Birding Rio Lagartos (River of Alligators)
After Christmas, we flew to the Yucatan Peninsula for nine lazy days at “Dreams” in Puerto Aventuras, just over an hour south of Cancun.
Pre-trip, a quick internet search discovered “Birding with Steven”, based out of Playa Del Carmen, 30 minutes away from the resort and so, two weeks later at 4:00am on a Monday morning, (you read that right), I was sitting in Steven’s six-seater van, heading to Rio Lagartos, 3 hours away. I was joined by Elena and Guy, a British couple, whose knowledge of birding was immediately apparent:
“Will we be seeing the Yucatan Wren today?”
Hmm, I hadn’t heard of that one, but apparently, “yes”!
As we headed across the Peninsula, I was once again confronted with my ignorance, as the numerous species of Orioles, Flycatchers, Waders and countless others were bandied about. I decided to keep very quiet and listen!
First stop was the village of Kikil, where there were vultures on a telegraph pole, an old burned-out church and a burro wandering around freely. All that was missing was an old man snoozing under a sombrero.
We headed to a wooded area near the old church, and so it began:
“Oh look a Hooded Oriole, right above the Grey-Crowned Yellowthroat and there goes a Yellow-Throated Warbler!”
“Over here! A Turquoise-Browed Motmot and a Black-Headed Saltator, (those names again!), and there’s a Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, same tree as the Summer Tanager …..”
You get the idea, birds and birdsong everywhere! After a couple more stops to see Bat Falcons, Vermillion Flycatchers, the famous Yucatan Wrens, plus countless others, we arrived at Rio Lagartos just in time to get on a flat-bottomed boat and head out to sea.
Well, head out to lagoon actually, the Ria Lagartos, which is part of a natural reserve on the north-eastern tip of the Yucatan peninsula. It is part of the Petenes mangroves eco-region, and has been designated by UNESCO as an internationally recognized “Important Bird Area”.
As it should be. The birding here is simply breathtaking. Waders, Gulls, Terns, Oystercatchers, Egrets, Spoonbills, Herons, Storks, Pelicans, Cormorants, American Flamingos and countless more. What a wonderful time we had, soaking up the huge variety and numbers of wildlife surrounding us.
After two hours, satisfied but now hot and hungry, we docked at a restaurant, Perico Marinero, for a great lunch featuring locally caught fish, before starting the three-hour trek home. Between us we saw, or heard, 86 different species of birds apparently. (I can recall 52!)
Steven, our illustrious leader, is a Dutchman who came to Central America 23 years ago from Rotterdam. He loved scuba diving, (especially in the caves in the area), and the wildlife, so he stayed, making a career in diving originally and more recently in guiding for birdwatching and/or archeology.
He is a delightful, easygoing guide and his knowledge of birds is encyclopedic. The whole day was great fun.
For serious birders the full day Rio Lagartos tour is mandatory! It’s pretty intense, so for casual, or non-birders, Steven also offers half-day tours visiting the jungle, and/or various less-visited archeological sites, (of which he is also an expert guide).
If you’re in the Yucatan Peninsula and just tired of the hype and cost of all the packages offered by the hotels, a birding or eco trip with Steven is a great option.