Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Baja Sur: Todos Santos (Part two)

Birding around Todos Santos never got old.  There was plenty to see near our Airbnb and plenty to see if we drove just outside of town.  One afternoon we walked back down to the beach before sunset and caught up with some fun birds.

Hooded Orioles were ridiculously common

 Gray Thrashers were also super easy to find


 It's not every day you see a kid wearing your favorite team's shirt:

 In the spot where we had seen a pile of Xantus's Hummingbirds a couple days earlier we instead found a bossy male Costa's.

When we arrived at the beach we saw bunch of folks lined up for the release of sea turtle hatchlings by Tortugueros Las Playitas.  They incubate thousands of the sea turtle eggs every year and when they hatch they release them at sunset on the beach.  I had thought it was only Pacific leatherback sea turtles but on their website I learned they do the same for Olive Ridley and Black sea turtles that also nest on Todos Santos beaches.

At least 14 hatchlings released that evening

 First taste of ocean!

There were only about 20-30 people watching the release that evening compared to the much larger group we saw a few days earlier:

People love tiny sea turtles

As we walked back a couple of night-herons flew in to La Poza and I realized they are difficult to distinguish in the dark.  I think they were Black-crowned.

Foot not fully projected beyond tail... I think... 

Back at The Hideaway this giant spider was lurking next to the fridge:

We did a little exploring just outside of Todos Santos where Crested Caracaras adorned many of the cacti.

They also flushed from the side of the road all the time as they looked for dead stuff.

One afternoon we drove south and took the dirt road to Punta Lobos.  It was fairly hot and the birds were pretty quiet but it was a cool spot with potential.

There was a cluster of half-finished buildings across the road from Hotel San Cristóbal, a fancy hotel where the cheapest room appears to be $445 per night.  That's US dollars, NOT pesos. 

We climbed up the hill behind that building and this was the view:

 Fancy hotel in middle.  

 Our last morning in Mexico we decided to return to this area and see if we could find any of the desert birds we had missed so far. 

American Kestrel, one of the most common birds in Baja

Along the dirt road that leads to Punta Lobos there is a flat hiking trail that passes lots of quality habitat.

Pretty sure this is a female Lazuli Bunting (we saw a male nearby)

Gray Flycatcher

California Gnatcatcher (my 7th and final lifer of the trip!)

Poor shot of the underside of the tail to confirm

The far more common Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 

Ash-throated Flycatcher

 Northern Cardinal


This area was really hopping with birds and it took much effort to drag ourselves away to head to our next destination.  We left the desert without ever finding a Phainopepla or Harris's Hawk, two birds that seemed abundant in Baja.  Even still, we added some good trip birds here and it was well worth the visit.

 That's it from Todos Santos, only one more Baja post to come!  Good times!!!!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Baja Sur: La Paz

When we planned our trip to Baja, Jacob and I knew we needed to do a day trip to the state capital, La Paz, located on the east side of the peninsula.  It is a much bigger city than Todos Santos with a nice long waterfront, sewage ponds, mangroves, and mudflats.  Our first visit was on our second day in Baja and unfortunately I had not prepared us very well map-wise.  I may have drawn a very crude map in a notebook and thought it was good enough.  That may have happened.

So yeah, it was no real surprise that when faced with morning rush hour traffic I was unable to figure out where we were in relation to the sewage ponds.  Finally I did figure out how to get to the waterfront so we decided to start there.  The first bird we saw besides pigeons was our target Yellow-footed Gull.  Easy peasy.

A bit later we looked up to see a drone flying over with an angry Yellow-footed Gull ready to do battle.  We had hoped it would take down the drone but the drone took off before it had the chance.

We spotted a couple distant Blue-footed Boobies resting on a bouy and we hoped eventually to get better views.

Along the shoreline an interesting fish had washed ashore, still alive.  I considered pushing it back into the water but since I didn't really know its deal I left it alone.

Near the marina we found a Tricolored Heron, looking sharp as always.

We stopped for a late breakfast at a place right on the water where we could keep an eye out for interesting birds.  This child lurked nearby:

After what turned out to be the worst meal I had in Mexico (at a nice hotel's restaurant no less!), we continued our wander along the waterfront.  Our only Green Heron of our trip was seen:

Magnificent Frigatebirds were flying over the whole time which is extremely pleasant.

On our return walk we found a Blue-footed Booby resting relatively close to shore, but it refused to lift its head.

With Brown Pelican friend

We watched a few more boobies actively diving WAY out in the water but we never really got great looks at any.  Ah well.  Full checklist from this area here.

We got back in the car and tried to figure out how to get to the water treatment plant.  Instead we ended up at an Oxxo where I tried to ask the guy working if he knew where it was.  Fail.  A lady in line who spoke English tried to help ("are you looking for drinking water?") and eventually another guy working found it on his phone's map.  We were super close.

Once inside the treatment plant area we weren't sure where to go.  A couple workers were staring at us so I asked in bad Spanish if we could park there and the guy replied in perfect English "yeah, you can park there" with a smirk.  Then when they learned we were looking for birds they directed us to where we should actually go, a little ways up the sandy road.


It was pretty dang hot at this point and someone (me) had accidentally purchased "after-sun lotion" instead of actual sunscreen, so we were hopping from one shady spot to another to scan the bird-filled stinky sewage mudflats.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt

There were hundreds and hundreds of shorebirds along with ducks, ibises, egrets, and of course, Turkey Vultures.

TV with leucistic scarf 

At this point we were pretty overwhelmed by the number of birds and decided we should really come back early one morning when we weren't so overheated already.   Our checklist from the ponds here.

A couple mornings later we returned with a bit more energy and actual sunscreen.  A Peregrine Falcon cruised through soon after we arrived.

Angry shorebirds

It was the kind of place where there were so many birds it was kind of hard to focus on any to take pictures of.  I did get a nice White-faced/White Ibis combo.

On the other side of the road from the sewage ponds were cow pastures with lots of fencing for perching kingbirds, Vermilion Flycatchers, Black Phoebes, etc.  The fields themselves had tons of Cattle Egrets, more ibises, yellowlegs, dowitchers, and lots more.  I'm kind of surprised to realize how few photos I have from here.  Our checklist from this morning here.

From here we were excited to check out the mangrove mudflats west of La Paz, and this area turned out to be our favorite of the La Paz spots.  We followed a sandy dirt road out and parked in a random spot.  Right out of the car we found an Osprey landing on a cactus with a fish, a couple of Jacob's lifer Clay-colored Sparrows, and while my back was turned Jacob spotted a Short-eared Owl chasing (or being chased by) a caracara.

We walked straight out through the mud towards the water where we could see tons of birds.  Marbled Godwits, Long-billed Curlews, American Avocets, Whimbrels, Willets, American White Pelicans, American Oystercatchers, plus terns and gulls and frigatebirds.

We were barely getting started with scoping the area when a pack of dogs showed up.  I have seen this scenario play out plenty of times and I assumed I knew how it would end, but oh my god was I wrong.

Great Blue Heron not thrilled

But wait.

Dogs don't care, heron don't care

The dogs head straight for the mass of shorebirds next and I really think we're about to see hundreds of birds take off.

Hmm.  These birds don't seem too concerned.

Weird.  These birds are chill also.

Um, okay, these birds are totally fine with these scruffy buddies.   And the scruffy buddies don't care about the birds either.   I love this.  We were totally shocked.

Anyway.  Back to the birds.

A Short-eared Owl flushed when we started to head to a spot filled with terns.  Was not expecting this at all, even though Jacob had seen that one earlier.

None of my photos were in focus but a cool sighting nonetheless.  eBird told us there are not many records of Short-eared Owls this far south in Baja:  one from La Paz, one from Cabo San Lucas, and one from San Jose de Cabo.  That's it.  Ours hasn't been verified yet.

On the mud in the tern flock we found Caspian, Royal, Forster's, and Gull-billed Terns.  Good haul.  Laughing Gulls were also around along with a Ring-billed and Yellow-footed.

 Mostly Caspian and Forster's

Jacob's shot of Gull-billed Tern

After flushing another Short-eared, saying hello to a Loggerhead Shrike, and failing to find any Mangrove Warblers we trekked back through the mud in the opposite direction to where we hoped to find some peeps.  A lot of vegetation and mud was between us and the Wilson's Plovers.

Finally we found the peeps we had been looking for.

Wilson's Plover

We stood still, kind of sinking into the mud, while the plovers and some Western Sandpipers got closer.  So close Jacob noticed one of the sandpipers was banded!

I submitted the band to this website but haven't heard back yet.  The yellow band seems to indicate it was banded in Canada.  If anyone knows a different place to report this let me know!  I had never had a banded shorebird before aside from Snowy Plovers.

This spot was definitely one of our favorite birding spots in Baja.   Our full checklist is here.  We managed to flush an owl again on our walk back to the car...

From La Paz we headed back to Todos Santos, stopping for lunch with some of the tastiest salsas at Checko's.

More to come from our trip soon!  Good times!!!