I recently had the pleasure of running a birding trip to West Mexico. After the tour was all over on February 1, I flew from Puerto Vallarta to San Jose del Cabo, via Mexico City. I met up with Cindy and my son Carsen at the airport and our Baja adventure began. We stayed in San Jose del Cabo at the Holiday Inn Resort. This resort is right next to the San
Jose Estuary so it is perhaps the best place to stay in the area if you’re a birder. Just around the resort itself there were plenty of birds to look at. Hooded Orioles seemed to be very common in this part of Mexico. Gila Woodpeckers were noisily calling from the cactus garden and Cactus Wrens chugged away nonstop. Yellow-rumped Warblers were the most common warbler at the resort, followed by Yellow and Orange-crowned. House Sparrows and California Gulls were the clean-up crews around the eating establishments.
On February 2, I took a walk over to the estuary to see what I could find. Immediately I could see there were hundreds of birds covering the flats of the estuary. While these birds were of interest to me, I was most interested in finding the first of three endemic species that I had hoped to find in Baja, the Belding’s Yellowthroat. In the little remnant patches of reeds there were yellowthroats and they popped up quite readily to a little
pishing. Most of them turned out to be Common Yellowthroats. After a bit of searching, a male Belding’s Yellowthroat popped into view. He was larger and longer billed than the Common Yellowthroat and over the top of his black mask, it was bordered by yellow. Then, a female Belding’s appeared and she looked much like a female Common Yellowthroat but was larger, longer billed and the yellow areas seemed more intense in color. Success in finding the first of three endemics!
On February 5, I spent the morning birding in a desert wash just north of the San Jose Airport. There was quite a bit of vegetation in the form of thorn forest and cactus. Steve Howell’s ‘A Bird Finding Guide to Mexico’ suggests trying this wash to find the endemic Gray Thrasher. I took on the challenge. It was quite birdy in this area, with common species including Ash-throated Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher, Scott’s Oriole, Black-headed
Grosbeak, Lark Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, Costa’s Hummingbird and Bell’s Vireo to name a few species. California Scrub-Jays occasionally paused atop trees long enough to let out a few alarm calls. I had spent over an hour walking through the wash and the temperatures were over 30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t like the idea of giving up the thrasher hunt empty handed, so I pushed on just a little farther and I was rewarded. I saw at least 2 Gray Thrashers eventually. I checked every hummingbird today, hoping it would be the Xantus’ Hummingbird, but all I could find were Costa’s Hummingbirds. Another highlight for me this morning was finding a ‘Cape’ Northern Pygmy-Owl, a subspecies found only in the Baja and perhaps a bird that will one day warrant full species status.
February 6, Cindy, Carsen and I went on a little adventure, driving from our resort in San Jose del Cabo to the Sea of Cortez at Los Barriles. Along the way, I had one request. I needed to find a Xantus’ Hummingbird! I checked ebird and found that birders had been reporting them in the little town of Caduano. We drove around the village, getting all sorts of confused looks from the locals as I peered into their yards looking for flowers that might attract hummingbirds. There were some nice birds in the town such as
Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia, California Towhee, Gilded Flicker and Thick-billed Kingbird, but all I could find were Costa’s Hummingbirds. On our way out of town, I screeched to a halt to check one last hummingbird that was sitting up atop a tree. It was a male Xantus’ Hummingbird, the third endemic bird I had hoped to find while in Baja. Success!
The last thing I wanted to accomplish before we left the area was to return to the estuary with my scope. I did this on February 7. The flats were covered in birds, including shorebirds such as hundreds of Least Sandpipers, and a few Western Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Spotted Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Long-billed Dowitchers and Willets. A single Marbled Godwit appeared on the flats at one point. Waterfowl were in good numbers with both Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal noted, Northern Pintail, Gadwall and American Wigeon all present and accounted for. Pied-billed Grebes were on the fresh water of the estuary, and a single Eared Grebe was out on the ocean. Herons were numerous and I tallied up to 10 Reddish Egrets dancing in the shallows here. Around the edge of the pond were several Crested Caracaras and on the sandy beach was a Wilson’s Plover. At the end of my walk today I had tallied 66 species, not too bad.