Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico), Belize & Guatemala (Part 1)

What a fantastic trip! It’s been an incredibly busy couple weeks – after backpacking around the Yucatán, Belize, and Guatemala, I returned on Christmas Eve and jumped immediately into the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I still haven’t had much time to take a break yet as I prepare for a local Christmas Bird Count that I’m compiling, but I decided I must post something on the trip. In all, we recorded 315 species - quite a bit more than expected!

The afternoon of December 10th I stepped out of the Cancun Airport and met up with the two other birders joining me for the trip. After withdrawing pesos from the ATM, we didn’t waste time and boarded an ADO bus to Playa Del Carmen to catch a ferry to Cozumel Island. It was a nice change to be back in the tropics leaving the gray Midwest behind. Waiting for the ferry, we watched Magnificent Frigatebirds circling overhead, Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings working the beach the occasional Sandwich Tern amongst the hoards of Laughing Gulls.  After hearing horror stories of rough seas and sick people during the 10 mile ferry ride, we were pleased to experience very calm seas which allowed us to sit back and enjoy the 40min ride.

Cozumel Island is renowned for its beaches, diving, water sports, shopping, etc. and is a popular stop for cruise ships. Normally I would avoid touristy areas like this but Cozumel is home to several endemic species and there’s no way I was going to pass them up. Luckily, the tourists stay near the boat dock so the three of us ventured to the outskirts of town to our Couch Surfing host who agreed to put us up for two nights. To our advantage, his neighborhood was surrounded by prime island scrub. Since darkness had already fallen, we had to wait until the morning so we enjoyed a nice local dinner consisting of Chicharrón (fried pork skin), refried beans, and tortillas.

The following morning, we ventured out at first light walking down the road to an overgrown track. Black Catbirds were calling from every direction and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Tropical Mockingbirds, and the endemic subspecies of Bananaquit were just as numerous. Soon we started picking up specialties including a half dozen Cozumel Vireos amongst flocks of warblers, Yucatan Woodpecker, Mangrove Cuckoo, and the endemic subspecies of Rufous-browned Peppershrike. We reached the end of the track and ran into a nice party of birds including a cooperative female Cozumel Emerald (we did see a couple males later).

Birdy Track
Black Catbird
Cozumel Emerald (female)
After a quick break, we headed out to another promising patch of habitat picking up a half-dozen more Cozumel Vireos and finally…a Cozumel Wren! This proved to be the most difficult endemic to get (aside from Cozumel Thrasher which is presumably extinct). Too bad Cozumel Wren is currently lumped with House Wren, but still a great pick up!

Cozumel Vireo
That evening, we ventured back to this track in search of owls and nightjars. We only had a couple Common Pauraques, which called consistently within close proximity. This provided me some of the best audio recordings I recorded this trip.

The following morning before taking the ferry back to the mainland, we check the previous track once more picking up a few more new trip birds including Blue-winged Warbler, Green-breasted Mango and the endemic subspecies of Western Spindalis (aka Stripe-headed Tanager). We left the island with only 50+ species, but that was entirely expected for an island. Next post will be on the renowned birding location – Vigia Chico Road, which certainly gave the trip list a boost!

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