Mexico’s Mayan World: A Birding and Photography Adventure
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Just a short flight from the United States, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula gives birders and photographers the opportunity to experience such Neotropical families of birds as tinamous, flamingos, jaçanas, motmots, toucans, spinetails, woodcreepers, antbirds and manakins. Finding such a nice variety of tropical birds, without being completely overwhelming, our tour is the perfect introduction to the wonders of birding and nature photography in tropical climes. Exploring large, exotic forests, snorkeling amid scenic coves and beautiful bays, white sand beaches in the moonlight and exploration of several significant Mayan ruin sites combined with the natural wonders of the Yucatan provide the perfect Winter birding getaway.
We take care to examine all of the creatures we encounter during our tour. We’ll see many colorful species of butterflies, enjoy exotic flowers and experience the unique culture of the Yucatan and the Maya who call the region home. Birds are, perhaps, the most obvious of the region’s special animals. The Yucatan is home to several endemic bird species, and we should see most of them. Ocellated Turkey, Yellow-lored (Yucatan) Parrot, Yucatan Poorwill, Yucatan Nightjar, Red-vented (Yucatan) Woodpecker, Cozumel Emerald, Yucatan Flycatcher, Yucatan Jay, Yucatan Wren, Cozumel Wren, Yucatan Vireo, Cozumel Vireo, Gray-throated Chat, Rose-throated Tanager and Orange Oriole are a few examples.
We’ll explore the largest of the Yucatan’s offshore islands on a day filled with birding, snorkeling and other tropical adventures. Cozumel Island is home to several species of birds found nowhere else in the world—Cozumel Emerald, Cozumel Wren, Cozumel Thrasher and Cozumel Vireo—plus a number of distinctive subspecies. With its distinctively Caribbean flavored avifauna, we’re likely to encounter Caribbean Elaenia, White-crowned Pigeon, Black Catbird, Western Spindalis (Stripe-headed Tanager) and Smooth-billed Ani during our visit. Our early morning hours are spent birding with the afternoon reserved for the REAL specialty of the island—snorkeling and enjoying the coastal areas. One of the largest barrier reefs in the world has its northern terminus off Cozumel Island and that, combined with the incredibly clear water, make this one of the best snorkeling and diving areas in the world.
Interesting birds observed on past Birding the Land of the Maya tours include: Boat-billed Heron, Crane Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Blue Ground-Dove, White-fronted Parrot, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Green-breasted Mango, Canivet’s, Cozumel and White-bellied Emeralds, Cinnamon Hummingbird, trogons (Collared, Gartered (Violaceous) and Black-headed), Blue-crowned and Turquoise-browed Motmots, Collared Araçari, Keel-billed Toucan, Golden-olive and Smoky-brown Woodpeckers, Ivory-billed, Ruddy and Northern Barred Woodcreepers, Barred Antshrike, Mexican (Black-faced) Antthrush, Yellow-bellied and Caribbean Elaenias, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Bright-rumped Attila, Rose-throated and Gray-collared Becards, Masked and Black-crowned Tityras, Mangrove Swallow, Spot-breasted Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, Yucatan Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yellow-throated, Olive-backed and Scrub Euphonias, Red-throated Ant Tanager, Buff-throated, Grayish and Black-headed Saltators, Blue-black Grassquit, Melodious Blackbird, Black-cowled, Yellow-backed and Yellow-tailed Orioles.
Birding and snorkeling are only two of the attractions of our Yucatan tour. Butterflies are numerous and, depending upon winter rains, we should see many attractive species. Because of the region’s many butterfly gems, during the heat of the day, when the traditional Mexican siesta is an attractive option, we’ll offer outings to search for butterflies.
We plan to visit several ruin sites as we travel the length and breadth of the Yucatan Peninsula. We’ll have ample time for exploring several of the more significant Mayan ruin sites on the peninsula as El Cedral, Muyil, Calakmul, Coba, Tulum, Ek Balam, Dzitnup, Balankanche and Chichen Itza are all, in their own ways, magnificent.
Tulum, situated atop a scenic cliff overlooking blue Caribbean waters, offers a pleasant walk near the end of the day. While many archeologists proclaim the site to be ‘unspectacular’, you cannot help but be impressed with the walled city and the aura surrounding you as you explore the grounds.
Within its preserved archeological zone, Muyil has a wonderful forest with maintained trails, a flooded forest boardwalk and a canopy tower that overlooks the forest and nearby lagoons. Dzitnup and its sunken caverns offer a taste of the exotic along with a perennially nice birding day. Kohunlich with its impressive ruins and tropical forest is a dramatic departure from the dry forests of the northern Yucatan Peninsula.
Calakmul, perhaps the crown jewel of our time in the Yucatan, has thousands of square miles of undisturbed forest, an experience that has become almost unknown in Mexico. As one might expect with that amount of tropical forest, the birding is spectacular. Nowhere else are you LIKELY to encounter 40 or 50 Ocellated Turkeys, dozens of Crested Guans and enjoy daily observations of Great Curassow! Night birding is special as well because there are no houses, no villages and no roads just unbroken forest! The ruins themselves are no less spectacular. Calakmul, known as the “Snake Kingdom” after their use of a pictographic snake head to represent their domain, was a rival of the more well known Tikal located just to the south in Guatemala. With more than 6,750 individual structures identified, Calakmul is estimated to have had a population of more than 50,000 people during its Mayan Classic Period heyday. Included in this are two impressively large pyramids, one of which—Temple Two—is one of the largest Mayan pyramids known at nearly 150 feet high!
In addition, Mexico’s determination to save its ancient ruins, the protected tropical forests near the Mayan ruins of Coba offer one of the best places to look for birds in the Northern Yucatan Peninsula.
Dating from the Mayan Classic period, Ek Balam sits astride the transition from scrubby, tropical deciduous forest from the south and the dry north coast. At the time of our visit, many nesting species from the north are enjoying their winter vacation in the area and warblers, flycatchers and orioles are well represented. It also continues to provide annual surprises for our groups: Singing Quail at a few feet, Yucatan Bobwhite with young, Turquoise-browed Motmot calling from near its nest cavity and ant swarms attended by many Red-throated Ant-tanagers are examples.
While Chichen Itza may not have as much to offer the birder as Coba, no visit to the Yucatan would be complete without a stop at this magnificent Mayan city. Chichen Itza has more awe-inspiring structures than any other site in the Yucatan. Many of the ruins have been impressively restored and are truly amazing works of human engineering. El Castillo, El Caracol and the largest ceremonial Ball Court in Meso-America are but a few of the more extraordinary structures.
The Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve caps the northeastern coastline of the state of Yucatan. Established in 2004, the reserve includes a wealth of eminently photographable subjects within its 120,000 acres. Waterbirds of all shapes, sizes and colors, raptors, wintering shorebirds and a healthy population of nesting American Flamingos. We’ll probe the shallow waters that the flamingos find so attractive in hopes of finding a group feeding, displaying and splashing about the shallow estuary.
Join us for a spectacular winter getaway to one of Mexico’s premier birding areas. Scenery, birds, great food, historical Mayan ruins, a wonderful tropical climate tempered by winter and the excitement of finding many of Mexico’s unique birds provide indelible memories to return home with you.
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