Birding Chichén Itzá Amongst Roaring Jaguars
Our Yucatan adventure culminated in a stay at the Hotel Mayaland and a visit to the Maya archaeological site known as Chichén Itzá. It was one of the biggest Maya cities. Most of the structures have been excavated, and many have been restored. It has a huge ballcourt where you can do some awesome acoustic tricks, an observatory, and a picturesque pyramid. Unlike Cobá, where you can climb to the top of the pyramid, the ruins here are all roped off. And unlike Cobá, this place is expensive and crowded.
Because we stayed at the Mayaland, we were able to buy tickets and go through a side entrance. We were second in line in the morning, and enjoyed an hour or two before the crowds and trinkets sellers (roaring jaguars at every other booth) changed the feel. A handy little guidebook allowed us to learn about the buildings and temples and ballcourt and carvings as we wandered around. Our sons bargained for momentos and t-shirts. My wife spent too much on a colorful Mexican blanket. I peered into the trees and bushes for birds.
Despite the crowds and the wide-open spaces, the area is surrounded by jungle and there were birds all around. My oldest son had the best find of the day – a lifer Turquoise-browed Motmot perched at eye-level just 20 feet away from us. Motmots wag their tails back and forth, which is often the way to spot them.
We had good looks at a lot of birds. Yucatan Jays moved loudly all about. A group of Green Jays and Altamira Orioles were near the ballcourt. A Cinnamon Hummingbird posed for a nice photo. There were poor looks at even more species, like the distant Bat Falcon perched on some tower and the lifer Gray-crowned Yellowthroat that vanished as quickly as it appeared in a bush right next to us.
Birding at the Hotel Mayaland
For our visit, we stayed right next to Chichén Itzá in a bungalow at the Hotel Mayaland. It’s on the expensive side, but has lush grounds that are great for birding (and some swimming pools and a replica observatory/planetarium with a decent show about Maya sky-watching and culture). While walking the grounds, I had a Great Black Hawk flyover, lifer Grayish Saltators and Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, another Turquoise-browed Motmot, more Olivaceous Woodcreeper, and a Rufous-browed Peppershrike was in the same tree at dusk each night. At one meal, a brilliant red Summer Tanager joined us.
One afternoon, I wandered over to the grounds of the Hacienda Chichen next door and added some more good sightings, including Groove-billed Ani, White-fronted Parrot, and a lifer Yellow-winged Tanager.