The state of Yucatan is famous for having hosted the impact of meteorite, approximately 60 million years ago; that some believes caused the extinction of dinosaurs on earth. It also carved out zone of multiple sinkholes, called cenotes, in addition to temporary waterholes known as aguadas.
The ancient Maya sought these natural hydraulic formations out, as they provided their only source of water, in a land where water flows underground. When their civilization fell into decline, they left behind the remains of their impressive monuments situated in close proximity to these major sources of water.
Forest grew over them in time and the present generation’s respect and protection of their cultural heritage has created substantial extensions of vegetative cover, in what amounts to mini-nature reserves. As a result, some of the best birdwatching habitat is found within the archeological zones of Yucatan. Only human visitation discourages good viewing opportunities at the more heavily trafficked sites.
Climatic conditions have a lot say in regards to when the best time to practice bird watching is. In Yucatan, the year is divided into dry and wet seasons with the former encompassing the months of January through to June or July. Rains are heaviest during the summer and early fall and gradually decline upon the onset of the north winds that begin to denominate the southeasterly winds in early October.
Wind direction is crucial to migrant birds but time of year seems to be even more important to them. As masses of migrants begin arriving as early as August, along the entire north coast and continue to pass through into early November.
Birds move north through the peninsula quite rapidly in the spring, almost without notice, until the absence of their “chips” in the forest in May, marking the end of the migrant winter season. However, this is precisely when the majority of resident land birds burst into song and become remarkably visible as they set up their breeding territories.
Birdwatching in Yucatan opens the way to not only visit to restored Maya ruins and natural water holes, but into majestic and mysterious caves as well. One walks underground among enormous boulders over which water once followed and the sounds of the “toh” bird can be hidden crevices where they nest in the spring.
The best way to enjoy your birding and natural history experience in Yucatan is to be accompanied by a local guide. This permits you to visit places you would have never found on your own, as well as to better understand local customs, beliefs and practices.
In recent years, the “Yucatan Peninsula Bird Conservation Program” (CAPY) of Amigos de Sian Ka’an A.C., has closely collaborated with Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan A.C., Niños y Crías A.C. and the managers of the reserves under the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) in order to lead a coordinated effort throughout the Peninsula to create a bird culture and promote bird conservation activities.
Primary attention has been focused on providing bird identification training workshops to local inhabitants in communities located in and around the natural protected areas – particularly those identified as important Bird Areas or IBAs. This effort is in response to requests made by the recently formed tourism cooperatives in both coastal fishing villages and Maya forest communities. They are seeking to participate in the economic benefits brought by the ever-increasing tourism to the region. You can directly assist the process by requesting their services through the contact information provided under “Sites”.
Should you want to further motivate these dedicated individuals to become even better guides, you may wish to leave behind a used pair of binoculars or field guide.
Besides providing an economic incentive for local people to conserve their natural environment, the guide training also provides an economic incentive for local people to conserve their natural environment. The guide training is also already providing badly needed assistance in monitoring the bird species in some of the reserves CAPY and its associates also participate actively in the international bird conservation project called Gulf Crossings, created by the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Jackson, Texas. The project seeks to conserve habitat important to birds, especially migratory land birds and local birds of special interest around the Gulf of Mexico.
It does so by focusing on education and land use practices, in addition to increasing bird oriented tourism to the region in benefit of local inhabitants.
The CAPY program, in addition, seeks to strengthen other valuable community efforts being made throughout the peninsula to conserve birds. Recently, several ejidos (communal land holdings) have decided to set aside well conserved lands in order to use them for developing sustainable, community eco-tourism-projects. These efforts are important to support as they seek to project important bird habitats, as well as deter illegal capture and trade of the local fauna.
Bird watchers make a valuable economic contribution to local communities through their visits and use of local services. Equally important is their ability to motivate the building of local pride and appreciation for conserving birds and their habitant.