Monday 26 June 2023

Yucatan - Day 2 - Calakmul

A slight hiccup before we had even started, the main gate to exit the hotel was locked. We found where the owner lived and unfortunately had to wake her up at something like 5am. Felt a bit bad but what can you do - apparently buried in the small print somewhere was a sentence about this. She was understandably a little grumpy so early, but she seemed to have cheered up again by the evening when we returned. On the plus side we also ticked Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl which was calling from inside the compound.

The entrance to Calakmul was about half an hour distant, continuing west, and we made it just before 7am, so a little later than planned. We were still basically the first people there, and paid our fee (cant remember how much but not expensive) and were let through the gate. Barring a couple of trucks of workers heading to the site the road was ours! Tempting as it was to start birding immediately we headed a little deeper in. The habitat was not dissimilar to the Camino Vigia Chico, but perhaps being larger there were fewer birds as we did not see anywhere near as many species. That said, there was a lot more driving I suppose. The main target here was Ocellated Turkey, a spectacular and enormous bird, and a near endemic, present only here and in Guatemala and Belize. If you want to guarantee seeing one in Mexico, this is where you need to come. We also found our first Yucatan Jay, another endemic target, as well as Groove-billed Ani and various other birds. In all the drive down to the ruins took about two hours, whereas a better option is probably just to drive down there as quickly as you can and get into the ruins absolutely first thing. It's basically impossible though, just too exciting, and I have no regrets at all!

Ocellated Turkey

At the end of the road you park the car and enter the actual ruins, which requires a ticket as the earlier fee is just for the road. The site is vast, and even though it was nearly 9am by this point we started seeing birds immediately. The best bird within the site was probably the Mayan Ant-Thrush, not a species I had held out much hope of seeing, but it showed spectacularly underneath a small tree as it fed with a number of other birds including
Red-throated Ant-Tanager. Grey-throated Chat was pretty easy, and we saw quite a few Woodcreepers - Tawny-winged, Ruddy, Northern Barred and Ivory-billed. Once again there were loads of American Wood Warblers around. We also saw our only Blue Ground Doves of the trip here, and Great Curassow and Crested Guan. Finally Wedge-tailed Sabrewing was seen between one of the structures, but generally Hummingbirds were in short supply. There are too many eBird checklists to reference, but at the end of this trip report I'll post the list in tabular form with site information. Basically there were a number of species that we saw here and nowhere else, so it was definitely worth the effort. 

Black-throated Green Warbler

Mayan Ant-Thrush

Unknown snake. Quite small, but we decided to keep our distance!

We walked around the site twice, with a break for lunch, and I also climbed one of the structures to admire the view, which is basically uninterrupted jungle for as far as the eye can see. These temples are much steeper than they seem, so take care! The ruins are almost unbelievable when you think about it, and there are hundreds of sites across the peninsula. Calakmul is probably one of the most impressive, and was all the better for having very few visitors due to the distance involved in getting there. We left the site mid-afternoon and birded our way back up the entrance road, adding new species all the way

We got to the Zotz Bat Cave at about 5.30pm. This is back east towards Xupjil from the Calakmul turning, and once again paid a small fee to park the car before walking up a small track to the rim. We were not the only people there! A few bats were skimming around but the main spectacle had yet to begin. We were here for the birds of course - the presence of so many bats also attracts raptors who have become adept at picking off single bats as they leave the cave at dusk. We watched a Collared Forest-Falcon do exactly that, whilst an eponymous Bat Falcon cruised overhead. Gradually the bats increase in number until they are spiralling out in an immense vortex so dense that you can barely see through it. Millions and millions of them pour out and head off to feed above the canopy. If you like bats this place is for you, quite extraordinary. We ate dinner at the hotel and made our reparations with the owner, who became quite cheerful and even gave us some tips for birding sites on our way back east. 

Collared Forest-Falcon. My 400mm lens does not have IS and it was nearly dark.....that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

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