After exiting the second gate we found ourselves in a large open area dotted with small ruins. The history of San Gervasio dates back to the early classic period (300-400 AD) when the acropolis was built. San Gervasio became both the administrative and religious center of Cozumel during the post-classical period; not only was it the seat of government for the entire island, it was one of the most important centers of pilgrimage as the temple dedicated to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility, was located here, and many women came to leave offerings and pay their respects.
The Arch Structure seen here is the entrance to the central part of San Gervasio and straddles the main pathway. Built in the shape of an inverted staircase, the Arch dates from the post-classical period (1200 – 1650 AD). However, this is not the original structure, as it was reconstructed in the 1980s by INAH by basing the shape on similar arches found at other sites in the province.
This broad floor was all that remained of one of the other structures.
As we wandered around I soon became distracted by about three or four vireos foraging in a tree right above me. They looked like Red-eyed Vireos but with dark eyes, and on one of them I saw the black line coming down from its bill – it appeared to be a Black-whiskered Vireo, a bird I knew by name but hadn’t studied up on. I tried to get a photo of the birds, and eventually one of the vireos descended lower and lower as it foraged, until it was only a few feet above my head. This was not the “Black-whiskered” vireo I had seen but a Yucatan Vireo.
I later learned that although the Yucatan Vireo is one of two sedentary species that form part of the Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) superspecies, with its duller plumage it more closely resembles the Black-whiskered Vireo than the brighter Red-eyed Vireo of the northern forests. Even its song is similar to that of the Black-whiskered Vireo, and given these similarities I began to doubt my identification of the bird I thought was a Black-whiskered Vireo. None of the photos show the strong dark “whisker” line I remembered.
Still, I was really pleased with these Yucatan Vireo photos. The tree they were foraging on was relatively bare, which made it easy to follow them.
As we walked around the first site I spent so much time looking up at the birds that I almost walked into this iguana. There were few around basking in the sun on the rocks, and most were quite large.
A few Tropical Mockingbirds and Great-tailed Grackles were also in the area, and I heard a woodpecker calling in some nearby trees – it sounded something like a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a sound I’ve heard a few times now though I haven’t been able to see the bird issuing the call. I tracked the calls to a very large deciduous tree where I found three woodpeckers alternately working on the tree and attempting to chase school other off. I wasn’t able to get a decent look at them as they were too high up and refused to stay out in the open for more than a moment.
We followed the trail to the next set of ruins, encountering a Bananaquit and another woodpecker along the way. Fortunately this one was working in a much smaller tree, and eventually made its way into an open spot where I could get a good look at it. The yellow feathers surrounding the base of its bill and the red patch on the back of its head indicate that this is a Yucatan Woodpecker – my first confirmed woodpecker species of the trip.
A little further along we came to the next set of ruins. A couple of Black Catbirds were flitting around the clearing, landing on the ground and even on the tree trunks like a woodpecker. These ones spent much more time out in the open than the ones I had seen previously with Arturo, and I was happy to have the opportunity to get some better photos of this species.
The ruins here were much more interesting. This is Nohoch Nah (“big house”), which dates back to the 11th century. Among the best preserved buildings on the site, it has murals inside which depict the serpent god Kukulkan, though these must be viewed from the outside as the inside is closed to public access. I didn’t like the idea of climbing the stairs and adding my weight to the weight of the thousands of visitors who stop by here each year, and took my photos from a safe distance.
According to the plaque nearby, there was once an altar inside on which pilgrims left offerings.
We started to follow a side trail to another set of ruins, but decided against it as it was becoming uncomfortably apparent that our lunches hadn’t agreed with us. It was also getting quite hot by that time so we decided to turn around and call it a day. I spotted a mammal with a long tail held vertically dart across the path and into the jungle – a Coati, perhaps, only my third mammal of the trip.
This huge male Iguana attracted our attention; it was almost as long as I am tall, and we watched as it made its way across the rocky ground and over a tree stump.
The only other species of interest we saw was a Bronzed Cowbird foraging on the ground on the way out.
San Gervasio was an interesting spot, and although I wished we could have stayed longer neither of us was feeling up to a prolonged exploration beneath the hot sun. Still, I was able to add at least one more bird species to my life list – the Yucatan Woodpecker – though the jury is still out as to whether I really did see a Black-whiskered Vireo. I would really love to go back sometime and see the rest of the ruins there – and perhaps a better look at a Coati!