Skip to navigation, or go to main content.

WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Mexico: Baja California’s Cape Region

2019 Narrative

Gorgeous weather, delicious food, amazing scenery, and a great group were highlights of this year’s Baja California tour. The Gray Whale experience on Magdalena Bay was also particularly memorable, as was a peaceful walk in a stark desert shaped by fascinating limberbushes and elephant trees. Non-bird critters were also wonderful, with spectacular Yellow Angled-Sulphurs bounding by, a highly sought after Tezpi Dancer on the very first day, and a most adorable Coast Horned Lizard hiding in plain sight. We saw all of the endemic birds that we expected (only the newly split Baird’s Junco being out of reach), including some that may eventually be split, such as the Northern (Cape) Pygmy-Owl that was being harassed by a Xantus’s Hummingbird. A leucistic Xantus’s Hummingbird earlier the same day was also a very special sighting. While Belding’s Yellowthroat and Gray Thrasher were additional endemics, ranking higher were our experiences with a pair of Ridgway’s Rails that wandered out into the open, a Greater Roadrunner than approached our group within a few yards, a flock of thousands of wheeling Western Sandpipers, and a subtly beautiful Clay-colored Sparrow that with careful study stood in contrast with nearby Brewer’s Sparrows. Colorful Hooded Orioles, a stunning male Varied Bunting, and a Lazuli Bunting coming down for a drink were further favorites.

The first morning’s walk at Estero San José began with a Cooper’s Hawk scaring up the abundant Hooded Orioles and House Finches, but soon we were at the water’s edge looking at several Cinnamon-rumped Seedeaters and an obliging Belding’s Yellowthroat. An Osprey devouring a fish looked over a marsh that held the odd combination of Common Raven amongst many Black-crowned Night-Herons. Before lunch we worked up a very busy mob of birds, one of which was a stunning male Varied Bunting. During lunch, which we would remember for the amazing lobster tacos, a female Xantus’s Hummingbird came down to sample some ash from an old wood fire grill. Birds were sparse at the tiny reservoir called Boca de la Sierra, but an Osprey seemed out of place there, and Baja Bluet, Tezpi Dancer, and Giant Darner were write-ins on our odonate list.

Our full morning in the Serra de Laguna was very productive. The ghostly leucistic Xantus’s Hummingbird was the only real surprise, and the Northern (Cape) Pygmy-Owl was the best prize of the morning. We got lucky to see just one each of the endemic subspecies of Band-tailed (Viosca’s) Pigeon and American (San Lucan) Robin, while Acorn (Narrow-fronted) Woodpecker was unusually abundant and conspicuous. Cassin’s Kingbird, with close comparison of Western Kingbird was a great lesson in ID. A tire blowout on the way back added less than 30 minutes to our drive, and getting a newer and better replacement vehicle was probably worth the hassle in the end.

A group of Common Ravens cavorted and vocalized entertainingly during our entire walk among the limberbushes and elephant trees of the low, coastal desert south of Los Barriles. A Gray Vireo finally appeared, and a Costa’s Hummingbird fed from the Adam’s Trees by the car. The walk to the Eureka marshes was very productive, adding several ducks and shorebirds, but the highlight here was the Greater Roadrunner that appeared from the bushes and proceeded to walk right up to us as we froze in silence. It was also relaxing to just watch the Magnificent Frigatebirds wheeling about on the late morning breeze. The drive to La Paz was punctuated by a quick stop at the rock figs of San Bartolo, where a Plumbeous Vireo was a new bird for the master list. We arrived at our hotel in La Paz via some back neighborhood streets, as the Carnival celebrations were well underway, occupying the entire waterfront.

Loud music into the wee hours didn’t make for much sleep for many of us, but we still charged forward in the morning. Meeting young ornithology student was a highlight of our morning amongst throngs of shorebirds at the Ensenada La Paz mudflats. Our timing with the high tide was fortunate, and we coincided with his attempt to document how many of last year’s 6000 tagged Western Sandpipers had returned (he estimated about half). We helped him by adding a few sightings of our own. Wilson’s Plovers and Gull-billed Terns were other nice birds on the mudflats, and our shorebird tally totaled 15 species. Magnificent Frigatebirds were also a highlight today, with two perched very close on power lines as well as many wheeling about as we had lunch in sight of the bay. The sewage ponds were full of birds, including a few American Avocets – one in full toast-headed breeding plumage was quite beautiful. We finished the morning with a very quick and productive stop by some red mangroves where Mangrove Warbler came in for great views.

The carnival stages had been dismantled, so we set out to the north after having had our first good sleep in two nights. Bird action on the straights between Espiritu Santo and the point north of La Paz was very low, but on the shore we enjoyed a handsome pair of Yellow-footed Gulls (and others were courting by repeatedly carrying and dropping bits of flotsam). A pair of animated American Oystercatchers were very vocal, while Brown Pelicans in their stunning breeding colors were in comparison perfectly staid. A lone Loggerhead Shrike by the car was our only one, and just after we had a wonderful close encounter with Black-throated Sparrow, we spotted a Coast Horned Lizard right on the roadside, hoping to be invisible. The blooming shrubs and abundant butterflies was quite an entertaining show. Then came the long drive to Puerto San Carlos, at the end of which was a pair of lovely Ridgway’s Rails walking along the edge of the mangroves.

The full morning on Magdalena Bay was punctuated by a Gray Whale swimming right under our boat, while perhaps up to 15 were within a quarter mile, sometimes surfacing close by, and at least six showing their flukes for photos. A single Humpback Whale was in amongst them for much of the morning as well. A Bald Eagle from the very small local breeding population (and the only one in Mexico) was an excellent spot by Laurel before we disembarked for what would be our best lunch of the tour – amazingly fresh spiny lobster (Panulirus inflatus to be exact) being the local specialty. Several wintering Brant and a few adult plumaged Heermann’s Gulls were other memorable birds on the boat ride.

A couple easy morning strolls in the lush coastal scrub of Todos Santos was quite productive. Gorgeous Scott’s Orioles were in evidence, a Gray Thrasher posed beautifully on a fence post, a Xantus’s Hummingbird fed from cactus flowers right in the garden, and a proud California Quail sang from a tall perch, long enough to obtain a sweet video. And then suddenly this warm, lovely vacation was over as we made the scenic drive back to San José del Cabo.

-        Rich Hoyer


Created: 01 April 2019