Back from Mexico!

My fiancé and I just spent a week in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico where we spent some time birding and exploring Isla Cozumel. I have lots of photos and stories to share, and hope to get caught up again before my next birding trip a week from now! I will be back-dating my posts for a while until I can catch up, though I’m not sure if I will be able to get everything posted before I head off to southern Ontario.

In the meantime, here’s something to whet your appetite!

Coast off of Tulum, Mexico

Coast off of Tulum, Mexico (click to enlarge)

Mexico Day 3: Birding at Laguna Coba

Ruddy Ground Dove

Ruddy Ground Dove

On April 18th Doran and I took the first ferry over to Playa Del Carmen to meet with Luis Ku of Motmot Birding Tours to do some birding near Coba and Punta Laguna. It was still fully dark when we left Cozumel, so we didn’t get to see any flying fish or other marine life. However, it was light enough by the time we arrived to see Luis waiting on the ferry pier with his binoculars. Normally Luis’ outings start at 5:00 am in order to arrive at his destination around sunrise, when the birding is best; unfortunately the first ferry didn’t leave until 6:00am, so we didn’t get across to the mainland until about 6:45 and over to Coba about an hour later. In this case there definitely would have been an advantage in staying at a resort on the mainland.

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Mexico Day 2: Tulum

Kingbird sp.

Kingbird sp.

It was about an hour’s drive to Tulum from Playa Del Carmen, and we arrived at mid-afternoon. The shuttle deposited us at the main entrance to the park, and at first we weren’t sure where we needed to buy our tickets as the entire area looked like an outdoor flea market with vendors selling a variety of foods and wares in different booths and buildings. Doran was immediately intrigued by the colourful Mayan calendar disks displayed outside one of the buildings and spent some time looking through them before eventually purchasing one. From there we found the ticket booth, and after buying our tickets we proceeded down the main avenue that leads to the gate.

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Mexico Day 2: Crossing the Channel

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

The next morning Doran and I headed over to the mainland for the day where we spent some time in Playa Del Carmen (which was busy and full of tourists and street vendors) before travelling south to Tulum to see the ruins there. Although we weren’t birding in the morning, I nevertheless saw some great birds and took pictures whenever I could. The ferry dock was much birdier than I expected, and I picked up some of the water birds I was hoping to see. The bird that most surprised me was the first one I saw when we got out of our taxi – three Ruddy Turnstones were running along the concrete concourse leading to the ferry boarding area, dodging people and stopping to investigate food found on the ground. I am used to seeing these birds on rocky beaches where they peck at the sand and flip over rocks looking for aquatic invertebrates and insects; I didn’t realize they scavenged for food in busy urban coastal areas just the way gulls do!

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First Day in Mexico

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

On April 16th my fiancé Doran and I took our first trip outside of Canada and the U.S., spending the week in Cozumel, Mexico. We chose it because when we had originally been looking at going on a cruise, it was one of the destinations we particularly wanted to see because of the Mayan ruins close by, and a one-day stop didn’t seem like enough time to see the region. I was also interested in the birds there, though that would have been true of any destination!

We had only arranged the trip two weeks prior to our departure, and as I was not familiar with any of the birds of the Yucatan Peninsula, I borrowed a friend’s field guide (the famously huge “A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America” by Howell and Webb) until the one I ordered from Amazon could be delivered (which didn’t even arrive by the time I had to leave). Using eBird as my guide, I began studying the most commonly reported birds seen in April, and the more I learned about Rufous-browed Peppershrikes, Bright-rumped Attilas, Masked Tityras, Cozumel Vireos, Yucatan Jays, Green-breasted Mangos, and Squirrel Cuckoos, the more excited for my trip I became. I prepared a list of the most frequently reported birds during the month of April that I needed for my life list using eBird’s brilliant Target Species tool. According to the list, my first new birds were most likely to be Great-tailed Grackle (reported on over 57% of all complete checklists), Tropical Mockingbird (42% of all checklists), and Magnificent Frigatebird (34% of all checklists).

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The Finch Invasion Continues

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

I didn’t get much birding in this past weekend as I had quite a few errands to run, so I spent much of my free time watching the birds in the backyard. The winter finch invasion has continued for the second week in a row, and it was a real treat hearing all the Pine Siskins in the neighbourhood during the week and watching them in the backyard this weekend. Purple Finches are moving through as well, for I found three of them in the park three days in a row last week, and had at least a male and female in the yard behind mine on Thursday and Saturday. The neighbours in the house in the yard behind mine have been keeping their feeder stocked, so there were plenty of finches around on the weekend. Even though it was cold all weekend – it barely reach 0°C on Saturday and 3°C yesterday – the birds spent a lot of time in the trees and shrubs in neighbouring yards, as well as at the feeder in my yard and in the yard behind mine.

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Car Birding in Ottawa West

On Sunday the temperature dropped again; when I left at 10:00 am it was only -8°C and a gusty wind was blowing. It was too cold to spend much time in the open, so I decided to drive over to Dunrobin and do my birding from the car. Evidently the birds felt the same way about the weather, for most of the songbirds that I found were tucked away in sheltered stands of trees, and few hawks and geese were flying across the open sky. Still, I found a good number of birds on my trip (including 8 year birds!), but due to the conditions I didn’t get a picture of a single one.

Out in Dunrobin, I got my first two year birds on Marchurst Road – a pair of Eastern Bluebirds flitting in a field and a pair of Great Blue Herons flying over. I also saw a displaying male Wild Turkey and two Hooded Mergansers in a small pond. When I turned onto Thomas Dolan Parkway I noticed a flock of about 50 Snow Buntings flying over a field. I would have liked to have checked them out for other species, but they didn’t stay on the ground long enough to get the scope out.

From there I drove north to Constance Creek. The Osprey weren’t back yet, but I noticed a large flock of ducks swimming in the creek on the eastern side of the bridge. Most of the 50 birds were Ring-necked Ducks, but I also noticed about 10 Bufflehead ducks, two Hooded Mergansers and an American Coot swimming in the back! I never see coots during spring migration in Ottawa, so this was a great find for me. While scoping the ducks a hawk flew within my scope view, and I followed it until I confirmed its identity as a Northern Harrier. A second one was coursing over the marsh as well; this was another new bird for the year. I also saw a Wood Duck fly over the marsh, as well as a few distant songbirds, but I didn’t hear a single songbird singing or see one close enough to identify. It seemed weird to enter a complete eBird checklist with no songbirds whatsoever!

Next I drove up to Greenland Road where I found a Killdeer and not much else. This rural area is very beautiful, with great views from Dunrobin Ridge sweeping down toward Constance Creek. I was hoping to find an Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, or maybe an American Kestrel, but had no luck with any of these birds.

Barn on Greenland Road

Barn on Greenland Road

From there I circled back to Kanata via March Valley Road. I didn’t see much while driving along the road, but at the pond at the corner of Klondike Road I noticed an Osprey sitting along the tree line behind the pond, a Turkey Vulture swooping low over the water, and 11 Hooded Mergansers and two Wood Ducks in the pond.

I was still hoping to see an Eastern Phoebe so I decided to check out the picnic shelter at Shirley’s Bay. A small flock of Bohemian Waxwings flew over Rifle Road as I drove by, and I observed an accipiter flying over the parking lot when I arrived; however, it disappeared by the time I parked the car. There was no sign of the phoebe at the picnic shelter, but I did run into Richard Waters who told me that there were Rusty Blackbirds in a mixed flock of blackbirds near the base of the dyke. We exchanged notes on the birds we had seen that morning, and then I decided to try for the Rusties despite my aversion to the wind. Fortunately it was calmer in the shelter of the trees, and I found a flock of finches near the DND fence line (most of which were Purple Finches) and heard a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. I checked the base of the dyke and found no blackbirds. The woods, however, were completely swamped with water and I startled a pair of Wood Ducks into flight.

Swampland at Shirley's Bay

Swampland at Shirley’s Bay

As I was leaving I realized I could hear a group of blackbirds to the west; I heard at least three distinct Rusty Blackbirds calling and saw two Red-winged Blackbirds and five Common Grackles fly over. Although I could see blackbirds flying around deep within the woods, there was no way to get closer to them so I had to be satisfied with just listening to their rusty gate-hinge calls.

I found one last new year bird while driving home – an Eastern Phoebe sitting on a fence along Carling Avenue. I was driving the speed limit at the time (80 km/hr) and wasn’t able to stop; however, it was a great bird to end the day with. So although I wasn’t happy I still had to bundle up in my winter gear, I was pleased with all the birds I found on my outing. Hopefully next time I’ll get some photos worth sharing!