What happens when a thriving city (from 1000 BC to 900 AD) is abandoned and swallowed up by the surrounding rain forest, only to be rediscovered about 1000 years later?

I had the opportunity to find out on my recent visit to Guatemala. When humans give up control in a place, Mother Nature has a wonderful way of reclaiming it.

Tikal was one of the largest Mayan Pre-Columbian cities up until the time it was abandoned at around 900 BC.

The University of Pennsylvania was primarily responsible for excavating this site, which is now a National Park in Guatemala.

Walking through this park is to be awe inspired by the palpable sense of history in the Temples, markets, and homes growing in stone through this bird and wildlife filled forest sanctuary. To think that you are walking in the footsteps of those who lived there 1000 to 2000 years ago is truly a wonder!

Since I’m a birder, but also fascinated by the history and ecology of this place, I’ll interweave elements of all for you to experience this beautiful place with me.

Finding the Pheasant Cuckoo

This post is a multi-media experience so that I can share this wonder with you. So while you’re reading the rest of my memories of this amazing trip, listen to Mike Nelson, one of my companions describe how we got such great views of the very shy Pheasant Cuckoo:

Arriving at Tikal

I, and my 3 birding companions, flew into Flores (really early in the morning) and were met by our local birding guide, Miguel Marin, fluent in both the amazing birds and cultural history of this beautiful place.

Our guide Miguel Marin and Mike Nelson

On the road into the park, we spotted some Ocellated Turkeys, and quickly pulled over to the side of the road because we all wanted good views of this bird that can only be found on the Yucatan Penninsula.

We quickly dropped off our luggage in our rooms, and headed out with Miguel to find some birds.

The first thing that you notice in the forest is that the trees are REALLY tall. Mike was kind enough to provide a sense of scale for me.

As we made our way toward the Main Acropolis, we heard a loud crashing in the trees. Looking up, we had the pleasure of seeing a troupe of White-bellied Spider Monkeys moving through the trees overhead.

And this video:

And then suddenly, we were among the first set of ruins! And even this group of avid birders had to stop and take in this sight–end even act like tourists for a few minutes.

Eduardo Ormaeche takes a pause from birding for a few tourist shots

So we explored the ruins, but mostly in that climbing them provided us with very good vantage points to see so many amazing and incredibly beautiful birds.

Miguel Marin and Eduardo Ormaeche rarely pause from birding

Or even to sit a spell and rest our feet

Peter Dedicoat takes a brief rest from birding

But we never stopped looking for birds–and we were rewarded with many!

The Pale-Billed Woodpecker

Pale-Billed Woodpecker

One of the highlights for me was having several excellent views of the Pale-billed woodpecker, a life bird for me. And getting both photos and this video:

ght out of the cartoons of my childhood, this large and gorgeous bird gave us quite a show!

Overcoming a Personal Challenge

Temple IV rises above the trees

I found out on our first foray that morning that we would be climbing to the top of Temple IV at sunset to watch the parrots, monkeys, and hopefully some Orange-breasted Falcons come in to roost. I also discovered that Temple IV is 63 meters high–and my heart sank because I’ve had some fear of heights and some other issues that made this more than a little scary for me.

But, I REALLY didn’t want to miss out on anything, and I often give myself challenges to face my fears, so I was determined to make it to the top. Please join me in this challenge in The View From Temple IV.

The Double-Toothed Kite

Another thrill, and a new life bird were these amazing views of this perched Double-toothed Kite:

Double-Toothed Kite

The Ocellated Turkey

Ocellated Turkey at Tikal, Guatemala

Ocellated Turkey

Happily, those views of the Ocellated Turkeys along the side of the road from the van were not the only views we had.

There were 4 females wandering around on the ground at the Great Plaza in front of Temple II just before we moved over to Temple IV.

Please check out all of my photos from Tikal, to see more of the ruins, more of the jungle ecosystem, and more of the birds.

And a tip of the hat to my fellow birders: Mike Nelson, Peter Dedicoat, and Eduardo Ormaeche

Many thanks to Bitty Ramirez-Portilla of Guatemala Nature Tours, the Guatemala Birdwatching Roundtable, and INGUAT (the Guatemala Tourist board) for inviting me to share Guatemala’s beauty.

Many thanks to Mike Nelson for taking the time to do this interview with me. Mike is a birding tour guide leader with Birding Ecotours. Check them out to see the birds of the world!

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