Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Birds and Natural History of Baja California Sur

View Larger Map
I've just returned from a scouting trip to the Cape Region of Baja California, from March 1-6. I was joined by Dylan (who had joined me in NY too) and Keith Kamper. The two coincidentally had been planning a trip there in the same time frame.

We had similar goals of seeing all the endemic birds. Seeing the three that the AOU currently considers to be full species is very straightforward and can be done in just a couple hours from either airport (La Paz or Los Cabos), with some luck.

The Belding's Yellowthroat is found in marshy spots (Dylan's photo).

The Gray Thrasher is found in desert and thickets in tropical deciduous forest.

And the Xantus's Hummingbird is found pretty much everywhere, requiring flowers for feeding, of course. The flower is Tree Ocotillo, Fouquieria digueti.

But there are a whole slough of endemic forms currently considered subspecies, some of which will certainly be classified as species once more information (analysis of voice, genetics, etc.) becomes available. Most of these are very isolated from other subspecies and occur in the higher elevations of the Sierra de la Laguna, in oak and pine-oak. There is one dirt road that gets into some oak at an elevation of about 2400 feet, about 14 miles from the highway. The cottonwood-lined wash and oak - palm slopes gave the area a very unique feel.

Here we caught up with the endemic form of the American Robin, known as San Lucan Robin (Dylan's photo).

And the dark-eyed subspecies of Acorn Woodpecker.

"Cape" Pygmy-Owl, currently still considered a subspecies of Northern Pygmy-Owl, though its calls are higher-pitched and faster-paced.

The flowers and lizards here were terrific, even some cool butterflies.

Pacific Tree Frog

Orange Owl-butterfly (Opsiphanes boiduvallii). It turns out there is only one specimen record and a couple sight records of this species from Baja California. It is possibly an introduced population, with eggs, larvae or pupae riding in on ornamental palms.

Vivid Dancer

San Lucan Rock Lizard

Black-tailed Brush-Lizard

The rarest bird of the trip, and perhaps our only true vagrant was this White-eyed Vireo (Dylan's photo). This represents the first documented record for Baja California.

There are several other endemic subspecies, the rest of which were accessible only by hiking into the highlands. On our last full day, Dylan and I did this. Fourteen miles round-trip and an elevation gain of 4300 feet. We covered it in 9 hours and 15 minutes. Sadly, Keith twisted his ankle a couple days before and wisely chose to sit it out. Dylan was wiped out at the end (look at the expression on his face on the home stretch here), and I was glad I had been doing lunges, squats and sprints as part of my workout.

Our main goal was "Baird's" Yellow-eyed Junco, which is really nothing like a Yellow-eyed Junco, except that it has yellow eyes. Color, shape, and voice are wrong. (Dylan's photo.)

It was a great hike though, and the habitat up at 5800 is lovely. We made it as far as the first endemic Laguna Pines

The wildflowers were nice. Norm Douglas of North Carolina State University informed me that this is Commicarpus brandegeei, formerly placed in the genus Boerhavia. His genetic research showed that the two genera are not all that closely related.

This is Belding's Beargrass, looking more like the tree-like Beaucarnea.

A Eupetorium.

I'm not sure what this is (probably family Acanthaceae), but the hummers like it.

The endemic subspecies of Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Dylan's photo).

We also added the endemic Hutton's Vireo, Bushtit, and White-breasted Nuthatch on this hike.

I also had the added goals of learning all the potential birding spots, getting hotel and transportation information, and doing a boat trip to Espiritu Santo island to determine if it were worth including in a tour itinerary. We saw precious few seabirds on the boat ride around the island.

But we were able to get off at one point and explore for about an hour.

The San Lucan Rock Lizards were bluer overall, though said to be the same species as on the mainland.

But the Antelope Squirrel is endemic to the island.

Yellow-footed Gulls are everywhere.

At the beach where we landed was a tour group which spent the day kayaking and snorkeling.

In checking out hotels, we found a couple very nice places, such as Punta Colorada.

Here are just a few more photos from around the peninsula.

Murphy's Metalmark

Probably a Giant Hairy Scorpion, but I haven't gone to the library to look it up.

The Cactus Wrens here look and sound quite different from the ones in Arizona.

California Dancer

'Giant' Mexican Metalmark

Franklin's Gull at the La Paz sewage ponds, a rarity here.

Zebra-tailed Lizard, though the ones here don't have a banded tail (Dylan's photo).

The necessary goof shot in Todos Santos. Yes, this is the hotel of the Eagles' song.

A gorgeous oasis south of Todos Santos, Playa San Pedrito.

Final tally:
178 species of birds
30 species of butterflies
10 species of herps
8 species of mammals


  1. Hello

    I'm the webmaster of www.ornithomedia.com, and we'd like to publish an article about birding in Baja california Sur : would it be possible to publish some of the photos you posted on your blog ? Naturally we would credit them and link to your blog.

    David Bismuth

  2. Quick Question: On entering my old lists in ebird, I come across my record of Mountain Bluebirds that I saw near Loreto, Baja California Sur. Ebird doesn't even show a single record of the species in that state - do you know of records, must I have been wrong? - I was fairly new to birding then, but familiar with the Mountain Bluebirds of my home range in Utah. What do you think?

  3. It appears that would be a pretty phenomenal record for Baja California Sur – wihtout any photographs it's unlikely to be accepted. I quizzed my friend Steve Mlodinow, as I don't have any references handy now, and he replied: "Brad Waggoner, Eduardo Palacios, and I had a female Mountain Bluebird at the La Paz STP (aka, Lagunas de Chametla), which I photographed, on 11 January 2010. It stands, as of this time, as the only BCS record."

  4. quietly wiping a phenomenal record off of my lists...