Archive for the ‘Chitchen Itza’ Tag

6th – 11th March 2014 The Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico part 2. Chichen Itza, Felipe Carillo Puerto and Calakmul   Leave a comment

This is my fourth and final report on my February/March trip to Mexico and the second report on the Yucatan part of that tour.

IMG_0827 Chichen Itza

After some early morning birding at Rio Largatos on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula we drove south to famous Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. As it is within easy reach of Cancun and the coastal resorts this is by far the most popular of the Mayan sites. This partially restored pyramid dominates the site. Each side has 91 steps, so with one for the top there is 365 in all, one for each day of the year. it is astronomically aligned and at certain times of the year the rising sun on the edge of the steps casts a serpent like shadow which appears to move as the sun rises.

IMG_0813 ball court Chichen Itza

The famous ball court. The Mayan civilisation had already faded when the Spanish conquistadors arrived and thus there are no written records.


IMG_0810 Chichen Itza

This ball court was certainly used for competitive games, the object being to throw a ball through the small circular ring on the wall, although there is no proof of the legend that the losing team (or at least their captain) was offered up as a human sacrifice.

IMG_0854 Iguana

Iguanas were commonly seen around the ruins.


IMG_0874 Chichen Itza

The visit to Chichen Itza was most enjoyable but as the morning drew on crowds of grockles from Cancun arrived and it became quite crowded. One aspect I didn’t enjoy was that the ruins were dotted with stands selling souvenirs, something that should be restricted to an area outside the ancient monuments.


IMG_0860 TB Motmot

We had wonderful views of Turquoise-browed Motmots in the surrounding forest.

IMG_0967 Yucatan Fly

From Chichen Itza we traveled south to Felipe Carrillo Puerto where we spent a day and a half birding the locals woodlands. Birds were abundant and included this endemic Yucatan Flycather, a member of the genus Myiarchus which contains 22 very similar looking species.

IMG_0876 Grey hawk

This Grey Hawk were observed on the roadside ….


IMG_0933 Roadside Hawk

..,. whilst this Roadside Hawk wasn’t!

IMG_1135 Yucatan Jay

Other goodies included the endemic Yucatan Jay ….

IMG_0926 FPO

… and the widespread Ferruginous Pygmy-owl

IMG_1065 Royal Fly

A particular treat was multiple sightings here and at Calakmul of Northern Royal Flycatcher. One of a group of four similar species, none of which are easy to see, we had repeated good views of birds building nests over the road. When in display/alarmed the birds raise their crests, which uniquely are held across rather than along the head. I have never been lucky enough to see this amazing sight but apparently it occurs regularly with birds in the hand.

Something I would love to see: a Northern Royal Flycatcher trapped for ringing and with its crest fully extended. Photo from

IMG_0980 Lodge at Calakmul

We continued on to Calakmul where we stayed at a pleasant lodge in midst of the woodland.

IMG_1033 Ocellated Turkey

It is something like a 40km drive from the lodge to the Mayan ruins at Calakmul. We were given special permission to drive the road at dawn which was so worthwhile, as over the two days we were there we saw a total of 38 Ocellated Turkeys on the road in the early morning. Unlike its widespread and domesticated northern relative, this species is restricted to the lowlands of the Yucatan and neighboring Guatemala.


IMG_1078 Calakmul

We eventually arrived at the Calakmul ruins only to hear from a Dutch couple who were driving behind us that we had just missed the Puma that crossed the road in front of them!


Most of the group at Calakmul. Leader Mark van Beirs is taking the photo and participant Leslie  Coley opted to stay behind. L-R Riita Viinanan, Audry Baker, Martin Hill, Anne Hill, Andre D’Penha and me.

IMG_1084 Anne and Martin at Calakmul

The spectacular view from the top of the highest pyramid. Situated in the 7200 square km Calakmul Biosphere Reserve there is a 360 degree vista of forest stretching to the horizon.

IMG_1088 Calakmul

The view to an adjacent pyramid.



IMG_1168 Howler

We saw and heard Howler Monkeys near the ruins and at our lodge. They produce the loudest noise of any land animal and would be in severe breach of Health and Safety if the regulations were applicable to monkeys!


It’s not often you see a ‘danger bats ahead’ sign along the highway ….


IMG_1179 bat cave

… but the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of bats that emerge at dusk from this sinkhole, can at times sweep down over the road and present a traffic hazard.

IMG_1194  bats

You can stand on the edge of the sinkhole and have thousands of bats pass with inches of your face yet not one  will collide with you or with each other, so accurate is their echo-location.

IMG_0989 bats

Broad-eared Bats. We watched this amazing emergence for over 45 minutes until it was too dark to see.


IMG_1176 juv Gt Black Hawk

A juvenile Great Black Hawk clung to the sides of the sinkhole but in spite of being spoiled for choice it seemed to be having a hard actually catching a bat. Over our two visits we saw Zone-tailed, Cooper’s, Roadside, Bicoloured, Short-tailed and Great Black-Hawk, Hook-billed Kite and Bat Falcon turn up for their bat supper.



From here it was just a matter of returning to Cancun the next day in time for our overnight flight. The two trips, El Triunfo and The Yucatan were excellent. I have already birded Western Mexico, I need to complete the set of Birdquest Mexico trips and do Southern Mexico soon.

18th February – 12 March – Two very different sides to Mexico   Leave a comment

I have just returned from a double trip to Mexico, a two separate trips taken back to back.

The first was to the El Triunfo reserve in the southern state of Chiapas, close to the Guatemalan border. This huge area  covers 120,000 hectares of montane forest and is completely undeveloped. For eight days we hiked from the east side of the park to the west, climbing up to 2200m and dropping down to a few hundred metres asl on the Pacific side. We stayed in basic accommodation at the park HQ for four nights and camped for three nights at three separate sites.

It was a small group with just six clients, as well as leader Mark van Beirs we were accompanied by two local birders, Jorge and Amy. As this was a very important landmark for Birdquest, the 10,000th bird species ever to be recorded on one of their tours was expected on this trip, managing director Mark Beaman came along to document the event.

Birding was great, I personally recorded 272 bird species or which 47 were ‘life’ birds. There were many highlights, two of which are shown below, others will follow in due course.


El Triunfo early morning mists over the park HQ. It was wonderful to spend a week in these cool, moss covered montane forests. Apart from the buildings at the HQ we saw no evidence of human activity what so ever, no  sounds from vehicles, planes, no localpeople, even no phone reception.


The highlight of the trip came quite early, the first afternoon in fact. El Triunfo is the only accessible location where you can see the bizarre Horned Guan. This huge cracid was found making its deep booming call from a tree top at dusk. It was claimed that this was Birdquest’s 10,000th species but I have a sneaking suspicion that that was actually the unassuming Paltry Tyrannulet!


Another key bird in the reserve is the Resplendant Quetzal. Birds here have an even longer tail than the better known birds from Costa Rica

The second tour was to the Yucatan peninsula. Mark and I flew to Mexico City and then on to Cancun where we met up with the rest of the group. Compared to El Triunfo, the contrasts in the terrain, habitat, physical effort, birds, group composition and level of isolation from the noise of the 21st century couldn’t have been greater. The Cancun and Cozumel area was particularly noisy, not only were they full of sun seeking tourists but it was the Mardis Gras festival and locals partied well into the night.


The boat crossing to Cozumel took far longer than expected due to the large number travelling to the island to partake in Mardi Gras. We didn’t loose much birding time but had to queue for hours in the hot sun. That night the Mardis Gras procession went right past our hotel


At Rio Lagartos on the north coast of the peninsula, we saw a wonderful range of water birds including flocks of beautiful American Flamingos


No trip to the Yucatan would be complete without a visit to one of its famous Mayan ruins. Most tourists visit Chichen Itza (shown here) but we also visited Calakmul further south which is even more impressive and also has great birds like Ocellated Turkey and Great Curassow along the access road.

This is only a quick overview of the two tours. I have over a thousand photos to edit but first I must prepare a talk for the Dorset Bird Club AGM in ten days time, so it might take a little while!