Sunday, June 8, 2014

White-collared Seedeaters and Friends

A rich site like the San José del Cabo Estuary invites exploring, especially in the cool early morning hours. Besides the waterbirds and celebrated Belding's Yellowthroats, many other species thrive in the riparian habitat. This must be the world epicenter for Hooded Orioles!

A splendid male Hooded Oriole

Gilded Flickers inhabit the nearly the entire Baja peninsula.

Both Common Ground-Doves (like this one) and Ruddy Ground-Doves 
live at the estuary –– but have you ever seen one foraging in beach sand?

An elegant Rough-winged Swallow pauses for a moment.

Our most unexpected find is a handful of White-collared Seedeaters, which must be a recent arrival in Baja. The standard publications don't list them for the peninsula, although their occurrence here in southern Baja is mentioned on the website of Handbook of the Birds of the World (Internet Bird Collection).

A male White-collared Seedeater of the West Mexican race...

and the female White-collared Seedeater, also eating what seedeaters eat!

Hmm, yes –– we have to figure her out first. The male waits till the more difficult ID has been resolved, before he appears!

(By the way, if there is a next trip to Cabo, I'll be parasailing! It looks like great fun.)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Waterbirds at San José del Cabo Estuary

Face-to-face with a Common Gallinule
(Photos by Narca)

As a RAMSAR wetland of international importance, the San José del Cabo Estuary supports a wide range of water-dependent birds, ranging from that quintessential fisherman, the Osprey, to ibis, shorebirds, herons, ducks.

An Osprey in late afternoon light

We find the usual suspects for such a locale.

An immature Double-crested Cormorant, sporting orange lores

Reflections are lovely around this female Ruddy Duck.

Black-crowned Night-Herons quietly hunker down at the water's edge.

A graceful Great Egret leaps into the air.

A few Spotted Sandpipers still linger into early May.

A very tame American Coot

A few yearling White-faced Ibis forage here, 
probably not yet ready to head north to breed.

An immature California Gull, one of many

The bulk of the hundreds of gulls are immature California Gulls, also not yet old enough to head north to their breeding grounds. Might as well lounge on the beaches of Baja!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

San Jose del Cabo Estuary

Our final birding destination is the estuary of San José del Cabo, a 42-hectare freshwater coastal lagoon, and home to Belding's Yellowthroat.

Looking toward the less-disturbed side of San José del Cabo Estuary
(Photos by Narca)

Estero San José del Cabo is both a RAMSAR wetland of international importance and an Important Bird Area.

Sign about Estero San José del Cabo

Construction of the old Hotel Presidente adjacent to the estuary was controversial, because part of the estuary was destroyed to build it. In addition, habitat along that entire side of the estuary has been converted by the town to a public park, leaving precious little wetland for the endangered yellowthroats. (At least activities like fishing are prohibited!)

A public park now occupies the west side of the estuary.

Lovely Washingtonia fan palms are prominent plants here.

Palo verdes are also in bloom.

The Presidente is now owned by Holiday Inn, and we stay there, in spite of the lingering guilt-by-association. From the Holiday Inn, access to the estuary is excellent, and the Holiday Inn has a more laid-back, comfortable feel than other resorts in the area. Ironically, the town's creation of a public park on one side of the estuary has made the reedy habitat more accessible to birders, and we find that the yellowthroats are very easy to see.

A very cooperative male Belding's Yellowthroat at the estuary


Notice the yellow frame above his mask, where a 
male Common Yellowthroat would show white.

A female Belding's Yellowthroat

This endangered warbler is restricted to a handful of remnant wetlands in Baja. Habitat loss and degradation are the major threats. About 500 individual yellowthroats are thought to remain in the estuary. We find about eight Belding's Yellowthroats here, and a single male Common Yellowthroat in a tree by the water.

Conservation strategies to help the yellowthroat have only been developed over the past few years, and are now being pursued. Here at the tip of Baja, the pressure from up-scale developments is extreme. One proposal to create more habitat for the yellowthroats is to create marshes on golf courses and resorts that are developed within the yellowthroat's range.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Miraflores, a Village in Baja

North of San José del Cabo, and nestled at the foot of the Sierra de la Laguna, is the very beautiful Mexican village of Miraflores. We drive around the village, searching for Xantus' Hummingbirds, and find them foraging in the flower gardens.

A female Xantus' Hummingbird, with her red-and-black bill buried 
in a red flower (Photo by Narca)

Small dirt roads leading out of town also go through interesting habitat, where we find (among other species) a Thick-billed Kingbird, more Gray Thrashers, Phainopeplas, Gilded Flickers, a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers building a nest, Pyrrhuloxias, Plumbeous Vireo, Scott's Oriole, and many, many Hooded Orioles.

A female Hooded Oriole probes the fruit of a cardón cactus.

Gila Woodpeckers are at home on the big cacti, as they are in Arizona.

Baja's other resident gnatcatcher, the Blue-gray, is building a nest.

This Gray Thrasher is carrying bits of food to new hatchlings.

Another Gray Thrasher's nest

Flowering mimosa trees are a magnet for orioles.

Herpetologists get pretty excited about Baja, too.

A magnificent Baja Spinytail Iguana

Monday, May 26, 2014

Solar Roadways Are Arriving!

Wow! What a concept, and it's really happening!

Here is an artist's rendition of Sandpoint, Idaho, from the Solar Roadways website:


What an extraordinary application of technology this is! And the idea and hexagonal panels can be used in sidewalks, bike paths... and no doubt applications as yet unimagined. These panels can generate heat to melt snow and ice, and the underground channels associated with them can carry electrical and telephone cables, eliminating overhead lines. One set of channels carries stormwater to facilities where it can be treated. Stormwater is a source of about half of the water pollution in the US.

Remarkable!




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cabo Bound!

Surf at Todos Santos, on the Pacific side of Baja California Sur
(Photos by Narca)

All these years, and I had never visited Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Baja California –– until now!

The resort scene is, shall we say, overwhelming. By all means, avoid the time-share sharks! These predators lurk even in the inner sanctum of the airport, where unsuspecting travelers disembark. It's hard to find your pre-arranged shuttle, without running the gauntlet of time-share hucksters.

Marina at Cabo San Lucas

However, the nearby rugged desert ranges and seacoast are beautiful and serene. Birders come to Baja for three primary reasons: Xantus' Hummingbird; Belding's Yellowthroat; and Gray Thrasher, all species endemic to Baja California.

Gray Thrasher, a Baja endemic

Of the three, Gray Thrasher is the most widespread, occupying most of the Baja peninsula. To find the hummingbird or the yellowthroat, one must journey to Baja California Sur. (Tough work, but someone has to do it!)

We are based in two places about a half-hour apart: first, Cabo San Lucas at the very tip of the cape, with easy access to the Pacific coast; and later, San José del Cabo, near the airport, and on the Gulf of California.

Natural arch at the very tip of the cape, Cabo San Lucas

From Cabo San Lucas, we explore the countryside up to the village of Todos Santos, about an hour north of Cabo. Here we glimpse a Xantus' Hummingbird, but the best looks come later, at Miraflores.

Along the route to Todos Santos, we stop at kilometer 80, and explore back roads which run toward the mountains. This stretch of desert habitat is home to California Gnatcatchers, Gray Thrashers, Verdins, Northern Caracaras, and other typical desert birds.

This California Gnatcatcher wouldn't sit still!

Gray Thrashers look like Sage Thrashers with big bills.

Verdins are as common here as in Arizona's desert.

A Northern (Crested) Caracara finds a prickly perch.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Flowers of Ecuador's Páramo

We can't leave Ecuador without including a few photos of the spectacular flowers at Papallacta Pass near Quito! I don't know what most of them are, but hope that you'll enjoy them anyway.

The area is within Cayambe-Coca National Park, at about 12,000 feet in elevation.

Strange and beautiful
(Photos by Narca)

A lovely composite

One of the many cushion plants that are common to high elevations the world around

Judging by the leaf, this is one of the 4500 species of melastome.

Perhaps a day-flying moth? I can't find a heliconid anything like it!

At last, something familiar –– a paintbrush

A pea with very compact flowers

Distinctive –– does anyone know this one?

Another puzzle

Hummers like this Bromerea species, shown here with Equisetum.

A passion flower, Passiflora mixta, with only a rudimentary fringe around the pistil and stamens. This plant is mainly – or only – pollinated by Sword-billed Hummingbirds (photos above and below)


Sword-billed Hummingbird photographed on a 2010 trip to Ecuador.

This aster, another composite, is a conspicuous shrub.

A species of Solanum, in the tomato family

Farewell to Ecuador, for the time being –– and next stop: Baja California's cape region!