Back to the coast

The final stage of our Mexican odyssey saw us powering north from Tuxtla Gutierrez having left “Eddy the Wren” deep in the bowels of a rainforest, 30 clicks from nowhere. These things happen. 

We had a long, long way to go.

The kilometres whizzed by and we were in Villhermosa by 2.30pm, not even halfway north towards the northernmost coast of the Yucatan peninsula.

Tropical drove like a man with a deadline, and by 5pm that day, we’d entered Ciudad del Carmen, with our sights firmly set on the old Spanish colonial town of Campeche.

We passed through mile upon mile of mangroves, marshes, farmland and sandy beaches on the way, “speed ticking” Roseate Spoonbill, Common Black Hawk , Osprey, Magnificent Frigatebird, Royal Tern etc etc as the X-trail hurtled on into the night and the brainfrying confusion that is the traffic system in Campeche.

The road to hell ended in Spanish colonial heaven, as we dumped our bags in the Hotel Colonial.

A Unesco World Heritage Site, the centre of Campeche is amazing – perfectly preserved and oozing character from every pore. It is of course surrounded by a labyrinthine maze of shanties and roads that lead to nowhere.

I liked the Hotel Colonial, but I freely recognise that Neill and Trops held a different view, having discovered all the power switches in their room were actually in the shower.

Cue much fun with water and electricity….my how we laughed (well, how Bazzo and I laughed, I don’t think the boys were too impressed).

Fully beered up courtesy of the superb Blue Iguana bar, we dined on fresh fish and hit the hay before the second leg of our long push north on March 6th, destination Progresso.

We were in the mangroves and trails that skirt mile after mile of lagoon near Progresso by mid-morning, and very definitely in the dry heat of the north.

Bright blue skies and birds everywhere – American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Black Skimmer, Louisiana Heron, Reddish Egret etc etc.

Wonderful birding, and the waders…oh baby….Stilt Sands, Willets, Western and Semi P Sands, Semi P Plover, American Avocet, both Yellowlegs, Black Necked Stilts etc all feeding in the shallows against a backdrop of Pelicans, gulls, terns and stonking pink Caribbean Flamingos.

Royal Terns and Great Tailed Grackles were everywhere, and a nice little Mangrove (Yellow) Warbler even popped out to see us as the wind picked up and we drooled over lagoon after bird filled lagoon.

I like Great Tailed Grackles – they might be everywhere from the centre of cities to the remotest rainforest, but they have character and that counts for a lot, especially when they do the weird bill pointing thing…

Much of the coast around Progresso has been developed since Howell and Webb’s superb “Where to watch” guide, but there were still good birds for a Brit birder – Pied Billed Grebe, Lesser Scaup, American Herring Gull, Mangrove Swallow, Short Billed Dowitcher etc.

By 10.30am the wind had really strengthened, so we headed a little inland to the ruins at Xcambo – it was still gusting here amongst the small temples, but Yankee Warblers like Yellow Rumped (Myrtle), Yellow Throated, Wilson’s and Northern Parula were superb as always.

Neill’s MP3 got a Yucatan Wren going here, but the little weasel resolutely refused to come out of cover, unlike the bitey bitey chiggers, which seemed very interested in Tropical’s ankles (well, if you will wear shorts…)

The condition of his mind in the heat was perfectly illustrated when I heard him musing, to no one in particular, “Imagine the goings-on here 1,500 years ago. Football with human heads, Everything.”

Indeed. 

Perhaps it was time to move on.

We headed east towards Rio Lagartos through the coastal scrub bumping into Zone Tailed Hawk, Zenaida Dove, Orange Orioles and even a Merlin along the way, before meeting a Locust swarm head on 20 miles from target.

Splat.

Got to the wonderful fishing village of Rio Lagartos at 4pm, fuelled up at the Pemex and booked into the marvellous Hotel Villas de Pescadores for our last two nights, overlooking the lagoon, where frigatebirds, pelicans and skimmers swept past, and raptors, including Ospreys and Northern Harriers cruised over the distant mangroves.

Nice view from the room huh?

With an hour or so of light, we headed out to the crossroads 2 clicks out of town, where Canivet’s Emerald and Mexican Sheartails were feeding at a flowering tree, but otherwise it was a bit quiet.

So we drove back into town to check out the roost.

On Calle 19 in Rio Lagartos, the right hand turn just past the old military outpost, there is fantastic heron roost, where hundreds of birds drop in at dusk just behind the houses.

Remarkable watching Snowy Egrets, Boat Billed Herons, Great Egret, White Ibis, American Coot, Caribbean Moorhen and Louisiana Heron getting ready for bed just a few feet away in the gathering gloom.

This called for a great deal of beer.

Luckily our digs, as is often mysteriously the case, were right next door to the bar/restaurant, where sublime fish and ice cold beer never stopped.

We also met Diego (there he is look, remaining cheerful despite us not hiring him as a guide).

Diego Nunez is a cracking guy, who owns (I think) the Restaurante Familiar La Torreja, right on the Rio Lagartos waterfront. 

He’ll take you birding, fly fishing etc, but even though we didn’t use him, he never failed to give us information whenever we asked….a genuinely helpful birder, whose English was vastly superior to our Spanish.

If you’re ever in Rio Lagartos, look him up

Although he’ll probably find you first, if his uncle Elmer doesn’t.

In all likelihood, Diego seems so happy ‘cos we spent the equivalent of the GDP of this tiny little village on beer each night, or maybe he was genuinely pleased to see birders enjoying what his local patch has to offer.

More power to you Diego.

As it was Saturday night, the little village exploded in a fiesta of monumental proportions – numerous bands, parties, motorbikes, trumpets, firecrackers, singing, dogs barking, babies crying, wives and girlfriends berating drunken partners – all till 4.45am on Sunday, when the church belled tolled in admonishment and the little burgh fell silent as the grave.

Absolutely bloody magnificent!

Having slept fitfully through the fiesta maelstrom, we were up and out again for our last full day in Mexico, heading first to the crossroads just outside of town.

It was superb – plenty of activity, with Zenaida Dove, Mexican Sheartail, Yucatan Wren and numerous Yucatan Bobwhites giving themselves up, under the watchful eye of the local Spiny Tailed Iguanas, and Tropical Mockingbirds.

Palm Warbler and a deceptively bland looking Mangrove Cuckoo were in the scrub on the western track from the crossroads, where Neill found a brilliantly eccentric Lesser Roadrunner, and Grey Crowned Yellowthroats bucked the warbler trend by sitting still for more than a nano-second.

It was still windy, but as the sun rose, the light was good.

We nipped down the crossroads to the east, towards Los Colorados, detouring down the dirt track to the San Salvador Ranch, which gave us a fine young Great Black Hawk (check out the wimpy primary projection and longish tail raptor freaks) and a thoroughly charming Laughing Falcon in the arid scrub.

Then it was back to Rio Lagartos, for a great breakfast of toast, frigatebirds, omelettes, coffee and pelicans at the El Torrejo.

Refreshed we looked out over the lagoon, which was at low tide.

American Oystercatcher were on one of the distant banks, and a Peregrine sat up on a dead snag.

Best of all, an adult Kelp Gull followed one of the fishing boats back to the quay, shearing off and out onto the quieter reaches of the coast, but only after it had flown past us at about 250 metres – mega, I knew there were a few birds around Rio Lagartos, but I didn’t think we’d find one!

We celebrated with an outbreak of fevered photography as Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds behaved shamelessly inches away…

The temptation to end the trip in an orgy of beer and digiscoping was great indeed, especially when Bazzo saw the bill for our brekky, and Neill finally explained to Trops which end of a camera to look through…

But we are nothing if not professionals (well, okay, we were shambling wrecks after a fortnight in Mexico), and we hit the road one more time, heading out of the village and up to the saltpans at Los Colorados.

Very hot, very salty, very strange – when did you last see pink water?

Neill explained that this is where the world’s supply of dental mouthwash comes from, and he may well be right.

Snowy Plover, Caribbean Flamingo and a multitude of commoner yankee waders were in the salt heavy atmosphere, feeding in the shallow pans…not much we hadn’t seen before though, so we headed into the mangroves at Cenote Peton Tucha, 1.5km down the Los Colorados road from the crossroads, on the right.

Bazzo flushed a Yucatan Nightjar amid mutinous rumblings and whimpering pleas for beer, and the track got wilder and wilder as we pushed on toward the cenote (deep sinkholes in the limestone that Yucatan sits on).

Oh dear.

At least two Crocodiles lived here, which was cool, plus some dozy looking Boat Billed Herons (they are nocturnal after all) and a nice, if elusive Pygmy Kingfisher darted past once or twice. 

Turquoise Browed Motmot was calling, but we couldn’t see it in the tangle of trees and swampy vines.

We headed slowly back to Rio Lagartos for beer and digiscoping at 3.40pm.

The Black Skimmers were back in town and all was well with the world.

Tropical and Neill’s room had unaccountably flooded while we were out, so the nice lady who cleaned up the place had washed and pressed all Trop’s clothes – after two weeks on the road in Mexico, this service surely deserved some type of military honour, or a mention in dispatches at the very least.

Many beers later we crashed out, lulled to sleep by the waves lapping against the quay below us…ahhhhhhh…..

March 8 – last day in Mexico, on the road for Cancun early, and we had time to stop off at the Jardin Botanico Dr Alfredo Barrera Martin on the way to the airport.

Hot, full of mozzies and Yankee warblers, rope walkways, White Nosed Coatis and Central American Spider Monkeys.

Best and last bird was found by Trops – a Yucatan Vireo at eye-level beside the track. Great way to end the journey of a lifetime.

Last man standing? 

The Spiny Tailed Iguana who wouldn’t back down in front of us at the end of the Jardin Botanico trail.

So very Mexico.

Thanks guys, thanks Mexico, full North Yucatan list to follow, then back to some UK spring birding.

Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies…

NORTH YUCATAN LIST:

Wood Stork, Roadside Hawk, Anhinga, Laughing Gull, Ringed Kingfisher, Black Bellied Whistling Duck, Neotropic Cormorant, Blue Winged Teal, Great Blue Heron, Common Black Hawk, Roseate Spoonbill, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Osprey, Black Skimmer, Royal Tern, Collared Dove, Great Tailed Grackle, Feral Pigeon, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, White Winged Dove, American White Pelican, Ring Billed Gull, Forster’s Tern, Sandwich Tern, Double Crested Cormorant, Semipalmated Plover, Turnstone, Willet, Great Egret, Louisiana Heron, Little Blue Heron, Reddish Egret, Belted Kingfisher, Snowy Egret, Tree Swallow, White Ibis, Marbled Godwit, Grey Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, American Avocet, Black Necked Stilt, Barn Swallow, Mangrove (Yellow) Warbler, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Short Billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Caribbean Flamingo, Stilt Sandpiper, Pied Billed Grebe, Lesser Scaup, Common Ground Dove, Tropical Mockingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Yellow Rumped Warbler (Myrtle), Yellow Throated Warbler, Northern Parula, Wilson’s Warbler, American Herring Gull, Sanderling, Gull Billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Northern Rough Winged Swallow, Mangrove Swallow, Zone Tailed Hawk, Merlin, Zenaida Dove, Groove Billed Ani, Blue Black Seedeater, Blue Grosbeak, Aztec Parakeet, Orange Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Crested Caracara, Canivet’s Emerald, Mexican Sheartail, Boat Billed Heron, American Coot, Caribbean Moorhen, Night Heron, Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Yucatan Wren, Yucatan Bobwhite, Common Yellowthroat, Grey Crowned Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Mangrove Cuckoo, Blue Black Grassquit, Yucatan Woodpecker, Ladder Backed Woodpecker, Red Winged Blackbird,  Solitary Sandpiper, Vermillion Flycatcher, Lesser Yellow Headed Vulture, Lesser Roadrunner, Yellow Billed Cacique, Barn Swallow, Yellow Warbler, Laughing Falcon, Great Black Hawk, Northern Harrier, Ruddy Ground Dove, Kelp Gull, American Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Snowy Plover, Grey Plover, Pygmy Kingfisher, Yucatan Nightjar, Cinnamon Hummer, Spotted Sandpiper, Vaux’s Swift.

Jardin Botanico:

Northern Parula, American Redstart, White Tipped Dove, Mangrove Vireo, Yucatan Woodpecker, White Browed Wren, Black and White Warbler, White Eyed Vireo, Yucatan Vireo, Yellow Throated Warbler, Tawny Crowned Greenlet, Black Throated Green Warbler, Canivet’s Emerald, Turkey Vulture, Great Tailed Grackle.

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