananaquit.
Yucatan Vireo at the Chaan Kaan parking lot.
We also saw Cozumel Coati (Nasua narica nelsoni), Black Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) and many Brown Basilisks (Basiliscus vittatus) at the island.
Brown Basilisks (Basiliscus vittatus) at the parking lot in Cozumel Island.
This was the end of the birding trip as I had to take Raphaël to the Cancun airport for his flight back. The overall total of birds seen and heard was 203.
Written by Luis Trinchan Guerra