Sunday, 28 July 2013

Mexico Trip Report (22/06/13 - 02/07/13)

I'll admit that Mexico wasn't really on my 'to do list', but with time running out before the summer was upon us, Emma and I were hurrying to find somewhere appropriate to spend our summer holidays. An attractive deal on the web came to the rescue advertising 10 days in Cancun that  initially seemed too good to be true. After further investigation - it wasn't, there were no hidden costs, and included the lot.

Being a holiday for both Emma and myself I knew I would have to compromise, do a few things she wanted to do, and in return we'd do a few things that I wanted to do. This wasn't a problem as it was inevitable that I'd see new birds wherever we went and Emma was more than happy to spend a few days exploring the jungle as she also had her target species, for example Hummingbirds, Parrots and of course Toucans.

Online trip reports seemed limited, but their itineraries were very similar with many recommending a days birding on Cozumel as well as a few days in the jungle on the Yucatan Peninsula itself. Since dawn till about 9am offered the best birding (before the temperatures soared to high), early mornings were required in order to make the most of it and see as many of the species as possible in the limited time. I'll try to summarize as quickly as possible.

22nd June 2013

Our flight left Gatwick early morning and we arrived in Cancun around 16:30 local time, followed shortly by our transfer to the hotel. As soon as we landed there were new birds everywhere with common birds like Great-tailed Grackles, Tropical Mockingbirds and Great Kiskadees at the airport entrance. From our hotel window were the first Magnificent Frigatebirds gliding past, and I could also see a Least Tern colony just a little down the coast.
Great-tailed Grackle
23rd June 2013

On the first morning I was up at the crack of dawn to explore the nearby vicinity, wandering around the golf course for two or three hours before I was eventually kicked off. In the time I was on there I found the likes of Tricoloured and Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Wilson's Plover, Social Flycatcher and Green-breasted Mangos amongst other common residents. A pair of Mangrove (Yellow) Warblers were also good value. While the beach offered great views of American Sandwich Terns and fishing Brown Pelicans.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Wilson's Plover
During the day we stayed mostly local, going for a sweaty trip across the lagoon on a pedalo that yielded Osprey, Altimira Oriole and American Crocodile. In the afternoon we relaxed on the beach as Laughing Gulls flew to roost and Royal Terns flew up and down fishing.
Brown Pelican
24th June 2013

....and we had our first excursion. Firstly to Ik-kil Cenote where Cave Swallows were nesting in abundance, Turquoise-browed Motmot were also nesting, while Black-headed Saltator and singing Yellow-faced Grassquit were around the entrance.
Turquoise-browed Motmot
Mid-afternoon we arrived at the impressive Chichen Itza where we wandered around the Mayan ruins in the blazing heat for a good few hours. Additional bird species of note here included Clay-coloured Thrush, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Masked Tityra, Ruddy Ground Dove, Vaux's Swift, Bronzed Cowbird and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.
 Clay-coloured Thrush
Bronzed Cowbird
25th June 2013

We were up early to catch various buses from Cancun to Playa del Carmen where we planned to get a connecting ferry mid-afternoon to Cozumel. We stopped briefly in the middle of the day to visit the Botanical Gardens at Peurto Merelos. Our walk around the gardens was sadly rushed due to the large numbers of biting Midgies but we managed a few more birds including our first endemic to the peninsula; Yucatan Jay. Noisy Green and Brown Jays were also regular, presumably alerting us and everything else to the presence of a small troop of Spider Monkeys nearby. Here we also found a small party of Plain Chachalacas, and singles of Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Groove-billed Ani.
 Spider Monkey
 Spider Monkey
Ring-tailed Coati
We continued our journey south and arrived on Cozumel early afternoon and were greeted by this thing waiting for scraps from the local fishermen.
Brown Pelican
26th June 2013

Another early start, way before dawn to meet Rafael Chacon (a local biologist who agreed to take us around in the morning). Under the cover of darkness we made our way to the north of the island where Common Pauraques frequented the sandy tracks. It felt odd when a Barn Owl flew out infront our car. Golden (Yellow) Warbler and Black Catbird were out and singing in numbers as the sun started to break the horizon and curious Pygmy Raccoons came to investigate the car.  As the morning progressed we set to work trying to find the three endemic species to Cozumel. Our first stop was a success all round with Yucatan Woodpecker, and Caribbean Dove, and it didn't take long before we found our first of several Cozumel Emerald. Continuing the walk it didn't take long before we were watching Bananaquit (endemic subspecies), one or two Cozumel Vireos, and we even managed to see the elusive Cozumel Wren.
Black Catbird
Pygmy Raccoon
Cozumel Vireo
 Cozumel Wren
Our next port of call was the nearby golf course where there was an American Crocodile performing some kind of territorial display that we duly ignored. Here we found a mix of Herons and Egrets, Northern Jacanas and American Coot.
American Coot
As we made our way towards the southern end of the island we stopped briefly to look for the endemic suspecies of Rufous-browed Peppershrike, that eventually called repeatedly as we were about to give up. Yucatan Vireos were common, as were Common Ground Doves, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Tropical Pewee and White-crowned Pigeon. A small lagoon also held several Least Grebe, though sadly we failed to locate any Stripe-headed Tanagers.
Yucatan Vireo
Our afternoon, was spent snorkelling the offshore reef before we returned back to the mainland, and back north to Cancun.

27th June 2013

Today was a relaxation day where we stayed around the hotel, we took a mid-afternoon stroll down the beach and so I took this opportunity to photograph the various Terns etc gathering.
 Least Tern
 American Sandwich Tern
 Laughing Gull
 Royal Tern
 Royal Tern
Brown Pelican
28th June 2013

It was finally time for a largely anticipated trip into the Gulf of Mexico. On our way out we saw a pair of mating Green Turtles, a pod of 30+ (what looked-like Bottlenose) Dolphins and several Sooty Terns. We were about 20 miles out when we joined a fleet of small fishing boats and around them were about 30-40 Whale Sharks surface feeding. Being the world's largest fish at 40ft in length, it was superb to watch these animals come so close to the boat. But this was not close enough. Within minutes we were kitted out with snorkel and goggles, and in the water amongst these incredible beasts. At times we were so close that the tail (about 5ft from top to bottom) brushed right past us. Beneath us, the blue sea eventually faded away into darkness, something I found quite eerie, especially when 15-20feet wide Manta Rays were passing beneath us. It was certainly an experience I will never forget.
 Green Turtle
Bottlenose Dolphins

29th June 2013

We went on another excursion to Xel-ha Water Park where I continued to add more birds to the trip list, including Common Black Hawk, Scrub Euphonia, Neotropic Cormorant, Green Kingfisher, Barred Woodcreeper and Hooded Oriole. However the undoubted highlight was an adult Bare-throated Tiger Heron that flew over us as we drifted downstream in a rubber-ring. We managed to turn against the current to find where it landed in a nearby tree to attend its scruffy Bittern-like chick.

With only a few days left, I was beginning to panic that I still hadn't had a proper trip into the jungle, so I was frantically searching around online for someone who could show me a few more of the endemics to the Yucatan peninsula.
 Rock Iguana
Neotropic Cormorant
30th June 2013

I found someone! We were collected from our hotel by Luis Ku Quinones at 4am and headed towards Puerto Merelos, near the Botanical Garden we visited a few days previously. The main reason for an early start was to target Yucatan Nightjar and Yucatan Poorwill; both of which we saw briefly (3 of the latter) in the headlights; a Vermiculated Screech Owl was equally as brief.

As dawn broke, the Orioles began to sing with Orange, Altamira, Yellow-tailed and Black-cowled all singing simultaneously, alongside various other songbirds like Melodious Blackbird, Couch's Kingbird, Green-backed Sparrow, Spot-breasted Wren and Mangrove Vireo to name just a few. This site was particularly productive, Luis was continuously pointing out birds by call, so without his help, I'm sure I would've struggled to see half the birds we did!
 Barred Antshrike
 No idea...??
White-bellied Emerald
Luis helped us to see many of the remaining Yucatan endemics including Yucatan Parrot and Red-throated Ant Tanager, but Emma was particularly keen to see Hummingbirds and hopefully a Toucan. Hummingbirds were abundant but rarely stayed still long enough, though we did get good views of Canivet's Emerald, White-bellied Emerald, and Wedge-tailed Sabrewing. Luckily Luis had a nest site staked out for the Keel-billed Toucan and as we approached the wooded area, we saw a bird flying between trees before dropping out of view.

To name all the species we saw this morning would be too long winded, but I saw about 60 new birds that morning alone! 
 White-bellied Emerald
 Red-legged Honeycreeper
White-winged Tanager
1st July 2013

The penultimate morning was a damp one having recently rained heavily. This seemed to bring out the mosquitos in force and I couldn't stop no longer than a couple of seconds before I had several biting my legs. There was one final addition to the list with Lesser Nighthawk and I attempted to photograph the local pair of Northern Jacanas.
Northern Jacana
Ridgeway's Rough-winged Swallow
2nd July 2013

I was too hungover to get out of bed (after an eventful night out at Coco Bongo) and go out before we had to check out of our hotel, we flew the same way home as we arrived but an hour delayed. I had heard there was a Bridled Tern on the Farnes back home and I was soon to make this my priority as soon as we landed...

Sunday, 21 July 2013

June 2013

Wow, June was a bit of a blur. At the turn of the month I started my new job as a Sales Executive for Nicholls and Clarke Glass and instantly began my training program within the department; so far everything has been really good and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. It has certainly been keeping me busy and it appears I am once again restricted to birding in the evenings and weekends, and with June being such a mega month I wasn't sure how I'd manage to connect with anything important.

I spent the majority of my spare time in the New Forest enjoying the long evenings watching displaying Nightjars and roding Woodcocks, with breeding Goshawk, Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Woodlark, Redstart and Crossbill all easy available within the same small felled area. Honey Buzzards were also displaying just a stones throw away, while Needs Ore was relatively quiet with a slow trickle of migrants still coming through but nothing worth shouting about.
On the 15th I visited Cuckmere Haven (East Sussex) with the Fullers to try and photograph the particularly showy American Golden Plover that had been there all week. Today, however, it had clearly gone. Whilst walking to and from the car park to the shore we were bombarded by screaming Swifts low over our heads and we joked about imagining a Pacific Swift just appearing in front of us, flashing its white-rump, before continuing down the river. Needless to say it didn't happen, but the same topic had cropped up quite alot recently, no doubt fueled by the now annual, recent sighting of a Pacific Swift south over Spurn. Josh and I were discussing just two days prior how surely it was just a matter of time before somebody tracked it down inland over a body of water, whether it be Rutland or some other reservoir. In reality this was just a dream scenario that would probably never happen.
Just as I neared the A23 near Brighton those magic words struck the pager, presumably the same Pacific Swift that was seen migrating south over Spurn a week earlier had finally been pinned down at Trimley Marshes (Suffolk). After a frantic drive and a very exhaustive 3 mile run we were there watching the Pacific Swift hawk in a 'figure of 8' fashion over its favored pool nearest to the seawall almost continuously for over 2 hours before the heavens opened!! During my teenage years I remember others say that there would never be a repeat of the 1993 Cley bird and this was one that would never be twitchable again. Oh how they were (gratefully) wrong. Views from the seawall were good, but not as good as those from the hide where it performed well at closer range as it looped round in front of us; once again my photos fail to do it justice. It really is time for me to upgrade my kit!
June proved to be a great month as it didn't stop there. A jaunt over to the Isle of Wight in the evening of the 19th, resulted with perhaps the most fine-looking wader I have ever seen; a female Wilson's Phalorope. With hardly anybody there it was great to just sit and watch as the sun set behind us. It certainly beats the one previous encounter I've had of the species, a grey 1st winter at Stithian's Reservoir, probably some 5 years ago now.

A 1st summer Montagu's Harrier at an undisclosed site in the north of Hampshire was the last of highlights before Emma and I flew out to Mexico on the 22nd (seperate blog post). Things were still heating up nicely on the rarity front and it seemed inevitable that I'd miss something!