Tuesday 3 April 2018

Birding the Ruins (Mexico Part 3)


Story Adrian Leather
Photography by John Gordon

Our next destination was La Reserva de La Biosfera de Sian Ka'an. 5 Red-billed Pigeon were tallied, and we heard our first Blue Ground Dove. Scanning the road ahead paid off with 3 Green-backed Sparrows feeding intermittently by the roadside.

The beauty of a Rose-throated Tanager was much admired, and we added a few nice warblers, with a Black-and-White, and a Golden-crowned.

A Red-capped Manakin was vocalizing, and we watched a Gartered Trogon. 3 Brown Jay made a racket, and we enjoyed watching 2 Tropical Gnatcatcher. 2 Olivaceous Woodcreeper made the list. Perhaps the coolest bit of birding at Sian Ka'an was when we had a Stub-tailed Spadebill, Northern Bentbill, and a Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher close together, allowing for detailed viewing and comparison.


Next on the menu was another famous birding spot, La Reserva Biosfera de Calakmul. We like our biosphere reserves! This was a weird day! We stationed ourselves at the gate early. Eric felt this essential to maximize our chances to spot Great Curassow, and Ocellated Turkey. We remained in the van, while Eric went to chat with the guys in the reception hut. This seemed to be taking a long time. I sensed a change in Eric, and mentioned to the crew that some of the conversation I was overhearing did not sound favourable. It was worse! They would not let us proceed without some permit, and, we would only be allowed in with a local driving escort. 


It appeared to be a scam to create a monopoly to take visitors around Calakmul, on their terms, regardless of the nature of the visit. Eric was absolutely livid! Stress levels were going through the van roof. Eric attempted to sort out the situation, and we walked around the parking lot. A Bat Falcon was tearing something apart on the radio mast. 

Keel-billed Toucan

A Squirrel Cuckoo, auditioning as a cuddly toy, put on quite a show. 3 Keel-billed Toucan flew around. 7 Purple Martin zipped over, and a Rose-throated Becard was added. A Yucatan Flycatcher gave decent views, a Green-backed Sparrow flitted through some branches, and a Black-cheeked Woodpecker landed on a snag, The parking lot birding certainly wasn't too shabby!

Squirrel Cuckoo

 A Tody Motmot is never a bad thing, and an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper crept on to the list.

Today Motmot

 A Yellow-throated Vireo beamed. Flycatchers included 2 Yellow-bellied, Great-crested, and Brown-crested. A Red-capped Manakin was seen.
Barred Forest Falcon

 We cleaned-up on Forest-Falcons, with a vocal Collared, and stupendous scope views of a Barred, which swiped at a Grey Catbird by the trail. The Barred Forest-Falcon perched in one spot, calling, and posing. 

As Eric stated, this is normally a "Ghost of the Forest". A few tourists walked by, and it was neat to share this scope view. Some said, "Cool!". One guy had an amazed facial expression. You could see his joy.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Brown Jay at the Calukmul entrance

Calakmul Ruins

We were finally permitted to drive into the reserve, hours later than anticipated. It was a strange atmosphere, a mix of boiling frustration, and trepidation, but also one of hope, and anticipation. As it happened, we were fortunate! We began to see Ocellated Turkey on the roadside, and what a spectacular species this is! A few birders had fleeting, limited sightings of Great Curassow, but would we get any good looks? Although our time in the reserve was more limited, we enjoyed some fine birding. Eric identified some distant dots as Ornate Hawk-Eagle, and Black-and-White Hawk Eagle. A Russet-naped Wood-Rail was a great find. A classy treat was a Chestnut-coloured Woodpecker - what a beauty! 

Chestnut=collared Woodpecker.

Golden-olive Woodpecker

Little blue Heron (Immature)

He was blown away. In the cute, colourful songbird department, we relished sightings of Blue-winged Warbler, and Golden-winged Warbler. We'd enjoyed a nice variety of high quality birds, but something was missing. We walked around the ruins, and were mesmerized by the intricate plumage of Ocellated Turkey parading serenely around, as if they very much owned the place. We ended up seeing at least nine. 

Ocellated Turkey

Calakmul was our best chance for Great Curassow, but time was running out, and the pressure building. Eric was sweating bullets. I was doing some deep breathing. We were seeing the turkeys, but where were the curassows? We were supposed to exit the park by a certain time, but Eric chatted with a park warden who agreed we could stay a little longer. We ventured along a trail that ran away from the main plaza of the ruins. My heartbeat was in overdrive. Jan spotted a large bird moving in the bush by an abandoned building, a female Great Curassow! Great news, and Jan received all the plaudits, but, it is not the same as seeing a male. That was the bird missing. We kept our eyes on the abandoned buildings, and their surrounds, and gradually realized we'd hit the jackpot. This seemed to be a meeting place for Great Curassow. Looking down the road, someone whispered, "There's one, there!", an absolutely spectacular male Great Curassow, just standing on the roadside. It was a heart stopping moment, very definitely a life birding highlight! All the "oohs" and "ahs" could be heard as we delighted in watching the curassow. He slowly moved off the road, and through the bush. As we marched away, victorious, Eric laughed, and said, "I don't think I've ever sweated so much in my life!".

to be continued

Thanks to Adrian Leather for keeping such good records.

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada 


  1. Magic glad you were safe with all the danger recently posted in Mexico

  2. We never encountered anything remotely dangerous even though there was a bomb on the tourist ferry at Cozumel the week were there. We took the commercial ferry which never encountered any problems.

  3. Very nice images of. Looks so pretty. Thanks for your lovely sharing of these lovely birds.