Serious birders don’t expect to get good photos of birds. They perpetually hope for a great picture, but know from experience a meeting with the new bird on one’s life list can be a glimpse and a blur in bad lighting in a dark forest. Google delivers terrific bird photos any time. The birder on the hunt only seeks the thrill of checking off a new name. It’s all on the honor system; the bird-watching scorecard.
But we all make the effort of attempting the shot.
My camera is a no-brain Nikon Coolpix P90 with a 24X zoom. Point and shoot. I do admire the serious hunter shouldering the thirteen thousand-dollar 800mm lens as long as an orangutan’s arm, wrapped in forest green-camo neoprene on a three thousand dollar camera body mounted on a four hundred dollar monopod. He can capture the iris in the gaze of a Blue-crowned Motmot at a distance of four football fields. But that bird better be standing still for the eternity it takes to set up. A lot of birding with super-long lenses requires remaining immobile till shrimps learn to whistle as time passes with interminable languor. My technique is: “There it is!” “Click!” “We’ll see if I got it when we get back to the bar.”
We arranged for a bird tour through Apple Vacations and were picked up by Eco-Tours at 5:15am sharp at the Now Jade resort.
The guide, Alberto, and his driver, Lugo, drove us south on route 307 along the Yucatan coast on a 75-mile, hour and a half journey to their favorite hunting ground in Muyil, a village at the edge of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve; a huge nature preserve south of the famous Mayan ruins of Tulum.
Fellow travelers included a Danish dad and daughter. Dorte works in tourism in Cancun, and her dad Svend was desirous of making the acquaintance of birds unknown in the skies of Denmark.
The trip was timed to arrive just after sunup, when birds are most active on the hunt for bugs. And be mindful the bugs are on the hunt, too, and that mosquito repellent is as useful on a jungle bird hike as binoculars.
Approaching the village, as Lugo gingerly nudged our tour van over an imposing speed bump, Alberto proclaimed it the highest point in the Yucatan Peninsula. Muyil was one of the oldest and longest-inhabited Mayan sites, dating to 350 BCE when Plato and Aristotle were still philosophizing. Now the people who live there in rustic jungle homes often constructed from recycled ancient stones number a couple of hundred.
We walked from the main highway down rural roads of dirt and stone and onto jungle paths, arousing the curiosity of skinny dogs and fat hens and roosters on properties brightened by native bougainvillea and lantana and bright yellow torch Mexican sunflowers decorated with butterflies.
Among the species numbering nearly twenty added to our lists: Orange oriole (pictured), Great kiskade, Yellow warbler, Roadside hawk, Melodious blackbird, Thick-billed kingbird, Red-banded woodpecker, Northern mockingbird (pictured) and Black-headed trogon. And we viewed a quartet of chatty Yucatan parrots passing overhead.
You have my permission to log any small bird that is unidentifiable in a photo as a flycatcher, as there are dozens of different kinds, some of which look so much alike (I am told) that they can only be definitively ID’d by their calls.
Bonus tip: Shortcuts between rural roadways can be ancient stone footpaths through viney underbrush which can conceal poison ivy. Socks and long pants are good choices even in tropical heat. Anita and I wore shorts and are still applying Benadryl cream to the rash.
Veteran Newsman Dave McBride is an award-winning news radio reporter, anchor and program director and creator of fan-favorite Dave’s Raves. Dave has received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Writing for Radio/Large Market and the 2010 and 2011 Murrow for continuing news coverage. He was awarded the New York Festivals World Gold Medal for Best Writing for Radio. In his first year in Florida he received the Florida AP award for Best Long Light Feature in both first and second place. Dave is currently based in South Florida.