Trip Report: the Toh Bird Festival 2011 – Day 4

Day 4 – Sunrise in the land of the pheasant and the deer.

After a night of repairing sleep the sun rises in Sihunchen and I go out with my photo gear to walk the trails, expecting to photograph some birds. I have taken just a few steps when I’m surprised by the sight of a deer. We look at each other for an instant, about 30 yards apart, and I make a couple of frames, but they aren’t any good and I cannot shoot any more as the deer disappears with one jump into the forest. I approach, walking as quietly as possible, and even though I can hear him, I fail to see him again.

The lush eco trails at Sihunchen are tempting beyond resistance. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

I spend a full hour walking and enjoying the forest, but manage to make very few images. Our plan today is to set out early for Celestun, so we’ll need to return to Sihunchen in the near future to really take advantage of the place. Back in the house we have some coffee, then go to Alberto’s classroom where he speaks to us about birds, geological history of the Yucatan Peninsula, astronomy and Mayan culture. I tell him about my encounter with the deer. He laughs and mentions and old Yucatecan song which celebrates the mythical vision of Yucatan as “the land of the pheasant and the deer”. The song’s “pheasant”, Alberto explains, is actually the emblematic Ocellated Turkey (Agriocharis ocellata), an endemic bird whose picture hangs in the classroom wall in front of us.

We prepare our things and soon are ready to go, but first I must change the motorcycle’s gasoline filter. When it’s done we strap our luggage on the bike and wet our bandanas, which we use around our necks following and old motorcyclists’ trick to cool the blood going up to our heads through the main veins in our necks. Alberto informs us, however, that we will be riding straight into a cold front coming in through the Gulf of Mexico, so it may be better to don some warmer clothing instead. We bid our farewells, leave Sihunchen, and the motorcycle starts sputtering again. I pull back on the throttle until it seems to clear the fuel path. It works smoothly after that.

Our destination today is the town of Celestun by the Gulf of Mexico, at the opposite end of the Peninsula if we consider our point of departure from the Riviera Maya. As we are already close to the Gulf, we have decided to ride straight to Celestun today instead of waiting for a future occasion. Part of the prize I received for my photograph of the Tropical Mockingbird is a night’s stay at Hotel Ecoparaíso XiXim, which has its own nature trails for bird observation. It is located in prime Flamingo territory, and boats are available for hire to visit these most flamboyant of birds.

On the road the cold chills us down to the bones, but we continue riding to Celestun. Once we reach this small town we take a dirt road that follows the coast line and leads to the hotel. The receptionist informs us that the weather is not expected to improve, therefore we won’t be able to use the kayaks they would otherwise make available to us. We are checked into a nice bungalow in front of the Gulf, and once settled in we study the hotel’s map, which has lines marking the eco-trails and also a bird observation tower.

Our bungalow in Hotel Ecoparaíso XiXim. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

I prepare my camera and, under an overcast sky, go out walking with the hope of finding some birds. Hotel staff informs me that the bird observation tower does not yet exist (or access is closed, it remains unclear). I choose to walk on a trail that crosses the area’s wetlands, but the weather works against me and I see few active birds.

It will be back on the beach by our bungalow that I will find some feathery activity going on: groups of Sanderlings (Calidris alba) run around in a frantic hunt for red worms that is truly amusing to watch. When the waves withdraw the birds seize their opportunity, detecting the worms under the sand, extracting them with their bills and scurrying away, not only to avoid the next incoming wave but also to protect their catch from other Sanderlings, for as soon as they see a worm in the bill of a successful bird they try to snatch the coveted prize away.

Further away, absent from the feeding frenzy, a Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola), gazes at the sea with relaxed attitude, giving me the key for the few remaining hours of our stay in this place. The next morning, after a good breakfast, we shall get on our way back to the Riviera Maya.




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