A birding travel report on: Mexico, Guatemala and Belize
16 March - 12 April 1991
by: Michiel de Boer
This is a report of a birding holiday of four weeks in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. We didn't book anything in advance (except for the flight) didn't rent a car and still visited all the good spots we wanted to visit. It was a great pleasure and a terrific experience, we would recommend to any birdwatcher or nature-lover. The planning of this trip relied on sources like travel-reports. By writing this report I hope I can contribute to the planning of trips of other people.
If you have any questions or remarks, please contact me at this address: email@example.com
Travelling around in Central America is an exiting experience for the birdwatcher who doesn't mind leaving luxury behind. The climate in this time of the year (end of winter) is still very hot, which means that birding is only very comfortable in the morning till 10 am. and in the late afternoon (with some exceptions: the highlands and the dense forests of Tikal, Guatemala). The food is not very special but we avoided any unpleasant experiences with the local bacteria. During our stay of four weeks the three of us only had stomach-problems on one occasion. Without the luxury of a rented car (which was only really required in the Usumacinta Marshes) we could still visit many places and see plenty of birds.
Most people in Mexico and Guatemala speak only Spanish. With our poor Spanish we managed to be clear with sign-language and a little English. The medium in Belize is English, which makes things a little easier.
In our year of visit we didn't need a visa for the three countries we visited. The 'tourist-card' one gets on the plane is free and valid for 30 day's. However we have been told that some custom-officers at the border of Guatemala can ask money to let you through (even when you officially don't have to pay for it).
The advised precautions we took the required time before departure were: Injections: Gamma-globulin (against Hepatitis B); DKTP (Diphtheria, Whooping cough, Tetanus and Smallpox) and Typhoid pills. And we took Malaria-pills with us, to be taken in the so called risky areas (Guatemala and the Usumacinta marshes). For countries with hot climates it is always advisable to take some fever-repressing drugs with you. Other preventives we took with us were: 'Norit' (to prevent excessive food poisoning); 'ORS Oral Rehydration Salts' (against dehydration) and 'Immobulin' (against Diarrhoea). Upon our arrival in Tikal two of us took Malaria-pills to ensure our safety from this disease which is carried by one of the many varieties of mosquito. The one that didn't take the pill's is still alive.
A precaution which should be taken each morning in these tropical areas: Turn your boots or shoes upside down and knock potentially visiting scorpions out of them. We never found one in our boots, but scorpions can choose quite unlikely places to hide after their nightly trips in search for food. We spoke to an American in Tikal who encountered one in his suitcase. As we sometimes eagerly tried to see a scorpion during the day we turned some stones and pieces of wood without success. The only scorpion we saw was one at Coba which woke me up crawling over my arm. I simply let it walk off again, since a scorpion doesn't sting unless it has to fear for it's life. This reminds me of a second precaution: it is better not to sleep on the ground in the tropics. If one sleeps in a tent be sure to prevent unwanted visitors climbing in. A tarantula was found in the tent of our neighbours at Tikal.
If one intends to spend the night in a (rented) hammock at Tikal camping place, be sure to take a mosquito-net of big size. My normal sized mosquito-net was not big enough.
It is well known that in most foreign countries it is cheaper to take Dollars in stead of Traveller Checks. We however still took Traveller Checks. They're indeed a little more expensive but your money is insured until you change them. This means that we were travelling around with quite small amounts of cash and most of our money in the form of Traveller Checks. The rate of exchange in Mexico at 15 march was: 1 US $ = Hfl 1.70 = 2810 pesos; at 4 april it was: 1 US $ = 2960 pesos. In Guatemala the rate was: 1 US $ = 4.80 Quetzales (Q.). In Belize the rate was: 1 US $ = 2 Bel. $.
Books and Maps
The bird-guides we used were:
* 'Field Guide to the Birds of North America', 2 ed., by 'National Geographic Society'.
* 'Mexican Birds', 1973, Peterson Field Guides, by Roger Tory Peterson and Edward L. Chalif.
Travel guides we used were:
* Mexico, 'A travel survival kit', Lonely Planet.
* Guatemala en Belize, 'the Rough Guide' Mark Whatmore, Peter Elteringham, 1990. This guide has useful tips about the bus and boat trip from Guatemala to Mexico.
Maps we used were:
* 'International travel map of the Yucatan Peninsula' 1:1000,000 first ed. 1987.
International Travel Map Productions
PO Box 2290
V6B 3W5 Canada
This was the best map one could buy in Holland. It also covers the parts of Guatemala and Belize we visited. For Chiapas were we used:
* Mexico 'Istmo Carta Touristica, Instituto Nacional, esta distica geografia e informatica, first ed. 1978. A map of Tabasco and Chiapas.
We recorded 325 species of birds in the four weeks. Interesting reptiles we saw where: Iguana (widespread and quite common, even in the centre of Cancun we saw one of 1 m.). We saw one of the very thin, green tree-snakes at Tikal. At Tikal and near Flores a species of the Jezus Christ Lizard (Basiliscus spp.) is quite common. If one is lucky one can see them running short distances over water at the lake near Flores. We saw one Crocodile during the boat trip down the 'San Pedro' river and several in the pond at the entrance of Tikal, probably put there for the tourists. During this boat trip we also saw one of the worlds most impressive Orchids flowering: a species of the Schomburgkia with stems of 3 meters in length and huge flowers.
For the rest (except for some nice Bromelias and two other species of flowering orchids) we didn't see many interesting flowering plants (probably due to the dry season) but some trees in Palenque and Tikal housed many kinds of Orchids.
Palenque and Tikal are also nice places to see beautiful and huge butterflies, which unfortunately never seem to land. In Tikal we saw several interesting mammals: Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus); Grey Squirrel (Sciurus aureogaster); Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata) (quite common) mostly heard at sunset; Central-American Spider-monkey (common) which can be located by listening for the rustle they make while swinging through the trees. A Coati (Nasua narctica) carelessly passed us one time. We also saw a few Tarantula's (Brachypelma vagans) at Santa Elena and Tikal.
Mexico, getting there and around and places to stay
Martin Air was the only agency which arranged charters (with a stop in Miami) to Mexico at a cheap rate (Hfl. 1395 = 820 US $ for a return-flight) to Mexico Cancun:
Departure: 11.45 Schiphol (Amsterdam)
15.30 Miami (time difference 6 hours)
Travelling in Mexico by bus is quite cheap and on main routes comfortable and reasonably fast. The longest and most luxury bus trip we made was from Palenque to Merida at a cost of 33,000 pesos per person. Some other bus prices: Cancun-Tulum: 10,000 pesos; Chetumal-Belize city: 14,335 pesos; Palenque-San Christobal: 11,400 pesos.
In some places the busses depart less frequently than one would like. (the bus from Tulum to Chetumal didn't stop at the bus stop in this village) and kept us waiting for 3 hours. We then gladly took the opportunity to travel by car with a local who only charged us 25,000 pesos for the 400 km journey. One night in a hotel for the three of us cost 80,000 pesos (far from the cheapest hotels in Cancun). One can get much cheaper in other places: Chetumal: 35,000; Emiliano Zapata: 40,000 and Palenque even 25,000 pesos for a room for three. Entrance fees can be quite expensive: 10,000 pesos per person to see one or more temples.
Belize (Cay Caulker), getting there and places to stay
We took the bus from Chetumal to Belize-City and from the small harbour one can get a ride by speedboat to the very small (2 km long and 1 km wide) but tranquil island Cay Caulker. The boat trip lasts 45 min. at high speed, costs 15 Bel.$ per person and (2 Bel.$ = 1 US $). The island looks idyllic and is perfect to snorkel in the beautiful marine reserve: Hol Chan, being one of the most exiting places to snorkel and part of the second largest barrier-reef in the world. Renting a snorkel is 5 Bel.$ per person, admission (used for the protecting of the endangered life of the reef) is 3 Bel.$ per person. A trip from the island to the reef by sailing boat costs 28 Bel.$ per person, but one can travel cheaper by small motorboat. We stayed at the cheapest hostel (which actually seemed more of a small hut built from driftwood: 15 Bel.$ for three people).
Guatemala, getting there and around and places to stay
From Belize-City we took the bus to San Ignacio (3.75 Bel. $ per person), which is approximately 8 km from the border of Guatemala. From there one has to take a taxi to the border. (Local taxis are aware of this fact and are far from cheap: 10 US $).
We found the bus trips in Guatemala rather unpleasant. Busses are only able to travel at 25 km/hr wobbling over very bad roads and barely going fast enough to catch some breeze to cool us down. The bus trip from the border near San Ignacio (Belize) to Flores (15 Q. per person) took us almost 4 hours. We stayed the night at Hotel 'San Juan' a good clean place to stay for 49 Q. we had a room for three with a shower. For a few days birding at Tikal we would recommend arranging a campsite at the Jaguar Inn which is located in the park (if you are travelling with at least one companion). Hiring a tent costs 45 Quetzales per night (4.80 Q. = 1 US $). One can rent a hammock for 5 Q. plus 30 Q. tax! per person. Staying at Flores has the disadvantage of having to pay 15 Q. (bus Flores-Tikal) and 30 Q. admission to the park (the government raised the price from 5 to 30 Q. in January 1991) per person for each day visit. If one stays at Tikal one is expected to pay the admission every day (and guards sometimes check tourists who find sneaky ways in to the park without tickets and lead them to the entrance to make them pay the 30 Q. fee).
The bus from Santa Elena to El Naranjo (20 Q. per person) was said to go at 4.00 am. but went at 5.00 am (local time). This bustrip lasted 6 hours including a stop for breakfast. The boat from El Naranjo to La Palma, local time 13.30 arrived at 16.45. It was a pleasant trip compared to the bus in Guatemala but very expensive: 75 Q. or 15 US $ per person.
15 march: Flight from Amsterdam to Cancun
16 march: Cancun (1)
17 march: Coba (2)
18 march: Coba
19 march: Tulum (3)
21 march: Cay Caulker (4)
22 march: Cay Caulker
24 march: Santa Elena
25 march: Tikal (5)
26 march: Tikal
27 march: Tikal
28 march: Tikal
29 march: Flores
30 march: Boat trip from El Naranjo to La Palma (6)
31 march: Emiliano Zapata (road to La Libertat) (7)
1 april: Usumacinta (road 186) (8)
2 april: Palenque ruins (9)
3 april: Palenque ruins
4 april: Palenque ruins
5 april: San Christobal (San Juan Chamula) (10)
6 april: Estacion Biologica Huitepec and the village Tenejapa (11)
7 april: Tuxla Gutierrez (canyon 'El Sumidero') (12)
8 april: Travelling from San Christobal to Celestun
9 april: Celestun (13)
10 april: Celestun
11 april: Celestun
12 april: Cancun
The very common species are not given in this part (see list of the recorded species) as we saw them almost everywhere: Tropical Mockingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Rough-winged Swallow, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Mangrove Swallow, Great-tailed Grackle, Road-side Hawk, White-collared Seedeater, Groove-billed Ani, Bronzed Cowbird and near any Coast: Magnificent Frigatebird and Laughing Gull.
15 march: Flight from Amsterdam to Cancun, in between landing at Miami airport.
Without getting out of the plane we saw: Ring-billed Gull, American Kestrel and about 20 Turkey Vultures at the airport.
16 march: Cancun.
The first day after arriving in the evening of the 15th and a good night sleep we went out about 5.30 AM. At a small park in the middle of Cancun we immediately saw quite a few interesting species: Aztec Parakeet, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Warbler, Hooded Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Summer Tanager and Grayish Saltator.
After a good breakfast we took the 9.30 AM bus to Tulum. On our way to Tulum we passed a rubbish-dump with about 200 Black- and Turkey Vultures. Arriving at Tulum about 11.45 we were informed that there was no bus leaving for Coba until the next morning. We decided to do some birding around Tulum near the monument close to the sea: Sanderling, Royal Tern (a few of them plunging in the water close to us while we were swimming), Roseate Spoonbill (very luckily we saw one flying quite high over the shoreline), Common Black Hawk, Tree Swallow, Yucatan Vireo and Blue-black Grassquit.
In the afternoon we walked to the turn-off for Coba in an attempt to get a lift there. We waited for hours until almost sunset before we got a ride. We saw: Red-billed Pigeon, Yucatan Jay, Squirrel Cuckoo and Turquoise-browed Motmot.
17 and 18 march: Coba.
We went out at 5.00 AM (it was still dark and we heard the call of the Pauraques) heading for the lake and waited till sunrise for Rails and Crakes with no luck but we did see:
In and around the lake, watching from location 1:
Least Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Anhinga, Purple Gallinule, Olivaceous Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Night Heron, American Bittern, Muscovy, Osprey, Limpkin, Hooded Yellowthroat, Purple Martin, Yellow-billed Cacique, White-eyed Vireo and Cassin's Kingbird.
At a small area in between a few bird-attracting fruit bearing trees, location 2:
Aztec Parakeet, Keel-billed Toucan, Masked Tityra, Yucatan Jay, Gray Catbird, Hooded Oriole, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Yellow-backed Oriole, Black-cowled Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Gray Hawk.
Carolina Wren we saw on the track into the dry scrub.
In the park, location 3:
Citreoline Trogon, Red-throated Ant-tanager and Green Jay.
At the opposite side if the lake, location 4:
Ruddy Crake (at dawn), Cinnamon Hummingbird and Indigo Bunting.
Left side of the lake, (seen from road to the lake) location 5:
Northern Jacana and Belted Kingfisher
In the village:
White-tailed Hawk, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Summer Tanager and Myrtle Warbler
In the afternoon of the 18th after a few hours waiting for a bus, we got a ride to Tulum were we stayed the night.
19 march, Tulum:
Early in the morning we did some birding on a small path in the direction of the sea. The bushes along this path didn't seem very interesting, though we did see:
Hooded Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Ovenbird, Great Swallow-tailed Swift, Yellow-throated Vireo.
Again in the afternoon we tried to catch a bus in the direction of Chetumal and again we noticed that busses did not frequently pass our stop. On the way from Tulum to Chetumal we saw a Laughing Falcon. Chetumal was not a very interesting place. We took some time to watch over the Caribbean Sea but didn't see anything interesting.
20 march, continuing the bustrip to Belize-city; Cay Caulker:
Chetumal has a bus station which sells tickets for a bus trip to Belize-city, leaving 9.30 AM: 43,000 pesos for the three of us together. The border of Belize didn't give us any problems although the customs officials were very unfriendly. 14.15 we arrived in Belize-city. On the road to Belize-city we saw a Bay-winged Hawk. The local 'tourist-information-centre' gave us the details about how to get to Cay Caulker (Cay Corker on some maps) by boat. Follow the main street until you cross a bridge, turn left just behind the bridge. Near a petrol station there are small speed-boats at the quay. The owners of the boats asked us 15 Bel. $ per person to bring us to the Island.
In the evening at low tide we saw a Yellow-crowned Nightheron.
21 march, Cay Caulker:
In the morning we followed the path through the mangroves to the southern tip of the Island: Double-crested Cormorant, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Osprey, Common Black Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Rufous-necked Woodrail, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Spotted Sandpiper, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, White-crowned Pigeon, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Yucatan Vireo, Tennessee Warbler and Mangrove Warbler. In the afternoon we enjoyed a sailing trip to the reef where we snorkled in the marine reserve: Hol Chan, to admire the beauty of the barrier reef.
22 march, Cay Caulker:
Again in the morning we did some birding at the southern part of the Island, other species we recorded were: Semipalmated Plover, Whimbrel, Belted Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Black Catbird, Mangrove Vireo and Bananaquit (the subspecies here has a white throat). In the afternoon we went snorkling near the mangroves on the north-west side of the Island where lots of fish of the reef come to give birth to millions of young fish.
23 march, Trip from Cay Caulker to Flores (near Tikal)
We took a boat at 6.30 AM to Belize-city from where we took the bus to San Ignacio (near the border of Guatemala) at 8.00 AM. On our way (still in Belize) we saw a Jabiru, one of the very few in this country. From San Ignacio we had to take a taxi to the border. Crossing the border to Guatemala again didn't give us any problems. As we waited for the bus to Flores, which collects people at a stop near the border, we saw Amazon Kingfisher and Black Phoebe at the river Mopan. The bustrip to Flores was far from comfortable, since even the main roads in Guatemala are very bad. In the late afternoon we walked around the village near the lake:
Belted Kingfisher, Red-winged Blackbird, Purple Gallinule, Berylline Hummingbird, Blue-grey Tanager and Gray Hawk.
24 march, Santa Elena
In the morning we went for a walk just south-west of to Santa Elena close to the Hills near the village: Plain Chachalaca, Aztec Parakeet, White-fronted Parrot, Yellow-headed Parrot, Little Hermit, White-bellied Emerald, Berylline Hummingbird, Vermilion, Flycatcher, Great-crested Flycatcher, Gray-breasted Martin, Gray Catbird, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Long-billed Gnatwren, Yellow-breasted Chat and Baltimore Oriole.
A small bus arranged by owners of our hotel (hotel San Guan), brought us in the park (15 Q.). The entrance fee was very expensive for Guatemalan standards: 30 Q. a person. The only camping in the park rented sleeping accommodations in the form of hammocks with a roof above: 35 Q. a person. The cheapest way to stay is to tent a tent in the garden of the Jaguar Inn Hotel 45 Q. for a three-person-tent.
25-28 march, Tikal
This area is certainly one of the most exciting birding areas we visited. Because most of the paths are partially shaded birding was our main activity throughout the day (5 am till sunset). Near the actual entrance there were always some stalls were one could buy some biscuits, bread and fruit to survive the day. Inside the actual park one could buy soft drinks near the main touristic sites. One of the best ways to watch birds here is by climbing a Temple (or pyramid) and watch the higher branches of the trees from a higher viewpoint.
The list of bird species recorded at several places (fairly common or not restricted to certain spots) in the area: Thicket Tinamou (heard in the morning), Plain Chachalaca (heard at some places), White-tipped Dove, Aztec Parakeet, White-bellied Emerald, Berylline Hummingbird, Squirrel Cuckoo, Keel-billed Toucan, Trogons, Collared Araçari, Emerald Toucanet, Plain Xenops, Masked Tityra, Woodpeckers, Woodcreepers, Long-billed Gnatwren, White-eyed Vireo, Flycatchers, Gray Hawk, Yellow-winged Tanager, Summer Tanager, Hepatic Tanager, Olive-backed Euphonia, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Indigo Bunting and Buff-throated Saltator.
Although the area consists of one habitat (forest), some species seemed to prefer certain places.
Ocellated Turkey, Blue Grosbeak, Blue Bunting, Pauraque. We also saw the only Barred Antshrike here. Two Scarlet Macaw's were flying around. According to a local they were introduced.
Pond near the Visitor Centre:
Gray-necked Woodrail, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Great Kiskadee, Hooded Yellowthroat and Green-backed Heron.
Complejo Q (Complex Q):
A good place to see lots of wintering (North-American) warblers. When climbing the rather small pyramid there is a quite close view to the branches of some trees apparently rich of nutritions. There also a reasonable view to the other side were we saw Laughing Falcon in the evening and one day even the rare King Vulture flying over.
At the path from Complejo Q to Plaza Major we saw: Purple-crowned Fairy and Chestnut-colored Woodpecker.
The best place to see parrots (Brown-hooded-, White-crowned-, White-fronted-, Red-lored- and Mealy Parrot), woodpeckers, flycatchers, Bar-vented Wren, Masked Tanager, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater. Swallow-tailed Kite (There is even a good view on two nests of these graceful raptors from the top of the lower pyramid and one nest can be seen from the big pyramid), Crested Guan has been seen climbing through the branches of trees from here.
Plaza Major (Great Plaza):
A good place to see some raptors: Plumbeous Kite, Bat Falcon, Great Black Hawk, Swallow-tailed Kite. Other birds: Montezuma Oropendola (there's a small colony near this place), Giant Cowbird and Melodious Blackbird. A little west from this main temple area there's a thin bushed area were we saw quite a few birds: White-whiskered Puffbird, Red-crowned Ant-tanager, Red-throated Ant-tanager, Tawny-crowned Greenlet and White-breasted Wood-wren
Path to the Templo de las inscripciones:
Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Dot-winged Antwren, Red-capped Manakin (halfway this path was clearly the best place to see this bird, we always saw them here), Short-billed Pigeon, Black-crowned Tityra, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush. The area around the Temple is a good place to see trogons and Blue-crowned Motmot. It was also the only place were we saw Lovely Cotinga.
Great Curassow we only saw once at the track from Grupo G to Templo V.
Black Hawk-eagle we saw near 'Grupo H, complejo P'.
Templo IV (High Temple):
A great view over the rainforest, but a little too high to see birds in the treetops. The best place to see White Hawk (usually quite high above the treetops).
29 march: Flores:
Because of Good Friday there were no busses so we had to spend the day in this area. A boat brought us to a small island in the lake were there is a small` zoo (of poor quality).
The lake has: Pied-billed and Least Grebe, Olivaceous Cormorant, Great Egret, Northern Jacana, Purple Gallinule, Ringed- and Belted Kingfisher. On the island we saw: Solitary Vireo, White-throated Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Plain Wren.
30 march: Boat trip from El Naranjo to La Palma:
A five hour boat trip (costing 15 US $ or 75 Q.) through the mostly destroyed forest. I would estimate that 90 percent of the trees on the banks on both sides of the San Pedro river had been cut down then! Still it was a pleasant trip and we saw: Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Great Blue-, Green-backed-, and Tricolored Heron, Ringed-, Belted- and Green Kingfisher, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Snail Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, Black-collared Hawk, Anhinga, Blue-winged Teal and one Crocodile. We took the bus to Tenosique and spend the night here.
31 march: Emiliano Zapata (road to La Libertat):
In the morning we took the bus to Emiliano Zapata. In the afternoon we did some birding along
the road to La Libertat. A few pools just behind a bridge before La Libertat produced a lot of interesting waders:
Pectoral Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper (20+), Greater Yellowlegs (4+), Lesser Yellowlegs (8+), Black-necked Stilt (20+), White-rumped
Sandpiper. Also we saw some Painted Buntings around here. Near the bridge we saw a Crane Hawk some Belted and two Amazon Kingfishers. A lot of the swamps seemed to be dried out in this time of the year. The scarce wet areas we saw produced some herons: Night Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron and also Wood Stork, Brown pelican, Limpkin. Typical birds of prey which seemed to be quite common: Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Crested Caracara also we saw one Black-shouldered Kite and one Black-collared Hawk. Along the same road we saw one Ladder-backed Woodpecker and a Ochre Oriole. Birds which seemed to be more common in this area then in any other habitat are: Vermilion Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-Winged Blackbird, Blue-black Grassquit and Grassland Yellow-finch.
1 april: Usumacinta (road 186):
We took a taxi to this road as far as signpost km 169. This was one of the rare occasions when we were struck by the fact that a car can be very useful. Most of the marches along this road seemed to be dried out. As we didn't find any water of significance we saw much less than the day before. The only new species were: one Green-breasted Mango feeding on flowering plants on the roadside a Hen Harrier and two Peregrine Falcons hunting. In the afternoon we decided to head for the Palenque area. We took a crowded bus to Playa (2500 p.p.) were there were minibusses to Palenque village (2500 p.p.). In the village we rented a room for three at 'Casa Huespedes San Juan'. (25,000 pesos per night, very cheap for a touristic place like Palenque)
A good restaurant in the area is 'Girasoles' (take the daily menu which is comparatively cheap: 11,000 pesos).
2 april: Palenque ruins:
In the morning we took the minibus at 7.00 am. to the park. The palenque ruins are surrounded by very nice looking forest. The park can be seen from a distance and seems like an island of rainforest in the cultivated flat country-side. It is opened at 8.00 am. entrance fee was 10,000 pesos a person.
From 7.00 till 9.00 we were pleased at the very good birding area around the parking place: Pale-vented Pigeon, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Olive Sparrow, Band-backed Wren, Crimson-collared Tanager, Brown Hooded Parrot, Rose-breasted Grosbeak along with lots of species one can see at Tikal. In the park we recorded some new species:
Worm-eating Warbler, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Wilson's Warbler, Solitairy Eagle (one above the ruins), Long-tailed Hermit (quite common). Noticeable species are: White Hawk (several), Plumbeous Kite (several), Bat Falcon (2+), Green Kingfisher (two near the stream by the museum), Blue-crowned Motmot, Citreoline-, Slaty-tailed- and Violaceous Trogon, Keel-billed Toucan (quite common), Red-legged Honeycreeper (quite common), White-breasted Wood-wren, Red-throated Ant-tanager, Yellow-breasted Chat and Montezuma Oropendola. The road back down in the direction of the village is also worth birding a while. We saw: White-bellied Emerald (common), Green-striped Brush-finch and Scarlet-rumped Tanager. The latter we saw only in some bushes on the left hand side on this road down, just at the point were the road has reached the flat area.
3 april: Palenque ruins:
We now spended a little longer near the parking place and discovered an interesting track from the parking place into the bushes around (see map).
The beginning of this track has a colony of Chestnut-headed Oropendola's. At this track we saw the beautiful play of the Long-tailed Hermit: The female sitting on a branch and the male flying around it in half circles, squeeking and flapping it's tail. The flapping of the tail makes a, compared to the birds size, incredible loud sound like the slashing of a whip. This play may well be the reason of the long tail. This track is also good to see the Black-faced Antthrush the very loud sound of this bird can easily be imitated. Even poor imitations can have the result to get close views of this otherwise hard to spot bird. The track is also the only place were we saw Green Honeycreeper. Also we saw Dusky Antbird here.
Into the actual park we saw a Yellow-billed Cacique. The way down to the village in the gardens of the first hotel on the left hand side produced a few interesting species: Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Bananaquit (the subspecies here has a gray throat), Masked Tanager and a Common Poorwill sitting on a branch in the sun. This is also a good spot to see Red-legged Honeycreeper. This bird prefers to feed very high in flowering trees (orange-flowered trees without leaves in this time of the year) and is easily overlooked but quite common. This day we discovered that flocks of Broad-winged Hawks (100+) are migrating at this time of the year.
4 april: Palenque ruins:
At the same birdwatching tracks we saw about the same species as yesterday exept for: White-naped Swift, White-collared Swift, Red-crowned Ant-tanager, Black-headed Oriole and a male Yellow-throated Euphonia with a green back. We booked the night-bus to Merida for 8 april (even the 7 april bus was already booked!). In the evening we took the bus to San Christobal.
5 april: San Christobal (San Juan Chamula):
The highlands around this city were very nice birdwatching because one can see a list of species that do not occur in the habitats we already visited (tropical forest, marshes, lakes etc.). From the balcony of our hotel we were surprised to notice that this was the first place were we saw House Sparrows. Also we saw one Western Tanager and Rufous Collared Sparrow (the latter appeared to be common in this area) from our hotel.
This first morning we desided to take a bus to a near indian village called: 'San Juan Chamula':
Osprey, Mourning Dove, Lesser Roadrunner, Steller's Jay, Band-backed Wren, Southern House-wren, Rufous-collared Robin, Orange-billed Nightingale-thrush, Yellow-backed Oriole, Cresent-chested Warbler, Hermit Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Rufous-sided Towhee, Yellow-eyed Junco and Lincoln's Sparrow.
6 april: Estacion Biologica Huitepec and the village Tenejapa:
About halfway the same road to the San Juan Chamula village this reserve is on the right hand side of the road. The signpost is easily overlooked.
There's a fence and a small wooden shed, which appeared to be the office of the park. Seen from the road, the park didn't seem special but a track up the hills leads to a nice but very dense forest. At the first few hundred meters we saw:
Tufted Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Steller's Jay, Southern House-wren, Gray Silky-flycatcher, Cresent-chested Warbler, Myrtle Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Hermit Warbler,
Nashville Warbler, Slate-throated
Redstart, Golden-browed Warbler, White-naped Brush-finch and Yellow-eyed Junco.
In the afternoon we went back to San Christobal and took a minibus to a different indian village called: 'Tenejapa'. Above this village we saw White-collared Swift (common) and White-
throated Swift (10+). A path into the valley produced the following species: Red-shafted Flicker, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird, MacGillivray's Warbler and Slate-throated Redstart. We had some problems to get back to San Christobal as it was getting dark and local indians gestured that the last bus had passed already. Fortunately we got a ride in the back of a truck.
7 april: Tuxla Gutierrez (canyon 'El Sumidero'):
We took the 6.00 am bus to Tuxla and 8.00 we arrived in the city. There seemed to be no organized busses to the canyon and we had to pay 10.000 pesos a person to get at viewpoint: 'Les Atalaya Mirador' On our way to the canyon we saw: two Red-tailed Hawks, one Steller's Jay and a few White-throated Magpie-jay's and Ravens. At 9.30 we arrived at the viewpoint and saw a: Green Jay and Banded Wren. When we were there it was very hot, quiet and dry. In fact it reminded at a semi-desert as most bushes on the canyon edges seemed to be dead and we didn't hear a single bird. We desided to walk back the same road for a while. After 400 m. we saw a green area (forest, see map) in a small valley between the dead bush, which obviously contained water in wet periods of the year. We took the track down across the cornfield to the forest edge. The place was crowded with birds because of it's oasis-like character: Squirrel Cuckoo,
Fawn-breasted Hummingbird, Citreoline Trogon, Collared Trogon, Violaceous Trogon, Bluecrowned Motmot, Emerald Toucanet, Ivory-billed Woodreeper, Rose-throated Becard, Band-backed Wren, Southern
House-wren, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yellow-winged Tanager and Blue Bunting. In the afternoon we went back to San Christobal were we saw Common Nighthawks above the city in the evening.
8 april: Travelling day:
From San Christobal we took the bus to Palenque, were we took the night-bus to Merida. Just before Palenque we saw a few Black-bellied Tree-ducks. In Palenque we saw 20+ Common Nighthawks flying over in the direction of the Park when it was still bright daylight (4.15 pm). We arrived at 5.00 am in Merida and took the bus from 6.00 am to Celestun.
9 april: Celestun:
This rather dirty, smelly fishing village has a beautiful lagoon and a few hotels at the beach. We checked in at a quite expensive one and took a nap. At 3 pm. we did some birding near the lagoon which holds about 3000 Greater Flamingo's and about one million (!) Blue-winged Teals in winter. It was obvious that it was not yet the right time for the Blue-winged Teals as we saw only one of these birds along with: Anhinga, Shoveler, Osprey, Gull-billed Tern (one migrating along the shore-line), Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Double-crested Cormorant, Olivacious Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-heron (one juvenile), Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Aplomado Falcon, Southern House-wren, Green Jay, Palm Warbler, Mangrove Warbler, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Altamira Oriole and Red Cardinal.
10 april: Celestun:
At 6.30 walked to the lagoon and met two american birders. We managed to arange a three-hour boattrip by one of the local fishermans. 60.000 pesos was the cost we shared between the five of us. This trip was sometimes a bit annoying to me because the fisherman, though I asked him several times not to get too close, still took his boat too close to the Flamingo's and they were disturbed. Nevertheless the boattrip is strongly recommended as we saw quite a few interesting birds: Common Black Hawk (common), White-tailed Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, White Ibis (50+), American Coot (150+), Tricolored Heron, Shoveler (70+), Black-necked Stilt and Belted Kingfisher. As the fisherman took his boat into the mangroves near a spring we saw: Green Kingfisher (2), Pygmy Kingfisher (one), Golden-olive Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker and Northern Waterthrush. After this boattrip we went to the restaurant: 'La Playaita' close to the shoreline. As we were eating a whole meal of crab, we saw a group of eleven Black Skimmers, a few Sandwich Terns and one Gull-billed Tern flying over the shoreline. In the afternoon we went to the saltpans north of the village were we saw: Cinnamon Hummingbird, White pelican, White-collared Swift, Mangrove Vireo, Snowy Plover (5), Semipalmated Sandpiper (2), Merlin, Vermilion Flycatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Red Cardinal (4).
11 april: Celestun:
Till 10 am we went birding just south of celestun. Before we went around the small harbour we were lucky to spot a Bartram's (Upland) Sandpiper, and just after we went around the small harbour we saw a few Savanah Sparrows in the very short vegetation and 20 Black Skimmers together with a group of Terns in a saltpan left of the track. Further along the path in the dune/scrub land we saw a group of Black-throated Bobwhite's ( 15), a female Mexican Sheartail, Tree Swallow, Zone-tailed Hawk (2), American Kestrel (2), Vermilion Flycatcher (2). At noon we took the bus to Merida were we bought tickets for the bus to Cancun. On our way to Cancun we saw Yucatan Jay ( 10) and one Black-Shouldered Kite.
12 april: Cancun:
In the morning we went swimming on the populair beach of Cancun and saw: Ring-billed Gull (the only one we saw in Mexico) and a few Turnstone. In the afternoon we went to the airport. After we checked in we went outside to see our last birds of this trip: Red-lored Parrot, Green Jay, Red-billed Pigeon and about 15 species of the most common birds. Our plane left at 19.30 and arrived at Schiphol Airport at 13.30 the next day.