American Flamnigos by Ryan Shaw

The Yucatán and Palenque:
  Birding the Mayan Empire

Forthcoming Departures:
TBA 2008 (16 days)
$TBA from Cancún, ending in Villahermosa
Single Supplement: $TBA

"Yucatán"--the word conjures images of endless turquoise seas and ancient Mayan ruins hidden beneath dense jungle.  You'll experience both of these on our tour to the Yucatán and Palenque, as well as a unique regional cuisine and up to 16 regionally-endemic bird species.  We'll visit a wide array of habitats, from mangrove-lined salt flats and desert scrub to lush canopy rain forest and tropical savannah.  An archaeologists's dream, we visit an extensive list of spectacular Mayan ruin sites:  Chichén Itzá, Cobá, Tulum, Calakmul, Palenque, Bonampak, and Yaxchilán.  Amongst them, they offer chances to see heart-stopping birds, like Keel-billed Toucan, Red-capped Manakin, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Ocellated Turkey, and Scarlet Macaw, as well as monkeys and even wild cats.  This tour is timed to coincide with the spring migration of North American migrant songbirds, ensuring a magical experience.

Day 1:  Arrive in Cancún.  Take advantage of the easy-going Caribbean atmosphere and relax!  Night in Cancún.

Day 2:  We'll start birding this morning at a nice botanic gardens, just south of town.  While searching for Rose-throated Tanagers and Yucatán Vireos, we should be entertained by some more widespread birds like Cinnamon Hummingbird and Rufous-browed Peppershrike.  Continuing west, we'll stop at the breathtaking ruins of Chichén Itzá (chee-CHEN eet-SAH).  Here we hope to see Turquoise-browed Motmot, Yucatán Jay, Orange Oriole, Canivet's Emerald, and Blue Bunting, all birds more typical of the Yucatán mainland.  Night in Valladolíd (bye-ah-doh-LEED).

El Castillo at Chichen Itza by Ryan ShawDay 3:  Río Lagartos.  Situated on the north coast of the Yucatán, Río Lagartos is most famous as a location to view hundreds if not thousands of American Flamingos.  Habitats (and thus birdlife) are varied, from salt flats and mangroves to thorn-forest and desert-like scrub.  The thorn forest supports three birds we won't see elsewhere, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Yucatán Wren, and the gorgeous little Mexican Sheartail.  We'll also keep an eye out in this habitat for Lesser Roadrunner and Yucatán (Black-throated) Bobwhite.  A short boat ride through the mangroves may yield Boat-billed Heron, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Mangrove Cuckoo, Mangrove Vireo, and even the spritely American Pygmy Kingfisher!  Night in Valladolíd.

Day 4:  Cobá, Tulum, and Felipe Carillo Puerto.  After an early morning rise, we'll head south toward lusher coastal forest.  First, we'll stop at Cobá, a ruins site famous for its adjacent lake, which supports a population of Spotted Rail.  With some luck, we'll catch a glimpse as one walks through the reeds.  Other targets here include Ridgway's Rough-winged Swallow, Yucatán Woodpecker, and White-browed Wren.  Not far down the road, situated on a sprawling white sand beach, is the ruins site of Tulum.  We'll enjoy a leisurely lunch at this site, taking in the spectacle of millenia-old ruins against a backdrop of the crystal blue Caribbean.  After lunch, we continue south to Felipe Carillo Puerto.  Just outside FCP, the birds get really exciting.  Black Hawk-Eagle, Yucatán Flycatcher, Long-billed Gnatwren, Blue Ground-Dove, Collared Araçari, and Red-capped Manakin are just some of the incredible birds that we may encounter.  At dusk, we'll go out to look for two endemic goatsuckers, Yucatán Nightjar and Yucatán Poorwill.  Night in FCP.

Gray-throated Chat by Ryan ShawDay 5:  FCP to Xpujil.  After morning birding and lunch at FCP, we'll drive down to the Belize border, and then west, to the village of Xpujil (shpoo-HEEL), where we will spend the night.

Day 6:  Calakmul.  An early morning departure will allow us to be on the entrance road to Calakmul by daybreak.  Just north of the Guatemalan border, Calakmul (kah-lock-MOOL) is surrounded by the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the northern end of an enormous tract of pristine lowland tropical rain forest.  The Selva Maya, or just "the Petén", covers more than 5.5 million acres or Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize.  This is the largest untouched expanse of tropical forest in the Americas outside the Amazon, and the fauna reflects it.  Jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi, mountain lion, margay, spider monkey, and two species of howler monkey live here!  The birds are just as exciting.  This is the only place in Mexico where one has a decent chance of seeing Ocellated Turkey.  Other exciting possibilities include Black-headed Shrike-Tanager, Great Curassow, Agami Heron, Royal Flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, and Red-legged Honeycreeper.  Night in Xpujil.

Day 7:  Calakmul to Palenque.  After morning birding at Calakmul, we'll continue west to Palenque.  On the way, we'll stop to look for Jabiru, Sungrebe, Pinnated Bittern, Snail Kite, Black-collared Hawk, as we bird the marshes along the Río Usumacinta.  Nearby savannahs should yield Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, and Double-striped Thick-knee.  Night at Palenque (pah-LEHN-kay).

Day 8:  Palenque.  The first few minutes of daylight here will quickly assure you that Palenque's reputations as both a phenomenal archaeological and an exquisite birding site are well-earned.  As we traverse the ancient temples, birds vary from the ridiculously colorful (Keel-billed Toucan, Green Honeycreeper, Lovely Cotinga, and Crimson-collared Tanager) to the subdued and enigmatic (Great Tinamou, Mexican Antthrush, Rufous Piha, and Scaled Antpitta).  We will have three days to bird this incredible area, giving us good odds at seeing a large percentage of the resident birds.  Night at Palenque.

Day 9:  Palenque.  We will bird the Palenque area today, before heading southeast for the next two days.  Possibilities include Gray-throated Chat, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Spotted Wood-Quail, Black-and-white Owl, White-necked Jacobin, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Tody Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Emerald Toucanet, White-collared Manakin, and Passerini's Tanager.  With some luck, we may find a Short-tailed Nighthawk flying over our hotel at dusk. Night near Lacanjá (lah-kahn-HAH).

Yucatan Jay by Ryan ShawDay 10:  Bonampak.  This is another ruins site surrounded by rain forest, but being further east, it offers birds that Palenque doesn't, including Mealy Amazon, White-whiskered Puffbird, Speckled Mourner, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Thrush-like Schiffornis, and Purple-crowned Fairy.  Like Calakmul, this is an incredibly remote area, so though unlikely, visitors should always be on the lookout for Orange-breasted Falcon and Harpy and Crested Eagles.  Hummingbird diversity can be impressive:  Long-billed Hermit, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Violet Sabrewing, and Black-crested Coquette are just a few more of the possibilities. Night near Lacanjá.

Day 11:  Yaxchilán.  Situated on the banks of the Río Usumacinta across from Guatemala, Yaxchilán (yahsh-chee-LAHN) offers more second-growth and riverside species than nearby Bonampak.  This is the only reliable site in Mexico for Scarlet Macaw, one of our main reasons for coming.  To get to Yaxchilán, we'll take a pleasant 45-minute boat ride down the river, which gives us a chance at Collared Plover and a great vantage point for looking for soaring birds.  King Vulture, Double-toothed Kite, White Hawk, and Great Black-Hawk.  At the site itself, we'll keep an eye out in seeding bamboo for Blue Seedeater, all the while hoping to hear the distinctive, whistled song of Striped Cuckoo, which parasitizes the resident Rufous-breasted Spinetails.  Night at Palenque.

Day 12:  Palenque.  We will spend all day birding the Palenque area today.  Night in Palenque.

Day 13:  Palenque to Villahermosa.  After another morning of birding at Palenque, we'll head west to Villahermosa for a final, celebratory dinner.  Night in Villahermosa.

Day 14:  Departure from Villahermosa.

CLIMATE:  Warm throughout, varying from dry heat in the desert-like coastal scrub to muggy in the interior rain forests.  Though this is the dry season, don’t be surprised if it’s wet in the rain forest, so be sure to pack accordingly.

DIFFICULTY:  Mostly easy.  Though we will do a fair amount of walking, almost all birding is done from roads, level trails, and boats.

ACCOMMODATION:  Most of the tour will be based out of excellent hotels, but at the more remote ruins sites (with better birds), even the best hotels are basic.

Cozumel Extension
Forthcoming Departures:
TBA 2008 (3 days)
$TBA per person from Harlingen
Single Supplement: $TBA

Starting and ending in Cancún, this extension starts three days before the main tour.  Of the four island endemics, Cozumel Wren, Cozumel Vireo, and Cozumel Emerald should show themselves without too much effort.  A great deal of luck, however, will be needed to see the rarest bird in all of Middle America, Cozumel Thrasher.  Thought extinct until the discovery of a single bird in 2004, the devastating effects of Hurricane Wilma in October 2005 may have fianlly dealt the species its fatal blow.  There are many endemic subspecies on Cozumel as well:  Western Spindalis, Bananaquit, Roadside Hawk, and Rufous-browed Peppershike all have distinctive populations that should pique our interest.  Though present on the mainland as well, Yucatán (Yellow-lored) Amazon, Black Catbird, Yucatán Vireo, and Rose-throated Tanager are often easier to see on the island.  Cozumel offers a unique mix of these mainland, Caribbean (like Caribbean Elaenia and White-crowned Pigeon), and migrant birds (like Black-throated Blue, Prairie, and Cape May Warblers).  Afternoon birding is optional:  those wishing to enjoy the beach or go snorkeling are encouraged to do so.  Nights on Isla Cozumel.

For more information, contact Michael Retter at mlretter AT