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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

More perfection

I am not generally a fan of "touristy" stuff, having spent a good portion of my childhood in the Sunshine State and believing firmly that life there was better before the Mouse and that the hawkers of tacky mass-produced souvenirs are a blight on society. Casinos are my idea of one of the circles of hell, and the idea of being trapped on a cruise ship with a few thousand strangers appeals not at all. And did I mention that I loathe loud music and hate to shop?

Much  of Cozumel's waterfront is the kind of tourist hell that I generally avoid, and most of the "island tours" available seem to be of the spend-15-minutes-at-a-Mayan-ruin, go-to-a-tequila-tasting, and hit-a-beach-club variety. Yuck. This week, however, I was lucky enough to track down a different kind of tour offered by a small company run by a biologist. Three lucky companions and I got to spend five hours with Sergio, the owner, exploring different island ecosystems and looking for birds (though I got more photos of beaches and plants, birds not being particularly cooperative with my little point-and-shoot camera).

Our adventure started at 7:00 AM, when we climbed into Sergio's Chevy Blazer and took off for the wilder, eastern side of the island, specifically Punta Ixpalbarco. The beaches there were generally deserted, and in most places, there are no services for travelers beyond pull-offs for parking.

It was rough.

This part of the island gets the highest winds and waves; it is also the most likely to be hammered by hurricanes. This rather scruffy-looking variety of palm is the plant that does the best job of holding the soil in place. According to our guide, during the last big hurricane, a lot of the big trees went down and large swaths of mangroves died from saltwater intrusion. (A note: mangroves are far more salt-tolerant than most plants, so there must have been a lot of saltwater.)

A surprise to me is Cozumel's lack of seagulls; for whatever reason, only a small number frequent the island. Their job of cleaning up beach carrion is here performed by vultures, both turkey and black, the latter of which is ubiquitous. Here a volt of black vultures has taken over what is left of a restaurant destroyed in a hurricane.

Given the number of vultures riding the thermals over our heads, I would not recommend lying still for too long on these beaches.

We were able to explore a variety of ecosystems, not only the dune area but the coral rock beach, where the geological history of the island can be read by people who know what they're seeing.

 Leaving the beach, we explored a trail through the mangroves, much drier than normal due to a warm, dry winter, and a coastal scrub forest, winter home to some of the warblers that make their way to Magee Marsh later in the spring. A highlight of the scrub was getting to watch a small bird known as a bananaquit steal palm nectar from hard-working bees (and here I had barely realized that palm trees bloomed!).

The intended final stop was a slightly higher elevation forest, but when one of our number noticed an obviously healthy wetland alongside the highway, Sergio managed to pull the Blazer off the road enough that it and we were safe. This wetland was a birding jackpot:

Standing by the side of the road, we saw teals, grebes, two kinds of egrets, three species of heron, a jacana going about its business, and--oh yes--more warblers.

A morning spent with a knowledgeable environmental educator is a morning well-spent.

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