21 – 22 December
We arrived in the Calakmul region in the late afternoon and headed straight for the Yaax’che camping area, located approximately 6 km from the main highway. A quick evening walk around the trails at the campground produced nothing more than about a 1,000 mosquitoes, so we headed back to the truck to make dinner.
We woke up around 4:30 in the morning and headed out to search for the endemic Yucatan Poorwill and Yucatan Nightjar. We drove slowly along the road towards the ruins but no poorwills or nightjars in sight. We arrived at the gate before 6:00 am and waited for the gate to open. The gate officially opens at 7:00 am but we were able to get in a bit earlier than most people by telling them that we were biologists. Soon after we crossed the gate we stopped for a bit when I saw a large bird fly across the road. I managed to re-find the bird and was looking at the face of a Barred Forest-Falcon, not a bird we were expecting to see at Calakmul because we associate the bird with higher elevations. Further along the road we heard several Thicket Tinamous calling near the road and decided to give it another try even though the understory here was very thick. We spent about a half hour trying to find the Thicket Tinamou in the dense tropical scrub before Josh fortuitously spotted the bird slowly and ever so quietly moving through the understory… finally, we saw a Thicket Tinamou! We did the happy dance and continued down the road only to see another Thicket Tinamou cross the road in the open! Pretty ironic that after months of trying to see a Thicket Tinamou, and just moments after our eventual success, one crosses the road right in front of us!
We birded the road in to the ruins and had a fair number of migrants including Northern Parula, White-eyed Vireo, and Worm-eating Warbler among others (see eBird for a complete list of species). We also stopped at the small lake on the right side of the road before the ruins and were surprised to find a Sungrebe skulking around the pond vegetation. Although the Sungrebe is not out of range, we were not expecting to find one in Calakmul. When we later ran into a guide on the trails at Calakmul who asked about what we’d seen, he commented that he has seen Sungrebe there as well. Unfotunately, though, aside from the bit of time just after dawn and a little activity near the pond, bird activity was remarkably slow and by the time we made it to the ruins it was already late in the morning and bird activity was near zero, seeing little of note other than a nice encounter with a Chestnut-colored Woodpecker. The forest in the ruins looks terrific and ought to make for great birding if you hurry there instead of birding the road, though most of the road offers similar habitat, just moving from a bit scrubbier to a bit larger trees the further you go. Luckily the Ocellated Turkeys are pretty tame and spend their whole days roaming around the ruins, and despite being a virtually guaranteed bird are marvelous to actually see and the colors are pretty remarkable! Despite the fact that bird activity was low for us we enjoyed our day and the setting tremendously. We did not see any of the Yucatan endemics; the closest we came was hearing a single Yucatan Flycatcher. Although not strictly Yucatan endemics we did see the White-browed Wren (a subspecies of the Carolina Wren), Mangrove Vireo, and Gray-throated Chat.
The ruins are surrounded by forest which makes for a very intimate setting (unlike many of the other ruins where the forest is cleared away). Calakmul is massive and was one of the most powerful and largest city centers in the Mayan world. Calakmul also hosts one of the tallest pyramids in the Mayan world; 148 feet tall. The view from the top is stunning with unbroken forest as far as the eye can see in every direction!
The next day we tried to hike the trails near the apparently abandoned ecotourism center on the road into the ruins. Unfortunately it does not appear that the trails are being maintained and are nearly impassable (at least when we were there). If you are headed to Calakmul, we recommend that you try to get in the gate to the ruins as early as possible. The gate opens at 7:00 and it’s another hour drive at least to the ruins.