By ROB PINKERTON
Years ago the long haired one and I met a couple in the southern part of the Yucatan peninsula who were avid bird watchers. I distrust that word, “avid”. It has a whiff of obsession about it and obsession usually means that other things are neglected.
We had lunch with these nice people in a small Mayan village where no one that we met spoke Spanish, only Mayan. These bird watchers had been out at dawn, walking the jungle roads, as that is the time to see birds. They had binoculars, spotting scopes, stacks of books and spoke of lists and numbers of birds identified. They were having a ball.
Now, I don’t get up before dawn unless I am very well paid for it or have a very good reason. I have two pairs of small binoculars, a Peterson field guide to Mexican birds and a different philosophy. The birds must come to me. This is not because I am an egotistical nut bar that expects wild parrots to land on my shoulder. I just observe and enjoy what goes on around me, be it birds, animals, insects or people and I thoroughly enjoy them all.
The Mexican beach is a wonderful place to see creatures. Melodious blackbirds raid palapa restaurants. Yellow and black flycatchers scoop crabs that stray too far from their holes. Herons and egrets patrol the surf edge nabbing small fish and crabs. Pelicans and boobies fold their wings, plunge into the sea and rise up with fish. Frigate birds, aerial wizards, snatch any fish that are dropped or even hang out the side of the pelicans’ bills. Vultures soar overhead. We were very excited to find a boat-billed heron, quietly standing on the beach. The book said that it was found only in Mexico and Central America. It is a nocturnal bird so we considered ourselves fortunate.
A couple of days later, I was standing at the water’s edge, not far from the beer cooler and noticed a lot of bird droppings on the rocks under a overhanging tree. The tree was full of sleeping boat-billed herons. If you tire of birds, there are beach dogs behaving badly, Mexican kids excavating vast holes in the sand, young men playing very skillful soccer and of course, pretty girls.
We stay in a delightful second floor room with a covered outdoor kitchen surrounded by trees, overlooking the bay. Now here is civilized morning of bird watching. A yellow-winged cacique hollows out the bottom of a papaya as it hangs on the tree in the vacant lot next to us while crows fight about who should have done this. A lineated woodpecker tears a rotten tree apart. These guys are even cooler than our pileated woodpeckers. Vireos, manakins, masked tityras, rufous collared robins and doves all work the trees for bugs as I sip my coffee and munch on my own sliced papaya. We were very excited to see some strange black birds that hid in the branches. We finally identified them as the grooved-billed ani. Later, at the fish store, a pair of them perched on and pecked at the gut bucket at my feet. Very rare birds.
Dave, a friend of ours, lives on the edge of a small hill village, surrounded by jungle and orchards. This is bird watching at its best. We sit under his palapa, philosophizing and drinking beer all day. Blue hummingbirds visit the bougainvillea. The always present vultures come very low and have a look at us. Black-throated magpie jays with wonderful crests and tails longer than their bodies pose on a branch against the sky. Anis (here they are again) scratch and rustle under the trees and watch us unafraid. A beautiful yellow bird swoops by that Dave calls a “turko”. He knows these birds by their Mexican names and tells us of their habits. I didn’t bring our book or the binoculars so couldn’t look it up. The nearby trees and brush are always noisy with birds but they will not show themselves if you go looking. So, crack another beer.
Another wonderfully lazy way to bird watch is to go on a boat tour through the mangroves. If you get the first boat in the morning (yes, I had to get up before dawn), you see birds everywhere as well as crocodiles up to ten feet, iguanas, snakes and raccoons, as a young man slowly navigates the channels and points out and names the many species.
I went fishing with Dave and four Mexican guys. The fish were not biting but we saw humpback whales performing, turtles, flying fish and schools of small manta rays. A large white duck with a comical long tail that curved upward from its rump and back down to the water flew away as we approached. Everybody laughed at it but no one had seen one before.
Oh well. Who cares. Cervesa anyone?