Monday, January 21, 2013

Mexico - Yucatán through Calakmul 12/31/12 - 1/1/13

Gray-throated Chat

A few days after my last post the last two members of our intrepid party arrived, and after our last night in relative luxury with my parents we headed off on our odyssey across southern Mexico. We left on the 31st of December, facing about a 5 hour drive to our home for the night - the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Calakmul is a famous location for birds and also for Mayan ruins, featuring a structure that towers up to 148 feet, one of the tallest of all the Mayan pyramids! Another nice feature here is that the structures aren't roped off, unlike many of the other archeological sites in the region, so you're able to climb to the top and look across the unbroken jungle stretching in all directions.

Panorama from the top of the pyramid - click to enlarge

            We arrived at dusk on the 31st at our destination – a place called Campamento Yaax’Che that rents out tents for roughly $10/person/night and is right along the entrance road to the ruins, something that no other budget accommodations can boast. After a reasonable nights sleep, including being woken up by Howler Monkeys at 1am (my first animal of 2013!) we set off down the 60 kilometer entrance road predawn to try to get there as the sun rose. Unfortunately the gate was not open until shortly after 6am, so we had to content ourselves with hanging around the parking lot right in front of it, which featured Bat Falcons cavorting overhead, underlain by the sounds of Mottled Owl and both Collared and Barred Forest-Falcons.

Ocellated Turkey

            Once the gate opened we headed down the remainder of the entrance road, periodically startling groups of the extremely gaudy Ocellated Turkey off of the pavement and watching them comically trot off into the woods. We finally arrived at the entrance to the ruins a couple hours after dawn due to birding along the road, and upon entering the park proper immediately came upon an antswarm. It was right on the footpath, and featured Ruddy and Northern Barred-Woodcreepers, a pair of Gray-throated Chats, and other species such as Red-throated Ant-Tanager and Hooded Warbler. We spent well over an hour photographing these birds that were completely unafraid of us, feeding almost at our feet on the insects that were fleeing from the mass of army ants that sought to devour them. In fact, we spent so much time there that our window of time to see the ruins and still complete the 4-5 hour drive in the afternoon was narrowing quite rapidly. This resulted in some serious speedwalking along the trails towards the big pyramid: Estructura II. Of course, we had no real idea where it was, and actually took a long circuitous route to get there, but we found it, climbed it, took the requisite photos, and made it back to the car in time to head back out. Our amazing views from the top also featured a couple juvenile King Vultures and a Bat Falcon right at eye level. We definitely wished we had more time there, we walked by so many interesting things in our rush to pack everything into a half-day.

Ruddy Woodcreeper, an antswarm feature

            Back on the road we quickly refueled with some delicious empanadas and then drove all afternoon to the town of Palenque, already off of the Yucatán Peninsula, and where I will next pick up this narrative!

The other three members of the party taking photos of Bat Falcons and other things