Chapter 4.  Yucatán Peninsula

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2004 All rights reserved.

Day 10 - January 23 - Villahermosa to Campeche

(Bert) The sea is the color of key lime pie and seems about that texture, with a few ripples, but mostly sedentary. Lighter colored close up, the green sea deepens as it recesses to a single blue-green line at the firmament, meeting a fuzzy pale blue sky. We watch this scene for 150 miles as we follow the Gulf coastline northward along the western edge of the Yucatán peninsula. We left the busy bustle of Villahermosa at 7 AM, then wended through small villages tree-lined with orange-blossomed African Tulip Trees and later Pink Cassia trees just beginning to come to bloom. The road is considerably improved since the last time we took it. Gone are most of the topes and vibradores (forms of speed bumps). Narrow, bumpy, shoulderless roads are now replaced with wide lanes and broad shoulders, smooth but speed-limited to 50 or 55 mph. Once clear of the Tabasco villages and crossing into Campeche, shaggy Brown Pelicans populate the shoreline, outnumbering buildings 100 to 1. The only people we see are workmen further improving the road, fellow travelers and a small population in two villages. To our left is a thin margin of seaside grasses and thornbush growing toward the narrow band of gravel or sand touching the surf. To our right, we first encounter wet marshes filled with egrets and jacanas and then we come to dry marshes that extend to tall trees with exposed roots like a mangroves, but absent of water at the base. Ospreys and Crested Caracaras are the most common raptors, but we also see a few Snail Kites. Nearing Campeche, the toll road climbs and twists through coastal hills, thick with trees, but no people until we reach our campsite on the coast.

(Shari)  As the Mexican economy improves so do its roads, housing, and the prosperity of its people. Other years, the road we traveled today was narrow and full of potholes. Today, it is smooth with wide shoulders or still under construction for slated improvements. Still a long day, I do not find it frazzling. After leaving the congestion of Villahermosa, the remaining route is populated with grass and cattle instead of people. Without many population centers, few cars traverse the road and we make good time. Scenery is spectacular as we leave the swampy areas and hug the western shore of the Gulf of Mexico with its greenish waters. After arriving in Campeche and arranging payment and laundry service, I make margaritas. We joke around the snack table until dark when Bert and I go on our second search for pollo asada (roasted chicken). If you have never had it, you are missing a treat. I do not know what the Mexicans do to their chicken to make it so tasty and juicy, but it is superb. It is grilled to perfection over a wood fire, but it seems you have to be at the grill during the right time of day. Both in Nautla and now in Campeche, Bert and I search the streets to no avail, looking for the familiar smoke emanating from outdoor grills. At noon we often see dozens of stands offering the delicacy, but not tonight. Stopping at Cedraui (a big chain grocery store), we buy eggs and have bacon, eggs, cheese and corn tortillas for supper. Bert tops it off with cerveza (beer) and says it is good together. Yuck!

Day 11 - January 24 - Campeche, Campeche

(Bert) When the roadrunner pops out of the bushes, it provokes mild interest in Cindy. But when I say that Greater Roadrunner - the common cartoon-character bird of Southwest U.S. - does not occur in Campeche, her interest piques. This is a life-bird for her. In fact, it is a milestone: her 2000th bird species on her world list. I had noticed immediately the smaller size of this roadrunner and, now, we look for other field marks that distinguish this one as a Lesser Roadrunner: the lack of streaking on the throat, the buff-colored underparts as opposed to white, the smaller bill. Although the roadrunner moves about in the bushes, I manage to get good photos of this special bird. Later I'll transfer it to my computer and then to Shari's so that she can produce a copy on her inkjet printer. We'll surprise Cindy at tomorrow's potluck dinner with this gift.

(Shari) Until Robby leads us into town, I was thinking I would have nothing to write in my journal today. But then we have invited ourselves to eat dinner out with him and Katy, Bob and Cindy, and Dan and Dorothy at a restaurant overlooking the square. Robby leads the way, but gets lost on numerous occasions, and even looses us for a bit. We thought we might have to find a restaurant on our own, when I spot his car off to the side waiting for us. Finally we park on Calle 16 and Calle 57 only to walk another 5 blocks to the square. Needless to say, poor Robby got plenty of ribbing for his abilities as a Wagonmaster. Our meal was superb as Bert and I shared a mixed meat platter of beef, pork, chicken, and assorted sausages. We enjoy beer and dried bread dipped in sauce, as we listen to the Mexican singer below our terrace. We eat our meal as we watch a group of young people dancing salsa and we walk the square, peaking into the church at a wedding. In spite of my "no", Bert buys a beer mug from one of the few vendors selling their goods across from the church. It is rather unique and looks like a big pirate's mug made from clay. Just another thing to put in storage for Missy to handle when we die, I guess.

Day 12 - January 25 - Edzná, Campeche

(Bert) From the dark crevice an oversized eye peers down at me. The creature is in a good position to pounce on me and knock me over and down from my pedestal - hundreds of feet high - atop the Building of Five Stories, the dominant Mayan temple at Edzná. Thinking it an iguana, I extract my camera from its pouch and click the on button in one movement, then zoom in at 10X on the dark crevice and snap a photo. I take a second one and then use my binoculars to probe the crevice. The creature is gone. It takes me about 15 minutes to make the steep-staired descent from the temple and find Shari beneath a shade tree on the grassy courtyard of the Great Acropolis. I tell her how surprised I am to find an iguana that high up, but am not really sure what the creature was. We continue to explore the Edzná ruins - built from 600 and 950 A.D., yet from a civilization dating to 250 B.C. - but the humid 92 deg. heat is too much for Shari and she returns to the car while I find a few birds lingering in the cooler shade of the thornforest surrounding the ruins. A few hours later, back in R-TENT3 I transfer the digital photo to my computer and view it using Camedia. The would-be iguana is transformed into a bird - but which bird? It's time to leave for our potluck dinner poolside overlooking the crimson sun setting over the Gulf. The fiery ball reduces to a crescent as it sinks on the horizon and we watch for the "green flash" that a few of us have seen nightly at San Blas in prior years. Alas, we see no green flash tonight, but the setting is spectacular nonetheless. After dinner I return to my computer and this time I use PhotoShop to bring up the picture. Cropping around the creature, brightening the dark object by 100% and then increasing the contrast by 300%, I now have a better view of the mystery bird. From an enlarged view, one-third - the right eye, a portion of the crown and the brown and cream hodge-podge of feathers comprising a part of the underside and shoulder - of the bird is visible. The big brown eye is consistent with nightjars - pauraque, nighthawk, and Yucatan poorwill and nightjar being possibilities - but owls typically have red eyes. Yet the large, flat, rounded orbital area strongly suggests an owl. Three species of Mexican owls have brown eyes, but two of them do not occur in the Yucatán. The third does occur here, and the mottled beige and brown feathers of its front and side certainly confirm this creature as a Mottled Owl. Mystery solved!

(Shari) Walking from one shady spot to another to another, I make my way around the grounds of Edzná in the oppressive 93 deg. heat. Bert has the stamina of a young man, as he climbs the many steps to the top of the pyramid while I sit and wait in a corner pocketof shade. We are enjoying our free day and have traveled the 36 mi. to this small ruin. Finally I call it quits - the heat is too much - and walk back to the shaded car to wait for Bert. Tonight is potluck down by the pool. Unfortunately our group has to share the palapa with a group of very noisy young Mexicans and it is a relief to get back to the quiet of R-TENT. The noise did not spoil our meal or our conversation and we all enjoyed ourselves.

Day 13 - January 26 - Campeche to Uxmal, Yucatán

(Shari) I am a bit miffed with Bert. Here is how one of our travel days go inside the motor home. "TURN RIGHT at stoplight. Look out for TOPE", I tell him as I read the logbook. Meanwhile he is saying into his tape recorder, "White-tailed hawk, green jay." No matter how many times I ask him politely or otherwise to quite birding while driving, he is so addicted he cannot. Well, as we were leaving Campeche, I looked down to update the logbook on a new sign and Bert missed the rough railroad tracks. I mean, all four wheels went airborne and came down with a sickening thud. The glass in our picture frames popped out of the picture frames and when hitting the tile floor shattered in a million pieces. Things fell off the wall, cabinet doors opened and ALL of our clothes landed on the floor of the closet, so wrinkled each one has to be ironed. This is not the first time and so I am miffed. But we arrive at Uxmal and find improvements to their lot. It is cleaner and also over two times more expensive per night. Some of the group troop out together to see the sound and light show. Bert and I pass on it this year, since we have seen it two times already. Instead, grilled salmon, salad, baked potato and a relaxing glass of red wine beckon us for dinner.

(Bert) Heading mostly eastward, we begin crossing the Yucatán peninsula. A broken slab of limestone rock, the Yucatán is flat with occasional low rolling hills. Whenever we aren't passing agricultural fields, the thorn forest creeps in to the roadside. Short, scrubby trees and a brambling under story are dry this time of year. The Mayan people of 2000 years ago learned to deal with the annual cycles of downpours, water-carrying hurricanes and many months of drought by constructing a system of canals and reservoirs to store water. One canal at Edzná stretched over seven miles to the Río Champotón. We travel 117 miles during the heat of the day, comfortable with our air-conditioning running full force. Outside the landscape seems to be baked yellow: a hundred miles of squaw-weed, a yellow flower in the sunflower family, occasional yellow Cassia tree. Leaving the state of Campeche, our RV's pass under the stone arch that welcomes us to the state of Yucatán and soon reach our campsite in the parking lot of the Uxmal archeological site.

Day 14 - January 27 - Uxmal, Yucatán

(Bert) Still an hour before sunrise, we walk the country road and listen for the sounds of nocturnal Yucatán. White-winged Doves coo, "Who cooks for you?" - undoubtedly the most commonly calling bird in this area. Next we are treated to the bird I most wanted to hear this morning: a Collared Forest-Falcon. As I explained in our session last night when we used sound recordings on my computer, the forest-falcon sounds to me like a pleading child calling for help from a far distance. This one pleads incessantly and is soon joined by another calling from far in the opposite direction. A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl hoots its monotonous monotone, a low single-note whistle easily imitated. A second one responds, but in shorter bursts. Next in the repertoire are Red-billed Pigeons, selecting one of their quieter renditions, a breathy "whoo" that reminds me of White-tipped Dove, a species that we see later today but I do not hear in the morning. As we turn the corner of the road, the tramp dog that has been accompanying us trots to a dead animal in the road. I've not seen this mammal in the wild, but here easily examined with our flashlights, I notice the opossum is darker, smaller and has a different tail color pattern than the Virginia Opossum we have in the U.S. and Canada. This species is a Common Opossum. A new sound, this one not sounding like any bird I know, I decide must be a tree frog. While doves and insects continue to fill the background, we hear a subtle double hoot and it takes some time for the other birders with me to distinguish the call I'm trying to point out. The Blue-crowned Motmot calls its name, "Mot mot." With first dawn the daytime birds start a chorus of morning greetings, announcing their positions but holding tight to the tree or shrub where they spent the night. Yucatan Jays, Black-headed Saltators and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are rudely raucous compared to the soft sounds of the diurnal birds. The first birds on the move, a flock of Olive-throated Parakeets swoops just above treetops, announcing their presence with boisterous screams already a quarter mile away. They usher in all the other birds and now we turn more to our binoculars than to our ears for identification aid.

(Shari) I just may never get my polla asada (roasted chicken). Bert and I drive around the nearby town but see no grills smoking with the delicious chicken. So we will just have to go out to a restaurant tonight. Too bad! I spend most of the day reading a book, and do just enough bookkeeping to say I worked. The weather has turned cool and I leave our Happy Hour group early because, believe this or not, I am too cold. I put on a jacket for our walk to the museum restaurant. Bert orders fish and I order Milanese chicken. We both are unsatisfied as the amounts are skimpy and only include some rolls. The bill is anything but skimpy, however, as it costs $25 with two beer, tea and tip. The tea was a mistake as I thought I ordered butter for our rolls. "Manzanilla" sounds like "mantequilla," right?

Day 15 - January 28 - Uxmal to Mérida, Yucatán

(Bert) The tiny owl flies to the highest perch, curious about the hooting call I had just made. Then the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl begins a long sequence of its hoots, claiming this territory as its own. I align Judy's spotting scope on the owl and each of us get a chance to see the throat feathers quiver as the owl hoots. Then it patiently waits for five us to put our digital cameras to the scope and record this one close up. Later I photograph a Grayish Saltator who perches in a mesh of branches, causing me to reposition my camera repeatedly until I can get a clear shot. I've found saltators - related to grosbeaks and buntings - very difficult to photograph because they almost always remain hidden in foliage high in trees. Their abrupt rapid-fire Gattling gun calls make them easy to locate, but it still can take several minutes to see the sound source. We've found Black-headed Saltators so far on the trip, and this is the first Grayish Saltator that the group has seen, a drabber cousin but with a striking lemon yellow eyebrow and chin line. Another bird I photograph this morning is a Tropical Pewee that catches our attention by its police whistle call. I don't recall hearing this call before and when I look at Howell & Webb, I can't match it to any of the eight vocalizations described in the book. However, I often can't match what I hear to the descriptions. What does "ti-i-i-i-il" or "tree-ee-ee-eet" really sound like? Not a police whistle to me! I remember bird songs from catchy mnemonics or equating them to other sounds I'm familiar with. So next time I hear a police whistle, I'll think Tropical Pewee or Tropical Kingbird, and then try to remember how those two whistles are different.

(Shari) If only all days could be so peaceful. We traverse only 55 miles today and the weather is cool. Unbelievably cool! Never have I felt it so cool in the Yucatán! What a blessing. We arrive by noon and after lunch I take Helen and Don and Judy with me to the grocery store, where we seem to meet everybody else there too. It takes me an hour to gather all my things. I have been so starved for pollo asada that I buy the next best thing, rotisserie chicken. It is good, but it is not pollo asada. Eight of us meet for Happy Hour, just because we enjoy the company. Bonnie makes some delicious bread with olive oil. Dan brings watermelon and I cut up jicama and serve the vegetable with ranch dip. With all these good snacks, who needs supper?

Day 16 - January 29 - Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán

(Bert) For this morning's birding we have the privilege of being joined by Barbara MacKinnon, a local Mérida resident instrumental in promoting birding and wildlife conservation. Her birding skills are much appreciated as she points out abundance and ranges and identification marks for the local birds. She also gives us copies of her detailed "The Birds of Yucatán 2003" checklist. I mention that I have seen Orange Oriole very few times in the Yucatán and she tells me they are more common than my experience with them. In fact, a couple hours later she is quick to point out an Orange Oriole accompanied by an Altamira and then a Hooded - a nice comparison. Walking down the paths that I remembered from my last visit two years ago, I am struck by how different they look. Then the scrub forest canopy arched over the paths, lending shade from the intense sun. Now the canopy is gone and the trees are half-height. Barbara says this is the result of a hurricane. It must have hovered over the Yucatán like a monstrous lawn mower blade, shearing off the tops of trees. We see far fewer birds today than two and three years ago, a result of habitat destruction and outright mortalities from the hurricane. Indigo Buntings are unusually common today and seem to be the bird we see most often when we raise our binoculars to a distant bird profile. Barbara and I hear a bird in the brush and I suspect a wren, but she says it is a White-lored Gnatcatcher. It makes a quick dart to thicker brush, enough time for Judy to get a glimpse but none of the rest of us. Later Judy and I trace another White-lored calling, but after a half-hour's search are unsuccessful in getting a glimpse of it.

Day 17 - January 30 - Mérida to Piste, Yucatán

(Bert) Last night Cindy suggested we try the entrance road to Dzibilchaltún again this morning, but earlier than yesterday. So here we are at 5:45 AM, under starlight, listening for birds. Our target is Yucatan Bobwhite, an early riser that Barbara says occurs in the swatches of scrubby fields between the taller thorn forest patches. In the darkness we can hear Common Pauraques calling from all directions. Some are close enough for us to hear all the notes in their "whi whi whi-cher-eeeeer" call and we sneak up on one, but it takes flight before we can put a light on it. A few minutes later another flies by and lands on the dark road ahead of me. I put my flashlight beam on it and two fireballs of red-orange light reflect back at me. The pauraque stays in the beam long enough for us to focus our binoculars on the nightjar and make out its elongated shape and mottled feathering. We hear one other night bird - a forest-falcon - before the first light of dawn tinges pink the eastern horizon. Although we look and listen for another two hours, we find no bobwhites this morning, but do see Green Jays, Yellow-billed Caciques and a few others we missed on yesterday's visit. Just as we pile back into Cindy's car, we see two swallows perched on the utility wire and note the dark distal undertail coverts that Barbara described as the best field mark for identifying this as Ridgway's Rough-winged Swallow.

(Shari) Playing the adult version of campfire storytelling, we hear all sorts of tales: from Platypus viewing, icebergs 150 miles long, 19 dead camels, 119 fish, to movie stars cavorting in an airplane. After a few margaritas, these stories and their telling get funnier and funnier. However the award for best storyteller was given to Robby who tells us of a man without arms or legs thrown off a cliff, only to sink to the bottom and have Robby and his friends rescue him from drowning. We are having margaritas by the pool after completing a relatively easy drive today to Piste. As we pulled into the ballpark, a vast sea of RV roofs appears before my eyes. Never have I seen this ballpark so crowded. At least two other caravans have arrived before us. But thankfully we find some spaces and line up in a parallel line next to another caravan. It is hotter than you know what and generators go on immediately. Only Dave and Bonnie do not have a generator and they are plugged into ours so they can use their air conditioner too. In situations like this, we can only use one of our two air conditioners, but one out of two is better than none if someone complains of the exhaust and the noise. So we are all happy, cool and now listening to tall tales.

TBMo3x5.JPG (25771 bytes)Day 18 - January 31 - Chichén Itzá, Yucatán

(Bert) We arrive at the parking lot to Chichén Itzá in the pre-dawn morning, two hours before the gates open. The forest grows to the edge of the parking lot and gives close occasion to see the awakening birds, and a surprising number of Yucatan Squirrels. A few new species are added to our list, now numbering over 200. A Cinnamon Hummingbird makes a brief appearance; two Yellow-winged Tanagers give longer views. Small flocks of parrots fly by repeatedly, mostly defying identification in the dim morning light, but Dave is sure that some of them are Yucatan Parrots. Later when the ruins open, we get longer looks at one flock and they all appear to be White-fronted Parrots. camera.GIF (1399 bytes)  The overcast morning is surprising cool and even as we approach noon a refreshing breeze abates the usual hot and humid weather we have experienced in the past. We stick to the peripheral of the ruins, leaving the multilingual tour-bus crowds to the central areas. Motmots are conspicuous in most everywhere we stop and I photograph several. I'd vote these turquoise blue and bronze red dazzlers as the prettiest bird of the ruins, the highlight being the long tails partially plucked of feathers leaving a pendulum effect and often swung back and forth like a grandfather clock. Nearing the time we agreed on quitting our birding, I see a bunting-sized bird fanning and swinging its tail, first high in a tree and then at eye-level. My thoughts zero on Fan-tailed Warbler, but knowing that is a ground-hugger and a Pacific slope species, I have to consider other choices. I get a view of its gray back, but not its front or head, but from descriptions and range maps in Howell & Webb, I deduce it must be a Gray-throated Chat.

(Shari) Two boys and a girl are doing something under our motor home. Sleepy-eyed and wondering what "no good" they are up to, I open the window and yell, "Vamanos! Go!" They sheepishly retreat from the motor home. I notice the look on their faces as not one of guilt but one of not understanding. I think to myself I did not handle that well. A bit later, I see Dan and Dorothy talking to the same three and but now one of the boys has a slingshot; I think, "Oh my goodness, they are mad and now want to sling rocks at me." I go out bearing my bag of gifts and apologize to the kids for yelling. Later I find out, Dan had given them the slingshot and they had no intention of being mean. See how foreign relations can be affected by misunderstandings? With the help of my dictionary, we have a nice conversation, they in Spanish and us in Spanish/English. The kids are 10, 9, and 8. Gabriella (Gabi) is the oldest and uses the dictionary the most. She has one brother and a baby. Mom works in the kitchen of a restaurant and Dad sells figurines at the ruins. She is in third grade. To extract this knowledge, takes a good 60 min., with a lot of laughing and hand motions, but we all are enjoying it. Dan gives them each five pesos and tells them to go buy a Coca-Cola. They come back with the change and a coke for him and immediately say, "Thank you." Nice polite kids! After drinking their coke, they threw their bottles under the bleachers. We told them to get them and throw them into the trash. I wonder if that lesson sunk in? Later this evening we have our Mayan dinner. Scrumptious oval plates laden with heaps of food line the serving table. We can take our fill of macaroni salad and lettuce salad, rice, refried beans, pork stew and beef stew, shredded beef, fish filets, chicken wings, pineapple, papaya, banana, melon, and rolls with butter. I know we all eat too much, but it looks so good. While finishing our meal, three children and two adults dance for us, even roping David, Katy and Robby into the act. The girls are so cute in their traditional white embroidered dresses and the men all in white. We wonder how they can balance full bottles on their heads without having them come crashing to the floor, especially when they turn or stamp their feet. Every year I enjoy this show more and I think the group does also. Thankfully, the temperatures are still cool and tonight may even be a blanket night. Unbelievable!

Day 19 - February 1 - Río Largartos, Yucatán

(Bert) I've been looking forward to this day of driving and birding. Deserts fascinate me, not as a place to live, but as an environment to explore and to wonder how life survives in minimal conditions. I'd say the same about the brushlands we visit today - the type of countryside that to the average person looks uninteresting and unpleasant: drab, dry, scrubby, thorny and uninviting. Broken limestone is at our feet, thorn bushes meet us at eye level and the few thinly leafed trees only a bit over our heads are too unapproachable and short to provide much shade. So what lives here that makes it appealing to me? On the pre-dawn travel north we spotlight the glowing eyes of three pauraques and watch a Central American Agouti race along the roadside like the little piggy it resembles but is not related to. An hour later, as we get out of our cars, we can hear the Black-throated Bobwhites calling their name. Entering a thorny pasture, we can see them scurrying in front of us. One poses eyelevel in a bush long enough for me to photograph it. Although they ignore the pretty purple blooms of the Silver-leaf Nightshades scattered throughout the field, hummingbirds repeatedly visit the high blooms on one tree: mostly Ruby-throated, but one Canivet's Emerald - deserving of its name by its sparkling green back - later a Cinnamon and, according to Cindy, three Mexican Sheartails. It is the latter that we most want to see since it only lives on this northern edge of the peninsula. But today the sheartails remain elusive and we do not get a lasting view of any. Strangely, we also draw a blank on finding Yucatan Wrens, usually common along the stone fences paralleling the road, but those same fences are crude beds for dozens of lounging Spiny-tailed Iguanas. We do better on our other target species and get a long look at the head of a perched Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture. Black and Turkey vultures are commonplace, but I notice two other vulture-like birds that attack each other in aerial combat. Having never witnessed this act between vultures, my suspicions are up and I stop the car to get a better look. The banding in the tail and the pattern of light and dark in the wings confirm that these two are not vultures, but Zone-tailed Hawks. Racing across the ground we see Lesser Roadrunners on four occasions, twice spreading their patterned wings and tails. In the bush we find and hear Mangrove Vireos, which closely resemble the White-eyed Vireos also present. Nearby a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat is added to our list, residing in the same bush as a Common Yellowthroat that may share the same last name, but is morphologically quite different. For most of today's birders, however, the highlight of the day is the Greater Flamingos we see at multiple locations. On a tip Robby secures from a local resident, we hike along a dike until we can see a flock of a couple hundred flamingos forming a reddish pink line across a portion of the horizon. Heat waves partially obscure the dots even through the spotting scope, but when a few rises to the air and fly over the flock there is no question about their identity. We drive to another location, encountering a Gray Fox running across the road, and head to the salt ponds along the coast and drive another dike, this time parking quite close to a flock of 38 flamingos feeding in red water just deep enough so that their long legs sometimes don't touch bottom and the fluffy pinkish orange bodies float. Using our cars as blinds we watch these wondrously beautiful birds for at least a half-hour through binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras. Off in the distance is another, much larger, flock and still further away is a flock that must number hundreds. Doubling back on the road we entered, we stop at a shallow pond beside the road and watch the gambesi swimming like brightly colored fish in an aquarium. A surprise head surfaces, with a limp body and long tail drooping toward the bottom of the clear red water. I get a chance to photograph the juvenile Spectacled Caiman before it again ducks beneath the surface and we see it swim away. One last stop, at the fishing village of Río Largartos, we can see yet another flock of flamingos on the opposite side of the lagoon and three stragglers on a sandbar in the river. One of the boat drivers tempts Bob with a visit to see Boat-billed Herons, but it is now past 3 PM and we still have a two-hour drive back before dark, so I decide we will save the herons for another day. This thorny patch of dry land of northern Yucatán - alive with unusual wildlife - has been my favorite spot so far on the trip, but it certainly wouldn't even be on the list of the average tourists vacation spots.

Day 20 - February 2 - Piste to Paamul, Quintana Roo

(Shari) We log a new route this morning, from Piste to Paamul, taking a "yellow" road on a map that three people have said is good. Supposedly the trip will take us only two hours. At first it is great toll road followed by newly paved road, but as soon as we get to Cobá, the road is extremely bumpy. We do not see the bumps but feel them and often it seems we hit bottom. At our lunch stop, Dan pulls me aside and says he thinks our air bags on the right front are not inflating. He says, "It is probably just a loose lever," and that he will look at them in the morning. At 4 PM Dorothy and I depart early to arrange discount tickets for the group at Xcaret. The park does not have our reservation and I have to talk hard to get discounts. Each one of us gets a gray bracelet and as I go through the gate, I ask if this is bracelet will also get us into the park in the morning. They say no, and that the policy has been changed. We decide to return our tickets and come back tomorrow when we can enjoy a full day of activities. But I find $49 per person per day at the park to be very expensive. I wonder who will return in the morning. Also, from the brochures we picked up we note the Mayan ballgame is only done on Sundays and on Sunday there is no pageant. So why eliminate the attractive 2-day option, one of the two best events and then raise the price to $49. We decide to get some pizza at our favorite Mexican pizza joint - not as good as the Mayan ball game and Ballet Forklorico, but not $49 per person.

(Bert) Whether it is that R-TENT's airbags have a leak and are not providing shock-absorption or that the road is that badly uneven, patched and potholed, the ride from Cobá to Tulum is uncomfortably rough even at 25 mph. After many assurances from several Mexico travelers, we are taking a road not previously traveled by RV caravans. The new section - a mere dotted line on Mexico maps - turns out to be quite satisfactory except for three very deep potholes. Fortunately for us Bob and Cindy checked this part of the route by car a few days ago and warned us of the location of the potholes. Beside the first of the potholes lies a new car overturned on its side - a car that one of our caravaners says they saw earlier in the trip - and just beyond that another car is pulled over and three vacationers are attempting to change a flat tire. It is after the section Bob and Cindy checked that I am now having the bad bumps, a section I had driven twice before in prior years without trouble. After what seems like an eternity we reach the well-paved coastal highway connecting Cancun with all the tourist traps and beach resorts along the Caribbean. Parking the rigs in the small campsites bordered by palm trees is difficult, so it is a relief when we are all finally finished. Fortunately we will have a long stay at this location.

Day 21 - February 3 - Paamul, Quintana Roo

(Bert) How many Mexicans and gringos does it take to replace a shock absorber? The first two - Shari and I - notice the problem: our motor home is experiencing a rough ride even on smooth roads and an almost unbearable one on rough roads. The next one, Dan, crawls under the passenger side front end and sees the broken shock absorber, the deflated airbags and a disconnected rod. On Dan's direction I start the engine and attempt to inflate the airbags. No luck! None of the four airbags, front and rear, will inflate. We may have at least three mechanical problems. I hike to the office to ask for a phone book and when handed a thick Yellow Pages I am somewhat perplexed where to find a Freightliner repair shop in the Mexican alphabet. I don't recall the Spanish word for truck, so I ask one of the diners at the restaurant. Under "camiones" I find a Mercedes Benz dealer in Cancún that has a Freightliner logo on their yellow pages ad. Writing down the information I return to the RV. Now gringo number five, Robby, joins the act and we inspect the rear engine compartment from the side, from below and from above, through the bedroom, and we crawl under all four corners of the RV. Robby reconnects the rod hanging near the right front shock and we back up the RV on special wood blocks supplied by an unnamed camper from Ontario, gringo number six in this story. Now, much to our relief, all four airbags inflate properly, reducing our problem to one broken shock. We invite a Mexican mechanic who had been working on a neighboring camper's rig to look at our problem. He tells us that the labor is easy, but getting the part in Mexico will be difficult. He mentions a truck parts store in the next town, Playa del Carmen, so after Dan removes the broken shock, he, Shari and I pile into our car and head to the warehouse. "No," says Mexican number two, but he suggests an auto supply store around the corner. "No," says Mexican number three, but on persuasion he heads to the back of his small shop and prowls through his limited inventory. He returns with an "amortiguador" labeled "Boge bogas 8351742803", about the right length but with connecting rings of a differing size. Dan says he might be able to retrofit the shock, but only as a last resort. We ask the clerk if he could call the Freightliner dealer in Cancún, but he says his phone system cannot make the long distance call, but he tells us the street address is the main highway into Cancún and draws a primitive map. So the three of us drive 70 miles to Cancún. When we pass a Kenworth dealer we try there, but they are closed for siesta and the guard suggests we try next door at the Caterpillar dealer - my engine is that manufacturer. Here, in the managers office, we find a well-dressed Mexican with good English-speaking abilities who tells us he doesn't have shocks like this, but makes some phone calls and finds an employee that might be able to help us. Since that person won't be back for another two hours, we decide to continue our search ourselves. He tells us where the Mercedes-Benz dealer is located and we drive another mile and a half into Cancún. The guard informs us that they are closed for siesta until 4 PM, so we back track looking for a GM dealer, but can't find one. After a quick pizza, we are back at Mercedes-Benz and talking to the "refacciónes" clerk. "No," says Mexican number seven, but checks his inventory anyway and finds a shock that is too short, too weak and with the wrong connecting rings. Somehow our discussion catches the attention of Carlos, the Gerente General for this Mercedes-Benz Freightliner dealership. With good English, complete authority over a large staff with international phone systems and computer systems loaded with parts descriptions and inventories, Carlos is a man that holds the potential of solving our dilemma. An hour later, after Mexican number nine and ten do much calling, computer checking and FAXing, we have a parts diagram of the front suspension system of our specific model of Freightliner chassis with all parts identified by name, except the shock absorber. Strangely, that part is shown on the diagram but not the name or part number. After thumbing through several parts books, Carlos finds one that might have a similar shock absorber and has a staff member call the Mexican distributor who happens to live in Cancún. Then Carlos has another worker drive one of the Mercedes with us as passengers to the distributor's house. The only mark that separates his house from the others on the block in the residential neighborhood is a small sign "Boge" - a name I recall from earlier in the day. At his doorstep we show him the broken shock and he heads to his dining room and returns with the Mexican equivalent, manufactured by Boge. He suggests we buy two so that we have a matched set on our front suspension, so I pay him 700 pesos for the pair of heavy-duty shocks. Back at Mercedes-Benz, we profusely thank Carlos for his generosity and he refuses to accept any payment for over two hours of his and his staff's support. So the three of us head back to Paamul, returning about 8 pm. Twelve hours, five gringos, twelve Mexicans, 700 pesons and 150 miles produce our replacement shock absorber that Dan will install tomorrow.

(Shari) "Partes, bache, amortiguador, reparciónes," these Spanish words I learn today under duress. This morning Dan crawls under R-TENT-III and starts to mumble in uneasy sounds. Soon Robby joins him, then Bert, then two neighbors, then Bob. All of them shaking their heads and agreeing that one of those many "baches" (potholes) we hit had broken a shock absorber ("amortiguador") and maybe two airbags. Oh my, oh my! Five of the seven men begin the male problem-solving technique that only they understand. R-TENT-III goes up on blocks and two men crawl underneath. Bert uncovers the motor from our hatch in the bedroom so they can look at the rear airbags from on top. The rear goes off the blocks and the front goes up. Robby hammers a lever and Dan ties it off with plastic ties. The motor starts; the airbags inflate. One problem solved. We drive to town for a shock absorber at the Auto Partes store. No luck! The man there sends us to another store. That man sends us to Cancún, 60 miles up the road. Bert has an address in Cancún and we stop at a Kenworth truck place to ask directions. The man there does not know, but says Mercedes-Benz is down the street. Off we go, still clutching our broken shock in, by now, an oily paper towel. It is 3 PM; the lot is closed for lunch. We go to Dominos for pizza and return at 4 PM, heading to the reparciónes (repairs) counter. The clerk looks at our broken shock and shakes his head negative. We ask questions. He gets another negative nodding clerk. We ask more questions. Carlos, the general manager, the first English-speaking man in the place, comes to help us out. He has now five employees working on the problem. A lot of unrecognizable words are floating about, and many negative nods. Carlos keeps trying and asking questions. Someone calls the Freightliner factory and soon a schematic comes beeping through on the fax machine. It shows the shocks, but without a part number. Without a part number, not even an American could order it. Carlos still does not give up. Using the telephone book he looks in the yellow pages under reparciónes, calls a number and soon one of the men drives us to a shock absorber place located on someone's dining room table in a residential neighborhood of Cancún. Success! We leave with two shock absorbers, thanking Carlos immensely. We ask him what we owe him and he refuses to take any money. Even his driver would not take our money. So many Americans are afraid of Mexico. Yet, we find time after time that we are treated with respect, kindness and extreme generosity whenever we visit the country. It is a shame that a few bad people (found everywhere in the world) can ruin a reputation of such a beautiful country. Returning to the park at 8:30 PM, a full 12 hours after we started this project, we are at least one step closer to getting it fixed.

Day 22 - February 4 - Paamul, Quintana Roo

(Bert) After hectic yesterday, it feels good to have nothing on today's agenda. I bird with Judy around the campground for a couple of hours, finding the most and best birds at the garbage dump. Attracted to the piles of refuse and the many flies are Black-headed Trogon, Northern Waterthrush, Rose-throated Becard and many other species. On another road I get a perfect picture of a Yucatan Vireo. As the heat of the day increases, the butterflies come out and I find a great variety this morning; White Peacock, Banded Peacock, Pipevine Swallowtail, Tropical Buckeye, and Zebra Heliconian are the ones I can identify. By the time I return to R-TENT-III, Dan has replaced both shock absorbers and that saga is hopefully over.

Day 23 - February 5 - Cozumel, Quintana Roo

(Bert) Turquoise waves tinged red by the rising sun - a broken ball of embers shrouded by clouds - stretch to the distant Isla Cozumel. Our 6 AM ferryboat is an old one, chugging at half the speed of the new jetboats, and it carries mostly Mexican workers to the island, plus Judy and me on our way for a day of birding. Six others of our group are already on the island, having arrived yesterday with two cars on the commercial cargo ferry. We meet them at the dock, retrieve the cars and head cross-island to the Mayan ruins. Cozumel offers many rarities in the bird world, endemics isolated from the mainland or just barely spilling to its shores. In the ruins parking lot, the first bird I see is a Caribbean Elaenia, a crested flycatcher of washed out gray and yellow, and the first life bird for me on this caravan trip. It disappears quickly, robbing me of a detailed look and the others of any look at all. The next bird compensates by giving us prolonged looks at very close range, and this male Green-breasted Mango, a large and flashy green hummingbird, is well deserving of our time. Whenever a Cozumel Emerald threatens his airspace, the mango zips to the opposing hummingbird in chase, careening through the flowered shrubs like Star Wars spacecraft through the canyons of a distant world. Several Yellow Warblers cohabitate the shrubs and when the males tip their heads we see the red crown that marks these as the subspecies called Golden Warbler. Cozumel Bananaquits, bulbous banana-yellow, white and black birds, are also close by, but move quickly through the leaves, making photographs of a complete bird difficult. Cindy calls Caribbean Dove, quickly drawing my attention since that would be a second life-bird for me. Heading toward the trees she saw the bird fly to, we are distracted by Ovenbirds and Palm Warblers, but then get a look of the large pinkish dove and see its rufous under-wings as it flies away. We add Yellow-faced Grassquits, a Northern Parula six feet from my camera lens, a Worm-eating Warbler and several other species - and we haven't even left the small parking lot yet! Inside the park, the birding is somewhat slower, although Spiny-tailed Iguanas are in abundance along and in the stone path through the forest. The highlight is a pair of Black Catbirds that are agitated by the pishing noise Cindy initiates and are joined by a variety of wintering warblers. From the ruins we head to the sewage treatment plant, well known for its resident Ruddy Crakes. This year we are in luck and we hear our first crake only minutes after our arrival. Cindy is the first one to spot a pair, about 15 minutes later. The dense and snarled underbrush covering seeping water is a labyrinth of hiding places and even after Bob calls us over to Cindy's viewpoint it takes many minutes before anyone else sees them. Then I get a narrow direct line view through the branches to two of the petite rusty-colored rails. We see more Golden Warblers and then head another mile to the north coast. There, gingerly climbing through the mangroves I watch three Cozumel Raccoons, a rare and threatened species found only on Isla Cozumel and differing from our Northern Raccoon mostly in being a smaller version. Obligingly, they allow me to photograph them. After lunch in San Miguel we head south and bird in a poor village with ill-finished houses carved into a thorn forest. Walking together along the dusty streets, Judy spots a "trogon" that transforms to a Mangrove Cuckoo when we view it through binoculars. Further down the road, I find three anis and we are delighted to see the shiny reflection of sunlight off their black bills, marking these as Smooth-billed Anis. Late in the afternoon we stop at the fancy beachside hotel that Robby and Katy are staying at. We return their car and spend just a few minutes checking out the tall trees shading the parking lot. I call the group over to some doves I've been watching and we all get a good look at White-crowned Pigeons, unmistakable with the sunlight bouncing off their white tops. As a bonus, in an adjacent branch we find a Red-vented Woodpecker, a short-tailed version of its more common cousin, the Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Defining logic, the Red-vented has a golden front - the spot on the forehead just above the bill - while the Golden-fronted has a red front and bright red vents. We have just enough time to reach the 5 PM ferry, this time on one of the jet boats, and return to our campground in early darkness, a full day of good birding and sightseeing.

Day 24 - February 6 - Paamul, Quintana Roo

(Bert) Our campground in Paamul is a remarkably good birding spot. I've tallied 63 species here already in the past few days. It's also quite the hunting ground for stray cats. I took out the garbage last night and cats scurried everywhere in the darkness. Although dogs are commonplace throughout Mexico, cats are rare either as pets or free-roaming. Since so many Americans and Canadians frequent this RV park in winter, many staying the whole season, I wonder if they are the source of the cats. I talk to one couple from Quebec who have a cat, as does their neighbor. He tells me his cat brought in a dead bird yesterday and that he reprimanded the cat, naively thinking he could change basic instinct. His wife feeds bread crumbs to the birds and gets a flock of Yucatan Jays to perch in a low branched tree and then dive bomb the crumbs, snatching a few and remaining aerial all in a single pass. A mean-looking grackle enters the stage and holds the jays at bay. Another animal I've found prowling through the garbage and visiting the cenote are White-nosed Coatis. They run quickly if they see me and sometimes all I glimpse is a disappearing tail.

(Shari) Guess who got Montezuma's Revenge? Here I tell everyone that the only people who get sick on my caravan are the ones who don't listen to me and eat lettuce, melon, and strawberries or drink the water. Well do I heed my own advice? No! The day before yesterday, Bert was filling our tank with water and treating it with disinfecting bleach. I was impatient to brush my teeth so I turned on the pump and brushed with the trickle of water that came out. Apparently that trickle was not treated since 12 hours later, I had the cramps and was up all night and slept all day. You never know where you pick up these things, but that is about the only place I can think of that could have given it to me. But I was lucky and only had a mild case. So, I did not go to Cozumel with the gang and enjoy the snorkeling and shopping like I planned. Instead I slept and read a lot. I feel much better today and even have a taste of some margarita tonight. It does not taste as good as usual so I still must be on the mend.

Day 25 - February 7 - Cobá, Quintana Roo

(Bert) Three times my non-birding wife Shari has seen a bird species before I have, always with the help and instigation of fellow birders on our caravans. Each instance resulted in me being ribbed by the rest of the group. The first was a Rose-throated Becard on January 20, 2000 in Culiacan and it wasn't until January 31 before I found my first in Singayta, after having been reprised of my shortcoming for 11 days. The second instance was a Gray-necked Wood-Rail Shari saw from a boat with the non-birders at Celestún on February 5, 2001. I was in another boat filled with the birders, but missed the species and did not find one for 11 days, this time in Paamul. It took until February 22, 2003, before I was again up scaled by Shari, this time with an Ocellated Turkey. But this time, the ribbing lasted all year. Not only did my fellow caravaners remind me of my shortcoming, but also it became the subject of e-mail, journals, holiday cards, and a regular topic of conversation. So at about 8 AM this morning, it is with much surprise and delight when I hear Judy say she had Ocellated Turkeys in sight. It took me all of 4 seconds to move my binoculars to the deeply shaded spot of the Cobá ruins to see the three shimmering black and purple rotund turkeys feeding at the edge of the deep forest. I take multiple photographs, documenting my sighting. Back at Paamul, I show Shari the photos, hoping this will now end the turkey saga. But then she reminds me of still another species, one she can't recall the correct name of, but that she saw from the picnic table at Guanacaste National Park, again with the aid of other birders. If she can't remember the name, I'm not going to help her start another cycle of catch-up with Shari.

Day 26 - February 8 - Xel-Ha, Quintana Roo

(Shari) Meandering along the trail that parallels the river at Xel-Ha, we marvel at the natural beauty of this park. Walking close to two miles in two hours, gives us a good idea on the layout of the park. We don our snorkel equipment, get an inner tube and float and snorkel our way around the natural limestone outcroppings for the next 90 min. It's time for lunch, adequately supplied by one of the five restaurants. Eating our fill of the delicious buffet, Bert naps on the wooden beach chairs surrounding the large cenote, and I shop the many gift shops. Later he takes pictures, while I nap in one of the many hammocks provided under palm trees, next to the ponds where five dolphins reside. Xel-Ha is advertised as an Eco-park, which it is. But no advertising can do it justice. I know many stubborn people, who will stay away just because it has gift shops, making it a tourist trap to them. I say, 'Don't go in the shops, but please enjoy the natural beauty, enhanced by man with tree trimming and clean walking paths." Snorkeling here is just about perfect: no waves to deal with in these protected waters where fresh water meets the sea; the shore is never far away if you get tired and many easy entrances and exits dot the river's edge. Because fish food is free at numerous vending dispensers along the water's edge, colorful fish galore easily can be seen without even getting wet. I see multicolored parrotfish two to three feet long, fish in shades of blue and yellow and black all swimming together to nibble at the food. While snorkeling I even see a stingray! While Bert stays to watch, I swim away. We spend six hours at the park, and leave satisfied that our $22 entrance was well spent.

(Bert) We've passed the sign pointing to Xel-Ha dozens of times in past years, but until today we've never visited the eco-park. Our first view of the water park is breathtakingly beautiful. Someone had the foresight to buy up this land before other developers transformed it into another of the dozens of hotel complexes now lining the coast from Cancún to Talum. Although this is also developed, it was done so that from most perspectives you cannot see the restaurants and shops on one corner and you cannot see the footpath that circles the main estuary. Instead, I see a complicated collection of tiny islands and irregular shoreline following an azure pool. The limestone islands and opposite shore are densely covered in green plants and short trees. To my right the water extends up a freshwater river; to my left the bay opens up to the white breakers of the Caribbean. It takes Shari and I two hours to circulate the caliche footpath trailing around the bay and crossing the open outlet on a floating bridge. We pause for iguanas and birds, stop for views through the vegetation to the river, detour through limestone crevices to see fossils imbedded in the rock. Full circle, we are back to our storage locker and prepare for swimming. A tram takes us back to the river inlet. Shari uses a big innertube-shaped float and I wear snorkel and fins as we follow the narrow meandering river through the roots of mangrove trees and along limestone walls. Beneath the surface swim hundreds of colorful tropical fish. In the broadened opening closer to the sea, we see a stingray swim a few inches above the stone bottom. Close to the river edge I'm dazzled by hundreds of thumbnail sized fish the remind me of the Neon Tetras I once had in an aquarium. We climb out on wooden steps near the restaurants, having swum about three-fourths of the near 1-mi. distance from where the river emerges from underground to its juncture with the sea. I'd count today's experience as the most unusual and most beautiful snorkeling experiences I've ever had.

Day 27 - February 9 - Jardín Botánico Alfredo Barrera M.

(Bert) The botanical gardens south of Cancún are the only patch of coastal native forest that I've found along the Caribbean coast in this vacation mecca. Here the trees are tall and the forest dense. The birds and the mammals seem to know this too. This morning we find eleven species of warblers including many wintering Northern Waterthrushes, Ovenbirds, Worm-eating Warblers and Kentucky Warblers. Trogons, both Black-headed and Violaceous, pose serenely for photos. A Great Kiskadee is already sitting on a nest, presumably over eggs. But the best find is the monkeys. The first one we hear calling a loud hoarse "Got cha" that reminds me of the Mealy Parrot call. We don't recognize the call and spend 15 minutes trying to find its source and the rustling in the canopy as it moves across the forest crown. Cindy gets a brief look, identifying the monkey, but later Judy finds a small family of the Central American Spider Monkeys and these give us much closer and prolonged views. A pint-sized juvenile watches us curiously from his perch 50 ft. above us. As an adult male moves above us, it is obvious why these are called spiders. The monkey is quite content to use any two of his five appendages to stay suspended in the air and easily extends another one or two of the lengthy arms, legs and tail to move to the next branch. His blackness dissolves into the darkness of the forest and even a camera flash does little to differentiate its body from tree limbs and the leafy foliage. We continue our hike along the forest trail, pass along the edge of a mangrove swamp and then uphill to the lookout tower: a treehouse reached by two very long extension ladders securely tied to the tree. Only Bob and I make the 50-ft. climb, while the others watch from below. From the treehouse we can see a mile of mangroves extending to the sea and in the opposite direction we are even with the forest canopy, getting a bird's-eye view. On the hike back we encounter another small troop of monkeys and one Coati who clambers down a tree lickity-split and disappears into the undergrowth. Cindy tells me that yesterday at our campsite she watched 24 Coati cross the access road to the cenote. That must have been a sight!

Day 28 - February 10 - Paamul to Chetumal, Quintana Roo

(Bert) On the road again, we're heading south. I often try to compare the scenery along a route I travel with that of another somewhere else. But this section through Quintana Roo defies comparison. In a vague sort of way it is like a part of the Alaskan Highway through the Yukon Territory, the analogy only fitting in that the road is arrow straight and the short forest stands at the very edge of the highway, giving a tunnel-like feeling. Of course, in the Yukon the vegetation is almost 100% spruce, whereas here it is wide assortment of broadleaf trees and tropical scrubs. The analogy also fits in that we see almost no buildings and no people other than fellow travelers. Mexico certainly concentrates its people in cities or small villages, with wide-open unpopulated sections between. After traveling a couple of hours through the forest-tunnel the road widens, the trees are taller and we pass through a few tope-encumbered villages with their accompaniment of vendors selling peeled oranges and juice as we climb over the speed bumps. We stop for lunch at a pretty blue cenote, hoping our Tailgunners, Dan and Dorothy, will catch up with us after they replace the fuel filter that had prevented them from passing another vehicle or attaining high speeds. Comparing experiences while we were traveling this morning, I hear that Robby and Katy watched a colorful toucan fly across the road and that they along with Bob and Cindy saw a Tayra run in front of their RV's. They picked the Tayra from drawings in my Central American mammal book, a large and lanky member of the weasel family with a blond head, dark body and long furry tail. Dan doesn't show up, but sends word through Judy that they will meet us at the campground. So we continue south, and then turning east to the Caribbean coast, where we park our rigs within a few feet of the sea. An hour later, Dan and Dorothy do the same.

Day 29 - February 11 - Chetumal, Quintana Roo

(Shari) Eight-year-old Tonyia is folding towels when I approach her little cottage. Her friendly mother greets me as I tell her I would like to pay for the two nights we have stayed here. She obtains her book and pen and proceeds to write me a receipt. What makes this story interesting is that she does not know how to read or write. She has learned very good English in the past year since I have seen her and so is an intelligent woman, but never had the opportunity to go to school. It is a little embarrassing to us both as she tries to hide the fact by looking at a "cheat sheet" and copying the letters from another sheet of paper. However, she does not have all the words she needs and asks Tonyia to write a word on a sheet of paper, which she tries to copy unsuccessfully. After two tries, Tonyia just writes it for her. I have no idea why she wrote the words "Los Angeles" on the paper unless it is the name of the park or she thinks all Americans reside there. After my little business transaction, Don and I drive three miles to a small Mayan ruins site. It is only 9 AM and boy is it hot. We can only manage an hour before we head home. Now I have been good this year and have not complained about the heat until now. It is hot and I am very thankful I have a generator that I can use to run my air-conditioner this afternoon. Later in the evening eight of us drive to a pretty restaurant on the edge of the Caribbean. Bert has conch in garlic butter sauce and I have grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon, cheese and ham. Simply delicious!

WNPU01.JPG (7000 bytes)(Bert) It looks like a kingfisher when perched on an open-branched tree and still the same when it flies to the thatched room and back. But we aren't near open water and I don't see any blues or greens, just black and white. Excitedly, I say to Cindy, "I don't know what that is; I've never seen one before." Cindy, who had been studying Webb's plates last night, said, "It's a puffbird." Now I'm really excited. Fortunately, the chubby bird perches quietly now and I can see the black breast band, black back and tail, black crown and mask and big black bill. Everything else is white. The White-necked Puffbird looks a bit like Sancho Panza attending a masquerade ball in a tuxedo. I take lots of close-up photos and then a few of just of its head through the spotting scope that Robby has aligned. The Mexican attendant selling boletos jumps back a few inches when he sees the digital image on my camera and then is intrigued by the view through the spotting scope. He knows the bird well, but has never seen it this close with the aid of optics. Not a kingfisher, puffbirds are in their own family, but taxonomically that family is positioned adjacent to the look-alike kingfishers. Two dozen photos later, we leave the parking lot and enter the forest surrounding the Oxtankah ruins. After a life bird, I'd be happy even if we saw little else this morning, but I'm pleasantly surprised at the 60+ species we see in the next few hours. Unlike other ruins, but for two small openings to the sky, these are completely under a closed forest canopy and the understory has been cleared away, giving us a wide area to bird. The very light-bellied fulginosus subspecies of Brown Jay are the obvious rulers of this forest. They screech incessantly at us from tree perches, accompanying us wherever we go. Yet other birds don't seem to mind and we watch a White-browed Wren, Mangrove Cuckoo, Black-crowned Tityra, Gray-collared Becard and many other "good" birds. While I'm tracking the source of a hooting pygmy-owl, I see a hawk fly quickly across one of the openings in the canopy. I wait for a couple of minutes and it flies past again, this time giving me ample opportunity to note a narrow black forewing followed by ample white and a boldly banded black-and-white tail. The wing feathers protrude like fingers. I'm not sure what I've got, but I know I haven't seen it often, so with my sketch and notes I compare Webb's plates and zero in on Black Hawk-Eagle. The good birding continues to noon, when we leave for lunch. Back at camp the word spreads quickly about the puffbird and those that stayed behind, particularly Judy, are jealous. At different times, they trek to the ruins. Dave and Bonnie travel by bicycle and relocate the puffbird, but the others who visit in mid afternoon cannot find it.

Next Day  Table of Contents