Friday, February 11, 2011

Ovenbird and Yellow-faced Grassquit, Chichen Itza, Mexico

The great Mayan Pyramid, Kukulcan, one of the "Modern Seven Wonders of the World,"
Chichen Itza, Mexico; 12/22/10.

The sitting figure of Chac Mool, on top of the Temple of Warriors, Chichen Itza, Mexico; 12/22/10.
We took a tour to visit the most famous and largest ancient Mayan City Ruin in the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza.  Our guide told us that it is so vast that it would take three days to cover all the sites of the city. We concentrated on the major buildings in the center of the city. It is a very popular tourist stop, but even with the crowds it is well worth the visit. We happened to get there in the afternoon while it was crowded, but we stayed until closing and crowds thinned out so we could get some good photos without a lot of people obstructing the views (Above two pics). Then after a short dinner break we returned in the evening to watch a light show on the buildings and listen to a recorded lecture about the History of the Mayans at Chichen Itza.
Colored lights of the light show reflecting on the Mayan Ruins of Kulkucan Pyramid (right) and the Temple of the Warriors (far background) as the stars shone at night anf the full moon rises (left), Chichen Itza, Mexico; 12/22/10.
The Light Show and History lesson were interesting enough, but the clear star-filled sky and the full moon rising during the middle of the show outshone (pun intended) the show itself.  The photo (Above) showing some of the light show effects on the ruins has been enhanced a bit in Photoshop Elements to make it more dramatic.

Before we visited Chichen Itza, our tour stopped at a Cenote (Below two pics), which is a natural well made by underground rivers, that are popular stops for taking a swim. The Mexican government has developed some of the many Cenotes located in the Yucatan for public use. The Cenote we visited had a long tunnel of steps leading down to the water (the water itself was over 50' deep). The legend is that anyone who swims in a Cenote will feel like they took three years off their life. I am assuming that means they will feel three years younger, not die three years earlier. Val swam. I didn't. Now she may be too young for me.

The tunnels made of limestone leading down to the Cenote, 12/22/10.

A view of the Cenote from above with vines hanging down and taking root at the bottom of the well; 12/22/10.
While Val was swimming, I decided to explore the beautiful grounds surrounding the cenote to see if I could locate any birds. It was in the middle of a very forestlike setting so there were plenty of places for birds to reside. I saw the usual Great-tailed Grackles and Tropical Mockingbirds, and also spotted an Oriole, which later, Luis Ku (a Yucatan bird expert) thought was either an Orange Oriole or an Altimara Oriole. Then I came upon a "flutter" of Mexican Sparrows known as Yellow-faced Grassquits which were feeding on the ground in front of someone's small cottage where the landscaped gardens were being watered with a sprinkler. They stayed pretty well hidden thwarting my attempt for a clear photo. I found out from  http://www.whatbird.com/  that a flock of sparrows are known by many names: "crew", "flutter", "meinie", "quarrel", and "ubiquity." I love it - I observed an "ubiquity" of Yellow-faced Grassquits. These cute little birds are genrally olive-colored all over (paler on the underparts) with a darker face and bright yellow eyebrow and throat which gives it an appearance of wearing a yellow mask, thus its name.


A Yellow-faced Grassquit, Puerto Moelos, Mexico; 12/24/10.
I didn't get very clear shots of these little guys at the cenote. They were foraging in the groundcover and stayed pretty well hidden and as I approached to try to get a better photo they fled into the brush and disappeared. But a couple of days later I saw another pair in Puerto Morelos of which I got a more reasonable pic (Above). These Mexican Sparrows are native to the Caribbean and Mexico and very rarely enter into the U.S. perhaps at times into south Florida and southern Texas. When I approached too close for comfort, this "quarrel" of Grassquits disappeared into the brush, but another bird landed right in front of me. I focussed in on it and saw that it was some kind of thrush, which stayed put long enough for me to get a few pics.

An Ovenbird, near Chichen Itza, Mexico; 12/22/10.
After I had a chance to reseach this bird I found it to be the bird that had escaped my view for two years as I have tried stalking it many times and in many states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia to name a few). The Oven bird has a very recognizable and loud call.  Its song is a series of two syllable notes that increase in volume as it sings. So many times hearing the Ovenbird, I felt like I was right next to it, but I could never spot it to get a picture, but here in Mexico one lands right in front of me. Although to me it looks more like a thrush, it is smaller and is considered part of the wood warbler family. Its distinct black streaks on its white breast and its very prominent white eye-ring is what led me to think "thrush," but its double black stripe with orange in between on its crown is what were its difinitive identifying marks. The photo (Above) doesn't show these crown stripes very clearly, but some of my other photos which were less crisp showed these marks. Ovenbirds' summer range is quite wide, found throughout the Midwest and the entire eastern half of the U.S., extending up into much of Canada. They are very rarely found in the Rockies or west of the Rockies. They will Spend winters from the Gulf Coast and the tip of Florida to South America. Ovenbirds prefer habitats of mature, dry forests and spend most of their time foraging on the ground. Although I saw only one solitary Ovenbird, if I would have seen a collective group of them, they would be called a "stew" of Ovenbirds. Who thinks of these names?


Next weekend I will start a series (that should take several weekends) of birds that I observed while taking my first tour with a real bird guide and expert, Luis Ku - who was awesome!

1 comment:

tchesney said...

Stunning images of the pyramid...I love all the little details! That night shot is incredible...what cool lights! I want to go there! :)