1st – 6th March 2014 – The Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, part 1: Cancun, Cozumel and Rio Lagartos.   1 comment

Here is another series of photos from Mexico. The Yucatan peninsula part of the trip was sold as a separate tour from El Triunfo, with only Riita from Finland, the tour leader Mark van Beirs and myself taking both parts. This tour was very different from El Triunfo, there we were cut off from the modern word, isolated in the silence of the montane forest, here we were slap bang in the middle of it, something that was accentuated by the Mardi Gras festivals that carried on well into the night. El Triunfo was lovely and cool, Yucatan was hot, El Triunfo required a moderate degree of fitness, hiking up to 10km a day, often uphill with basic accommodation, the Yucatan was perhaps the easiest Birdquest I have ever done, with just short walks from the vehicle on flat terrain and good quality hotels and lodges. I have to say that although the birding in the Yucatan was excellent, overall I enjoyed the El Triunfo part of the trip more.

IMG_0012 Velasque's WP

Our first night was in Cancun, Mexico’s answer to Torremolinos. Fortunately we didn’t have to visit the front, packed with European and American grockles soaking up the sun. A short wander around the hotel grounds produced this Velasquez’s Woodpecker, a recent split from Golden-fronted. Bizarely it chose to drum on the metal covering of a street lamp, which certainly amplified the sound!


IMG_0018 Plain Chachalaca

Most members of the Cradids, the Family that includes Guans, Currasows and Chachalacas, are elusive forest denizens. This Plain Chachalaca stood in full view outside the hotel.


IMG_0055 iguana

Later that morning we drove south to catch the ferry to Cozumel Island. However, although we had allowed lots of time to catch the ferry we encountered huge queues (pre-booking is not available), we later found out this was because of the Mardi Gras festival that was taking place on the island that weekend. There was very little in way of shade, food or drink available whilst we spent four hours queuing in the baking sun (and what little shade was available was already taken by the local Iguanas).


IMG_0048 YB Sapsucker

Even bird photography was hard to perform.  I was almost arrested by some ‘jobsworth’ who insisted that photography was not allowed when I tried to get pics of this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Give a man a cap and a clip board and they become a little tyrant (or should that be tyrannulet?). Note the holes that the Sapsucker has drilled in the back, they will return to each in turn and literally sap-suck.

IMG_0073 Cozumel sunset

By the time we had got to Cozumel and checked into our hotel the sun was already setting.



Of course we were expected to get into the party mood. Here tour participant Audrey photographs tour leader Mark.


During both our evenings on Cozumel there was a huge procession of floats right past our hotel. Most of the guys on the tour considered this float to be the best, but whether that was because it was advertising beer or because of the beautiful models that accompanied it is open to debate!

IMG_0212 new moon

We spent the following day searching the scrub for Cozumel’s two endemics. There were once considered to be four, but Cozumel Thrasher is probably extinct (perhaps from the double whammy of a severe hurricane in 1988 and the accidental introduction of Boa Constrictors) and Cozumel Wren has been re-lumped with House Wren. The other two, Cozumel Emerald and  Cozumel Vireo were easy to see, as were the only Black Catbirds of the trip. The highlight however was the pair of elusive Ruddy Crakes seen the following evening under the light of the New Moon. Incidently the ghostly glow of the majority of the Moon’s surface is caused by Earthshine,  sunlight reflected off the daylight side of the Earth onto the dark side of the Moon and then back to the dark side of  the Earth. This precise alignment  can only  occur near the New Moon.

IMG_0520 RL Hotel

On Monday morning we got up very early to catch the ferry back to Cancun. In the event we didn’t need to get there quite that early (0400) but the last thing we wanted was another major delay. We arrived on the mainland about 0800 and drove to the hotel we used on ther first night for breakfast. Then followed the long drive to Rio Lagartos on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula where we checked into our hotel which overlooked the lagoon.

IMG_0671 skimmers

The following species were common and could be seen on the lagoon immediately in front of the hotel: Black Skimmer

IMG_0237 Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican


IMG_0677 Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull


IMG_0406 Royal Tern

Royal Tern

IMG_0527 Mag Frigate

Magnificent Frigatebirds were constantly overhead. This is an immature bird.

IMG_0496 White Pelican

A highlight of our time at Rio Lagartos was a boat trip on the lagoon. We were able to get close to a number of species roosting on various sandbars, such as these American White Pelicans .

IMG_0423 Willet

Willet, a widespread shorebird from North America and the only long-distant migrant shorebird occurring on the Atlantic coast that hasn’t been recorded in the UK (although there has been a record from Norway).

IMG_0462 Caspian tern

The largest tern in the world, Caspian Terns are as big as Herring Gull. Small numbers were seen around the lagoon.


IMG_0426 George

Although not rare, I was pleased to get good looks at first winter American Herring Gulls. A recent split from its European counterpart first-winters can be identified by the all dark tail. There was debate whether the American species should have been given a different English name that didn’t use the word ‘herring”. To suppress any further dissent it was agreed that from this point onwards all American Herring Gulls would be known as ‘George’


IMG_0541 GWE

Great Egret, another New World form that should be split from its Old World counterpart. In the breeding season the bare part colouration and display differs quite markedly and there are differences in vocalisations; see http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/01/can-old-world-and-new-world-great-egrets-be-distinguished-by-call/

IMG_0280 Am Flamingos

One excellent birding area that we visited several times was the salinas or salt pans. Here hundreds of American Flamingos could be found along with large numbers of shorebirds.


IMG_0263 Am Flamingos

A recent split from Old World Greater Flamingo, American Flamingos are the brightest of all the six species. As flamingos would be incapable of flying the Atlantic, Old World and New World forms must have been separated for tens of millions of years and on this basis alone, must have evolved enough differences to be treated as separate species.

IMG_0782 Wilson's Plover

A real treat was the discovery of this Wilson’s (or Thick-billed) Plover at dusk.  A specialised feeder on crabs, this species is only found from Delaware southwards on the Atlantic coast and in the Caribbean.

IMG_0737 Hud Whimbrel

The American form of Whimbrel, known as Hudsonian Whimbrel has been recently split by the BOU on the basis of its all dark rump and a few other plumage features, however vocalisations seem identical and the split has not been followed by the IOC or other world checklists.

IMG_0755 SemiP & Least

Many shorebirds (aka waders) could be seen on the salinas, including large numbers of ‘peeps’ as the Americans call the smallest sandpipers. Here two very similar species can be seen, Least Sandpiper at the back and Semi-palmated Sandpiper in the foreground. A third species, Western Sandpiper was also present, and this is even more like a Semi-P than  Western Sand is.


IMG_0571  BB Heron

Scrubby areas around small freshwater pools also held some great birds such as this prehistoric looking Boat-billed Heron.

One response to “1st – 6th March 2014 – The Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, part 1: Cancun, Cozumel and Rio Lagartos.

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  1. Great photos! We actually went on a sightseeing tour with Cozumel Water Sports when in Cozumel and got to see the entire island. What a beauty and very friendly people. Next time we will try to stay at a resort for a week to explore all Cozumel has to offer and maybe learn scuba diving? We love Cozumel!

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