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This is an all-round birding tour but still with focus on the endemics of the region.
Great Curassow, Zenaida Dove, Caribbean Dove, White-crowned Pigeon, Black-throated Antthrush, House Wren (Cozumel), Carolina [White-browed] Wren.
First of all birding. All species in general but with a special focus on the local endemics. And since the itinerary will take us to some of the most important Maya ruins on the peninsula birders with an interest in pre-Columbian culture will benefit double on this tour, since the ruin sites are excellent birding localities!
The trip is prepared for us to have good time to move from place to place, and to find and enjoy the birds without stressing (if you are only interested in the endemics, it is possible to use less days. Ask me for a separate arrangement if this is your need).
The tour runs with 4 or 5 participants. If less than 4, the tour could still be executed, but the price per person would be adjusted accordingly (cancellation details in the Tour Conditions under Relevant Links).
The price includes
The price includes all transport from we meet in Cancún until we say goodbye in Cancún. Also included is all accommodation and entrance fees, as are tips in relation to transport, including the boat trip. A tour report, my services as guide, interpreter and driver are of course also included, and I do not expect to be tipped!
The price does not include
The price does not include transport to the meeting point (Cancún) and from the departure point (Cancún), nor travel insurance or any expenses of a personal nature that has not been mentioned specifically as being included in the tour price. Food and drinks are not included either (allowing you to only pay for what you are really consuming). Tips to room maids, porters, restaurants etc will be at your own courtesy too.
A moderate pace throughout the day, with a siesta at midday whenever it is needed. We'll never rush, and always take our time to find and study the birds of interest. When nightjaring, it will be moderate too, around dusk or dawn, allowing you to get a good night's sleep every night.
Most of the time we'll be birding close to the car, but at times you should be prepared to walk a few kilometers to get to the birds we are looking for. However, Yucatan is flat as a pancake why you should be able to enjoy all the birding without too much effort.
In Playa del Carmen you have to be able to carry your luggage 400 meters to the passenger ferry, because there is no car access to the pier area. On Cozumel we normally walk the 200 meters to the hotel, but a taxi can be provided.
Mostly hot and humid, but sometimes cold fronts from the north reach all the way down to the peninsula and it gets, if not chilly, cooler than normal. But probably never requiring more than a thin sweater to deal with the conditions. A shower now and then might be possible, but rarely more serious than what a light rain jacket or umbrella can handle.
We will be staying in good mid range hotels throughout the tour, in Calakmul in cabins with all basic facilities, allowing us to stay close to our birding destinations every day.
We will very likely have most of our breakfasts in the field, because most hotels in Mexico don't serve breakfast until 730 am, why we will often have to rely on the OXXO breakfast version, to allow us the flexibility we need as birders. OXXO is the Mexican 7-Eleven equivalent and serves you all you need to start the day in a solid manner.
Dinner we will most certainly have in restaurants after the day's birding, while how to intake our lunch will be a matter of decision as we go along.
A reasonable estimate for a daily consumption per person is around 500 pesos (mxn) (26 usd).
We will have an eye out for all sorts of wildlife, and will make an effort to identify at least, mammals, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians.
The big cats are rare to see where we are going but both monkies, the Yucatan Black Howler and Geoffroy's Spider Monkey are regular in Calakmul, so is also the Collared Peccary, White-nosed Coati and the Central American Agouti. Among the reptiles the Common Spiny-tailed Iguana is indeed common as is the Brown Basilisk and we will likely also see Morelet's crocodile and some squirrels.
The tour is not prepared for photography as such, but with our moderately paced itinerary there will be plenty of opportunity to try to capture the birds on pixels. I do it continuously on these tours, mainly with the purpose of documentation and identification.
Day 1 (February 9)
Night in Cancún, Quintana Roo.
We meet during the day, with a group dinner in the evening to synchronize and get the tour started. If we are all installed in time to go birding before it gets dark, we will do so.
Day 2 (February 10)
Night in San Miguel, Cozumel, Quintana Roo.
Before/after breakfast we will visit Isla Blanca, a sandy spit/beach/lagoon north of Cancun where we will look for Piping Plover, Zenaida Dove and the white morph of Great Blue Heron. All three species are basically restricted to this area, if you want to see them in Mexico.
Afterward will we visit an abandoned seafront development at the south end of Cancun to look for especially Ruddy Crake and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron but other waterbirds as well. While being in Cancun there is a small chance of finding Smooth-billed Ani too. In Mexico it is restricted to the Caribbean coast, why Cancún and Cozumel are the places to look for it. Often in company with Groove-billed.
The species highlighted are of course not the only birds we will be focusing on. Anything flying will have our attention, from the beginning to the end of the trip.
We will then drive south, a good half hour, to Playa del Carmen, where we will take a ferry to Cozumel. We leave and park our vehicle in a secure parking space, and from there we walk 400 meters to the passenger ferry. You should be able to carry your own luggage this distance. The ferry trip takes 45 minutes and on the other side we will walk 200 meters to our hotel. You can rest while I pick up our vehicle to use on the island, and in the afternoon, depending on how much time we have, we will go birding for some of the nice island species and true endemics possible to find there.
Cozumel Emerald and Cozumel Vireo are the two true endemics we want to see. Cozumel Thrasher has not been seen for many years, hurricane wipe out, and even though it hasn’t been declared officially extinct we’ll spare us the effort and not try to look for it as such, but of course keeping a dreaming eye open just in case.
Otherwise we will be looking for some of the species that are much easier to find here on the island compared to the mainland, and we will also look for species that have a specific subspecies related to the island. Of the former type Black Catbird, Caribbean Dove, Yucatan Vireo and Caribbean Elaenia are the most obvious ones. Of the latter type, you can see a complete list of species here, but the one that most people have as a priority is the beani subspecies of House Wren, which might be the most likely one to be split off as a separate species one day. From this list we should also insist on finding Western Spindalis and White-crowned Pigeon which are not likely to be seen on the mainland. We will also look out for the always precious wood warblers that winter in this part of Mexico, here just naming Yellow-throated, Hooded, Black-throated Green, Palm, Prairie, Swainson’s, Northern Parula, American Redstart plus the two waterthrushes. At dusk we will try for Yucatan Nightjar.
Day 3 (February 11)
Night in San Miguel, Cozumel, Quintana Roo.
We will continue our birding from yesterday focusing on the species we didn’t find. Most of these species are to be found along the western urbanized coast of the island. But having a full day to our disposal we will also make an excursion to the eastern isolated part of the island where we will experience the much rougher and windswept landscapes and the constant surf created by a Caribbean ocean showing much more character here than on the west coast. The only ruin site on the island, San Gervesio, can also be good for birds, why we will pay a visit on our way back to San Miguel.
Day 4 (February 12)
Night in Río Lagartos, Yucatán.
We bird for whatever is necessary in the morning on Cozumel, but otherwise plan to head back to the mainland no later than midday.
We then leave Playa del Carmen for the two and a half hours drive to Río Lagartos on the north coast of the peninsula.
The climate will be the same as in Cancún, hot and humid, but the landscape is different with dry open savanna, as being the habitat where will be looking for some of the endemics that are either restricted to this area or difficult to find elsewhere: Mexican Sheartail, Yucatan Wren and Black-throated Bobwhite. But Río Lagartos is not only known for these species. The savanna area is good for a wide range of species, mentioning here Yucatan Woodpecker, Cinnamon Hummingbird Lesser Roadrunner, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Mangrove Cuckoo, Turquoise-browed and Lesson's Motmot, Orange Oriole, White-fronted Parrot, Yellow-lored Parrot, Crane Hawk, both black hawks and King Vulture to look for.
Río Lagartos is a small fishing village. Being situated far from the buzzing Riviera Maya and other major attractions it has managed to maintain it’s quiet and picturesque atmosphere, and mostly attracts nature lovers and especially lovers of the American Flamingo. Río Lagartos and Celestún on the west coast of the peninsula are the main localities for this majestic species which can be seen in their thousands.
But for us birders there is more than flamingos to look forward to in the wet element, because lying at the edge of a mangrove fringed estuary, Ría Lagartos, we will also do a boat trip looking for both wood rails, Rufous-necked and Russet-naped, American Flamingo, shorebirds, gulls, terns and a wide array of herons, with Boat-billed and Reddish being the exclusive ones. Either on the boat trip or from land we will also look for the 4 kingfishers, and any of many wintering birds that favor this great birding locality.
Day 5 (February 13)
Night in Río Lagartos, Yucatán.
We will do the boat trip this day, either in the morning or the afternoon, depending on what is best relative to the tide and birds. The rest of the day we will bird the wider area around the town depending on which species we are prioritizing. This will very likely take us to the savanna locality San Salvador or to the famous salt ponds at Las Coloradas. Unfortunately the new owners of the salt factory are not allowing people to enter the area freely, but it is still possible to scan some of the basins from a distance, and we will intend to get our shorebirds where all three stints are possible as are both yellowlegs, Willet, Stilt Sandpiper, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Wilson’s Phalarope, Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, American Oystercatcher, Snowy, Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plover. If we didn’t get the Piping Plover in Cancún, there is a slight chance here, and the same goes for Zenaida Dove which favors the beach on the ocean side. Here we can also look for gulls, and among the common Laughing Gulls and fewer Herring Gulls hope for a Lesser Black-backed Gull which has become increasingly common in Mexico during the later years.
Day 6 (February 14)
Night in Río Lagartos, Yucatán.
We have another full day to explore this wonderful area, and will decide on the day which species we should be focusing on.
Day 7 (February 15)
Night in Mérida, Yucatán.
Traditionally it has not been necessary to travel as far east on the peninsula as to Mérida to get the local endemics that most birders come for. But from this year on it will be different, because the taxonomy authorities have decided to split off the Yucatan subspecies of White-lored Gnatcatcher as a separate species. It has its stronghold in the northeastern part of the peninsula, and though there are reports of it in ebird around Rio Lagartos I've never had it there, why I've decided to include Mérida for a one night stop, to make sure that we get this new endemic too.
But before we get there we will bird in the morning near Rio Lagartos, if we still need to look for important species, and after breakfast we will drive toward Mérida, but doing a tourist/birding stop at the world famous ruins of Chichén Itzá on the way. If you would only allow one building, or structure of all the Mayan ruins discovered until now, to be on your bucket list El Castillo at Chichén Itzá should be it. It is a true masterpiece of aesthetic proportions. And as it is the case with most of the ruin sites throughout the peninsula Chichén Itzá is lying within a forested area, and therefore provide fine birding as well. It happened once that the only place where we got to see the Lesson’s Motmot was here!
From this cultural highlight we will continue toward Mérida via Progreso on the coast. We will bird along at suited spots as we feel inclined to, and this should guarantee us the new endemic, and we might be lucky with a rare gull along the coast as well. The latter perhaps mostly to my own amusement, eager as I am to boost my Mexico lists as much as possible. But as you probably know: A happy guide is a friendly guide why it will all come back to you plentiful!
We will arrive at Mérida in the afternoon and after check-in enjoy a good meal in the beautiful colonial style downtown.
Day 8 (February 16)
Night in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo.
If we for some strange reason didn’t find the Yucatan Gnatcatcher the day before, we will start the morning’s birding with the aim to find it. Afterward we will head southeast across the peninsula to our next destination, the small farmland town Felipe Carrillo Puerto (FCP). On the way we have the opportunity to visit some of the most impressive caves in the peninsula, Loltun caves, which consist of an extensive system of chambers of different sizes, some very large. The caves are especially known for their ancient wall paintings. Otherwise we will intend to reach FCP as soon as possible, and start our birding along the famous Vigía Chico road already this same afternoon.
Vigía chico, meaning small watch point, has long been included in every serious Yucatan itinerary and the list of species recorded is well over 300. This secondary and primary low dry forest mixed with farmland clearings and a few forest ponds will give us many good species, and the local endemics we will be looking for are Yucatan Woodpecker, Yucatan Jay, Yucatan Flycatcher, Yellow-lored Parrot, Gray-throated Chat, Rose-throated Tanager, Green-backed Sparrow, Orange Oriole, Yucatan Poorwill and Yucatan Nightjar. But there will be a lot more: Many doves including rarer Pale-vented and Scaled Pigeons, Thicket Tinamou, trogons, Black-headed, Collared and Gartered, and hummingbirds, Canivet’s Emerald, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, White-bellied Emerald, Buff-bellied, Cinnamon and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, woodpeckers, Golden-fronted (Velazque’s), Smoky-brown, Pale-billed, Lineated, Chestnut-colored and Golden-olive, Bat Falcon, Mealy Parrot, Barred Antshrike and Black-faced Antthrush. Among the ovenbirds and woodcreepers we will hope for Ruddy, Tawny-winged and Northern Barred Woodcreepers, and Plain Xenops and Rufous-breasted Spinetail.
The list of Tyrant Flycatchers we can expect to see will be too extensive to repeat in total here. Some of the better ones will be Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Northern Bentbill, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Yellow-olive Flycatcher and Stub-tailed Spadebill.
And those who don’t find Empidonax birding amusing can consider themselves fortunate because the only two species that are regularly seen in this area are Least and Yellow-bellied, two species we should be able to distinguish relatively easy. The Myiarchus flycatchers on the other hand can turn out to be more tricky than expected if they don’t vocalize. Both Yucatan, Dusky-capped, Great Cresteed and Brown-crested are here. And so are both Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds which are also always easier to identify by sound.
Black-crowned and Masked Tityras plus Northern Schiffornis and the two becards, Gray-collared and Rose-throated are also all on the realistic agenda. And if you never saw or heard a Brown Jay before, you will after this visit!
The Ridgway’s form of Northern Rough-winged Swallow, the one with the dark undertail is here too, as is Purple Martin, and of the wrens we’ll be looking for both the white-browed form of Carolina Wren, Spot-breasted Wren, White-bellied Wren and White-breasted Wood-Wren. All likely.
Long-billed Gnatwren and Tropical Gnatcatcher too. Wood Thrush is the most common thrush together with Clay-colored. Of the sparrows we will see few species, but two that look very much alike, Olive and Green-backed, we should expect, and learn to separate.
Local troupials like Yellow-billed Cacique, Montezuma Oropendola, Black-cowled, Hooded, Yellow-backed, Yellow-tailed and Altamira Orioles we will look for when not distracted by the more common Melodious Blackbird.
Wintering New World Warblers is a separate chapter. Many are not common, but some are, like Hooded, Magnolia and Black-throated Green Warbler plus American Redstart and Northern Parula. Yes, they can be tricky when they move about in the higher parts of the foliage, but also so fun and rewarding when you manage to pick out one of the rarer species. If we find a Swainson’s Warbler I buy ice-cream to everyone for the rest of the trip!
Tanagers and cardinals, diverse as these families are, will also be on the repertoire, Summer Tanager and both ant-tanagers should be findable, as well as Northern Cardinal, Blue and Indigo Bunting. Gray-headed Tanager might not be so common, but there should be good chances to find Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue-black Grassquit or Morelet’s Seedeater, or Black-headed and Grayish Saltators rounding up the hopeful inspiring presentation.
We will not have time this afternoon to look for all the species of course, but should get our selves started and animated for a full day excursion the next day. We will probably stay out until it gets dark to try for the nightjars and owls. It gets dark early, around 6 pm, why we will have plenty of time afterward to have dinner and get a good nights sleep.
Day 9 (February 17)
Night in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo
We will be out when it gets light, probably bringing breakfast with us from the OXXO. Whether we will stay out all day, to take advantage of the daylight, or make a break at midday, we will decide when we get there. Even though the climate is hot and humid the birding along this road is always pleasant when we walk in shade most of the time. Birding as mentioned under day 5.
Day 10 (February 18)
Night in Conhuas (Calakmul), Campeche
We will decide whether we will bird along Vigía Chico again this morning or not. If not we will drive directly to famous Calakmul at the bottom of the Yucatan peninsula. 3 and a half hours.
Calakmul national park and forest is connected to the larger Petén rain forest that constitutes the northern part of Guatemala. Here you find some of the last virgin jungle in Mexico, still making it a haven for all types of wildlife. Most of the birds we could see at Vigía Chico can also be found here plus several others. Ocellated Turkey and Great Curassow can be seen at Vigía Chico too, and elsewhere, but Calakmul is the absolute stronghold in Mexico for these magnificent species, and they are easy to see along the access road or around the ruins themselves. Calakmul is also where it is most likely to actually get to see a tinamou, which will normally be a Thicket.
Raptors are also more likely here, where all three hawk-eagles have been seen, with Ornate as the most regular. Hook-billed Kite and Roadside Hawk are pretty common, while Bicolored Hawk is likely and Double-toothed Kite can be hoped for.
Singing Quail and Ruddy Quail-Doves are also often seen, and while the hummingbirds to be seen here are mostly the same as at Vigía Chico, the chances of finding a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird is much better. Could we land a Slaty-tailed Trogon, a Tody Motmot or White-necked Puffbird you should hear no complaints from me, even though it is more likely to find one of the two forest-falcons or a Bat Falcon. White-crowned Parrot, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Sepia-capped Flycatcher or the Northern Royal ditto are more common than Lovely Cotinga or Red-capped Manakin but we still hope to find both of them, while Lesser Greenlet should be guaranteed.
Chances of seeing a Russet-naped Wood-Rail at one of the aguadas, water holes, along the access road are big, and some years both Sungrebe and Agami Heron have been seen too, why we will make sure to look for them as we pass by.
Both Scrub and Yellow-throated Euphonias are realistic too, which is not the case with the regional endemic Black-throated Shrike-Tanager. It is rare but we will still make an effort to mane it out of the deep shadows of the forest.
So, as always we will be focusing on the birds, but birding in Calakmul is more than just a species focused outing. The forest itself is magical, and the ruin complex being one of the finest in the Maya world. They are situated way off the main tourist flow, and there are few local people living in the area, why we can expect to have this incredible scenery almost to our selves. You will love to sit on the top of the tallest ruins enjoying the view of the vast green ocean surrounding you for as long as the eye reaches, and don’t be surprised if a King Vulture or a hawk-eagle fly by, while Spider Monkeys forage through the canopies below you accompanied by their noisier black cousins.
We will not be able to reach the ruins this same afternoon why we will go birding close to the hotel after we have checked in, and when it starts to get dark, we will visit a nearby bat cave, where we will enjoy the incredible spectacle when millions of bats come out at dusk to start their nightly duties. It is truly amazing to experience, and there will be chances of getting birds that we haven’t seen yet, because it is known that different birds of prey, like Barn Owl or Bicolored Hawk, can show up hoping to catch an easy meal in the moments of chaos when the bats still haven’t dispersed into the black night.
Day 11 (February 19)
Night in Conhuas (Calakmul), Campeche
A full day of birding along the access road to the ruins and the ruin site, looking for the species listed under day 7. The access road from the hotel to the ruins is 60 km long, why we will not return to the hotel until the evening. We will bring both breakfast and lunch, then.
The access road provides excellent birding as well as the ruin site itself, and there are a few water holes en route to the ruin complex that we will investigate on our way. When we get closer to the ruins both Ocellated Turkey and Great Curassow start to show up right in the road. A great experience!
Day 12 (February 20)
Night in Conhuas (Calakmul), Campeche
This day will be a repetition of day 11, adjusted for specific needs. We might decide to go straight to the ruins to be able to bird there when they open (8 am), in case we arrived later the day before.
Day 13 (February 21)
Night in Cancún, Quintana Roo
Last day, and last morning to bird around Calakmul before returning to Cancún, a 6 hours journey. Depending on how early we get to leave we will plan on a few stops while driving back. There is a chance of visiting other ruin sites, noteworthy Tulum and Cobá, on the way back, or perhaps to visit one of the cenotes, water filled zink holes, that the peninsula is so famous for (entrance fees will be extra).
We plan to be back in Cancún in due time to prepare ourselves for our time of celebration and goodbye dinner in the evening.
Day 14 (February 22)
The tour is over and we all continue on our own.