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!

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

We had some time before we had to board the ferry, so we walked around the marina area. There were some docks to the left of the ferry pier, and I was delighted when I saw an adult Brown Pelican sitting close by. This was a bird I had seen in Florida, though I was never able to get close to any of the ones we saw. This was a great opportunity for some photos:

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

In the east, Brown Pelicans are found as far north as Florida year-round, while their breeding range extends up to Maryland along the eastern seaboard during the summer months. When they are not diving into the ocean for food, they are usually found standing around fishing docks, jetties, and beaches, or cruising the shoreline in small flocks. I walked around to the street to get a photo of the bird facing me and only managed one picture before it flew off.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

There were a few Laughing Gulls preening further out, and some Royal Terns close by. Both of these were species I had seen in Florida, though the only ones I had seen up close were the Laughing Gulls in non-breeding plumage at the beach in Naples. I was happy to have the opportunity to get better photos of both species.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

There was a small strip of sandy beach to the right of the ferry pier, and I noticed two more Ruddy Turnstones foraging there. Doran and I walked over, but when we reached the wall separating the sidewalk from the beach, it wasn’t the Ruddy Turnstones that I noticed first – it was a Black-bellied Plover!

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

This is a fairly common bird in Ontario during migration, but even so, I usually only see them from a great distance at Hillman Marsh in the spring or Shirley’s Bay or Andrew Haydon Park in the fall. I’ve never been as close as this to one – it was pretty awesome!

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

Being close to the Ruddy Turnstones was awesome too, especially since they are difficult to see in the Ottawa area. I don’t get them every year on my year list, and as I really wasn’t expecting to see many shorebirds on this trip, they were a nice treat.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

I saw the Black-bellied Plover working its way toward the vegetation at the top of the beach while moving away from me, and I made my way around it using the wall as a blind. It couldn’t see me on the sidewalk, and when I took a quick look above the wall I was surprised to see the plover right in front of me. This photo is a full frame photo – no cropping necessary here!

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

As much as I would have liked to explore the marina further, it was time to catch the ferry across the channel. There are three different ferry companies all leaving at different times, and it is recommended that you only buy a one-way ticket, since you might have to wait longer than necessary if you buy from one particular company. The crossing takes 45 minutes, and although I was hoping to see some dolphins or sharks in the channel, none were present. We were, however, intrigued by the tiny flying fish that we saw. As the ferry chugged along, we kept seeing what looked like small birds with black bodies and white wings fly out from the water right next to the ship. They flew several metres away before landing – except they didn’t land, they plunged into the water. Sometimes we saw one or two together, and once we saw about ten, and as they flew a great distance before disappearing we weren’t even sure they were fish at first. Doran thought they were birds since they seemed to have wings. They didn’t really look like birds to me, so I wasn’t surprised when we did some research later and found pictures of flying fish that matched what we had seen.

Crossing Cozumel Channel

Crossing Cozumel Channel

I wasn’t really expecting to see many new birds in Playa Del Carmen, but I ended up getting three lifers, the most astonishing of which was this Altamira Oriole which joined us for brunch in the restaurant where we were eating. There was a hole in the roof to accommodate the tree growing in the middle of the seating area, and when I saw a bright orange bird flutter down into the lower branches I was surprised. The two most likely orioles on my target list were Hooded Oriole (no. 6) and Altamira Oriole (no. 12), and fortunately I had studied the orioles enough to recall that the Altamira Oriole had the orange shoulder patch and a small black patch on its face which does not extend to the cheek.

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole

My second lifer was the Tropical Mockingbird, which I found when I heard it singing – it sounds much like our Northern Mockingbird, although it does not incorporate the songs of other birds into its song. I tracked the source to a large gray bird perched on top of a building, which looked just like a Northern Mockingbird, except that it lacked the large white wing patch.

My third lifer was a White-winged Dove walking across a lawn; though this bird is possible in Florida, we never saw one.

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove

Once we were done eating and looking around Playa Del Carmen, we took a cab to scenic Tulum, where we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the ruins on the coast. Stay tuned for more photos!

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2 thoughts on “Mexico Day 2: Crossing the Channel

  1. Kudos for taking your camera to brunch and capturing that beautiful oriole. WW dove… I always find it amusing when something gets a lifer that is so common somewhere else. I know birds are regional, but those doves are ubiquitous here. Please, take some!

    • Hi Jason,

      Well, I only had my camera bag with me because we were going to Tulum, and when I saw the oriole I had to photograph it! Good thing too, as it is the only one I saw on the trip.

      I agree with you about finding “common” lifers. We shouldn’t take any of our local birds for granted, as they are often exotic and beautiful to those who don’t live there.

      I would gladly take your doves. 🙂 Eurasian Collared Doves have made their way into Ontario but not Ottawa yet, and even a few White-winged Doves have been recorded in the province.

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