Trip Report: Amazing Campeche!

AmazingCampeche_Pt_I_300pxBirds fly, but time flies much faster. It’s been three weeks since my last post here in Ride Into Birdland, and even longer since I had the good fortune of going on an amazing birding trip to the State of Campeche, back in early March. Since then Spring has arrived and birds are busy all over, so I really need to catch up.

I was blessed to visit Campeche for the first time with three very special companions: Maria Andrade, General Director of Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan, Jacqueline Aldana, also a staff member at Pronatura, and my good friend Cherie Pitillo, whom I’ve mentioned many times here in Ride Into Birdland and will continue to do so, always recommending her wonderful Backyard Birding in Merida column (read her latest here).

It was Maria who proposed we follow a route that’s being promoted by the State of Campeche under the name “Rincones de Ensueño – Dzitbalché – Isla Arena”, drawn along six points of interest: the towns of Dzitbalché and Nunkiní, the haciendas Santa Cruz and Tankuché, a wonderful water spot known as El Remate, and our final destination, Isla Arena. Information in English about this beautiful state of the Yucatan Peninsula is available in the official website Campeche Travel.

An interesting aspect of this route is that it combines birding opportunities with views of authentic Campeche communities. During our first day of travel, on the way to Isla Arenas, we made several stops. The following pictures provide a glimpse of what we saw:

The words “Mexico” and “color” are often one and the same, as this partial view of a façade in Nunkiní shows. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon)

We crossed the village of Culkiní, where we couldn’t help but notice the engraved stones in display along the main road, many of them with bird motifs. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

We stopped and soon met the artists, nice guys willing to engage visitors in amiable conversation. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

Further ahead, Maria noticed a group of people working in a small cave, under a house. We watched as they weaved “Jipi” hats. The cave’s high-humidity is needed to work with the palm fibers used in the elaborate, multi-step process entailed by the manufacture of these highly regarded hats. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

We reached Hacienda Santa Cruz, where a young local tourist guide (on the State’s payroll, therefore free of charge for visitors) took us on a brief tour of the facilities. In the photos: the old irrigation system, a chimney that still stands proud in one piece, and old pipes from the British-made machinery used long ago for the production of henequén. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

A meeting of local farmers was taking place at Hacienda Santa Cruz. I snapped a few frames discreetly, but my attention was soon drawn by a trio of laughing, camera friendly kids. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

Wait, I know what you’re thinking: that’s all fine, but what about the birds? As we kept driving to our destination for the night at Isla Arena, we came across the beautiful spot known as El Remate. We only made a brief stop there, as we had planned to stop again on our return trip, but it was certainly worth a first look. The following images show some of what we found:

An interpretive trail, almost 2 kms long, takes you right into the mangrove forest, a rare luxury since this type of ecosystem is usually very hard to access. I really felt engulfed by nature as I walked further into the forest, and could not help but move ahead of the group, wondering where the trail would take me. Caveat: the boardwalk was built with great respect for the vegetation, and at some points there are branches going across it, which demand walking over or under and may be too challenging for some visitors. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

And then, voilá, my final reward: I almost couldn’t believe it when I arrived at this small auditorium, where the main act is an ongoing performance by Mother Nature. I sat in silence and tried to take it all in, and suddenly there it was, the icing on the cake: a beautiful American Pigmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea), flying off its perch time and time again to dive for fish with characteristic precision. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

What can I say? I never get tired of looking at the impressive American Pigmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea). The ongoing challenge is trying to capture it as it dives for fish, they are lightning fast and there’s no way to anticipate what spot in the water they’ll hit. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

Soon it was time to move on toward Isla Arena. We traveled along a straight, narrow road that crosses the wetlands of a Petén ecosystem. The road was mostly deserted, but whenever we came upon a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction one of the two had to park off to the side and let the other vehicle pass, that’s how narrow this road is. In the distance we spotted a very distinctive bird, flying off several times and landing again further up ahead.

A Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), heralding good things to come for our quartet of eager birders. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

We were also amazed by the sheer numbers of Mangrove Swallows (Tachycineta a. Albilinea), flying over the road and perching by the dozens on the power lines alongside it. Another stop enabled me to get a distant shot of some of them, using the mangroves as collective perch and take-off station.

Mangrove Swallows (Tachycineta a. albilinea), by the truckload! (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

At regular intervals we came upon spots where the road intersects with narrow water channels that pass under it, connecting both sides of the wetlands. These openings also provide great spots to look at the birds, since much of the road is lined on both sides by tall mangroves and other vegetation that block most of the view. Looking through one of these openings, I managed to catch a frame of two birds flying in formation, a great closer for this bird photographer’s happy day.

A Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) and a Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) display their wings as they share the airspace over the wetlands. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

We finally made it to our destination at Isla Arena, the “Hotel Cabañas Carey”, a lodge that offers several cabins facing the Gulf of Mexico and has become popular amongst sport fishermen. With the final gusts of a cold front coming in the weather was far from ideal, so after a simple dinner we all went to bed early, hoping to get plenty of rest for a promising second day of birding. As the wind howled through the doors and windows of my cabin I looked at the day’s photos on my camera’s LCD screen and charged both its batteries and my own. Our plan for the next morning included an outing by boat, weather permitting. Then, on our trip’s third day, we would take another shot at the wetlands and also stop for a second visit at El Remate as we made our way back towards Merida. In my next post I’ll tell you how it all turned out.


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One Response to Trip Report: Amazing Campeche!

  1. Cherie Pi says:

    The consistent clarity in your images makes me feel as if they are 3-D. What a treat to delve into your wonderful vocabulary as you describe your experiences! The amphitheater image intrigues me. Also I know how hard you worked for kingfisher experiences and look at the rewards that you are sharing and will share with all of us.

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