While the United States was plunged into bitter cold by the polar vortex in January, my wife and I were enjoying the sun in Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula. We made the trip to visit a number of old friends we hadn’t seen since August or September. In our travels we also made a lot of new friends.

Old and new, our friends were feathered.

To give a flavor of Yucatan birding, let me describe one excursion in the middle of our stay. Rio Lagartos is a well-known birding hotspot so we made our way to this small coastal village west of Cancun. Ahead of time, we hired Diego Nunez, the proprietor of Rio Lagartos Birding Adventures. He owns a restaurant and a small lodge so while we were there, all our needs were met.

We arrived late on a Saturday afternoon and went to the deck of the restaurant to relax, where Nunez has set up 15 hummingbird feeders. The first hummer we saw was indeed an old friend, a ruby-throated hummingbird, which summers in Maine. Over the next hour we also had great looks at cinnamon hummingbirds, canivet’s emerald, white-breasted emerald and Mexican sheartails. The sheartails were particularly striking with large orange spots on their tail feathers.

As we watched the hummers, our backs were to the Rio Lagartos river. Imagine our delight when we turned and saw about 100 American flamingos across the river, settling into shallow water for the night. Spectacular.

The next morning we met Nunez for a five-hour bird excursion. He brought his eagle-eyed (pun intended) daughter, Andrea.

The first birds at our initial stop were wintering migrants: a pair of indigo buntings, a rose-breasted grosbeak, yellow warblers and common yellowthroats. Several vultures were flying overhead with their wings held in a shallow V. No, not turkey vultures, which are easy to find in Maine these days, but lesser yellow-headed vultures, a new species for my wife as well as myself.

The morning continued in this fashion, encounters with familiar wintering birds and unfamiliar Mexican residents.

This region of the Yucatan is largely scrub vegetation with scattered pockets of trees. Nunez knows the area like the back of his hand so stops we made always produced plenty of birds.

A small pond had more old friends, including 20 blue-winged teal, 10 least sandpipers and two common gallinules. A sora called from the surrounding marsh but remained hidden. But a larger rail, the russet-naped wood-rail, did give us superb views. Several long-toed northern jacanas were delightful.

A trip through a small farming community produced a couple of turquoise-browed motmots with electric green plumage and racket-shaped tail feathers. We definitely knew we weren’t in Maine.

Bronzed cowbirds and scrub euphonias, a type of finch, appeared as well. At one point five species of orioles were present at one site, a riot of yellow and orange.

We had great looks at some of the birds endemic to the peninsula, including Yucatan woodpecker, Yucatan flycatcher and Yucatan wren. We also checked out a laughing falcon and a white-tailed hawk.

Nunez saved the best stops for last. As we neared town, we visited a couple of small embayments. At the first we had views of flamingos and black-necked stilts from no more than 50 feet. A second stop along a mangrove stand held numerous roosting birds, including snowy egrets, great egrets, roseate spoonbills and a black-crowned night heron. The highlight was two boat-billed herons, similar to the black-crowned but with a massive bill.

It was a great end to a truly satisfying morning of birding.

Altogether we saw 83 species on our morning trip, including renewing friendships with a number of species whom we look forward to seeing again when summertime returns to Maine.

Herb Wilson teaches ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at

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