Sunday, January 17, 2016

Birding In the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Our trip to Mexico was a first for the two of us. Having only travelled as far south as Florida, we had no idea what to expect for our first all inclusive vacation except that we wanted to devote a part of it to exploring off the resort and finding some birds.

Bird Photography in the Yucatan Peninsula
Hooded Oriole

Before the trip

 

Before we left, we both did some research on the internet on where to go (Trip Advisor) and some of the birds we might encounter (eBird). There were many tourist locations that seemed like good options that included some birding; Tulum, Sian Ka’an, Xel Ha, and Contoy Island. We even contacted a bird guide in order to get a quote which, at the time seemed a little pricey.

We only had one day to devote to birding, so the pressure was on to make sure that the destination we chose was on point. Trev also put the pressure on, since he was determined to see a specific type of bird, a Trogon.

In Playa Del Carmin


Once we were on the resort we decided to speak to the tourism reps in the hotel to explore some options. We asked about potential birding locations and he suggested renting a car and visiting Contoy Island although there were no tours that were strictly for birding, he thought they would be able to accommodate our request to travel with them to get to the island. We then looked into getting a rental car which seemed pretty reasonable ($100US) for the day. Although the island sounded like a great opportunity to see some exotic birds, it was the uncertainty of accommodating our request and the unknown cost of the trip that deterred us from following through.


Birds at the Iberostarr Quetzal Resort in Playa Del Carmen
Birds photographed at our the Iberostar Quetzal Resort


Next, we looked into visiting the Sian Ka’an biosphere. The activities rep suggested renting a rugged vehicle in order to enter the park, as the road was extremely rough.  However, once touching base with the car rental rep who informed us we would not receive any insurance for the vehicle due to the nature of the road, we decided that we may be in over our heads.

We went back to our room to discuss some options, and ended up powering on the laptop to do some last minute research. We ended up finding Mexico Kan Tours on Trip Advisor who not only offered birding tours but was accompanied by a great review outlining their wonderful experience with English speaking guide Miguel. That’s all it took; we looked at the website, saw that they offered pick up at the hotel, visiting two destinations for the entire morning and we booked. Miguel was in touch with us right away and we arranged our date and pick up time.

Our experience


Our expectations of birding in the Yucatan Peninsula did not disappoint. Miguel met us at 5:45am at our lobby with coffee in tow (must have known Trev wouldn’t survive otherwise) We hit the road for our 1 hour+ drive south of Tulum to Muyil where we began in the village of Chunyaxché.

Chunyaxché Village


This quaint little village of approximately 300 people really painted a picture what life was like for those living in small Mexican communities and was a great cultural experience. It was still dark when we arrived but as daylight started to break the horizon, we got a glimpse of what was in store for the morning.


MexicoKan Tours - Bird Watching Review

  
The first few birds we saw were a Collared Aracari and Olive Throated Parakeet, which although we didn’t get photos, were amazing to see. Miguel was extremely knowledgeable on site and sound identification which was helpful considering we wouldn’t have known the native birds we were seeing. It had been a while since we had that feeling of excitement.



While at our first location, Miguel heard a Trogon and determined it to be a Black Headed Trogon. We followed the sound into the jungle, and back out and then back in (by passing one of the biggest spiders I had ever seen) until we heard two of them communicating with each other and it was close. We came back to the main path and saw one fly out, and there it was in all his colourful glory! Trev got his wish.


Black-headed Trogon spotted in tree in Mexico
Black-headed Trogon

For most of the early morning the birds were very active. As we worked our way along different paths throughout the community there were times when it was hard for us to move along, continuously shooting different birds in so many different directions. So much so that Trev actually missed seeing a bird that I saw because he was too busy with another photo opportunity; not a terrible problem to have.






Eventually, we had to move along if we wanted to make it to the other location and be back at the resort on time. So we reluctantly made our way back to the car had a quick (homemade) snack courtesy of Miguel and continued (nearly across the street) to the next location.  The Muyil ruins were one of the earliest and longest inhabited ancient Maya sites that we had to opportunity to see in between looking for birds.


Muyil Ruins in Mexico


Muyil Archaeological


We strolled along the exterior of the site just on the forest edge, spotting a few different species of birds and even some we have seen in Ontario; American redstart and Black-throated green warbler.




Until Miguel heard the sounds of another Trogon, only this time it did not sound like the Black headed Trogon. We followed the call, listened some more and adjusted our location slightly. Miguel searched the area with his binoculars and once he spotted it told us we needed to get a picture! He kept pointed in the direction, giving us the normal birding lingo of how to find a bird “see that curved branch, directly underneath”. I spotted it through the branches and then so did Trevor. Miguel was very excited about this find and even told us he hadn’t seen it that many times; a Collard Trogon.  The whole time he was telling us we needed to get a shot and that this was a really great find, happy we were able to see it.


Rare Collared Trogon bird photo in Mexico

Sian Ka'an


After this impressive discovery, we walked along a boardwalk entering Sian Ka’an along the Northwest, winding our way through the transition between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. There was not much bird activity but it was such a beautiful walk passing natural spring and underwater caves. Once out of the forested area, it opened up to a beautiful lagoon with the bluest, clearest water either of us had ever seen. It was unbelievable.  Once soaking in the view, we made the sweaty walk down a gravel road back to the car for the drive back to the resort.



Miguel


We could not have been more impressed with Miguel of Mexico Kan Tours as he was so knowledgeable of native birds and the areas that would provide desirable species during our short timeline. He delivered on all accounts, determined to find us our Trogon and many other impressive species. He was so accommodating, enthusiastic, polite; a genuinely nice guy who we enjoyed getting to know. He was passionate about birding and not only wanted to share this passion with others, but spread the word about conservation, and getting back into nature.


Tour Guide - Miguel

We could have easily have spent the entire day out there birding and seemed as though Miguel could have done the same. He recorded the list for the birds we saw during the morning and sent it to us via email . Trev is still talking about the delicious fruit salad he made for us!

Our list of birds seen during our morning of birding trip on January 8th, 2016 is as follows:

1. TURKEY VULTURE
2. MELODIOUS BLACKBIRD
3. COLLARED ARACARI
4. GREAT KISKADEE
5. COUCH´S KINGBIRD
6. OLIVE THROATED PARAKEET
7. YUCATAN JAY
8. BLACK VULTURE
9. CINAMMON HUMMINGBIRD
10. BLACK HEADED SALTATOR
11. BLACK COWLED ORIOLE
12. BLUE GREY TANAGER
13. ORANGE ORIOLE
14. GRAYISH SALTATOR
15. GREAT TAILED GRACKLE
16. GOLDEN FRONTED WOODPECKER
17. YELLOW THROATED WARBLER
18. SUMMER TANAGER
19. WEDGE TAILED SABREWING
20. RUDDY GROUND DOVE
21. TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRD
22. SOCIAL FLYCATCHER
23. FERAL PIGEON
24. HOODED ORIOLE
25. BLUE GROSBEAK
26. WHITE COLLARED SEEDEATER (FEMALE)
27. RED LEGGED HONEYCREEPER
28. YELLOW THROATED EUPHONIA
29. YELLOW WARBLER
30. GREY CATBIRD
31. YELLOW OLIVE FLYCATCHER
32. SPOT BREASTED WREN
33. MAGNOLIA WARBLER
34. WHITE EYED VIREO
35. WHITE BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD
36. GREEN JAY
37. AMERICAN REDSTART
38. IVORY BILLED WOODCREEPER
39. BLACK HEADED TROGON
40. INDIGO BUNTING
41. COLLARED TROGON
42. AMERICAN COOT
43. LESSER SCAUP

44. BLACK THROATED GREEN WARBLER
45. SQUIRREL CUCKOO 
46. MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD

Next time


For this trip we found it was easier for us to make a decision once we arrived at the resort and got an idea for the cost of transportation, entrance fees etc and realized that maybe our price for this type of excursion was a little unrealistic. Maybe this will change once we get a better idea or more experience under our belt. Regardless, neither one of us believes we could have made a better decision and I am not sure that we are done birding in Mexico.

Muchas gracias!
  

2 comments:

  1. Muchas gracias!!! Congratulations on your blog, keep up the great work. It was a great pleasure spending the day birding with you and learning about photography. Hope to see you and your friends in the Yucatan for some great birding around Tulum. Miguel.

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  2. Peninsula was famous for its islands and beaches but it also has some amazing attractions for bird lovers and watchers. I read about it hence, proved after reading your blog. Makes me wanna go there and experience birding.

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