700 o busto – Cuenta regresiva de Lifer

Con un BIP BIP BIP desagradablemente fuerte, mi alarma de las 5:00 am me despertó de un sueño profundo. La adrenalina se disparó instantáneamente y literalmente salté de la cama. Estaba seguro de que hoy me traería la especie Lifer número 700. Estaba en una visita de regreso a la mística península de Yucatán, que acababa de visitar un mes antes. Nuevamente solicité los servicios del experto en aves de Amar Aves, Miguel Amar Uribe y había reservado un tour de 6 días por la península. Miguel y Claudio López me habían recibido en el Aeropuerto Internacional de Cancún la noche anterior y manejamos (más bien Claudio manejó todo) hasta el pueblo de Río Lagartos para pasar la noche.

Rio Lagartos Malecón

Abrí la puerta y miré al otro lado de la calle hacia el malecón y observé los botes turísticos meciéndose suavemente con el agua y pude escuchar a las olas contra ellos. Me quedé con 683 lifer pájaros, siendo mi último lifer un Colibrí Garganta Negra en la Isla de Cozumel en diciembre del año pasado (2021). La lista de posibles aves de vida en esta área era asombrosa y con visiones de exóticos colibríes, coloridos trogones y extravagantes flamencos en mi cabeza, deambulé por el malecón, tratando de tener una idea de cuán espectacular sería el día. A las 5:30, Miguel, Claudio y yo nos unimos con “Chino” Santiago Contreras y salimos a explorar los bosques cercanos con planes de regresar para hacer un recorrido en bote por la bahía al mediodía. Además de ser uno de los observadores élite de aves de la región, Chino sería nuestro capitán del bote para el recorrido por el Parque Natural Ría Lagartos.

Avance rápido hasta nuestra llegada de regreso a Río Lagartos, después de haber marcado a los Lifers # 695 Matraca Yucateca (Yucatan Wren) y # 696 Colibrí Canelo (Cinnamon Hummingbird).

Matraca Yucateca (Yucatan Wren)

Nos detuvimos brevemente en la casa de los colibríes en la Calle 17 para ver docenas de colibríes mexicanos (lifer #697) y colibríes canela.

Colibrí Tijereta Mexicano Mexican Sheartail y Colibrí Canelo (Cinnamon Hummingbird)
Colibrí Tijereta Mexicano (macho) (Mexican Sheartail) (male)
Colibrí Canelo (Cinnamon Hummingbird)

Cuando abordamos el bote de Chino para comenzar nuestro recorrido por la bahía, teníamos muchas fragatas, cormoranes y gaviotas reidoras volando a nuestro alrededor.

Fragata Tijereta (Magnificent Frigatebird)

Navegamos alrededor de la bahía poco profunda adyacente a Río Lagartos observando una variedad de aves playeras y garzas con una breve vista de un Rascón Costero del Atlántico (Clapper Rail).

Ostrero Americano (American Oystercatcher) y Garza Rojiza (Reddish Egret)

Continuamos nuestro viaje lento a lo largo de las orillas del río cuando Claudio de repente grita “¡Garza Tigre Mexicana!” Chino guió hábilmente el bote mientras flotábamos hacia un hermoso pájaro que actuaba como si no estuviéramos allí. Después de varias docenas de fotos, salimos en busca de mi próximo lifer.

Garza Tigre Mexicana (Bare-throated Tiger-Heron)

En este punto, la bahía se estrechaba más como un río con vegetación que se elevaba a cada lado. Primero escuchamos, y luego vimos un Aguililla Negra Menor (Common Black Hawk) #699. Pudimos ver y fotografiar primero un pájaro inmaduro y luego un adulto. ¡CASI AL #700!

Aguililla Negra Menor (Common Black Hawk)
Aguililla Negra Menor (Common Black Hawk)

Cuando doblamos una curva, el paisaje se abrió y ante nosotros en la distancia había una veintena de pájaros vivos #700, también conocidos como FLAMENCOS AMERICANOS.

Flamenco Americano (American Flamingos)

Chino fue muy considerado en no molestar de ninguna manera estas magníficas maravillas de la naturaleza, pero mi lente de 500 mm me acercó lo suficiente como para tomar algunas buenas fotografías.

En ese momento, el sol comenzaba a ponerse bajo en el horizonte bañando a los flamencos en una cálida luz brillante.

Mientras nos dirigíamos de regreso a Río Lagartos, estaba exhausto y emocionado al mismo tiempo. ¡Qué gran aventura, y esto fue solo el primer día!

Finalmente, un gran agradecimiento y saludo a la amable gente de Mexico Kan Tours (enlace de Facebook), Amar Aves (enlace del sitio web), Miguel Amar Uribe, Claudio López (enlace de Facebook) y nuestro patrón “Chino” Santiago Contreras (enlace de Facebook).

700 or Bust – Lifer Countdown

With an obnoxiously loud BEEP BEEP BEEP, my 5:00 am alarm woke me from a deep sleep. The adrenaline instantly kicked in and I was literally jumping out of bed. I was certain that today would bring me lifer species number 700. I was on a return visit to the mystical Yucatan Peninsula, having just visited there a month before. I again requested the services of Amar Aves bird expert, Miguel Amar Uribe and had booked a 6-day tour of the peninsula. Miguel and Claudio Lopez had met me at the Cancun International Airport the night before and we drove to the town of Rio Lagartos to spend the night.

Rio Lagartos Malecón

I opened the door and looked across the street to the malecón and watched the tour boats gently rocking with the water and could hear the waves lap against them. I was sitting at 683 life Birds, with my last lifer being a Green-breasted Mango on the Isla de Cozumel in December of last year (2021). The list of potential life birds in this area was staggering and with visions of exotic hummingbirds, colorful trogons and flamboyant flamingos in my head, I wandered along the malecón, trying to get a sense of just how spectacular the day would be. At 5:30, Miguel, Claudio and I were joined by “Chino” Santiago Contreras and we headed out to explore the nearby forests with plans to return to take a midday boat tour of the bay. Besides being one of the elite birders of the region, Chino would be our skipper for the tour through the Parque Natural Ría Lagartos.

Fast-forward to our arrival back at Rio Lagartos, having just checked off lifers #695 Yucatan Wren and #696 Cinnamon Hummingbird.

Yucatan Wren

We stopped briefly at the hummingbird house on Calle 17 to get a look at dozens of Mexican Sheartails (lifer #697) and Cinnamon Hummingbirds.

Mexican Sheartail (female) and Cinnamon Hummingbird

Mexican Sheartail (male)
Cinnamon Hummingbird

As we boarded Chino’s boat to begin our tour of the bay we had lots of frigatebirds and cormorants and Laughing Gulls flying all around us.

Magnificent Frigatebird

We cruised around the shallow bay adjacent to Rio Lagartos viewing an assortment of shorebirds and herons with a brief view of a Clapper Rail.

American Oystercatcher and Reddish Egret

We continued our slow commute along the banks of the river when Claudio suddenly yells out “Bare-throated Tiger-Heron”! Chino guided the boat skillfully as we floated towards a beautiful bird that acted as if we weren’t there at all. After several dozen photos, we were off in search of my next lifer.

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

At this point the bay narrowed to more like a river with vegetation towering along each side. First we heard, and then we saw a Common Black Hawk #699. We got to see and photograph first an immature bird and then an adult. ALMOST TO #700!

Common Black Hawk – Immature
Common Black Hawk – Adult

As we rounded a bend, the landscape opened up and before us in the distance was a score of lifer birds #700, otherwise known as AMERICAN FLAMINGOS.

American Flamingos

Chino was very considerate as to in no way bother these magnificent wonders of nature, but my 500mm lens brought me plenty close enough to get some good photographs.

By this time the sun was starting to get low on the horizon bathing the flamingos in a warm glowing light.

As we headed back towards Rio Lagartos, I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. What a grand adventure, and this was only the first day!

Finally, a big thank you and shout out to the kind folks at Mexico Kan Tours (Facebook Link), Amar Aves (Website Link), Miguel Amar Uribe, Claudio Lopez (Facebook Link) and our skipper “Chino” Santiago Contreras (Facebook Link).

Do you wash every week?

The Rufous-browed Peppershrike is a member of the vireo family and can be found from Central Mexico south through Central America and into most of South America. It is generally found in the upper canopy of trees and tends to be very vocal all year round. Its song, which it will repeat over and over, kind of sounds like someone saying “Do you wash every week?”.

Here is a link to the sounds made by the Rufous-browed Peppershrike.

It is an omnivorous bird feasting on pretty much anything small enough that is moving or looks edible. We were walking along a side road in northern Yucatan when Claudio Lopez (bird guide extraordinaire) heard it call. In this particular series of images it was eating the berry of a shrub along the path we were walking.

Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Rufous-browed Peppershrike

A 4 “Yucatán” Bird Day

As I looked ahead to the list of birds that would be “lifers” (never observed before) for me in the Yucatán peninsula there were upwards of 100 species that I thought I had a fairly decent chance of seeing. This list of 100 species was composed of mostly common to fairly common regional birds with ranges from central Mexico down to South America. However, that group of 100 species also included a subset of around 20 endemic birds that are only found in the Yucatán peninsula. These endemic species ranked highest on my Want-to-See List. And at the Tip-Top of that endemic list were those 8 species with “Yucatan” in their name.

Yucatán Nightjar

Our first day of birding found us driving country roads long before sunrise in hopes of getting either or both members of the Nightjar family, technically called Caprimulgidae. We saw many nightjars on the road that flew up before we could get very close and most of those were clearly Common Pauraque. However I did manage two shots of a Yucatán Nightjar. The two images I have are horrible terrible no good bad photos, but they were enough to show that the bird had no white in the wings or tail and did not have a prominent white throat stripe.

Here is a link to a great image on eBird https://ebird.org/species/yucnig1

Here is my really bad image.

Yucatán Nightjar

Yucatán Flycatcher

The second bird with Yucatán in its name happened to be a Yucatán Flycatcher. This bird very closely resembles the Dusky-capped Flycatcher that is also found in this area. Identification by their calls is the easiest, but this bird was not giving voice lessons this morning. Photographs however, clearly show the pale gray coloration that encircles the eye and what appears to be a relatively smaller bill.

Yucatán Flycatcher

Yucatán Woodpecker

A short time later in the same general area as the Yucatán Flycatcher, we encountered the Yucatán Woodpecker. Once again, this is one of those birds that closely resembles a another bird that is much more widespread. Ranging from the southern US down to Central South America, the Golden-fronted Woodpecker has the same general color patterns as the Yucatán.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker (bigger bill)

The Yucatán woodpecker is smaller with a more slender bill usually with golden feathers circling the base at the bill. As with the Yucatán Flycatcher, its calls ensure its identification. Fortunately for us, this bird cooperated in giving us its beautiful call.

Yucatán Woodpecker (smaller bill)

Yucatán Wren

The final “Yucatán” bird species for the day turned out to be the Yucatán Wren. After spending the morning cruising the back roads of the upper Yucatán Peninsula, we stopped at an intersection with a safe spot to park just outside of Rio Lagartos. There was lots of cactus in the area and before we could get 10 yards from the car, Chino was calling out, “Yucatán Wrens here!”

The Yucatán Wren has a very limited range, only occurring in the dry coastal scrub along north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Yucatán Wren Distribution from eBird

To me, this species looked almost identical to the common Cactus Wren of the southern US.

Cactus Wrens in SE Arizona

In the images below, a parent Yucatán Wren is feeding a young bird.

Yucatán Wren
Yucatán Wren
Yucatán Wren

A Squirrel Moment – Squirrel Cuckoo that is

Ranging from mid-Mexico down through central South America, the Squirrel Cuckoo is common and is most often seen in gliding from one tree to another, or energetically hopping from branch to branch in search of a wide variety of arthropods. It is a fairly common resident in the Yucatan Peninsula, but had somehow eluded me in my previous birding stops. As I related in my Let’s Groove Tonight post I had been photographing some very cooperative Groove-billed Anis along the side of the road.

Groove-billed Ani

The anis were feeding around a big ant swarm and other birds were joining in on the feast. Seemingly out of nowhere, my “lifer” Squirrel Cuckoo seem to just appear on a branch in front of me. The Squirrel Cuckoo is in the same family of birds, Cuculidae, as the Groove-billed Ani.

Squirrel Cuckoo

The name ‘Squirrel Cuckoo’ comes from their coloration and the fact that their movements in trees resemble those of a squirrel at first glance.

Squirrel Cuckoo

According to BirdLife International, the Squirrel Cuckoo is listed as a species of Least Concern.

Holy Batcave – Batman

Taking a slight deviation from my theme of Yucatan Birds, one of the biggest Holy Guacamole moments was actually of a different kind of flying vertebrate – bats. Deep in the forests of southern Campeche is a unique natural protected area known as “Zona Sujeta a Conservación Ecológica Balam-Kú” in Calakmul Municipality. This ecological area is home to “El Volcán de los Murciélagos”.

There are seven bat caves known in Mexico, but this is the only one featuring a visual volcano of erupting chiropterans. In fact, it is one of only two know to exist in the entire world. The second one being in Malasia.

There have been 9 bat species identified in this cave with one being nectivorous,

  • Pallas’ Long-tongued Bat – Glossophaga soricina,

and the others insectivorous.

  • Davy’s (lesser) Naked-backed Bat – Pteronotus davyi,
  • Big Naked-backed Bat – P. gymnonotus,
  • Parnell’s Mustached Bat – P. parnellii
  • Wagner’s Mustached Bat – P. personatus
  • Ghost-faced Bat – Mormoops megalophylla
  • Mexican Funnel-eared Bat –Natalus stramineus
  • Hairy-legged Myotis Bat – Myotis keaysi 
  • and Broad-eared Bat –  Nyctinomops laticaudatus).

Over the years a 130-feet-deep landslide has formed due to rainfall and erosion. At the bottom of this landslide there is a cave with an entrance 400 feet wide and 500 feet deep, at its longest with a depth of almost 2,000 feet. Every afternoon, approximately between 5 and 6 pm, “the volcano”, erupts with between three and four million bats as if they were lava. From the first handful of emerging bats, the eruption can last up to 90 minutes until the last bat leaves its roost.

SENSORY OVERLOAD

Hushed conversations in Spanish, French, English and German coming from the small group of ecotourists that were gathered with much excitement in anticipation of this living volcano of bats. Standing on the edge of this expansive grotto, the quiet conversations seemed to be absorbed by the mysterious and beautiful setting. Suddenly the talking stopped as the first handful of bats flew right past our observation point – “Here they come!”

My mind tried to envision what the guide said would be almost 8 million bats erupting from the cave. At first, a few dozen began to circle around the opening, slowly rising higher and higher. Gradually the numbers grew, slowly at first and then increasing almost exponentially. Dozens became hundreds became thousands became MILLIONS. ABSOLUTLEY INCOMPREHENSIBLE.

Soon, the cave walls resonated with the sound of a million tiny bat wings flapping mightily to rise into the jungle sky. Creating their own mini-weather system, the circling bats generated a funnel of rising winds, laden with the sulphureous odor of uncountable tons of bat guano.

Links to more details

Conservación de Murciélagos en Campeche

Cueva de los murciélagos en Calakmul, Campeche

Reserva de Balam Kú: El “volcán” de los murciélagos

Let’s Groove Tonight

Groove-billed Ani – Crotophaga sulcirostris

Ranging from the tip of Northern Chile to the lowlands of Southern Texas, the Groove-billed Ani is a member of the Cuculidae Family that also includes Roadrunners and Cuckoos. It can be found throughout the Yucatán Peninsula often found foraging on the arthropods flushed up from ant swarms.

In Search of…

After getting a great night’s sleep in Rio Lagartos, Yucatan, the four Pajareros left before dawn in search of any number of Lifers for me.

We ended up walking along a very quiet dirt road listening and watching for cooperative birds.

Miguel, Claudio and Chino, Pajareando

One of the three amigos called out rather casually, “Groove-billed Ani.” Unbeknownst to them, the Groove-billed Ani was on my list of US birds that I did not have a photo of. Miguel Amar quickly pointed out a distant Ani and I snapped off a dozen shots of the VERY distant bird. Even though it wasn’t something I’d ever share in a presentation, it was a decent record shot and clearly showed its most unusual bill. Miguel chuckled and commented, “Don’t worry, we’ll see many more. And much closer!” (Yeah right, I thought to myself, I’ve heard that before…)

Groove-billed Ani

Well, it only took another 20 minutes to prove Miguel right! We came upon a swarm of ants and the birds started coming in. 25-minutes and 140 images later, I landed a few really decent images of the GROOVE-BILLED ANI.

Groove-billed Ani
Groove-billed Ani
Groove-billed Ani