'Apocolist' and some local flora, 31 March 2020

In partnership with Jus, Chris Baker and Andrew Wilkinson we have started a light-hearted garden list competition for the duration of lockdown. The rules simply being it has to be seen or heard from or in your garden/house to count.  It has been dubbed 'The Apocolist'!
I may be rural but have no views of fields and am also miles away from any water so it may be a little limited. At the time of writing my list stands at a rather mediocre 27

Pied Wagtail
House Sparrow
Collared Dove
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Black-headed Gull
Red-legged Partridge (on the drive!)
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Carrion Crow
Common Gull
Green Woodpecker

Hopefully the lockdown won't last long enough to get Swift!

On our daily 'permitted' walks Belinda and I have managed to do about 5 miles a day going in different directions from the house. Not much to report birdwise but I did manage to find a single 'False Oxlip' (Primsrose x Cowslip hybrid) on the edge of the village which I have reported to the Norfolk Flora Group. New stuff has included White Comfrey, Red Campion, Cowslips, Ground Ivy, Wood Forget-me-not, Ivy-leaved Speedwell, Borage, Greater Stitchwort and Common Whitlowgrass. Early Purple Orchids in Tyrrel's Wood are about a week away from flowering. A Red Velvet Mite sp was a good spot by Belinda in Tyrrel's.

'False Oxlip' (Primrose x Cowslip hybrid) 

White Comfrey

           Red Velvet Mite sp

The Identification of Violets

One of the things you may commonly encounter on your one 'allowed' walk a day is wild violets of which at least 3 species (Sweet Violet, Common Dog Violet and Early Dog Violet) are now in full flower and fairly common.

They all look superficially similar but if you know what to look for are relatively easy to identify. I have the following plate saved on my phone and it is a really useful aid to identifying plants to species. The main things to concentrate on are the shape of the sepals and the colour and shape of the spur. Each species has a unique combination meaning it's difficut to go wrong. I have labelled some of my photos below which hopefully makes things clear.

Heath Dog Violet mainy flowers in April and Sand Pansy in May so hopefully we may be able to get out and see them when things get back to some sort of normality! 

'Under green hedges after the snow there do the dear little violets grow' 

Common Dog Violet

Early Dog Violet

Sweet Violet, purple form

Sweet Violet, white form (note the purple spur)

Early Dog Violet

Sweet Violet

Sand Pansy ssp curtisii (aka Breckland Pansy)

 Heath Dog Violet

Mexico, The Yucatan, Day 20 - The Xocen Track, 3 March 2020

Our final day and I was up at the crack of dawn to make the most of it. My last bit of birding was a 30 minute drive to the village of Xocen out to the SW of Valadollid. So I headed around the city ring road in the dark. The Xocen Track has become a well known birding site in the last few years and I was pleasantly surprised to even find a visitor center there even though it was closed.

Parking at the start of the track I opted for a slow walk for about 3km and then to retrace my steps. It was a thoroughly enjoyable 3 hours with just a few locals on bikes passing occasionally with a cheery 'buenos dias'. The first major success was a Buff-bellied Hummingbird at long last. I had been looking for this species for so long so indulged in a fist-pump moment! A Roadside Hawk was perched up in a tree and Indigo Buntings were common in weedy clearer areas. Red-crowned Ant Tanager, Canivet's Emerald and Brown-crested Flycatcher were trip ticks and 2 Ovenbirds, several Scrub Euphonias, 3 White-eyed Vireos, 2 Brown Jays, Masked Tityra, Turquoise-browed Motmot and several Plain Chachalacas also gave themselves up. In a weedy clearing 2 plainish pale sparrows eventually gave good views for me to clinch them as Botteri's Sparrows and then a Tropical Pewee posed on a barbed wire fence (my last 2 lifers of the trip). A singing Rufous-browed Peppershrike and a perched but distant Ridgeway's Swallow gave some great views too.

Roadside Hawk

Rufous-browed Peppershrike

Ridgeway's Swallow

I reluctantly dragged myself away and returned to Belinda at the hacienda where we spent a coupel of hours having a late breakfast and exploring the grounds, church and cenote. A showy Squirrel Cuckoo there was the last bird of note.

It was then just a 2 hour drive back to Cancun airport via the toll road and the long trawl home.

Triplist - 219
Lifers - 61          

Mexico, The Yucatan, Day 19 - Rio Lagartos area and journey to Valadollid, 2 March 2020

We waved goodbye to Rio Lagartos today - but not before I made one last early morning visit to Restaurant Chiquila. And boy was it worth it! I walked around a small mangrove-filled inlet next to the restaurant and a Rufous-naped Wood Rail hopped up on to a low wall and walked almost up to me - amazing! Shortly afterwards I realised there were 2 but the other wasn't quite so bold. Also there was a Northern Waterthrush, a White-winged Dove that posed for a pic. A walk down a track  yielded a calling Yucatan Wren, 2 fly-over Roseate Spoonbills, 2 American White Pelicans, 2 Common Black Hawks, Melodious Blackbird, Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat.

Rufous-naped Wood Rail

 White-winged Dove

We checked out of the Hotel Punta Ponto (with one last look at our Mexican Sheartails!) and headed south towards Valadollid. On the way out we scored with Northern Caracara and a little further on the only Red-tailed Hawk of the whole trip, a roadside Merlin plus a male Vermillion Flycatcher on a fence. We had intended on visiting one last mayan ruin north of Valadollid but arriving there we found the entry price was the same as Chichen Itza so turned around and left straight away. Instead we drove down a side road to the town of Espita which was a decidedly un-touristy town. Still, it killed a little time as this was a day of kicking our heels a bit. On the way out of toen we stopped for a picnic lunch by some dry woodland and scored with 4 Scrub Euphonia which was an excellent bonus. Other birds seen throughout the day on the journey were Blue-black Grassquit, Northern Parula, 2 Hooded Orioles, Clay-coloured Thrush, Yucatan Jay and Groove-billed Ani.

 Scrub Euphonia

Arriving at the Hacienda Kaan Ac for our final night we were delighted to find it was an amazing castle and we had the whole place to ourselves! We wanted to make the most of the place so dashed into Valadollid for a quick Burger King rather than spend too long out eating!


Mexico, The Yucatan, Day 18 - Rio Lagartos area & San Felippe, 1 March 2020

Widely known to nbe one of the best places to see some of the sought after birds in the Rio Lagartos area is the San Salvador Ranch track. The start of the track is situated about 15 minutes drive SE of the village and I was there just after dawn this morning.
Driving about 3km down the narrow track I parked up and began to walk the track, this tactic I repeated a couple of times and then made one final stop where a gated entrance to private land prevented me going any further.

The main endemic target here is Yucatan Wren and I spent ages not seeing any! Eventually, way down the track I found a pair and then a within a short while I'd seen c6. Just like buses! A Yucatan Bobwhite on the deck was also very nice after yesterdays flight views but despite much looking I failed with Lesser Roadrunner. Nevertheless the track was pretty birdy and I managed another female Painted Bunting, 2 Orange Orioles (endemics), 2 Black-cowled Orioles, Lesser Greenlet, a brief but suprisingly distinctive Yucatan Gnatcatcher, pairs of Barred Antshrike and Vermillion Flycatcher, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Yucatan Woodpecker, 2 Roseate Spoonbills, 5 Plain Chacalacas, several Mexican Sheartails and Cinnamon Hummingbirds and 2 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Commoner stuff included 4 Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, 3 Indigo Buntings, 3 Northern Cardinals, 2 Northern Parulas, Common Yellowthroat, Black-throated Green Warbler, Mangrove Vireo and 2 White-eyed Vireos.

Yucatan Wren

Orange Oriole

Vermillion Flycatchers

 Barred Antshrike

I returned to the hotel and Belinda and I decided to head west to the small fishing village of San Felippe. The place was very sleepy and hot with a distinct lack of coffee but we found a shaded boardwalk through the mangroves on the west edge of the village. A couple of Northern Waterthrushes were being typically vocal were followed by a perched Green Heron and as we neared the waters edge a juv Yellow-crowned Night Heron was standing on the boardwalk and allowed close approach. I also added Spotted Sandpiper to the triplist there.

Green Heron

 Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Back in Rio Lagartos we strolled along the waterfront so I could photograph some of the village reular birds, including our resident Mexican Sheartails. A late afternoon re-visit to the start of the San Salvador track allowed me to photograph Blue-winged Teals, Killdeer and Black-necked Stilts. Also there were 2 Least Grebes, 3 American White Ibis, 9 American Flamingoes, Northern Jacana, 4 Stilt Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Brown Pelican

Neotropic Cormorant

Mexican Sheartails

Blue-winged Teals

Black-necked Stilt




Mexico, The Yucatan, Day 17 - Rio Lagartos area, 29 February 2020

Leap Year Day and we were heading north to the coast at Rio Lagartos for a couple of nights. The chance to add a few more species to the list!

Our drive took us east towards Valadollid and then due north to Rio Lagartos. In the last 30km or so the landscape changed with cattle ranches, meadows and marshy areas. And the birds started to appear too including a lovely White-tailed Hawk, my first tick for a while. We arrived in the sleepy fishing village of Rio Lagartos and headed to the east end of the village and to the shore front Restaurant Chilquila. This relaxed place has 2 hummingbird feeders, although it took me some while to figure out they are actually under the cover of the main dining area and not outside! We sat overdosing on coffees while we waited but the hummingbirds never came! We decided to walk a boardwalk through the mangroves on the far side of the carpark and were rewarded with a couple of Common Yellowthroats, Northern Waterthrush, a point blank Morelet's Crocodile. Along the water front were loads of Laughing Gulls, Neotropic Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, a small group of American White Pelicans circled in the distance and a mixed flock of Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons passed by. Further along, on one of the fishing jettys c5 American Black Skimmers were loafing with numerous Royal Terns amongst the commoner suspects. Mangrove Swallows were numerous.

Laughing Gulls

American White Pelicans

Yellow-throated Warbler

Royal Terns

 American Black Skimmer

Belinda was keen to visit Los Colorados, along the coast to the east so we headed there next. Stopping on the way at the entrance to the San Salvador Ranch track for our traditional 'cheese single' sandwich a short stroll revealed 2 Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Olive-throated Parakeets and 2 White-fronted Parrots and at the pool by the road there were 4 Stilt Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs and Black-necked Stilts.

As we continued towards Los Colorados I scooped with roadside 2 Orange Orioles but several brief flight views of hummingbird sp were rather frustrating! I let Belinda do the tourist thing beside the pink lagoon with a guide (paid of course!) while I went on a short walk to photograph the American Flamingoes. In the ditch there I found singles of Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs and a Peregrine hawked high over a communications tower.

American Flamingoes

Lesser Yellowlegs

Semipalmated Sandpiper

 Least Sandpiper

Then it was back to Restaurant Chilquila for an afternoon beer and another stare at those feeders. This time we were rewarded with a couple of brief visits from a female Mexican Sheartail. With what was to come we really needn't have worried but it felt like a bit of the pressure was off! Checking in at the Hotel Punta Ponto we saw both male and female Mexican Sheartails at their feeders within seconds and even a female sat on a nest buikt on a hanging basked bracket under their car port! A Cinnamon Hummingbird was also visiting.

 Mexican Sheartails

We decided to re-visit the first few hundreds yards of the San Salvador Ranch track at dusk approached so I could have one attempt at some night birds. In the end I got nothing except loads of insect bites but while wandering about I flushed a group of 4 Yucatan Bobwhites (tick!) and also scored with c20 Blue-winged Teal, 5 White Ibis, Least Grebe and Northern Jacana.

During that first day at Rio Lagartos we also saw Common Black Hawk, Osprey, Norther Caracara, Wood Stork, Magnificent Frigatebirds, 2 Roseate Spoonbills, Green Heron, c5 Tricoloured Herons and Merlin