Nature Nut: Hidden gems avialable on Cozumel for birdwatchers
Since readers seemed to enjoy the recent column on a favorite Cozumel underwater exploration, I've decided to share my favorite land exploration on the island.
Each year five million people off cruise ships take daily excursions on Cozumel Island. And hundreds of thousands of other visitors, staying for weeks or months, get a real feel for the Island. But only a tiny fraction of the people that step onto the shores of Cozumel ever see the 'hidden gems.'
On the north end of the island, accessible only from the water, a series of lagoons can be easily seen from a window seat if your plane takes off in an easterly direction. Years ago I heard these blue-green lagoons harbor a plethora of large birds in their winter nesting season.
After chatting with a few locals who knew more English than I did Spanish, I found one of the best ways to get to the 'lagoons' was with Nacho Euan, a local bonefishing guide. I was able to get a phone number for Nacho and, with the English he knew, we set a date to go birdwatching.
I had planned the trip to coincide with a visit of four birdwatching friends from Rochester and, as it turned out, we picked a perfect day with light winds and lots of sunshine. Along with my wife, Linda, we took their rental car on the five-mile ride down the dirt road that led to the Passion Island dock area. It was a remote spot, with only a handful of small fishing boats tied up on shore, one of which was Nacho's.
Nacho's boat was about twenty feet long, made of sturdy fiberglass, with hard bench seats and no sunroof. His 60-horse motor took us quickly along the five-mile shore of Passion Island to the mouth of the lagoons. Here the ocean lapped up on a sandbar with a shallow channel entering the lagoons. Nacho raised the motor and began poling us through the channel. I jumped in the water at one point to free us from the sand and push us into the three foot deep lagoon.
Once in the lagoon, Nacho lowered the motor and we headed toward the mangrove vegetation on the west shoreline. As we approached, Nacho took up his pole so we wouldn't scare the birds. By now we were identifying numerous species including tri-colored, snowy, and reddish egrets as well as great blue and boat-billed herons.
We next motored across the Lagoon to the opposite shore. While crossing the lagoon we not only saw many birds in the air, but also a few bonefish and barracudas scurrying about in the water. Nacho somehow found a path to pole through the mangroves before we came into another lagoon with a couple of mangrove Islands. On the first island we got within 20 feet of an active osprey nest with an adult and the big eyes of two young peering out of the nest.
As we approached the second island, bird activity became more obvious and we soon realized it harbored dozens of nesting birds. For the next hour we were treated to close-up looks at many of the heron and egrets we had seen earlier, as well as cormorants, frigatebirds, and the spectacular roseate spoonbills. To get a close-up view of the beautiful plumage of these pink and white birds that were once almost driven to extinction by feather collectors was a real thrill.
On the way out of the lagoons Nacho explained he does about 50 bonefishing trips to the lagoons each year, along with a dozen or so birding trips. I thanked him for unquestionably one of my best birding experiences ever. Since then I have gone back twice to show other visitors, and reaffirm for myself, that these 'hidden gems' still exist.