Baja Sur: Sierra de la Laguna and Estero San Jose

One of our days in Baja was spent exploring a road that leads into the Sierra de la Laguna mountains in the middle of the peninsula.  The drive into the area along Highway 1 was gorgeous.

Eventually we found the road we thought we might want to take that had this sign at the entrance:


Early on we spotted a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Jacob's lifer Verdin.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

 Birding was mild but steady as we drove the bumpy dirt road, hoping to gain elevation.  A flock of Yellow-rumpeds turned up a Black-throated Gray Warbler.

We stopped and birded many times without turning up anything too crazy aside from these giant grasshoppers the size of my hand:

We made it to a wash that for some reason I decided looked like a good place to bird.  There was even a shady pullout to park in.

We walked in the opposite direction of some 4x4 action and quickly found one of our target birds: the Acorn Woodpecker!  Not just any Acorn but the endemic Baja subspecies (Narrow-fronted) with crazy red eyes.

Shortly after finding these woodpeckers I stepped under a shady tree and heard loud fluttering.  After flushing a second bird we figured out it was Band-tailed Pigeons!  Another target.  They are supposed to be another endemic subspecies, Viosca's.

The difference is supposed to be a lack of band on the tail but we noticed another one a bit later in a tree that definitely had a band.

A paper from 1926 states: "The chief distinguishing mark between the two races is that the Viosca lacks the dark tail band, or at best this band is only faintly indicated; furthermore the general color tone is slightly paler in the Cape form."

Anyone know anything about this subspecies?  I put them down as Viosca's because any other subspecies appears to be rare, though willing to be convinced otherwise.

This area turned out to be great for lizards in addition to weird subspecies of birds.

 Alligator lizard?
                                 Same lizard

We found a little creek off the wash and followed it for a bit.  Birds were skittish, as were the horses, but this little frog Jacob found sat still.

We finished up birding this area and decided to head back as it was afternoon and we wanted to get back to Todos Santos before dark (because headlights).  That evening as I looked at the map I realized what we had birded was actually an eBird hotspot called San Antonio de la Sierra--Cruce de Arroya Km 16.  This was an area we had intended to bird but actually thought we were somewhere else.

The drive back to the main road was a bit birdy and a bit cowy.

There are two watering holes along the road, one of which had a coot, the other had a Black Phoebe with some bonus birds.  First a California Towhee came in to bathe...

Then a Lesser Goldfinch showed up for a drink.

There were other birds around that we could never get good looks at, except for this one that I am still confused by:

Cassin's Kingbirds were common along this road.

Our full checklist from our day is here

If we had more time and had actually known we were on the right road I think we could have gotten within the range of Baird's Junco, another Baja endemic.  But that's ok, something to come back for!

Now flash forward to our last morning in Baja.  We decided to hit up Estero San José as it wasn't too far from the airport and is one of the most birded spots down there.

One of our easy targets here was Common Gallinule, a lifer for Jacob.

More fun birds here included all kind of waders, ducks, grebes, and bold Soras.

Reddish Egret

There were quite a few of these lizards around which I am guessing are zebra whiptails:

There were a few other people out on this trail but not a lot so it was extra surprising when I heard someone call my name.  "Jen from the Backyard Bird Shop?" Oh man, you can never escape!  Turns out this couple that shops at my work was just beginning their Baja vacation where they planned to do a lot of kayaking.  So random.

We had one last kingbird on this trail that I called a Tropical but looking at it now, I have no clue really.

The day was heating up quickly and we eventually made our way back to the car to head back to the airport.  Our half-assed checklist from Estero San José is here.

Our final tally for the trip was 132 species with 7 lifers for me and 29 lifers for Jacob.  We both hit milestones on the trip with me hitting 700 and Jacob hitting 400.  Pretty cool!!  Looking forward to more international travels....did someone say Costa Rica?  Eh?

Good times!!!!


  1. Really awesome! 700 is a huge milestone, and Costa Rica..omg! That will be thrilling.

  2. Wow, that strung out looking woodpecker is a BRAIN BIRD. Sick.

    First lizard is indeed alligator, not sure about the second but I like it a lot, last is zebra-tailed lizard (not related to whiptails).

    Mystery bird is a LAZB I think. I'm inclined to agree about the kingbird.

    Great trip reporting! Costa Rica, dang! Maybe I should go too!

    1. Ooh a brain bird! That pleases me. Thanks for the lizard correction, and Lazuli makes sense on that brown bird.

      Haha yeah you should probably go ahead and plan that whole CR thing...

  3. It was good you could connect with some of your targets - congrats on 700!

    Thanks for sharing your trip :)


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