Trip Report: the Toh Bird Festival 2011 – Day 3

Day 3 – The early bird gets the worm… but not on a foggy day.

The sun has not risen yet but we are already on our way, this time as passengers in the car of team member Miguel Amar, following Alberto’s truck. We reach an area close to Uxmal where forest and agricultural land alternate. We park our cars and continue on foot. Both sides of the red earth road are covered with vegetation, dew drops shining suspended in countless spider webs. Over our heads bees are busy working on flowers. The day’s first light is now visible, but a dense fog covers the landscape.

The sun rises but a dense fog covers everything. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

And the birds?”, Alberto asks. “They’are all perched”, he answers himself. Far in the distance we see a group of birds sharing the branches of a tree, keeping very still as if in silent protest against the weather. A hummingbird approaches us quickly and I manage to photograph its characteristic silhouette, amidst branches drawn like lines on the foggy background.

Field marks are hard to see in this photo, but the curved bill gives him away: it’s the endemic Mexican Sheartail (Doricha eliza).  (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

The day seems bent on denying us opportunities for birdwatching or bird photography. The fog is in itself beautiful but reduces definition and color saturation when looking through the binoculars or my tele lens. The greater the distance, the worse the visibility gets. Still the team gets to work and we manage to identify some species. I make just a few images.

Steve Koevoet, born Dutch but assimilated Yucatecan, demonstrates the proper use of binoculars. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

The first and foremost requisite for a birder, Alberto explains, is to become friends with his binoculars. “They are to birdwatching as a ball is to soccer”. To that an aspiring birder must add many hours of study and field practice. Team members impress me with their abilities: they quickly identify each species by its shape, size, plumage, song and behavior. They check their field guides and scribble in their notebooks. Frequently it’s a bird’s song that allows the team to spot and identify the species. In fact, Marathon rules allow the listing of species identified by song, even if they are not seen.

We walk surrounded by fruit trees and come upon an apiary, which I observe from a prudent distance. We spot a few honeycreepers, orioles and, far in the distance, a hawk. We hear the rustle of a group of quail, moving away from us but, team members fail to get a good look and are unable to confirm the species. The fog still hasn’t lifted but it’s time to head for Uxmal, with hopes of seeing a few more birds there, before turning in our list in time for the 10:00 am deadline.

Once we get to Uxmal, in just a few minutes, our team spots two more species, then we hand our list to the judges and sit at a table under the huge palapa in Uxmal Lodge, where we feast on a well deserved breakfast that has been programmed for the closing of the Toh Bird Festival. The judges go over the lists and summon one team after another to dispel any doubts and confirm each list’s validity. With didactic attitude they carefully question the participants, cross out some improbable or possibly erroneous species, and approve the rest.

Finally the results are announced: the Sihunchen team wins third place in the advanced category, and shares the number one spot with two other teams in the “most endemic species” category. At our table a few celebratory words are improvised. I use the occasion myself to thank our good fortune for meeting such wonderful friends and being able to participate with them. I make a group picture and shortly thereafter team members get on their way back to Tulum.

Starting up left: Joann Andrews (PPY); Miguel Amar and Antonio Arsuaga; Alberto Mezquita, member of the organizing committee; Cherie Pitillo; festival coordinator Karla Nájera; Pepe Cuevas, Manager of Sian Ka’an Eco Center (CESIAK), with Jorge Machado and Alberto Mezquita. (Photos © Ivan Gabaldon).

The complete Sihunchen Team, left to right: Rosa Ku, Alberto Mezquita, Marisa Tavarez, René González, Pepe Cuevas, Miguel Amar, Rafael González, Steve Koevoet, Mercedes Rodríguez; up front: Jorge Machado and Antonio Arsuaga. (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon).

Rose and I will spend the night in Sihunchen, so Alberto kindly offers to wait for us while we enter the Uxmal archaeological site for a quick visit. Uxmal impresses us with its beauty, its elaborate architectural style, grand lawns and almost total lack of tourists. Buildings are elevated on terraces and as we go up we spot a big rainbow, appearing just in time to decorate my photographs. When we attempt to enter the chambers in the “Governor’s palace”, we are repelled by the intense odor of animal droppings. Bats are the likely culprits, but we fail to see any.




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One Response to Trip Report: the Toh Bird Festival 2011 – Day 3

  1. Pingback: Trip Report: the Toh Bird Festival 2011 – Day 2 | RIDE INTO BIRDLAND

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