CALAKMUL, CHICANA LODGE & LIST
Best Time for visit (26th to 27th December 2006)
Birding Site Guide
Rio Bec Dreams run by a British-Canadian couple is a great place to stay. It’s about 60 km south of the entrance to Calakmul, just along the highway. Excepting an upmarket compound and several archaeological sites close by, there’s nothing there but low forest. Rick and Diane are great hosts, Diane’s food is delicious and their cabana’s very comfortable. Both know the area very well and can give directions to some of the other Maya sites in the area. We had an excellent stay here and the fellow travellers that made it to this off-the beaten track place were great company. After checking in and showering we went for a short walk around the premises and then along one of the trails in the dense scrub/forest. The place was quite birdy with Altamira Oriole and Yucatan Jays feeding on some flowering trees near the entrance, and White-tipped Doves foraging the grounds. Regis spotted a Yucatan Woodpecker on the trail (another miss for me), a male Black-headed Trogon played hide and seek, but the best was a pair of female Great Curassows, crashing through the tree tops raising all kinds of hell! That and the 5 course dinner complete with Roast Turkey and Christmas pudding concluded a great Christmas Day. And the best was yet to come!
December 26: Calakmul and the “bat-cave”: Having arranged a packed lunch the day before we headed out for Calakmul aiming to be at the entrance road just after dawn. We checked in at the main gate and then slowly drove along the access road (60 km to the ruins from the turn-off of the highway) stopping whenever there was any bird activity, or flowering / fruiting trees. The air was filled with the calls of parrots and often large groups were either heard or seen flying over, though most remained frustratingly unidentified in the gloom. A small group actually perching close by in the canopy turned out to be a trio of White-fronted Parrots, a patch of second growth about 5 km along the road had a good number of flowering shrubs, but no hummers yet. A nice surprise was a Barn Owl we unintentionally flushed from a rock wall and was then mobbed by a party of yucatan jays. We slowly worked our way through the dry forest which is very different from the remaining forest at Palenque, being much denser and with the trees only reaching about 20-30 meters max, up to the warden’s post about 20 km into the park where our target bird for the region, Occelated Turkey proved to be ridiculously easy, foraging right by the entrance buildings.
THE “find” of the vacation followed about halfway round the bend after the warden’s station, maybe only a km further up the road. An adult Cougar leisurely crossed the road, right in front of the car then sat just inside the forest observing the car for 10-15 seconds before disappearing into the dense vegetation, leaving us staring open mouthed in the car. Talking about a one-in-a-million chance… After this chance encounter everything else paled in comparison. We did end up seeing several species more typical for the Yucatan, including White-bellied Wren, White-browed Wren, a pair of Grey-throated Chats, a single Northern Bentbill and several Canivet’s Emeralds among the flowers along the road. It was well after noon before we got to the ruins which we had nearly to ourselves. A small mixed flock held a pair of Plain Xenops, the last new bird for the day.
The last activity for the day was a visit to the famous(?) bat cave (located off a track to the left if you come from the direction of Calakmul, about halfway km post 106 and 107 along the highway) that we had read about in several reports and was also advertised on the Rio Bec Dreams website. We broke several speed records in getting there; one was in replacing a tire that disintegrated on the way back, then speeding to Rio Bec and finally having learned the others had just left on the way back towards Calakmul to reach the rest of the party.
The spectacle of 2.5 million bats exiting the mouth of the sinkhole, spiralling up in intricate patterns and then weaving out in a sort of drunken highway of bats across the forest canopy under the setting sun was most impressive. We learned it takes some 5 hours between the first bats leaving the cave and the last one exiting it. A team of Mexican biologists, helped out by several Dutch exchange students was trapping and examining the bats and we were fortunate to be allowed to help out the team. It was close to 11 by the time we finally had finished dinner, showered and tucked in.
December 27: Chicana and Calakmul: Early morning saw us birding with Scott and Joanne, a friendly couple of birders from Chicago, around the grounds of the Chicana Lodge just a km further up the road. They had arranged with the guard that we could visit the lodge grounds. They had told us the evening before about having found Turquoise-browed Motmot on the grounds and we were hoping to see this species, and were not disappointed finding not one but 2 of these gorgeous birds, one of which was very obliging. Other species seen feeding on the flowering and fruit laden trees were Orange and Altamira Orioles, several Rose-throated Becards, Masked Tityra, a party of Yucatan Jays and a pair of Lineated Woodpeckers. We then visited the small Chicana archeological site across the road and found a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers drumming away.
We then headed back to the Calakmul access road and birded along it for the first 40 km, finding amongst others a rufous-browed peppershrike, blue bunting, orchard oriole, buff-bellied hummingbird and yucatan (yellow-lored) parrot, after which we returned to the top of the sinkhole waiting together with several hungry grey hawks for the spectacle to begin and then spent the last hour of sunlight watching the hawks chasing bats. This place must be an all-you-can-eat buffet for them.
December 28: the road from Calakmul to Bonampak: Today saw us reluctantly leaving the Calakmul area and return in the direction of Palenque and then onwards to Bonampak. We made a short stop at some unnamed lake about halfway between Calakmul and Francisco Escarcega, picking up our only Fulvous Whistling-Ducks for the trip. We then spent some more time in the Usumacinta marshes having a last go at finding pinnated bittern, but alas no luck, and finally settled for the night in Hotel Vallescondido (pricey at 750 peso, but very well appointed), of which the open air restaurant lies just inside the forest along the road, where we found a Blue-crowned Motmot as last bird for the day.
- Thicket Tinamou Crypturellus cinnamomeus
- Grey Hawk Buteo plagiatus
- Laughing Falcon Herpetotheres cachinnans cachinnans
- Ocellated Turkey Meleagris ocellata
- Aztec Parakeet Aratinga astec
- White-fronted Parrot Amazona albifrons
- Yellow-lored Parrot Amazona xantholora
- Squirrel Cuckoo Piaya cayana
- Barn Owl Tyto alba pratincola
- Buff-bellied Hummingbird Amazilia yucatanensis
- Canivet's Emerald Chlorostilbon canivetii
- Black-headed Trogon Trogon melanocephalus
- Violaceous Trogon Trogon violaceus
- Turquoise-browed Motmot Eumomota superciliosa
- Keel-billed Toucan Ramphastos sulfuratus
- Collared Aracari Pteroglossus torquatus
- Yucatan Woodpecker Melanerpes pygmaeus
- Lineated Woodpecker Dryocopus lineatus
- Pale-billed Woodpecker Campephilus guatemalensis
- Olivaceous Woodcreeper Sittasomus griseicapillus
- Ivory-billed Woodcreeper Xiphorhynchus flavigaster
- Spot-breasted Wren Thryothorus maculipectus
- White-browed Wren Thryothorus albinucha
- White-bellied Wren Uropsila leucogastra
- Plain Xenops Xenops minutus
- Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus
- Northern Bentbill Oncostoma cinereigulare
- Rose-throated Becard Pachyramphus aglaiae
- Masked Tityra Tityra semifasciata
- Yucatán Jay Cyanocorax yucatanicus
- Green Jay Cyanocorax luxuosus
- Yellow-throated Vireo Vireo flavifrons
- Rufous-browed Peppershrike Cyclarhis gujanensis insularis
- Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora pinus
- Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia
- Grey-throated Chat Granatellus sallaei
- Blue Bunting Cyanocompsa parellina
- Orange Oriole Icterus auratus
- Altamira Oriole Icterus gularis
- Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula
- Orchard Oriole Icterus spurius
For a full Excel species trip list please contact the authors: