Monday, December 14, 2015

Mexico - Cancun to Rio Lagartos

(Note: I will be inserting links to eBird checklists throughout, just click to see everything I saw at each site, along with more photos! Also, I brought a Garmin GPS preloaded with free Central America maps which came in super handy for driving portions. Preloading maps to your smart phone on Google Maps by zooming in while on WiFi also allows you to view maps and use your phone's GPS offline.)

Way back on January 27, 2014, I packed up my backpack and a small dry bag, hopped in the car and headed out to the Sault Ste. Marie airport to begin 7 weeks of adventuring through 7 countries (Canada, USA, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama). It was just my luck that this winter was the coldest and snowiest in recent memory, and this day was no exception, with temps around -25ºC and a snowstorm moving in. After some delays, we finally loaded into the plane, pulled out onto the tarmac...and promptly sat there, waiting for the storm to clear. It didn’t, and my flight was cancelled. Agh!!! Luckily there was a later flight on Air Canada that had also been delayed (I was flying Porter), and I managed to get a ticket and got on the plane just in time before the gates closed! After a mix-up in Toronto, I got to the hotel at 12:30am to meet up with Janice (my travel companion for the first 2.5 weeks) and get a couple hours’ sleep in before our 3:30am wakeup call (Jan 28) to get to the airport. After a brief stop in Newark (where I managed to see the Empire State building and add 4 species to my NJ list), we were under way to Cancun!

 NYC from the air - Statue of Liberty on the left!

We arrived around 1pm, and pretty much instantly began sweating in the 30-degree heat – remember I had been in a place 55 degrees Celsius colder than that less than a day earlier... After clearing customs, transferring to Cancun downtown, getting some food and finding the right bus we were headed toward Rio Lagartos, the first stop on our tour. We started to see some of the more common birds at this point (Great-tailed Grackle, Black Vulture, Tropical Kingbird), but I was more excited when we got out of the city and started seeing things like “Ridgway’s” Rough-winged Swallow and Tropical Mockingbird which were lifers for me! At this point I wasn’t feeling that great, being sleep-deprived and dehydrated, and I basically spent the majority of the bumpy bus ride trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep.

 En route to Rio Lagartos - last photo before the phone died

After a transfer in Tizimin, we eventually made it to Rio Lagartos sometime after 10pm, much later than we had anticipated! Luckily Diego (our host) just happened to be dropping some clients off at the bus stop when we got off and gave us a ride back to the posada. He asked us what our plans were for the next day, and when we told him he mentioned that he already had some clients who had paid for a morning trip to the same area and had extra seats in his van, so if we wanted to join we were welcome! We excitedly agreed and then got settled in to get some sleep after a long day (and a half for me) on the road. At this point I discovered that my phone charger had gone missing along the way (likely during United’s routine baggage check...), so I didn’t get any landscape pics for the next day. 
Running trip total species count: 10

Jan 29

I ended up waking up early and was out birding around 5:45am, to see what I could find before we had to meet up for the birding expedition. I found a small lake just down the road from the posada and managed to add Clapper Rail, Gull-billed Tern, Wood Stork, Mangrove Swallow, Reddish Egret and about 20 other common birds to the day list before breakfast was served! At this point we met the people who we would be birding with for the day. They were Les and Carol, an older couple from England, who helped us out in quite a few ways and deserve a big Thank You from Janice and I! More on that later though. At 7 we were all piled into Diego’s van and headed off toward Rancho San Salvador, a scrubby track just southeast of Rio Lagartos that is pretty fantastic for Yucatan specialties and general birding. Our main targets were obviously the endemics, but seeing as most of the birds we found were lifers for Janice, we tried our best to see as much as possible! The birds didn’t disappoint, and the highlights of just under 4 hours of birding along the track included Yucatan Woodpecker, Mangrove Vireo, Mangrove Cuckoo, Yucatan Jay, Green Jay, Yucatan Wren, Painted Bunting, Crane Hawk, Orange Oriole, Black-throated Bobwhite, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Lesser Roadrunner, Zenaida Dove, Canivet’s Emerald, "White-browed" Wren, Yucatan Flycatcher, Ruddy Crake, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, White-bellied Emerald, Mexican Sheartail and Cave Swallow, most of which were lifers for me! Be sure to check out the eBird checklists at the end of every post for more photos.

Yucatan Jay

 Yucatan Wren

Turquoise-browed Motmots

The track at Rancho San Salvador

With that we had mostly cleaned up our targets for the area, but we still had plenty of daylight left, and headed over to the road south of San Felipe for an hour or so, adding quite a few waterbirds to the day list by scouring the ponds and flooded fields. Unfortunately the Jabiru that had been present earlier in the month was nowhere to be found, but we managed to see things like Boat-billed Heron, Orchard Oriole, Common Black-Hawk, Northern Jacana, Limpkin, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Least Bittern, and a weird melanistic Green Heron.

 Melanistic Green Heron

It was then time to head back to town to grab some lunch, where we found a few American Flamingos off in the distance! After seeing my friends’ close-ups of Flamingos, these distant looks weren’t enough for me, and Diego hooked us up with a good deal on a boat tour of the mangroves for the afternoon. Unfortunately for us a storm kicked up partway through the tour and we were caught in the middle of a torrential downpour. The boat operators asked if we wanted to keep going all the way to the estuary, to which we answered heck yes! We came this far, a little (or a lot of) rain wasn’t going to deter us. After a brief respite under a bridge during the worst of the rain, we made it out to the salt ponds, dripping wet but full of anticipation. The flamingos didn’t disappoint, with several hundred present, albeit quite a bit further than I was hoping, so no full-frame pics in nice sunlight for me.

 American Flamingos

Along with the flamingos, there were hundreds of shorebirds and waders present, with some of the more interesting ones being Clapper Rail, Snowy Plover, Wilson’s Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Roseate Spoonbill, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and Sandwich Tern. After a few scans to make sure there wasn’t anything else hiding out there, we boated back to town for a welcome change into dry clothes before we joined Les and Carol for dinner. Unfortunately I only had room to pack the shoes I was wearing (my hiking boots), and they got completely soaked on the boat ride, so I had to borrow a pair of Janice’s flip-flops to walk to the restaurant – they were a few sizes too small but at least they were a decent colour! At this point I think I should mention that our base of operations in Rio Lagartos was at Diego Nuñez’s posada on the south side of town. It is a nice place, with reasonable rates and very friendly owners – Diego knows where to find pretty much any bird you might want to see in the area and is quite accommodating! I’d highly recommend a stay with him if you are in the area, his website is here: Our day of fairly intensive birding in the Rio Lagartos area scored us 141 species, not a bad way to kick off the trip!
Running trip total: 142


Alan Wormington said...

Hey Dave

I think your Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the Soo in early December is just as impressive as the birds you mention here!

David Bell said...

Ha! I'm actually surprised nobody has been out to look for it (that I know of) - not many previous winter records (2 CBC records at least).