Birding the Maya Ruins of Bonampak and Yaxchilán

Long-billed Starthroat defending Erythrina coralbean at Yaxchilán Ruins

by Rich Hoyer on March 22, 2011 · 0 comments

in Birding Neotropics

We’re actually quite fortunate that most of the enchanting Maya ruins are still surrounded by good, birdable habitat.

Bonampak and Yaxchilán in the Lacandon Region of eastern Chiapas are among the best. But as I mentioned a few posts ago, you don’t want to spoil the ambiance by knowing too much about the history of the place. After all, isn’t this temple (Structure 33) at Yaxchilán just wonderful to look at?

And looking up into the trees next to it was this handsome male White-winged Tanager. (It’s actually related to North American migrants such as Summer Tanager, and we now know that it’s not a tanager at all, but rather is a cardinal!)

But the story depicted on this stele, showing someone assisting another in a holy sacrifice of blood from his penis, was a distraction from the birding that some could probably live without.

So turning around from this very spot was a perfect return to birding – this Golden-olive Woodpecker poking his head out from what might be a nest cavity.

Yet some of the ruins are too lovely to ignore, such as the famous colorful murals at Bonampak. More information on these can be found on the web and in the feature in National Geographic magazine from August 2008.

Keeping in mind that most of this region was deforested some 1000+ years ago, we’re grateful to walk through forest and spot such exciting birds as Russet Antshrike, Slaty-tailed Trogon, and White Hawk. One of our best birds of the tour was as we entered the plaza at Bonampak. A chattering euphonia from over the path attracted my attention, and there in a mistletoe clump was a male White-vented Euphonia! Only a tiny handful of birders have seen this species in Mexico, and as far as I know, no photo had been published anywhere. About two weeks later, the bird was still there, along with a female, and photographed by Michael Retter.

We set the scope on this Orange Flame Vine (Combretum fruticosum) and watched a parade of birds sampling the nectar, including Golden-hooded Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Gray Catbird, White-bellied Emerald, and in this photo (barely visible), Orchard Oriole.

Not just birds attract my attention. Looking down I spotted this lovely terrestrial orchid along the forest trail at Bonampak. It is Mesadenella petenensis (thanks to Gerardo Salazar at UNAM for identifying it).Media

Photo at top: Long-billed Starthroat, defending a blooming coralbean tree.

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