Posts by Veteran Newsman Dave McBride

We asked amateur birder Dave McBride to report back to us on bird-watching conditions in Riviera Maya. Here’s what he had to say:

Birding Safari on the Riviera Maya

2 Stalking Birds with a Camera in Mayan Muyil

The Black Bandit of Yucatan Birds

Babes in Mayaland

Puerto Morelos—where a picture of Señor Morelos will buy you a beer at the beach bar

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.

Puerto Morelos—where a picture of Señor Morelos will buy you a beer at the beach bar

by Dave McBride

Did you know that when you are in Puerto Morelos you can get a beer at the beach bar in exchange for a picture of Mr. Morelos, for whom the town is named?

Our Apple Vacation to the Now Jade Riviera Cancun afforded us abundant opportunities to discover new definitions of “putting one’s time to good use.” The Apple experience at the Now Jade Preferred Club afforded us time happily squandered in the ocean view balcony Jacuzzi in the company of Modelo from the mini bar; employing the free Wi-Fi to roam the internet via Kindle on a hunt for useful info, including:

  1. That when you visit Puerto Morelos you will have been there one time more often than the man the town is named for. Jose Manuel Morelos y Robles was a handsome, dashing freedom fighter in the Mexican rebellion against Spain. Between 1810 and 1815 he led the insurgent army, winning dozens of battles against the Spaniards, and when he was finally captured the Spanish Inquisition pronounced him guilty of treason and executed him by firing squad. He’s a national hero and his face is on the 50 peso bill. Which is why you can trade his picture for a cerveza at the beach bar. And get change back.

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  1. That La Panza es Primera (“The Belly is First”) on the south end near the town dock is arguably the best beach bar in Puerto Morelos. Good food on the water. Its theme is masked Mexican wrestlers.

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  1. That the Unico Beach Club on the north end of town is arguably the best beach bar in Puerto Morelos. It is planted on the beach with swings for barstools.

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  1. That the town dock is less than two miles from the balcony Jacuzzi.

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  1. That the tiny lighthouse on the beach by the dock that leans like the Pisa Tower got that way in a hurricane in 1967 and has survived two more big ones since; most recently Wilma, the same one that knocked off part of my roof 600 miles away.

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  1. That you will have your picture taken holding it up.

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  1. That there are two species of crocodiles lurking in the mangrove marshes surrounding the resorts. They come in three sizes: compact, mid-sized and SUV.

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  1. That the city dock is named for Andres Garcia Lavin, who was a media mogul who owned newspapers and radio and TV stations in Cancun.

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  1. That at the Andres Garcia Lavin dock, you can hire a boat and skipper to carry you back to the beach at the Now Jade resort for around 25 dollars US (less if you have haggling mad skills). You will be dropped off in the shallows about a dozen yards out so plan on getting wet while holding your phone and camera above your head.

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  1. That YouTube has some excellent drone aerial views of Puerto Morelos beach including this one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-0oa8HrJjw

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.

Babes in Mayaland

by Dave McBride

Since everything a kid does is life-shaping, there is plenty of shaping going on in an Apple Vacation to the Riviera Maya.

4a It was Bilbo Baggins who said, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Outside the doors of the Now Jade all-inclusive resort, kids may be swept off to an ancient ruin, or to a water park for tubing, or to animal and bird preserves. Inside the doors of the resort, kids can swim with other kids in the pools or with turtles and rays in the blue-green Caribbean.

Kids who join the resort’s Explorer’s Club are afforded opportunities to build sand castles, camp out and even learn acrobatics on a bungee apparatus. Young Explorers have plenty of time for adventure even into the dinner hours while mom and dad are sharing some revitalizing alone time.

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Parents may remember a visit to Mayan Mexico as a child’s introduction to the wider world. Let your kids know that living nearby are Yucateco Mayan children who are descendants of the people who built the pyramids and who would find things equally strange and interesting on your street back home. They see coatis and howler and spider monkeys as often as you see raccoons and squirrels. Instead of listening to the calls of birds like robins and crows, they hear the songs of painted buntings and toucans and motmots.

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According to sociologists, Mayan children have traditionally engaged in less imaginary play than children in the US and Europe. Instead, their play mimicked the adult work they would be expected to do. They pretended to build, or weave, or cook, or wash clothes. Mayan kids learned useful abilities through play. And they were included in productive work in their communities as early as age 3 or 4. Additionally, more often than in the US, kids here would not be expected to play predominantly with other kids their own age. They were almost always in the company of older children and adults, and they acquired a growing self-worth observing and emulating grown-up behavior. By the age of 15, Mayan children would have been expected to be independent.

But change is coming to the Mayan family. Members of the Mayan community living west of Puerto Morelos acknowledge that their older village children are now moving to the town, where money can be made in tourism jobs and where they are not immune to digital technology. Increasingly, children from Mayan families are found with their faces focused on their phones. Smart phones and computers are among the factors fundamentally changing the traditional Mayan way of life.

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.

The Black Bandit of Yucatan Birds

By Dave McBride

Whenever one travels in the Riviera Maya, one will inevitably meet a native whose mission is to (with guile and aggression) turn a tourist encounter to personal profit. Sometimes the light-fingered grifter is a time-share agent. Sometimes it is a Great-tailed Grackle.

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The Great-tailed Grackle (aka Mexican Grackle) is the larger cousin of the gang of Boat-tailed Grackles in my Florida backyard, who flock together to put on a morning zoo show just before dawn, talking over each other with more raucous chatter than a Fox News expert panel.

The Mayan natives call the grackle X’kau, or the Mexican Crow, although it is not a member of the crow family. These onyx opportunists disperse at dawn to commute to work either as lone bandits or in an organized gang of marauders. Native to wetlands and forests, in recent years they have discovered the tourist towns and resorts of the Yucatan far easier places to make a living, swooping and swiping the tater tot right off the breakfast tray on your hotel balcony.

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One will fix its steely yellow eyes on the remains of your taco till your attention is distracted and its amigos strike. You know the stare the raptors in the Jurassic movies focus on their victims? That’s the grackle stare. Their predation is why resorts seldom set up buffets outdoors. But their commitment to the pack-hunting brotherhood is falsehearted and fleeting because of the grackle’s fundamental selfishness. A gang member will fly to the brother who scored a prize as if intending to share a chest bump, and instead snatch the tortilla fragment out of the sucker’s mouth. Their memories are so short both return to being BFFs planning a new raid within thirty seconds.

A Mexican fable alleges that in the creation the Zanate (another name for the grackle) had no voice. So it stole sevens songs from the sea turtle, expressing the passions of love and hate, fear and courage, joy and sadness and anger. It is said all of these emotions can be heard in the chorus of grackle noise when they gather to gossip like tweens at an American-Girl-themed sleepover.

Many consider them bothersome pests and plain, compared to their colorful avian amigos. But the males reflect a satiny purple and green iridescence in their inky-black feathers and they demonstrate an engaging cunning and cleverness. It’s my observation they cackle cheerfully at the audacity of their own escapades and high five their cohorts with congratulatory whistles and snickers. I like this bird and enjoy its fellowship despite its annoying supremacy in any battle of wits.

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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.

2 Stalking Birds with a Camera in Mayan Muyil

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Birding Safari on the Riviera Maya

By Dave McBride

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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.

1bHosting 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.

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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.

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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.

Snorkeling adventure at Maui’s Molokini Crater and Turtle Town

We asked Instagrammer michaeldizon to take us along as he and his wife Niki and kids Jake and Liam explored the Hawaiian Islands in December. Here’s their trip report:

Snorkeling is one of those activities that everyone in our family could do. With two kids in tow (one 8 and the other 11), it was a great way to kick off our stay in Maui. Quicksilver was easy to find in the Harbor. After signing a waiver form, we boarded their boat and enjoyed a continental breakfast while receiving instructions from the crew about safety and how to put on the equipment.

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Our first stop was Molokini Crater, which was roughly a 20-minute boat ride from the harbor. The water was cool and clear – perfect conditions for snorkeling. Donning the snorkel mask and fins make you superhuman; not only can you breathe underwater, but you get more power out of your kicks when you swim. To make it easier, we put on flotation devices around our waists, which made our one-hour stay at the crater less strenuous.

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And one hour was the perfect amount of time for us. At that point we boarded the boat and were ready to go to our second location, Turtle Town. En route, the crew served a buffet-style lunch of pulled-pork sandwiches, potato salad and drinks. Afterward, a crew member passed out home-baked chocolate chip cookies, which was a nice treat and gave us the energy we needed for our last stop.

Turtle Town was less deep than Molokini Crater, and that allowed us to get closer to the coral and see the underwater life. Like its name suggests, it’s a popular spot for turtles, but we weren’t so lucky that day and didn’t encounter any. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful spot where the world underwater is just as colorful and vibrant as it is above the surface.

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