This trip report will take a less story-telling approach than most of my previous efforts. Some will be saddened by this, others will rejoice. For directions see my previous trip notes, which are posted on Surfbirds.com or have been sent to you previously. Some additional directions are included here. And many thanks to Dick Erickson and Marshall Iliff for their sage advice.
Estero San Jose:
I birded this from 6-8 pm on the evening of 13 July and for an hour or so on 14 July in the pm. Access to the back of the marsh was different than previously. Some pipe is being laid, and the packed-sand road I formerly took (just after crossing the main Estero channel just as you leave San Jose del Cabo) is blocked by sand piles. However, another nice hard-packed sand road is accessible at the other end of the wash. Just keep an eye out on your right. It is pretty obvious.
As usual, the place was exceptionally birdy, and as predicted by Marshall and Dick, Redheads nested here this year, furnishing BCS’s first breeding record. There were 5 broods, from downy young to almost full-grown. The totals of each brood were 6,6,5,4,3. No Cinnamon Teal were present, but there was an eclipse male Wood Duck (holdover from May, when it provided BCS’s first record), an eclipse male Northern Pintail, and 2 pairs of Ruddy Ducks plus a Ruddy Ducks with 6 fluffy chicks. The other notable find was 85 Cliff Swallows that gathered primarily just before sunset, though some were around before then. This species leaves the Pacific NW rather early, and I’d guess these were migrants. On the 28th, I had two Rough-winged Swallows. Migrants?
Other birds present that I suspect are of interest, some more than others, included 4 broods of Pied-billed Grebes (6 young total), 2 Cattle Egrets (alt plum), 26 WF Ibis (mostly ads in basic, a few in alt), and an ad male Yellow-headed Blackbird.
Less likely of interest were 50 Starling (many imms), 22 Brown-headed Cowbirds (1 juv), 20 California Gulls (when do they arrive in BCS?), and a Purple Martin.
Among more common species was an ad Osprey and 2 imms, a Vermilion Fly (only one of trip), lotsa Least Terns in breeding colony on beach, plenty of Snowy and Great Egrets, a few Great Blue Herons, one or two Reddish Egret and Tricolored Heron. Surprisingly, the only shorebirds were 2 Black-necked Stilts and 4 Killdeer.
I tried to go out with Gordo Banks Pangas. Dick, Marshall, and Mark Billings had good success going to Gordo Banks with them, run by a gringo named Eric. Eric was quite nice, but we were unable to go out because the surf was relatively high, and he’d been moved to an unfavorable part of the beach near the new marina. This location puts him in danger of hitting rocks that have fallen off the jetty into the water. A local group was given his previous position on the beach. He suggested I try this other group, called Jose Antonio Mijares Sportfishing. I was totally fleeced. I won’t get into the full details, but I was not taken to the Gordo Banks, as I’d requested and told I would be. Instead we puttered around a few miles offshore. When I realized what was happening, I was told we didn’t have enough gas to get to the banks, and we returned to shore. Two hours, 2 PF Shearwaters and a likely Black-vented, and little refund – I wound up paying 160$ for this pleasure.
Along similar lines, the Best Western (Posada Real) remains all inclusive ($50 fine for removing your fluorescent bracelet), with horrid food and packed full of people at about $200/night. I liked it when it was $100/night, had a very good restaurant, and was half full (and for good measure, my toilet leaked, making a puddle that covered half the bathroom floor. Maybe that’s part of being “all inclusive”). Shows that all you need to attract American tourists is endless free alcohol on the beach.
I checked out Hotel Posada Senor Manana (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). For $60/night you get a big fridge, air-conditioning, two beds, cable TV, etc. It looked clean and quiet, just north of the town’s central plaza on the Estero side. It also comes with free breakfast at their restaurant in town, but I doubt they open early enough for most of us. More after I actually stay there this fall.
Thank You Dick! Mr Erickson suggested I start my first morning at Miraflores, displaying great wisdom. I started out at the “first wash.” See my previous notes, but this is reached by driving past the Alas Madres statue and following that dirt road (avoiding all right turns). Park just before the wash. On the right is a pull off big enough for 2-3 cars. After parking here, I crossed the road, and followed the path that put an ag field on my left and mesquite on my right. I pished and was swarmed by Ash-throated Flycatchers, Hooded Orioles, Western Scrub-Jays, Northern Cardinals and the like. It was just at sunrise, and I was blessed by cloud cover (keeping things relatively cool until mid-day), but it was still dark-ish. One bird stood out among the swarm – an Elf Owl, perhaps the first I’ve ever seen during daylight, amazingly.
I walked one or two hundred feet more, to a point where there is a gate through the fence on the left. On the far side of the gate is a narrow path with barbed wire fences on either side. The gate can be opened by unwinding various wires, but I find it easier to climb over. Anyway, at this point I pished again, saw more of the common stuff (which is much more responsive than during the winter), and then a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flew across the field in front of me and landed in the trees, out of sight (okay, it was just a silhouette, so in reality, I only knew it was a cuckoo). I pished, and pished, and pished, and nada.... until the bird started going k-k-k-k-k-cow-cow-COW-COW-COW. Over and over. I had two more later on. They don’t pish in. The one that did allow me to photograph it just flew in, unprovoked by pishing, owl-imitations, or the like, and landed above me. But that was later in the day. With a big fat smile on my face, I hopped the fence, walked to the first line of trees and pished again. A warbler popped up and flew in. It was a parula. I was certain it was going to be a Tropical, thinking of the bird turned up by May’s crew in Todos Santos. But, no, it was a Northern Parula, a first year bird, with a broken eyering and perhaps the vaguest hint of an anterior neck ring. God only knows when it arrived and why it stayed. Though it spent 5 minutes or so within 30 feet of me, it was too dark for me to get a photo, alas. I followed this path, and followed it when it turned 90 degrees to the right. It ends where a road ends by a school. I crossed the road and walked along the school (school on my left). After the school, there are ag fields all around, surrounded by some patches of lush mesquite, and on the far side, a nicely wooded hillside (above which is Miraflores proper, which one drives through on the way to the Alas Madres statue). There are numerous fences, most easily opened and closed, and no one seems to mind you wandering around the fields and woods. The big highlight here was a persistently singing Red-eyed Vireo. Probably keeping the parula company. It certainly wasn’t meeting an lady Red-eyes. After about 10 minutes of chasing it about, I was able to finally get photos. Another nice bird here was a young Zone-tailed Hawk. And yes, there were Thick-billed Kingbirds, 5 total, including a pair carrying food. I didn’t search hard for nest/young since Erickson, Iliff, and Billings had documented nesting in May. For those interested in the local endemics, I had several Gray Thrashers and Xantus’s Hummingbirds on this walk. Varied Buntings were fairly numerous (about 10).
I returned to Miraflores the morning of my departure and birded at the “second” wash access. This spot was drier, the mesquite looking quite stressed. Birds were fewer, though Cassin’s Vireos and Ash-throated Flycatchers remained amazingly common. Highlights of this second visit included 5 more Yellow-billed Cuckoos. One did come in to a pygmy-owl imitation, but it flew in high, saw me, and flew right back to from whence it came. I have that effect. There were 5 more Thick-billed Kingbirds. I also had a singing Warbling Vireo (presumably from the local population, not a migrant) and a first-year male and female Black-headed Grosbeak (presumably migrants). Xantus’s Humms were more common here, but thrashers less so.
I birded Caduano for about 30 minutes on the 14th and 60 minutes on the 17th – mostly around the water tank there. The water tank held a singing Belding’s Yellowthroat. And nearby, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo sang repeatedly on both days. There was also a singing (including flight display) Yellow-breasted Chat and 3 grosbeaks. One was a typical adult male Black-headed and one was a typical female Black-headed Grosbeak, albeit both quite worn. Interestingly, the male sang repeatedly – does this mean they summered/attempted nesting or that Black-headed Grosbeaks still sing after reaching their molting grounds? The third bird was quite interesting. It had virtually no streaking or color beneath and a bright pink bill. I thought I remembered that some BH Grosbeaks can have pink bills, and I don’t ever remember seeing a Rose-breasted with so little streaking beneath. So, I assumed it was a BH Grosbeak (I think the heat was getting to me)... But from what I can find in the literature, BH Grosbeaks should never have an entirely bright pink bill. So, I am not sure what this bird was. An aberrant BH Grosbeak? A very worn RB Grosbeak? A hybrid? Probably one of the latter two but unidentified in any case. Another interesting find at Caduano was a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers stuffing food down a juv Brown-headed Cowbird that dwarfed them. I also had an adult Zone-tailed Hawk and 2 Harris’s Hawks here on the 14th.
I birded Santiago for about 4 hours on the morning of 16 July. Highlights included a singing Yellow-breasted Chat, 16 Ruddy Ground-Doves (including a juv), and 7 Thick-billed Kingbirds (including birds seen at Agua Caliente and in between). Belding’s Yellowthroats were fairly numerous and I saw about 7 Varied Buntings here.
Many Ash-throated Flycatchers and Cassin’s Vireos. And another Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Indeed, the presence of numerous AT Flys, Cassin’s Vireos, and Phainopeplas at the same spot seemed almost predictive for this species. At Santiago ATFL, CAVI, and PHAI were virtually absent, and no cuckoos.
This is where Charlie Wright, Ryan Shaw, and I should have been last fall after seeing the Juan Fernandez Petrel. Just south of La Ribera, this place is a seawatching dream. Thanks to Dick, Marshall, and Mark for figuring out how to get there. Just before La Ribera, there is a paved road that goes to the right (there is a nice and reasonably quick restaurant at this corner) marked Punta Colorado and Punta Arena as well as having a sign for Lighthouse Point (a development). Turn right here. Take this road a ways (I think my notes say 9 km). You’ll eventually go over a hill and the road will dogleg left and then right. Where the paved road goes right, there is a broad dirt road that goes straight and a sign pointing you down that road to get to the Lighthouse Point development. Go down that dirt road 3 km, and the road to the development turns sharply right (do not go straight, which will take you under an arch into a failed development; also note there is a road that goes sharply back to your left – on your way out, remember not to take this road as it is somewhat confusing). Go another 3 km and you will see the entrance to Lighthouse Point on your left signified by, yes, two fake lighthouses. Turn left into the development. Once past the lighthouses, take the right hand fork and then follow that road as it turns 90 degrees to the right. You’ll go through “phase 1" (sold out) and “phase 2" (also sold out). Keep on straight ahead. This road takes you almost to the lighthouse (it ends a couple hundred yards short of it). I found seawatching from the dune about 100 yards from the actual water better than looking from water’s edge. There were no heatwaves and the extra height was nice for keeping low-flying shearwaters in sight.
On the 14th, I birded there from 6:15–7:30. On the 16th, from 3:15–5:15. The first day had brilliant sunlight and moderately strong winds from the southeast (straight up the beach). On the second day, it was high overcast and mild to moderate winds from the northeast. Both days the birds were flying pretty much straight down the beach to the southeast. Birds on day 1 arced fairly high in the wind, giving excellent looks at their underwings, but the bright light tended to make all of the Black-vent types look all black and white. Day 2 was frustrating for underwing views, as the birds kept close to the water, but the lighting allowed for better distinction in colors. Neither day had much in the way of heat waves. The birds were mostly close on day 1 and more distant on day 2.
59 Pink-footed Shearwaters
1 Flesh-footed Shearwater
2 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (dark morph); ? one light-morph
14 Sooty Shearwaters
31 Townsend’s/Black-vented Shearwaters
11 Black-vented Shearwaters
3 Brown Boobies
1 South Polar Skua
NO storm-petrels, frigatebirds, pelicans, murrelets, cormorants, or large terns
71 Pink-footed Shearwaters
26 Sooty Shearwaters
2 Townsend’s Shearwaters
33 Townsend’s/Black-vented Shearwaters
34 Black-vented Shearwaters
1 Audubon’s Shearwater
1 Masked Booby (nearly full adult; a few dark specks on back)
1 Brown Booby
1 Blue-footed Booby
3 Brown Pelicans
The first day was excellent for detecting the FF Shearwater and the dark morph WT Shearwaters, as any white or whitish on the underwings gleamed (really obvious on the Sooties, for instance), and consequently the lack of pale underwings was also easy to be relatively confident of. It was bad for trying to pick out Townsend’s, the brown freckling around the chest of BVSH was washed out. So many birds looked bright white beneath, and the white was so bright, it was hard to tell whether it really wrapped up onto the sides of the rump or not. On the second day, the Townsend’s really stood out. They were together and one bird had enough white on the rump sides to really give that VG Swallow appearance that I associate more with Newell’s Shearwater. The SP Skua tried to pursue a PF Shearwater, but in the goodly wind, the shearwater totally outmaneuvered it. I don’t think the shearwater would have had such success evading a Pom Jaeger. The skua looked like a hulking giant compared to the PF. The Audubon’s Shearwater was with 6 Black-vents, and that group was as close as any had been that day. The bird looked tiny among the Black-vents, and I thought I had a Little Shearwater at first. In any case, I believe the Audubon’s was a first for the Baja Peninsula and the Flesh-foot a first for BCS. The lack of storm-petrels and murrelets was interesting, but might be seasonal. The lack of frigatebirds and pelicans, which were numerous at La Ribera, is baffling. Driving out of the development on the 16th yielded my only Loggerhead Shrike and a Harris’s Hawk, always a nice find.
I birded the lagoons at La Ribera on the 16th. The road accessing the beach here is now a few hundred meters farther south then previously, but is more obvious and on a surface that is less precarious. It also means that you no longer appear on the beach at the edge of the northernmost, and typically birdiest, lagoon. I reached the beach by taking the road straight through La Ribera until it ends at a T. Go right. Look for the access to the left. Once at the beach, driving either to right or left bears a certain risk, as the sand can be deep or not. Shorebirds are mostly found in the pond a couple hundred meters to the left. My only Lesser Yellowlegs was there and one of only two Snowy Plovers was there (also, nesting Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers). To the right, a couple hundred meters, there are two ponds. Here I found 16 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (11 were seen here in May, which was the first record for this location). I also had 4 Rough-winged Swallows, one of which was a very fresh-plumaged immature here.
On 15 July I visited Todos Santos, from about 7 am to 11 am. Landbirds were fairly plentiful but consisted mostly of the regular stuff, Northern Cardinals, tons of Hooded Orioles, a fair number of Scott’s Orioles, etc. The most interesting bird was first year male Rose-breasted x Black-headed Grosbeak. There were also 9 Ruddy Ground-Doves, including a juv. A flock of swallows over the pond at Restaurant La Poza included about 20 Cliff Swallows, 2 Rough-wingeds, 1 Purple Martin, and 6 Violet-green Swallows. Interestingly, the Violet-greens did not seem to have as much white on the rump as typical of the local breeding race, though I am not sure how variability that race shows.
La Paz and environs
The La Paz (Chametla) Sewage Treatment Ponds were stuffed full of Black-necked Stilts plus a few avocets and Marbled Godwits and about 30 Least Sandpipers. Otherwise, there were no shorebirds there. The nearby pastures did have some water in them. Birds of interest (and I am not sure exactly how interesting some of these are) included 2 pairs of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, 4 male Ruddy Ducks, one female Redhead, 9 Least Grebes (mostly in pairs), 1 alt-plumaged Cattle Egret, 18 White-faced Ibis (including at least a couple imm.), a female Wilson’s Phalarope, and a lovely White-collared Seedeater (an escape, or progeny thereof, but becoming established?).
I sloshed out onto the mudflats at El Centenario. Outside of shorebirds, the most interesting species here were 3 Forster’s Terns and a Parasitic Jaeger. Shorebird totals were approximated at:
24 Black-bellied Plovers (only 2 in alt, suspect over-summered)
200+ Wilson’s Plovers
1 Snowy Plover
12 Semipalmated Plovers
4 Greater Yellowlegs
30 Long-billed Curlew
750 Western Sandpipers (about 10 in fresh basic)
40 Least Sandpipers
3 Long-billed Dowitchers (alt plum, early?)
1 Short-billed Dowitcher (alt plum)
1 dowitcher sp? (ratty plumage)
There were also excellent numbers of White Ibis, Reddish Egrets, Snowy and Great Egrets, a few Tricolored Herons, Elegant Terns, Royal Terns, Caspian Terns.
In La Paz, the workers of Los Arcos (my usual haunt) were on strike. Unfortunately, neither the tour company nor my travel agent bothered to tell me. So, I arrived in La Paz on a Friday night at 10 pm to find my hotel shut. I will skip the tale, though it is fairly entertaining. I wound up about 3 blocks away at the Pension Baja Paradise (BajaParadise@prodigy.net.mx; 612-128-6097) run by Eduardo Hashiel and Takako Ishida (yes, Takako is from Japan). For an absurdly low $25/night I got a room with air-conditioning (okay, it worked only so-so, but they provided a fan as well, and with the two together, I was comfy), a large fridge. It was exceptionally clean and plenty quiet, and the owners were nice beyond belief.
Rambling Thoughts and Questions
Molt migrants: Black-headed Grosbeaks migrate part of the way to their wintering grounds, molt, and then continue onwards. Many western species do this. In theory this is because the western forests become very dry in summer (unlike the eastern forests), while the woodlands of nw Mexico (plus se Arizona and s. New Mexico) have a surge in moisture due to summer monsoons. Thus, nw Mexico and nearby areas become insect rich while the bulk of western US and sw Canada become quite dry and relatively insectless. Consequently, there is a fair chance that the BH Grosbeaks I saw were early migrants. That one male was singing (as was the hybrid) makes one wonder if they might have over-summered. Similarly, I wonder if some swallow adopt a similar strategy. Cliff and RW Swallows leave the Pacific NW relatively early compared with VG, Bank, and Barn. I wonder if they perform a molt migration. From the BNA account, it looks like the understanding of Cliff Swallow molt in fall is incomplete (I didn’t look up RW).
Seabirds: So, how unusual was the seabird event I witnessed. Given the success from Punta Arena and off Gordo Banks had by Erickson, Iliff, and Billings during May (and Colin Dillingham once had a Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel here near Punta Arena as well), perhaps not so unusual. Or was that movement tied to the storm that had just passed. I guess future visits will tell. Of course, if there is always a hurricane or tropical storm when I visit, I’ll never really get to know!
Below are highlights. Some may not be so high, as I have little feel for typical arrival times (or how often they over summer) for such species as Long-billed Dowitcher and Cattle Egret. And I am somewhat guessing at what really deserves boldface (BBWD’s get it out of tradition).
Least Grebe (9) La Paz STP 7/15
Pied-billed Grebe (4 broods, 6 yng) Estero San Jose 7/13
Flesh-footed Shearwater (1) Punta Arena 7/14
Wedge-tailed Shearwater (2) Punta Arena 7/14
Townsend’s Shearwater (2) Punta Arena 7/16
Audubon’s Shearwater (1) Punta Arena 7/16
Masked Booby (1) Punta Arena 7/16
Cattle Egret (2) Estero San Jose 7/14
Cattle Egret (1) La Paz STP 7/15
White-faced Ibis (26) Estero San Jose 7/13
White-faced Ibis (18) La Paz STP 7/15
Black-bellied W-D (4) La Paz STP 7/15
Black-bellied W-D (16) La Ribera 7/16
Wood Duck (1) Estero San Jose 7/13–14
Northern Pintail (1) Estero San Jose 7/13–14
Redhead (5 broods, 8 adults) Estero San Jose 7/13
Redhead (1) La Paz STP 7/15
Ruddy Duck (5 ad, one brood) Estero San Jose 7/13
Ruddy Duck (4 ad) La Paz STP 7/15
Harris’s Hawk (2) Caduano 7/14
Harris’s Hawk (1) Punta Arena 7/16
Harris’s Hawk (2) San Pedro 7/16
Zone-tailed Hawk (1) Miraflores 7/14
Zone-tailed Hawk (1) Caduano 7/14
Black-bellied Plover (24) El Centenario 7/15
Snowy Plover (1) El Centenario 7/15
Snowy Plover (1) La Ribera 7/15
Wilson’s Plover (200+) El Centenario 7/15
Lesser Yellowlegs (1) La Ribera 7/16
Long-billed Dowitcher (2) El Centenario 7/15
Wilson’s Phalarope (1) La Paz STP 7/15
South Polar Skua (1) Punta Arena 7/16
Parasitic Jaeger (1) El Centenario 7/15
Forster’s Tern (3) El Centenario 7/15
Ruddy G-Dove (8 ad, 1 juv) Todos Santos 7/15
Ruddy G-Dove (15 ad, 1 juv) Santiago 7/16
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (3) Miraflores 7/14
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (5, different) Miraflores 7/17
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (1) Caduano 7/14 & 17
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (1) Agua Caliente 7/16
Thick-billed Kingbird (10 total) Miraflores 7/14 &17
Thick-billed Kingbird (2) Caduano 7/14 & 17
Thick-billed Kingbird (7) Santiago-Agua Cal. 7/16
Red-eyed Vireo (1) Miraflores 7/14
Purple Martin (1) Estero San Jose 7/13
Purple Martin (1) Todos Santos 7/15
Purple Martin (1) El Centenario 7/15
N RW Swallow (2) Estero San Jose 7/14
N RW Swallow (4) La Ribera 7/16
Cliff Swallow (85) Estero San Jose 7/13
Cliff Swallow (20) Todos Santos 7/15
Northern Parula (1) Miraflores 7/14
Yellow-breasted Chat (1) Santiago 7/16
Yellow-breasted Chat (1) Caduano 7/17
White-collared Seedeater (1) La Paz STP 7/15
Black-headed Grosbeak (2) Caduano 7/17
Black-headed Grosbeak (2) Miraflores 7/17
BH/RB Grosbeak (1) Caduano 7/17
BH x RB Grosbeak (1) Todos Santos 7/15
Yellow-headed Blackbird (1) Estero San Jose 7/13