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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lacandon Maya Birds in Metzabok

We originally planned to spend a week in the Lacandon Maya village of Metzabok and a few more days in Naha, but we had a medical emergency and had to return to Palenque and Villahermosa for treatment, so we were only able to spend just over 5 days in Metzabok.  We stayed in some nice cabins that they have on the edge of the village, and ate meals with a local family.  We spent our mornings hiking around the village, and afternoons reviewing bird books and recordings with members of the community.  We saw or heard almost 100 species near the village, and recorded the names of many more.


Juan showing us his milpa--this one has 10 days of corn growth.

Lacandon Maya selfie with our friend Juan in his milpa

Reviewing bird illustrations with Juan.


Tourist cabin compound in Metzabok--nice rooms with double beds, running water, and electricity.  

Many Maya families enjoy having pet parrots

Chicken soup and tortillas.  Very good food with a family in the village.

Digi-binned shot of an Ornate Hawk-Eagle near Metzabok.  Apparently not the day to leave my good camera in the cabin.

Tarantula in Juan's milpa--showed up less than 5 minutes after we asked about tarantulas in Lacandon culture.


With Juan on Lago Metzabok.

We hiked up to the lookout on this hill on the far side of Lago Metzabok.

View from the lookout, looking across the lake towards the village.

Happy to be on top of the hill--it seemed higher than it looked!

Ancient temple ruin on top of the hill overlooking the lake

Juan with traditional Lacandon Maya god pot at the temple ruins

Lacandon Maya god pot, used for offerings in traditional ceremonies

Pulling faces with our Mayan buddy

Cave offering pots and skull

Cave opening, with offering pots

Another view of the cave offering pots and skull

Fish dinner in Metzabok.  Perhaps the boniest fish I've ever eaten, but very tasty with black beans, salsa, and tortillas.

At night on Lago Metzabok, looking for owls and cayman


Professor Kerry Hull being schooled on Lacandon Maya ethnobotany

Hummingbird nest on the trail near Lago Metzabok

Our time in Metzabok was too short, and we look forward to returning--perhaps next Spring when more birds are singing.  We also look forward to visiting the other nearby Lacandon community of Nah√°.

More information about how to schedule your own visit to Metzabok (in Spanish) here.

Classic Maya Birds, Ruins and Museum at Palenque

Palenque is one of the most spectacular and easily accessible Classic Maya ruins.  I first visited the site in 1991 and a lot has changed--many more visitors and vendors, and more of the ruins have been excavated.  We got there during the heat of the day, so birds were quiet and few and far between, but we did see some Keel-billed Tucans as well as a Bat Falcon harassing a Short-tailed Hawk.  The museum was closed the first day we were there, due to a power outage, but when we returned a week later the museum was open and we enjoyed seeing more of the artifacts from this site.  For more on the birds of Palenque, check out this paper.

Here are a few shots of the ruins as well as some Classic Maya bird imagery from Palenque.  Birds were an important part of Classic Maya communities and culture.  They continue to be important in many Maya communities today, making our research into modern and ancient Maya bird connections a lot of fun.

White Palace at Palenque Ruins.  Most Classic Maya architecture was probably plastered and painted red, but this palace was white and would have made an imposing sight. 
Birding above the White Palace

Great tacos al pastor in the city of Palenque.  Best tacos of the trip.

Classic maya often pictured their gods and leaders as taking on the form of a bird.

The mat bird glyph, part of the name of an important site or precinct at Palenque.  We don't know for sure yet which bird this is, but we did recover a water bird name with mat in it among the Chontal Maya this trip, so maybe we're close?

Presumed screech owl head in a belt decoration.

An undeciphered Maya glyph, presumably a royal name or title.  Because the bird is holding a fish, has a crest, and a black line through the eye, I think it is an Osprey, but so far we haven't found a Maya name for the Osprey that ends in N, which it would need to have in order to match the phonetic complement attached to it in another inscription.

Birds often decorate headdresses and incense burners.  Sometimes they are real birds, and other times they may be the bird form or representation of a divine being or ruler.

Another bird presumably as part of a god's headdress on this incense burner.

An explanation of the sarcophagus cover of Pakal, perhaps one of the most famous Classic Maya carvings.  At the top is the major Maya god Itzamnaaj in the form of the bird.  

Classic Maya glyph with the phonetic reading of "I"--a bird perhaps a vulture eating the eye of a jaguar.  Interestingly we got a cool story about this from a Chol Maya village in Tabasco.

Another Classic maya "bird man"

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