While the United States was plunged into bitter cold by the polar vortex in January, my wife and I were enjoying the sun in Mexico on the Yucatán peninsula, along with four friends from South Carolina. The six of us had gone down to visit a number of old friends that we had not seen since August or September. In our travels, we made a lot of new friends as well. Of course, all of these friends were feathered.

I’ll just describe a portion of our birding adventure to give a flavor of Yucatán birding. Rio Lagartos is a well-known birding hotspot in the Yucatán so we made our way to this small coastal village west of Cancún. We procured the services of Diego Nuñez, the proprietor of Rio Lagartos Birding Adventures in advance (http://www.riolagartosnaturetours.com/birding.html),

Diego owns a restaurant and a small lodge so all our needs were met there.

We arrived late in the afternoon on a Saturday and went to the deck of the restaurant to relax. Diego has 15 hummingbird feeders set up on the deck. The first hummer we saw was indeed an old friend, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  Over the course of the next hour we also had great looks at Cinnamon Hummingbirds, Canivet’s Emerald, White-breasted Emeralds and Mexican Sheartails. The sheartails were particularly striking with large orange spots on their tail feathers.

Our backs were to the Rio Lagartos as we watched the hummers. We were surprised to finally turn around to look over the river  and saw about 100 American Flamingos on the far side, settling down into shallow water to spend the night. Spectacular!

We met Diego early the next morning for a five-hour land bird excursion. Diego brought his eagle-eyed daughter, Andrea, along as well.

The first birds at our initial stop were wintering migrants: a pair of Indigo Buntings, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats.

Diego’s birding van

Several vultures were flying overhead

Our merry band with Diego and Andrea

with their wings held in a shallow V. No, not Turkey Vultures but Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, a new species for both of us.

The morning continued in this fashion, encountering familiar wintering birds and unfamiliar Mexican residents. This region of the Yucatán is largely scrub vegetation with scattered pockets of trees here and there. Diego knows the area like the back of his hand so stops we made were always productive.

A small pond had more old friends including 20 Blue-winged Teal, 10 Least Sandpipers and two Common Gallinules. A Sora called from the surrounding marsh but remained hidden. However, a larger rail, the Russet-naped Wood-Rail did give us superb views. Several long-toed Northern Jacanas were delightful.

A trip through a small farming community produced a couple of Turquoise-browed Motmots with electric green plumage and racket-shaped tail feathers. We definitely knew we weren’t in Maine. Bronzed Cowbirds and Scrub Euphonias, a type of finch, appear as well. At one point, five species of orioles were present at one site, a riot of yellow and orange.

We had great looks at some of the birds endemic to the Yucatan Peninsula including Yucatán Woodpecker, Yucatán Flycatcher and Yucatán Wren. We had great looks at a Laughing Falcon and a White-tailed Hawk.

Diego saved the best stops for last. As we neared town, we visited a couple of small embayments. At the first, we had views of flamingos and Black-necked Stilts from no more than 50 feet.

American Flamingos

A second stop along a mangrove stand held many roosting birds including White Ibises, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills and a Black-crowned Night Heron.

White Ibises

The highlight was two Boat-billed Herons, similar to the Black-crowned but with a massive bill. A great end to a satisfying morning of birding.

We saw 83 species on our morning trip. We renewed friendships with a number of species and look forward to seeing many of them again in the summer here in Maine.