By Dave McBride
When the irrepressible Chief of the Seminole Tribe of the Everglades, James Billie, was acquitted by a jury of eating an endangered Florida panther in a tribal purification ritual, a reporter asked him what panther tastes like, to which he famously replied: “Like a cross between manatee and bald eagle.”
A funny story, but the alarming reality is that environmental scientists last year warned that the world is entering a period of mass extinction not seen since the age of dinosaurs. Like many others, my wife and I have reacted by improving our relationship with the natural world and, in particular, have re-embraced a desire left behind in adolescence to seek out the agreeable company of birds.
We do not pretend to be serious birders and a beach bar can be as appealing an attraction as a jungle hiking path. But Anita and I are regular visitors of local wetlands and wading birds near our South Florida home and likewise seek the fellowship of their feathered Mexican relations when travels take us to the Riviera Maya. The color palette is bolder south of the border and nowhere is that more evident than in the plumage of the birds of the Yucatan.
Hosting more than half of the bird species in all of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the best regions for bird watching in North America. Some are our neighbors at the Now Jade all-inclusive resort. Others are a short walk or drive away in the mangroves and jungle around nearby Puerto Morelos. Any back road will lead you to them. They are abundant in mangroves and at cenotes; the underground water-filled caves. The resort even displays photos and profiles around the grounds of birds guests are likely to view.
For travelers who are becoming more conscious of the destination environment and who wish to leave a lighter footprint, the Now Jade is Rainforest Alliance Certified and offers water-efficient bathrooms, biodegradable shampoos, soaps, and body wash. It discards kitchen grease safely, recycles waste and uses eco-friendly cleaning products.
Any Google search of the words “bird forum Yucatan” will summon posted tips by bird hunters, offering directions to productive locations. The Apple Vacations desk at the Now Jade can connect you with a birding guide.
Barbara MacKinnon is the preeminent authority on bird life in the Yucatan. She wrote the Spanish language book on indigenous birds called Sal a Pararear Yucatan, which describes more than 400 species of birds in the region. The books are donated to local communities in the Yucatan to teach children to identify the birds they live with. Money from sales of the books supplies the kids and their adult volunteers with binoculars.
A more Anglo-friendly book is A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico by Steve Howell. He lists 100 sites all across Mexico, and the Yucatan and Cozumel are well-represented.
By the way, should Alex Trebek speak to you the words: “For Final Jeopardy—The number of species of birds on the planet Earth,” the correct reply is: “What is nine thousand?”
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.