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25 November - 1 December 2004

by Dave Klauber & Dennis Dipietrantonio

Thanks to a fare of $300 round trip ($400 with “taxes”) from New York to Cabo San Lucas on American Airlines, I took a short trip to the lower Baja peninsula in Mexico to see some of the endemics, especially my last Yellowthroat – Belding’s.  There are some endemic subspecies in the Sierra de Laguna mountains, but this area is fairly inaccessible by vehicle and requires at least an overnight hike and camping to find the specialties – Cape Pygmy-Owl, Baird’s Junco, San Lucas Robin, Cape (Oak) Titmouse, and a local race of White-breasted Nuthatch. I did try a road that got me part way into the mountains, but not high enough. I could not organize a hiking or camping trip this time, but it would be well worth it. Note the caveat in Dan’s trip report about the severity and heat of hiking in the warm weather without shade. I went with Dennis, a non-birding friend, and this trip was mild and luxurious by my usual standards, duly and thankfully noted by him. The temperature averaged 80 during the day, but there was always a breeze to make things comfortable. Two mornings were quite cool and windy, requiring a jacket for the first couple of hours, and most evenings were cool. Sparrows were surprisingly absent, except for Lark Sparrow.

Reference Material

Articles & Trip Reports taken from

Dan Lockshaw’s May 31-June 5, 2001 report has some logistical information for camping in the mountains.

Michael Carmody of Legacy Tours provided me with helpful information and a trip report from Steve Mlodinow that had specifics on the road into the mountains. Thanks Michael. He does some interesting and unconventional tours of Mexico, which I hope to take someday.


A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico – Steve N.G. Howell, 1999
A Guide to the Birds of Mexico & Northern Central America – Howell & Webb, 1995
Field Guide to the Birds of North America – National Geographic
Moon Handbooks – Cabo, 4th edition, Jan 2003 – pretty good for hotels, restaurants, etc, and also has decent sketch maps of the trails into Sierra de Laguna

Names and Contacts

Tom Donini – Sunhouse (store) in Todos Santos – phone: 52-114-50355  (Not contacted by me, but used by Dan Lockshaw for outfitting his mountain camping expedition )


I rented from Hertz, arranged in the USA before arrival. Nobody was there at the airport, and we didn’t get the car until the next day. It cost $300 for a mid-size car with all taxes and extra collision insurance for a week.


The peso was depreciating while we were there, to an all-time low of 11.1 to the dollar when I changed some cash at a bank. There are also ATMs in the larger cities


This is a bit more costly than other parts of Mexico due to the influx of North American visitors and retirees. I stayed in fairly expensive hotels, averaging about $80 a night. We splurged on dinner also, but you can eat reasonably. Fish and seafood tacos are a good local specialty. Note tacos here are actually soft tortillas rather than the hard shell tacos I was used to. Beware (or rejoice in) many local hot sauces. There are many budget options here as well.


You can buy telephone cards in various stores, although I never needed one. There are also various Internet cafes in the larger cities for about $3-4 / hour. My MCI calling card worked from pay phones.


I saw 122 species and heard 1, with 3 lifers – the current endemics.  Inquiries about specific species will gladly be answered at:


November 25, Thanksgiving Thursday – travel day

Flights from JFK to Dallas to Cabo San Lucas went smoothly, and we arrived about 8:30 PM. There was nobody at the Hertz counter (supposedly open till 10:30), although National and Budget had people present. They told me Hertz was out of cars, had their office 1.5 kilometers away and had left. National wanted to charge us $400, so we took a taxi van into town for $10 each, arriving at the El Encanto Inn about 9:30. Fortunately we did not need a car for the morning, since my plan was to bird the Estero on foot. The town was quiet and going to sleep around 10 PM, except for a couple of bar / restaurants. It was cooler than expected, and I was surprised to see the receptionist wearing a fleece jacket. The El Encanto Inn where we stayed had a nice small courtyard and was pleasant enough, but pricey, totaling about $90 a night with all the taxes. The town has many tourist stores, but the town square definitely has the feel of a Mexican town where the local families hang out. Christmas decorations were being put up while we were there.

November 26, Friday – San Jose del Cabo and vicinity

It got light about 6:30, and I left the hotel around 7 and walked the few blocks to the river, arriving a bit north of the sewage treatment plant. There was a great deal of construction on the road and path along the river, and with the cool windy conditions it was very dusty. In a small patch of reeds I found my first Belding’s Yellowthroat. The male’s bright yellow mask is very striking, even noted by Dennis, a non-birder. A few more were found in patches of bushes and reeds as we walked south towards the mouth of the Estero, along with at least a couple Commons. I passed on trying to ID the females and immatures. In spite of the construction there was waterfowl along the river. Behind the restaurant next to the Presidente Hotel is a small pool of water and reeds, and a Sora was feeding in the middle of the pool, unusually unwary for a rail. We walked back through the thickets, seeing both hummingbirds and a few others. Surprisingly absent were sparrows – I only saw one Lincoln’s.

We returned to the town about 11 AM, having lunch and a very good fruit smoothie at La Jungla juice stand, by the corner of Obregon & Morelos, a bit west of the plaza. Hertz didn’t get us a car until 1:30, and then they drove us to the Westin hotel to get the car. So we didn’t set out in the afternoon until after 2 PM. We drove to Cabo San Lucas, an overdeveloped tourist town, and birded the harbor for about 30 minutes. On the return we pulled off before a bridge over a dry wash, with RTVs driving along the beach, about halfway between the 2 towns. I drove north about 1 mile on the dirt road along an embankment and birded this desert until near dusk. I found a Gray Thrasher with the help of a tape, but it only skulked in a thicket. I chased the first of many gnatcatchers all of which turned out to be Blue-grays. Return to town and dinner at the expensive but excellent Tequila Bar Restaurant – good margaritas too.

November 27, Saturday – drive to La Paz on highway 1

There was a male Xantu’s Hummingbird in the small hotel garden outside our room. Departure about 7:30  to the desert wash just north of the airport mentioned in Howell’s book, about a mile north of the airport turnoff before the bridge. We went north or west a mile or so, and there was active sand mining in the area. No great surprises in the desert scrub here, and the best birding was actually by the small cliff or excavation site by the highway turnoff. Still no California Gnatcatcher, although I had a candidate. There was no fixed agenda for the day, with the idea being to maybe stay in a small town along the way or possibly go up to La Paz.

The next stop was a small active stream crossing on highway 1 just before the Miraflores turnoff. MacGillivray’s Warbler was here, and a Tropical Kingbird, along with a few others. I took the turn to Miraflores, then to Boca de la Sierra, a small town with a spring. The water was flowing through cement pipes and as far as I could see had barbed wire along the sides which didn’t allow for exploring. Crossing over the pipe then turning right along a trail leads to a large dry wash, which had a very active male Xantu’s which perched right next to us. It was now hot and sunny and late for birding, so we drove to Santiago for lunch at Las Palomas. It had a nice shady outdoor area with a small path and some scrub. The food was good although the wait was long. They also have a hotel and this would be an excellent location for a base in the area.

After lunch we explored the area, which surrounds a wet area used for agriculture, and saw the only Clay-colored Sparrows of the trip. Continuing north on highway 1 we drove the first couple of kilometers of the San Antonio de la Sierra road to check out its condition. It was a decent dusty dirt “washboard” road. Arriving in La Paz near dusk we checked into the pricey but nice Hotel Los Arcos right on the waterfront for about $90 with taxes. There were a few birds along the beach, including a nice adult Yellow-footed Gull. About a ¼ mile south of the hotel is a small group of restaurants on the right on the water. We ate at the third one, and it was very good and moderately priced, although not budget. We tried to extend our hotel stay for another night but they were booked. The result was I saw very little of La Paz or the surrounding birding areas.

November 28, Sunday – San Antonio de la Sierra and drive back to San Jose

Finally a reasonably early start before 6:30 to the San Antonio de la Sierra road, about 80 minutes drive from La Paz. This road is well marked in both directions, and is near km 148, a few hundred yards north of a bridge currently under construction. The road is dirt and very “washboardy” in many areas, but is doable at least in dry weather with a normal sedan – we had a Nissan Sentra – although there are a few bad spots. I think it is the only road that gets you part way up the sierra in a normal car, reaching oak woodlands and some cottonwoods, if not the pine-oak preferred by the high altitude species. 

At the turnoff on highway 1 there was a lot of bird activity, so we stopped here for about 20 minutes before proceeding up the mountain. Steve Mlodinow’s report mentions a dry wash at kilometer 16 which was uneventful when we visited. There is a wet stream crossing a bit further down the mountain which I didn’t check out. At about km 23.6 there is a large wash that had a small stream flowing down to the left. We parked here and birded the area for a couple of hours. There are some large cottonwoods and oaks, and Steve saw both the Robins and Junco here in January 2003. None this time, although it was a birdy area. An earlier start would have helped also.

Later we drove up the left fork another 2 km or so, and the road started to deteriorate. It was only traversing the near side of a ridge and was not approaching different habitat. We returned and stopped at another stream area somewhere below km 23, which I unfortunately did not note. I had 3 species of woodpecker here including the sapsucker, a California Towhee, and Cassin’s Vireo. We returned to highway 1 before 2 and had lunch in a taco stand in San Bartolo. Further south on highway 1 there was a large wash where bridge construction was going on that had some reeds to the east, where I had an immature Belding’s Yellowthroat (I think) and heard a Marsh Wren.

We made brief stops in Los Barriles and Buena Vista, and returned to San Jose around dusk, staying at the Tropicana Inn, a much better deal and on the river for $80 including all taxes. They also have a restaurant and bar, with lethally potent margaritas. It was Dennis’ birthday and we had a good meal at their restaurant enjoying the audition of a very good Mexican band playing guitars and Andean flute with a mixture of originals and covers. Celebrations precluded an early start the next day.

November 29, Monday – drive to Todos Santos

Sleep in due to the above, then a brief look behind the hotel along the river’s edge. Had a local smoothie fix at La Jungla, then departed before 11 for Todos Santos. We arrived at Todos Santos after 1, and walked around a bit. I didn’t like the place much as it was full of American tourists. Steve’s report had mentioned the Adobe restaurant, but after a quick look at all the tourists, the high prices, and total lack of Mexicans, we settled for a local taco joint. After we drove outside of town, which surrounded an agricultural and wetlands area, mostly fenced off. This area could be promising early in the morning.

Returning south on the main highway I pulled off near km 70, south of Pescadero, a bit south of a blanket “factory”, and north of Rancho Nueva. There was a dry tidal marsh area that looked promising. The marsh area was devoid of birds, but the nearby scrub was among the most productive of the trip: Gilded Flicker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Costa’s Hummer, Gray Thrasher, GT Towhee, and finally a California Gnatcatcher among others. This bird had a black outline on the lower edge of its cap, like a male Blue-gray, but a darker blue cap, and I finally saw the grayish undertail. It was very similar to a Blue-gray to my eyes. As we returned to the Tropicana around 5:30 there were a few Lesser Nighthawks flying north and east. The previous night there had been medium sized bats in the parking lot. 

November 30, Tuesday – Estero & La Playa area
I left the hotel before 6:30 on a cold very windy morning to bird the Estero, especially near the river mouth. The wind made it difficult for land birds, but the water birding was productive. A few vultures were feeding on the dead pelicans on the shore. I had many new trip species here, including swallows, Forster’s and Elegant Terns, Pied-billed Grebes, a few ducks, shorebirds, and pipits. Back to the hotel by 9:30 for the continental breakfast.

Later we departed east along the beach for the Pueblo La Playa area, which was a construction zone. Meandering eastward we found access to the beach and some dunes, which had productive desert scrub. Another small developing town was encountered, and we returned in early afternoon for lunch and a little shopping, especially in a very interesting liquor store on the corner of Mijares and Benito Juarez, Los Barriles de Cuevo. The owner was a pleasant knowledgeable man who offered samples of some excellent tequilas. No more birding, although we had a Xantu’s both in the pool area of the hotel and right on Mijares in some flowers between some stores. Dinner at Baan Thai, a Thai restaurant run by non-Thais that nonetheless had some tasty food.

December 1, Wednesday – flight home

We returned the rental car at the Hertz office by the airport at 7 AM, waiting 10 minutes before the staff arrived. Our flight to Dallas was uneventful and early, but high winds in New York delayed our return flight by 3-4 hours


ENDEMICS or endemic subspecies are in capitals and underlined

Pied-billed Grebe – a few in the Estero Nov 30
Brown Pelican – every day

Brandt’s Cormorant – one at Cabo San Lucas harbor Nov 26

Double-crested Cormorant – Estero Nov 30

Magnificent Frigatebird – every day

Great Blue Heron – Estero Nov 26 & 30

Great Egret – seen most days

Snowy Egret – seen most days

Little Blue Heron – Estero, 1 or 2 Nov 30

Louisiana (Tricolored) Heron – Estero & La Paz

Reddish Egret – Estero Nov 26 & 30

Cattle Egret – Estero Nov 26 & 30

Green Heron – Estero Nov 26 & 30, mountains Nov 28

White-faced Ibis – common, seen every day in small numbers

Turkey Vulture – everywhere

Canada Goose – 3 in Estero Nov 26 & 30, looked small and short-necked – small Canada’s probably rather than Cackling, but too far to tell with binoculars only

American Widgeon – Estero Nov 29

Blue-winged Teal – Estero, common

Cinnamon Teal – Estero, a few each visit

Northern Shoveler – Estero Nov 30, one pair

Northern Pintail – Estero Nov 30, 1 or 2

Green-winged Teal – Estero Nov 26 & 30, only a few each time

Ring-necked Duck – possible in Estero Nov 30, not counted. I was distracted by a friendly passer-by and never relocated the birds

Ruddy Duck – 1 female by the Presidente restaurant, Estero Nov 26

Osprey – small groups at Estero Nov 26 & 30

Northern Harrier – Estero Nov 30, 1 female / immature

Cooper’s Hawk – Estero Nov 30, possibly one in mountains Nov 28

Red-tailed Hawk – every day

Crested Caracara – a couple every day in deserts

American Kestrel – most days

Merlin – 1 flyby near Estero Nov 26

Peregrine Falcon – Nov 26 & 30, 1 each time. Nov 30 bird flying laboriously with what looked like a Coot or Moorhen

Sora – 2 in Estero Nov 26; 1 feeding in open next to Presidente restaurant in marsh pool

Common Moorhen – Estero Nov 26 & 30

American Coot – Estero Nov 26, 29 & 30

Semipalmated Plover – Estero Nov 30, 1 or 2 birds on beach

Killdeer – Estero Nov 26 & 30

Black-necked Stilt – Estero each visit, especially near sewage treatment plant outlet

Greater Yellowlegs – Estero Nov 26 & 30

Lesser Yellowlegs – Estero Nov 30, 1 or 2 birds

Spotted Sandpiper – Estero each visit, common

Long-billed Curlew – Estero Nov 26 & 30, a couple each time

Marbled Godwit – Estero Nov 26 & 30

Sanderling – Estero Nov 30

Western Sandpiper – only 1, Estero Nov 26

Least Sandpiper – Estero Nov 26 & 30

Long-billed Dowitcher – Estero Nov 26 & 30, identified by voice

Wilson’s (Common) Snipe – Estero each visit

Laughing Gull – 1 or 2 immatures La Paz, Nov 28

Heerman’s Gull – immatures in Cabo San Lucas harbor Nov 26

Ring-billed Gull – Estero Nov 30, possibly at La Paz Nov 28

California Gull – 1 or 2 La Paz, Nov 27, and Estero Nov 30

Western Gull – 1 or 2 Cabo San Lucas harbor Nov 26, La Paz Nov 27 & 28

Yellow-footed Gull – 1 - 2 La Paz, Nov 27 & 28

Herring Gull – Estero Nov 30

Caspian Tern – Estero Nov 26 & 30

Elegant Tern – 2 in Estero Nov 30

Forster’s Tern – a few in Estero and beach, Nov 30

Rock Dove – flying around San Jose de Cabo

Band-tailed Pigeon – Nov 27 & 28, mountains and foothills

White-winged Dove – seen most days

Common Ground-Dove – seen most days in small numbers

Ruddy Ground-Dove – Nov 26, Estero area

Lesser Nighthawk – about 6 flying at dusk from rear of Tropicana Hotel flying north / northeast Nov 29

XANTU’S HUMMINGBIRD (L) – Got lucky with this one. Seen all days except Nov 28, even in gardens at each hotel. Also seen in Estero Nov 26, Mijares Street near plaza of San Jose feeding on flowers, and in Boca de la Sierra, site 1.11 in Howell.

Costa’s Hummingbird – seen in Estero Nov 26, deserts near San Jose on each visit, and near Todos Santos & surrounding deserts – mostly females but 1 or 2 nice males

Belted Kingfisher – Estero each visit

Laughing Gull – 1 or 2 La Paz, Nov 28

Acorn Woodpecker – a few individuals and small groups in mountains Nov 28

Gila Woodpecker – common everywhere

Red-naped Sapsucker – 1 immature in mountains near stream with other woodpeckers Nov 28

Ladder-backed Woodpecker – a few in mountains Nov 28, 1 near Estero Nov 30

Gilded Flicker – uncommon in deserts; seen Nov 28 & Nov 29 south of Todos Santos in desert

Gray Flycatcher – one actively calling at the San Antonio de la Sierra turnoff Nov 28

Pacific Slope (Western) Flycatcher – a couple at the 23.6 km wash in the sierra Nov 28

Black Phoebe – seen a few times in the Estero and mountains, always near water and streams

Vermillion Flycatcher – 1 or 2 immatures along the Estero Nov 26

Ash-throated Flycatcher – 1 or 2 seen on several desert visits

Thick-billed Kingbird – 1 calling from trees at stream crossing near Miraflores Nov 27

Cassin’s Kingbird – A couple seen Nov 28 and 29 in mountains and near Todos Santos

Cassin’s Vireo – One in mountains near stream Nov 28

Unidentified vireo – One glimpsed briefly at km 23.6 on Nov 28, probably a Hutton’s - not counted

Western Scrub Jay – foothills Nov 27 and 28

Common Raven –mountains, foothills, and deserts Nov 27-29

Tree Swallow – Estero Nov 30

Violet-Green Swallow – Estero Nov 30

Barn Swallow – Estero Nov 30

Bank Swallow – 1 or 2 with swallow flock Estero Nov 30

Verdin – Fairly common and active in deserts. Found a couple of nests, including one active

Cactus Wren – Common everywhere; this race has pale flanks

Marsh Wren – One heard only along highway 1 in reeds

House Wren – one in mountains Nov 28

Ruby-crowned Kinglet – A couple along the 23.6 km wash Nov 28

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – very common in a variety of habitats, especially desert scrub. I tried in vain to turn many into California’s. The call is somewhat different than those in the east

CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHER (Endemic subspecies) – Very tough. I spent a lot of time chasing desert gnatcatchers that turned out to be Blue-grays. I had one candidate near the airport on Nov 27, but only definitely identified one south of Todos Santos Nov 29. It looks fairly similar to Blue-gray, but the cap was darker and the undertail was gray, not white like Blue-gray or black like the northern Californias.

Northern Mockingbird – fairly common most days.

GRAY THRASHER (L) – Supposedly fairly common in desert scrub, but I only saw 3 or 4 birds, two tape assisted. My first was along the desert wash between San Jose and Cabo San Lucas Nov 26, the second was Nov 29 south of Todos Santos, and the last 2 were found a bit southeast of San Jose near the beach on Nov 30. Squeaking usually resulted in Mockingbirds rather than thrashers, except on Nov 30 

European Starling – I was unpleasantly surprised to see them in and around San Jose Nov 26 & 30

American Pipit – a small flock on the beach near the Estero on Nov 30

Phainopepla – One outside La Paz Nov 27 and another Nov 28 by the San Antonio turnoff on highway 1

Yellow Warbler – Estero Nov 26

Orange-crowned Warbler – abundant, I’ve never seen so many in 1 area

Yellow-rumped Warbler – both Audubon’s and Myrtle seen Nov 26 near Estero and Nov 28 in mountains

Black-throated Gray Warbler – 2 or 3 seen Nov 28 in mountains

American Redstart – 1 seen Nov 28 in mountains at km 23.6

MacGillivray’s Warbler – Nov 27 stream crossing near Miraflores and Nov 28 in mountains

BELDING’S YELLOWTHROAT (L) – a few among the reeds and scrub on the Estero Nov 26, 1 seen along highway 1 in reeds near bridge construction. This bird had the rear part of its upper mask lining yellow but the front part gray – immature male?

Common Yellowthroat – Estero Nov 26. Many immature yellowthroats were left unidentified

Wilson’s Warbler – Estero, mountains and foothills Nov 26 – 28

Western Tanager – several Nov 28 in mountains, various locations

Spotted Towhee – km 23.6 wash Nov 28, 1 bird

Green-tailed Towhee – 1 or 2 seen every day

California Towhee – 2 seen Nov 28, 2 locations – km 23.6 and lower stream area

Clay-colored Sparrow– a couple seen Nov 27 outside Santiago

Lark Sparrow – common in desert areas and foothills Nov 26 - 28

Lincoln’s Sparrow – 1 bird Nov 26 Estero

Northern Cardinal – Nov 26, 27 & 30

Pyrrhuloxia – 1 bird Nov 30 desert scrub near beach east of La Playita

Varied Bunting – 1 or 2 in foothills Nov 28

Lazuli Bunting – 1 female Nov 28 in foothills

Unidentified blackbirds – near the Estero I saw several small flocks of distant flying blackbirds too far to identify. Not counted

Hooded Oriole – a few seen Nov 26, 27 & 29

Scott’s Oriole – one or two seen all days except Nov 30

Purple Finch – one silent male seen on treetop Nov 28, about km 20. This western race is browner on the flanks than the eastern race with which I am familiar.  Out of range according to Howell?

House Finch – Nov 26 & 30 Estero

Lesser Goldfinch – 1 female in mountains Nov 28

House Sparrow – can’t do a trip without seeing this one


Jackrabbit – Black-tailed?
Medium sized bats in the Tropicana parking lot at dusk
Lots of nice butterflies – swallowtails, fritillaries, skippers, and more

Dave Klauber