Saturday, February 12, 2011

Black-headed Trogon; Motmot Birding Tours with Luis Ku near Puerto Morelos, Mexico

A Black-headed Trogon, Puerto Morelos, Mexico; 12/24/10.
On December 24, I hired a local bird expert, Luis Ku from Motmot Birding Tours in Cancun ( ), to take us out on a bird-watching tour. I have never hired a professional before and always depended on my own knowledge and luck, but I wanted someone who not only knew his birds but knew where to find them. Val and I were joined by Chris from Ontario, Canada.  Luis and his team of 3 picked Val and I up at 5 AM at our resort, and picked up Chris from where he was staying about 30 minutes later, so we could get an early start. Essentially there were 4 people from his group to 3 clients, although, Luis was by far the expert. We took a van out to the "jungles" of Quintana Roo near Puerto Morelos. For me it would be equivelent to hiking through the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin, where I grew up.
By 6 AM we were walking down a gravel/dirt road surrounded by a thick forest of trees and brush, well before sunrise, and almost immediately birds were flying and singing from all corners and Luis started, "There's a Green Jay, Melodious Blackbird, Yucatan Woodpecker, Black-headed Trogon..." and he rattled off several birds that he spotted or heard before I saw anything. All I could think was, "Sunlight I need sunlight," or I won't get a single photograph worth anything.  Hummingbirds were buzzing us from every direction, and Luis would continue his list, "Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Mexican Sheartail, Green-breasted Mango, Ruby-throated Hummingbird [I knew that one!], ..." How did he know what they were? It was too dark and my skepticism rose to the surface - maybe he didn't know, but was just
reciting a list of birds he knew, whether he saw them or not.  But then I thought, back in Illinois, I would immediately recognize a Robin, a Cowbird, a Chickadee or a Cardinal in these same conditions without much scrutiny, and I am not an expert. This is what he does for a living - he's the expert - he knows.
Also I wasn't used to go out birding in a group. I pretty much am always solo when I go out with the sole purpose of birding. Or when Val is with me, it's usually initiated as a hike that I turn into a birding excursion. Nevertheless, I am usually accustomed to my own pace. Now here I am walking down a gravel road in a Mexican Woods with 6 other people, and dependent on Luis to identify what I am seeing or not seeing, but what was incredible - there was no talking except when someone would point out a bird, then all would stop and focus their binoculars or cameras on the same spot, and within a few seconds Luis would whisper, "Rose-throated Becard."  Everyone would say something like, "It's so pretty!" "Wow, beautiful," or "Very cool," and I would think, "Where the hell is it?" Now I admit my 250mm zoom lens was not comparable to their 1000mm binoculars, but I didn't want to just see the bird, I wanted a picture. I  must say that Luis's crew was very patient and would point out the exact spot we should be aiming our lenses and describe the surroundings and the bird's identifying traits.

As frustrated as I was when we started, once the sun was up enough to shed light on the subject, I became more adept at locating birds and finding them more quickly through my viewfinder. As I stated in my 12/31/10 post ( ),  Luis identified well over 50 different species of birds in the 3-4 hours we were out. I observed 47 different species, of which 26 were new life-listers for me. The whole experience was awesome for me as a fledgling birder.

 One of the first new birds I captured in my viewfinder was the Black-headed Trogon. This was the third one we saw within the first hour of our birding hike, but was the first that was in an open enough position to get a decent pic. These birds are native to Mexico, most of Central America and Costa Rica and islands off the southeastern coast of Mexico. As you can see in the picture (Top of page), the Black-headed Trogon is a gorgeous dark blue bird with a blck head and black wings which include white markings on its primaries and coverts. Its bright yellow belly, with a bit of white on its chest and a very bold white eye ring contrast nicely with the rest of its dark body.

A back view of another Black-headed Trogon, Puerto Morelos, Mx; 12/24/10.

Val took this pic of a yet another Black-headed Trogon, Puerto Morelos, Mx; 12/24/10.
Tomorrow I will feature a raptor and scavenger battling for the same prey.


Marissa Buschow said...

Hi! Your blog popped up when I was searching for stuff about birdwatching in the Yucatan. I'll be there in a couple weeks & am looking forward to all the new birds. Luis is one of the names that I've seen when looking for guides - would you recommend him? Any special spots or birds I should look out for?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed working with Luis. He was extremely informative and easy to get along with. I totally recommend him, although he is the only bird guide I ever hired, so I have no one to compare him to. He took us to Puerto Morelos. I would also recommend travelling to Isla Contoy if you have a chance. Jon