|Our View from Balcony|
On our last trip
to Cozumel over 5 years ago, I experienced the worse case of seasickness
ever. We took a boat from the mainland
on very choppy seas and my wife(who is a nurse and very experienced in these things) said she had never seen
anyone turn my shade of green so quickly.
Fortunately the vertigo did not kick in until the voyage was almost over
so I was only dying for a short time. On
our return trip two weeks ago we flew to Cozumel directly without the boat crossing adventure.
The island was popularized by
Jacques Cousteau back in the 60’s when he discovered its great reefs and
underwater wildlife. Unlike Jacques we
don’t scuba but we do enjoy snorkeling.
We were very impressed by the great reefs all along the western side of
the island which faces Mexico. Our hotel
had a man made beach but the exciting feature was the gorgeous reef just 50 feet
from our room. The restaurant in the hotel bordered on the ocean and large
waves would crash against its clear Plexiglas railings while we dined. From the restaurant people threw food scraps
to the fish and crabs while the tourists snorkeled amongst the throngs of excited
fish. We were treated to a wide variety
of tropical fish but had additional surprises including schools of squid, spiny
lobsters, sting rays, very colorful crabs and Moray eels.
colorful eel was feeding around the rocks just off the restaurant. It was a beautiful lime green color with
yellow spots. I mentioned it to one of
the divers who was seated on the beach as I left the ocean. He claimed to be a Navy diver and after
listening to my description of the eel, he asserted that that was no eel but a
sea snake. Having seen several Cousteau
episodes with Jacques and his divers swimming among schools of these snakes, I
doubted his story since these adventures were set in the warm waters of the
Pacific and Indian Oceans. On our return
to Pennsylvania I consulted our local Herpetologist Gary Stoltz who confirmed
that to date there are no sea snakes in the Atlantic. Good news since they are
deadly poisonous but not aggressive!
Although Cozumel is a fairly large island(29 miles long and 9 miles
wide) the interior is not accessible. The AAA guide to Mexico describes it as
“comprised of patches of insect ridden jungle, expanses of thorny uninviting
scrub and scattered Mayan ruins none of them well preserved. It’s a desolate landscape that makes the
islands beaches all the more inviting”.
My birding was therefore confined
to the hotel and the surrounding shore areas.
The most plentiful birds were the Great-tailed Grackles, Tropical Kingbirds, Tropical Mockingbirds and Warblers. The Tropical Kingbirds were so numerous
that one mile long strip of road had six
or seven sitting on the electric lines with one bird between each set of
The Tropical Mockingbirds were as
ubiquitous as their northern cousins in the U.S. but the Northerns aren’t found
in Cozumel. Although not much different from
the Northern, the Tropical has much more white in the tail tip and less white
on the extended wings.
I did have one Golden Warbler which is Cozumel’s Yellow
Warbler variant(looking just like a Yellow Warbler except for its rufous
|Yellow Warbler (Golden Subspecies)|
The most common warblers were the
Palm, Redstart and Yellow-throated Warblers.
The Yellow-throated were so
common I frequently was able to identify
their chip note. They would hang out in
the palm trees in the front of our hotel room and then land on our
On the day after our arrival we
took a day trip to Ponta Sur Park.
This wildlife preserve has a
population of fresh water crocodiles so we headed for the marshes hoping to catch a glimpse of the furtive
reptiles. None were apparent until one
of the guides gave a loud whistle and a single croc popped up about 15 feet
from us off the boardwalk. After departing
the marsh we ended up at the Celaria lighthouse at the most southern tip of the
island. Here we found great fragments of
both brain and branching coral much of it polished by the ocean and quite
beautiful. Although not a swimming beach because of the heavy surf there were
some shore birds hanging out including small numbers of Semipalmated
Sandpipers, American Golden-Plovers, Ruddy
Turnstones, a Solitary Sandpiper and a
Little Blue Heron.
After checking out
the lighthouse we drove past several small ponds one containing a Northern
Jacana and arrived at La Playa mas Hermosa(“The Most Beautiful Beach”). Here we spent some time snorkeling and got to
see more lobsters, eels, sea urchins and
many colorful fish.
We had lunch on the
beach under an open pavilion. Someone
had cracked open a large coconut which attracted Great-tailed Grackles,
Bananaquits, and Yellow-throated Warblers.
This day-long adventure ended when our caravan of 10 Polaris ATV’s
headed back to our respective hotels. We
tourists were driving these somewhat
beaten-up vehicles several of which(including ours) had no rear or side
view mirrors, head or tail lights and somewhat unpredictable functioning gas
|Stunt Driver - Gary Becker|
Our tour guide merrily took us through the back streets of the main
town amidst mopeds, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians in the fading light at
dusk. This hair-raising venture was
enough to convince me not to rent a car and instead go it alone.
In addition our trusty Triple A guide warned “that if stopped for a
serious moving violation, your vehicle may be impounded and you will be asked
to accompany the police officer to the station to pay a fine.(Of course fines
for minor infractions can often be settled on the spot, in cash; in Mexico a
bribe is a common way of taking care of such situations). Fortunately taxis were all over the place and
people were very friendly and crime was almost nonexistent(so we were told and
I believe it). Consequently we either
took a cab or walked. The walkway into
town was very pleasant and followed the ocean, so there were ample
opportunities to do some birding. Along this stretch of ocean I found
Magnificant Frigatebirds, Snowy and Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons,
Black-bellied and Golden Plovers, Great Blue Herons, White-crowned sparrows,
The warblers would hang out at some grassy areas that were being
watered with “recycled water”. These watered areas although drawing in birds
chased away some of the tourists as the water still smelled foul. They would turn off the sprinklers once the
tourists arrived from the boats but since I got there early in the morning I
was subjected to the stench if I wanted to bird the areas. A few days later we took a taxi to Chankanaab
Lagoon Park. There was another reef here for snorkeling and a botanical garden
which provided some birding opportunities.
One beautiful blackbird appeared
in a bamboo forest and provided me with some good looks and some good photos.
|Yellow-crowned Night Heron|
Besides the Tropical Flycatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, Northern Jacana and
Golden Warbler this was my 5th life bird for the trip: a Melodious Blackbird. There was a Tequilla distillery in the park and something
attracted warblers and vireos to the trees overlooking this site. I came back
to the area several times and discovered Black-throated Green and
Black-throated Blue Warblers, Redstarts, Magnolia and more Yellow-throated
Warblers Red-eyed Vireos and a Gray Catbird. There were some enclosed piers leading out
from the beach for the “swim with the dolphins” concession. The dolphin
handlers kept rewarding the mammals with fish which in turn brought in lots of
terns, mainly Royal and a few Sandwich terns and lots of Laughing Gulls.
morning of our departure I was standing on our balcony watching some of the
cruise ships pulling into dock when a small flock of 5 Roseate Spoonbills flew
past. I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture of what could have been a neat
photo-ending to our travels. Anyway
after breakfast we had a few hours before departing and so we again explored the
reef off our hotel which besides the varied critters had a sunken airplane, an
anchor and some canons rusting away in the waters. We were told the plane was dropped there for
some movie made years before. It was an eerie spectacle to end the week in what
was a bit of a tropical paradise.
|Royal and Sandwich Tern|
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