Trip Report: the Toh Bird Festival 2011 – Day 2

Day 2 – Moto cab parade in Hunucma, birds in Sisal.

We leave Merida before dawn and head north-west. We ride about 30 minutes from Merida in the direction of Hunucmá, and get off the main road as indicated by Alberto to ride on a white dust road, or sacbé in Maya, until we find the entrance to Sihunchen Park, 40 hectares of forest and privileged territory for birding. Alberto Mezquita offers here an ecotourism experience that brings together birds, Mayan archaeology and astronomy. The park has its own small five-bedroom inn, Posada Punta del Cielo, and facilities also include a classroom, an authentic Mayan astronomical observatory, and a replica of Dzibilchaltun’s Temple of the Seven Dolls. Park visitors in the appropriate dates may engage in observation of the sun in equinox, just like the ancient Maya did. The park is also one of the official meeting spots of the astronomical group Cosmonavis.

Entrance to Sihunchen Park, prime birding territory and meeting spot for the Cosmonavis Astronomical Group.(Photo © Roselys Oropeza)

We see no one, hear no one. The place is empty. Minutes pass until finally a man appears. He says Alberto and the team started birding very early, walking the park with their guidebooks, binoculars and notebooks, identifying species for the marathon. We have missed them by just a few minutes, but they must be on their way to Sisal. We decide we’ll try to catch up, store the main bulk of our luggage in one of the rooms, and get going loaded only with our camera equipment and our hydration backpack.

On our way to Sisal we ride through Hunucmá. Our contact with the people of this town is limited to a couple of requests for directions, in a pharmacy and to someone on the street, but we are impressed by their friendly manners. We also enjoy watching a colorful parade of motorcycles ingeniously transformed into moto-cabs, riding all over town and in nearby roads as they transport adults, children and all kinds of cargo. Rose makes photos and videos as we ride through.

Motorcycles are transformed in Mexico to serve as public transportation and to carry other precious cargo, like these colorful piñatas. (Photo © Roselys Oropeza)

We exit Hunucma and ride on towards Sisal. According to the Calkiní Codex, the story of this seaport town goes back to the times of the Ah Canul, a caste of Mayan leaders. The fibre of sisal or enequén was used since Mayan times for the production of fabrics and ropes. In the XIX century, a rich economy flourished in the Yucatan Peninsula based entirely on the production and exportation of enequén and derived products.

The enequén fibers were specially useful for the production of the world’s best ropes, those used to anchor ships,  but no one could not save the rich enequén economy that once flowed through this small town after the invention of synthetic fibers, at the beginning of the 20th century. Eventually the modern port of Progreso displaced Sisal in importance.

We have little time to appreciate Sisal’s historical past and can only border it to take a sand road going North, hoping to find Alberto and the others. We have been told to go through an open garbage dump. Trash all over the place attracts lots of birds but saddens the heart from just looking at it. We keep going and a couple of kilometers later we find the team’s cars, parked by the side of the road, no one in sight. There’s water on both sides of the road, the sea on our left, wetlands to our right, and we see several ducks, herons and other birds, so I decide to stop looking for the team for the moment, and try to get a few images. As I walk along the road I find several shooting angles, a bit far but with persistence I get a few keepers, with Rose following me shortly behind.

A Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) displays its extended wings, drying in the sun. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon)

 By the time we get back to the cars, they are gone, so we decide to stop chasing them. We shall travel with tme the following day. We ride back to Sisal and explore its sandy streets until we find “Muelle de Sisal”, a nice restaurant under a thatch roof or palapa in front of the sea and from where we can also see the town’s main dock. We enjoy our meal in total calm, as we are the only customers.

I take advantage of the absence of people by taking some photographs of sea birds on the beach as they move in groups on the sand. The birds allow me to get to about ten meters from them, but if I try to get closer the fly off, only to land a few meters further down the beach. Y decide to stay put and wait for them to approach, and that produces better results.

This Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) was the only one of its kind among many shore birds of other species. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

Again the Black-backed Gull, in flight. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

A Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla) in flight. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

Another view of the Laughing Gull, showing its wings from below. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

A stylish Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavpipes), strolling down the beach. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

We still have enough time to photograph the small groups of Flamingos that we saw earlier on both sides of the road by the town’s entrance, and with that in mind we postpone looking for traces of Sisal’s historical past for another day. As we reach the intended spot we do find a group of Flamingos, close enough to get some good images from the side of the road. Again I prepare my gear and position myself by the water’s edge, camera on the monopod, ready to make the first frames. Then I hear, coming from the distance to my right, three loud sounds, as of someone beating on a huge metal drum. The Flamingos flee at once and I barely manage a few shots as they scurry away and then take flight. I look around for the source of the noise but see nothing and no one.

I never did figure what or who was the source of the noise that scared away the American Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber), depriving me of an opportunity to make some photos and interrupting the birds’ feeding activity. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

As the Flamingos relocate in a spot much farther away a flock of ducks crosses the sky at an even greater distance. I cross the road and look for photographic opportunities on the other side, where the wetlands are, but I’m facing a strong backlight and the water acts like a giant mirror. I make a few photos and prepare to leave Sisal while we still have daylight.

A fleeting glimpse at a flock of ducks. We shall go back to Sisal and get on a boat to get a closer look. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

Some Flamingos were visible on the other side of the road, and even though they were close enough for pictutres, the strong backlight put a cap on photographic possibilities. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

This natural paradise is also the place of work for local fishermen. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

A Great Egret (Ardea alba), basking in the sunlight, motionless. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

With great patience, my copilot waits while I take a few photographs. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

Again we ride through Hunucma, where I stop at a spare parts shop to buy an external gasoline filter for the bike, since it’s started coughing from a lack of even flow of fuel. We get to Sihunchen as night falls over our heads, with its full catalog of stars. Again we are completely alone, so we sit in two chairs under a tree and wait for about an hour, listening to the sounds of the forest and feeling thankful for the absence of mosquitoes. Finally Alberto and the team get home, some go straight to get some rest while other stay up compiling the list of species seen during the day. Just before midnight they close the count at 136 species.

Finally we go to bed. Our room is decorated with bird nests, and over the bed hangs an oil painting of a Yucatan Jay. We will be leaving in just four hours.

I.G.H.

(…continues)

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2 Responses to Trip Report: the Toh Bird Festival 2011 – Day 2

  1. Marisa says:

    Que lindas fotos , me encanto la de la gaviota!

  2. ¡Muchas gracias Marisa!
    Y gracias también por hacerme notar el error ortográfico en la palabra “henequén”, el cual ha sido corregido. 🙂

    IGH

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