22-25 February 2014
The Peten region of Guatemala is full of great birding locations and opportunities, foremost Tikal but also Yaxhá, Laguna del Tigre / Ruinas El Perú, Cerro Cahuí, and other locations further afield for the more adventurous, such as El Mirador. We gave a lot of thought to birding the Peten more extensively but ultimately decided that if were ever going to get to South America we had to make some sacrifices and not bird every site, so we settled on a few days at Tikal. We found the birding at Tikal overall to be fantastic, and we thought more enjoyable and more rewarding than sites in the Yucatan, if not as endemic rich. A few of the Yucatan endemics are still possible here but are easier in Mexico and northern Belize.
We arrived in the late afternoon (if you arrive after 3:30PM, your ticket should be stamped for the following day essentially giving you a free evening in the ruins in addition to the entire following day). We found the campground, parked, and hurried into the ruins in order to see what we could before dark. We didn’t make it very far, though, as there was a flowering tree in the campground with White-bellied Emerald, Green-breasted Mango, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, and Ruby-throated and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. A short ways along, the entry path was loaded with Mealy, Red-lored, White-fronted and White-crowned Parrots, and as soon as we got into the forest proper we found a terrific ant swarm with Tawny-winged, Ruddy and Northern Barred Woodcreepers in the path just a few meters from us and Black-faced Antthrush, Kentucky Warblers, Plain Antvireos, Tawny-crowned Greenlets and many more birds in the thick undergrowth.
The following morning we were in the park at 6AM, the earliest entry possible without purchasing a sunrise ticket, and made tracks for Temple 4 to try to catch the sunrise. Dawn chorus from Temple 4 was fantastic and we logged 30 species in a half hour before heading back down into the forest as it was getting light enough to bird. The ruins are amazing, perhaps the best Mayan ruins we have seen yet on the trip, and the birding was on par with the fantastic birding at Yaxchilan and Bonampak in Chiapas. Over the course of a full day seeing the ruins we logged 100+ species with some highlights being Orange-breasted Falcon, Double-toothed Kite, Black-faced Antthrush, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Sepia-capped, Sulphur-rumped and Rufous-tailed Flycatchers, Rufous Mourner, Rufous Piha, Gray-headed Dove, Great Tinamou (three different individuals seen), Emerald Toucanet, Black-crowned Tityra, Black-throated Shrike-Tanager, White-whiskered Puffbird, and Gray-headed Tanager. A bit of a tip for the Orange-breasted Falcon- if you don’t find it perched atop one of the main temples (1, 2 or 3) or a nearby snag, the nest site is on the north-west corner of Temple 2, and is best viewed from the highest points on the North Acropolis. On our visit in late February one falcon was present and apparently incubating.
The following day we birded the old airstrip and the Caoba loop trail, which heads initially through scrubbier forest, passes a large pond, and finishes in mature seasonally inundated forest with more palms and a different mix of birds. Birding here was excellent as well, with our highlights being Pheasant Cuckoo, a trio of Great Curassows, Blue-winged Warbler, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Blue Ground-Dove, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Boat-billed Heron (nesting), Swainson’s Warbler, Yucatan Flycatcher, at least four Royal Flycatchers, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, two different Black-throated Shrike-Tanagers, and more Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers. We also managed to get some fairly good recordings, including, funnily enough, the Ocellated Turkey. While they’re basically tame at Calakmul and Tikal, and you’d have to try to avoid seeing them at either site, we had never heard one vocalizing and it was on Cornell’s want list for Guatemala. So when we were walking the airstrip at dawn and found one perched up in a sparse tree and grunting, we were chuckling to ourselves as we recorded a grunting turkey in a tree… Later in the day and the following morning before leaving, we gave the pond (Aguada de Cocodrilos) an additional couple of checks but didn’t turn up a hoped for Agami Heron or anything else beyond the Gray-necked Wood-Rail and the Boat-billed Heron, and some very large Cocodrilos (Crocodiles), all of which were seen numerous times.
We absolutely loved Tikal, terrific birding with enough trails and habitat to occupy at least two full days if not more, amazing ruins and a nice and quiet campground, just bring all your food and supplies as little is available once you are at the ruins aside from a couple of restaurants.