We skipped a trip to Mexico in 2021 because of COVID and came back in March 2022 during my nieces' and nephews' spring break. And what a magical time that proved to be (we've typically gone earlier in the winter) at my favorite little lagoon, Popoyote Lagoon — a refuge for the American crocodile which has also become a refuge and nesting zone for a plethora of birds. If you happen to have been following me for awhile, you'll have already read how the roseate spoonbill population has exploded over the years I've been hanging out at this lagoon. There are vastly more birds and also vastly more mangrove branches and other foliage making the photo shooting ironically more difficult in spite of the burgeoning population. I found a few holes in the foliage I could focus through, but they were few indeed.
I think I will not find myself here in the month of March again, making this an extra special year, and a real highlight for my decade of visiting. So I'll share with you a fair bunch of the photos I managed to capture. Although it will be hard for you to picture in your head the photographing challenges, please admire all of them for how tricky they were to get! And know that I was able to get a passable photo of only a tiny fraction of the birds actually present.
Let's start with my favorite baby ... yes, of the ones I could see I had a favorite — this little spoonbill that I nicknamed The Baron, as he was always looking over the edge of the nest and spreading up his wings, just itching to take that first flight.
They're cute but a little gangly.
This one in a nest of older chicks has some personality, too! This nest I could photograph because Erik held open a hole in the fence wide enough for me to fit my lens through. Thick foliage plus a chain link fence to overcome!
We'll come back to more spoonbill chicks, but now check out these baby snowy egret chicks! How sweet are they?! The layer of gray feathers mixed with the white is kind of a cool look.
We'll come back for more egrets, too. But here is one more species whose chicks I saw — wood storks. This first pic, with the tiny little head barely sticking up above the nest, my arm nearly fell off holding up my heavy camera and lens, as I had to shoot basically straight above my head, and after I saw it pop up once, I waited and waited and waited for it to pop up high enough again to snag a photo. And alas .....
These are some older wood stork chicks. One of the cool things is that for all the bird species, the nests held a variety of ages of the chicks from sleepy, newly hatched ones to demanding teenagers.
Wood storks are rather fascinating birds and it seems pretty obvious how they got their name. Here's one sitting in its nest quite well camouflaged with the wood branch beside it.
They are quite large birds; it's amazing how they manage to squeeze their nests into this area in such dense foliage among a high density of other nests. See more wood storks in my post from 2020.
In addition to so many babies, I had the pleasure of spotting a new bird species I hadn't seen before: the yellow crowned night heron. I watched this couple building their nest each day and am a little sad I was there too early to see their chicks, I bet they are cute! But this was another shooting situation that just about took my arm off. There was one little hole that I could see them through the thick foliage. So I had to stand in a precise spot holding my lens up for ages until they moved just right into the spot of open space. I wanted to get photos of them interacting with each other, which meant, of course, I had to stand and wait even longer for such actions to take place, lens up, finger on the shutter button waiting for that magical fraction of a second when all factors came together. But I think it was worth it. These might not be world class photos, but I'm super pleased considering what I went through and how beautiful the birds are.
For the longest time, the pair would only "pose" in tandem, never looking at each other or interacting.
Then they only faced opposite directions. I'm not sure the caption for this one, but the one with its wing open is saying something to me. I presume she's the female, as she's a tad smaller than the other one. It's like she is showing me her wing like a ballroom dancer might hold up her gown for all to see its folds. The way she's got her leg extended out contributes to my sense of her being a dancer, perhaps getting ready for a tango.
I also waited for ages to be able to get a photo of them with their top feathers splayed out. This was about the best I managed, which isn't awesome and their feathers aren't as far out as they can get, but it's something.
Finally they face each other. By the time this moment happened in the tiny space available to capture them in a photo, my arm was literally trembling from the strain of having held up my heavy camera/lens combo. The hole in the foliage was so small, and these birds were more camouflaged than the white egrets and pink spoonbills, a number of people walked by me pointing and talking about the spoonbills, I'm sure wondering why I was focused at a tangle of trees instead of the magnificent birds, haha. A couple people kindly pointed out some spoonbills as if I couldn't see them.
And then, poke! "Get out my way, Bub!"
Okay, as promised, now back to the spoonbills and egrets ... at feeding time! Lots of noms to be had from the throats of mom and pop.
These snowy egret parents I actually felt a little sorry for. Their growing children look very demanding!
Look at how sinister the middle child on the right is! Whew, I'm glad he's not a predatory bird who could hurt me, or I'd be scared!
I don't know how to properly convey to you the overwhelming cacophony that filled this small lagoon teeming with baby chicks of several species all crying for food and crying for whatever other reasons and parents calling for whatever reasons ..... Here is a photo to try to illustrate the density of nests throughout the lagoon. I can see eight nests and three species of birds in this one shot, just taken with my phone camera. Now imagine everywhere I can see in the lagoon is as dense, and a lot of those birds are making noise. Also notice at the bottom of this pic the egret looking silly preening the underside of his wing.
If you don't remember me saying this in the past, I reiterate that in 2012 there was but one spoonbill couple in the lagoon. Then ten years later it looks like above! I consider this a special experience in my life to have witnessed this population grow and flourish from one couple to more than I can count.
These spoonbill couples were so close to each other, the bottom pair could hardly stand up underneath the other nest. Neither of these couples had chicks yet.
And some more spoonbills. I may not see them again here (because after ten years, I may not be returning during their nesting season), so I'm cherishing all the photos I managed to procure this year. A sweet pose from a couple and a silly pose from a bird looking at me upside down:
Visiting the same place each year for a decade and photographing the same animals has also provided an opportunity, I just realized, to chart my "progress" with photography equipment and skills. My first posts were with a point-and-shoot. Then I had a consumer-grade DSLR camera and lens. Then I got a pro-level lens and mid-grade camera, and finally a pro-grade camera to go with the lens. I think in addition to the upgraded equipment, my skills upgraded in tandem. I'm kind of embarrassed to leave up the photos I posted from the first few years! But I didn't start this blog to show off photography, even though it has evolved into a very photo-heavy blog. I guess I rely more on photos than words to convey a lot of my travel narrative these days.
I didn't snag many photos of crocodiles this year. This whole lagoon is here because of the crocodiles, as a refuge for them! But there are several reasons why it was difficult to obtain good shots this year. Here are a couple, though, just as a nod to remember the reason that this amazing little lagoon is protected.
Lastly, a couple other birds from a different nearby wildlife refuge: first a pelican and then a new bird I was introduced to, the black crowned night heron.
In my post from 2020, our previous visit, I mentioned how happy we were to find our friend, Noel. This year we were very concerned because we knew that Playa Linda had largely shut down during COVID and we wondered if his business survived. We were saddened to walk to the food stalls and discover him missing. We asked around about him, and someone told us he still lived there but no longer had a food stall. We asked that man if he could relay a message, and we wrote an email address that Noel could contact us at. We walked back to our hotel feeling pretty skeptical that he would ever receive the message.
The following afternoon, while Erik and the rest of the family went to play pickle ball (something my knees do not allow me to do), I was going to read the book I brought in the cool hotel suite, but the maids arrived just then to clean. I didn't want to tell them to go away and I also felt awkward just sitting on the couch while they cleaned. So I decided to go to the lagoon, though I hadn't planned to that day. As I was walking past the food stalls on the way to the viewing areas, I heard, "Shara? Shara?" I looked around, and there was Noel! He had received our message but didn't have a way to email us. So he had come to the beach and had been there all day on the off chance we might walk down there. The only reason I did was because of the maids coming to clean.
So a happy reunion. We spent another day driving around together, sightseeing, and he took us to a delicious local's restaurant for lunch. OK friends, I hope you enjoyed a little time with me during baby bird season in Ixtapa!
Read more articles from Ixtapa