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November 1999

by Mary Beth Stowe

Many thanks to those of you who sent me information on birding this area!  Unfortunately (for reasons stated later) we were never able to make it to the famous Estero over by San Jose del Cabo, but we managed to see some good birds nevertheless.

A bit of history first: this was a free trip offered by a friend of mine who works for a biological consulting firm: this trip was a freebie to all their employees and family members (or "special friend"), so when Cheryl offered, I sure wasn't going to refuse!  Made it into Cabo without incident: first Mexican bird of the trip was Turkey Vulture, with a flock of four on the way to the restaurant.

The next morning I had a little time before breakfast to check the grounds out, and what a surprise!  We were right on the coast, and our room had a beautiful view of the rocky shoreline!  Brown Pelicans were the prevalent bird there, but right outside the door in the gardens, things were hopping!  Cactus Wrens came right out for pictures (these are the Baja California race), and Hooded Oriole were chattering and flitting from bush to bush.  San Diego regulars included Butterbutts and Costa's Hummingbirds, and on the way up the walk, what should be sitting close by but a female Xantus' Hummer!  Endemic Number One outta the way!

Out on the main road there were other goodies: lots of Gila Woodpeckers flying around, and Ground and White-winged Doves were around as well.  Mockers chacked, Verdins chirped, and House Wrens chattered from the bushes.  A funny mew revealed a Green-tailed Towhee, and a brown bunting at close range had faint wingbars, so I wrote it down as a Lazuli, but after consulting the book (and am I glad I lugged that Howell and Webb book along) I decided the wingbars were too faint, as Varied can show faint wingbars, and there wasn't a hint of a cinnamon wash across the breast.

But the best bird popped up on a post: a Gray Thrasher!  He did indeed remind me of a gray Brown Thrasher, with heavily spotted breast and longer bill than a Sage, plus orange eyes like a Curve-billed!  He preened and let me get a couple of pictures, but then hopped down, never to be seen again.  Other things were good for the list but rather anti-climactic after that: Cassin's Kingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, both Blue-gray and California Gnatcatchers, Orange-crowned Warbler, but a nice male Xantus' sat in a dead bush just before I had to go back for breakfast!

Afterwards Adam (one of the other employees who was more interested in birding than the others) wanted to try for the Xantus' before we left for snorkeling, and we found it in short order in the garden!  Struck out on the thrasher, but we did refind the towhee, plus a pair of Lark Sparrows for the list.  A Scott's Oriole was a potential lifer for Adam (he later recalled seeing one on a Phil Unitt field trip), and a Scrub Jay was a special southern Baja subspecies, I'm told.  Pacific-slope Flycatchers were calling as well.

After that we gathered for the snorkeling bus.  Lots of frigates were hanging around the dock, plus Western Gull and Osprey for the trip, as well as a lone Wood Stork soaring with the rest of them!  I had never snorkeled before, and it was a wonderful experience: the fish were absolutely gorgeous!  Of the more outstanding ones, there was a blackish (dark blue?) one with a yellow tail and vertical yellow stripe on the midsection, a black one delicately outlined in white, an angelfish of some kind that was mostly yellow with a black outline, a similar fish with a long snout, a Rainbow Something-or-Other (at least I remembered part of the name on that one) that kept close to the rocks, and several little iridescent blue ones!  There were of course the big gray fish that were schooling like crazy, but the colorful ones were special: like Sea World in the wild!

Took another early morning jaunt the next day, this time with Adam and Cheryl, and we managed to add Kestrel, Ladder-backed Woodpecker (with a very different accent here), and White-crowned Sparrow to the list, while Adam and Cheryl got good looks at some of the more common stuff like Cactus Wren, Gila Woodpecker, and Costa's Hummingbird.  After breakfast I went back out and added Pyrrhuloxia and Common Yellowthroat; didn't manage to refind the thrasher, though, even with a tape (the Mockingbirds were strutting their stuff in the same area, so I couldn't help but wonder if they were somehow keeping the thrasher at bay).

Then we had to find our own way to the glass-bottom boat, so as I was waiting for Cheryl to show up at the front desk, a female Cooper's Hawk went whizzing by.  The ride over there was a little frustrating because the driver wouldn't take us right up to the dock (like they did the day before), so we had to walk the rest of the way (got a Green Heron out of it, though).  But we were in plenty of time, so we all piled on, and were treated to a puffer fish nibbling on the algae right away!  Later on we saw more of the pretty ones we saw snorkeling the day before, and they took us in close to the rocks to see pelicans, Brandt's Cormorants, and sea lions.

Finally got back to the hotel, where I sacked out for awhile and then sat outside and read (I'm more and more tempted to go to one of these lodges and just veg for a week or two!).  I was amazed at the lack of rocky shorebirds, but I did get to watch a female Belted Kingfisher, a Snowy Egret, and Great Blue Heron all poking around down there while I read.  There's something to be said about going to one place and just soaking in the beauty there rather than running around from place to place, trying to see as much as possible in the shortest amount of time!

Around 4:30 I decided to take another little walk up the street before dinner, and it was pretty productive: added Clay-colored Sparrow to the list, and I may have had the thrasher again, but the light was bad and didn't get a real good look.

The bad news was that we were running outta dough, and didn't have enough to pay for a taxi ride to the Estero (and the others weren't thrilled about paying 400 pesos one way anyway), so unfortunately we never made it over there (which would have been the best bet for the Belding's Yellowthroat, but oh well).  So back up the road we went, where we got the Pyrrhuloxia and the buntings (both lifers for Adam, I think), and a bush full of birds which included a Large-billed Savannah Sparrow!  A Black-headed Grosbeak I had found the first day made a re-appearance, and the towhee popped up again (at least he was consistent) as well as the Lark Sparrows and lots of Ash-throated Flycatchers.  The Pacific-slope made an appearance, so everyone got a good look at his typical Empid behavior and looks!  A young male Costa's, with only a couple of bluish feathers, showed off as well.  We had to get back for breakfast, but managed to spook a covey of California Quail and Ground Doves, plus a tail-wagging Palm Warbler!  (I had tuned it out because their bright chirp sounds very much like a Verdin, but when I saw this guy, unfortunately against the sun, I realized that Verdins don't have long, thin bills, superculliums, are greenish overall, or wag their tails, which is about all I saw of this guy before he took off!) A male Cardinal popped up as well, which thrilled Cheryl because that's their Pioneer Girls mascot!

After breakfast Adam and I went back out to try and hit the thorn forest across the street.  We were moving pretty good to get there when the best bird of the day showed up along with some Cassin's Kingbirds: a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!  There was a trail of sorts up into the habitat once you crossed the highway, and the habitat was indeed great, although the birdlife was starting to quiet down: we did call out a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and hadn't taken a step before a Gray Flycatcher popped up, giving its characteristic tail-wag!  We then found Craig and Kyle, two other employees who were botanizing (and getting totally confused, they said), so the three of them headed back while I continued up the wash a little bit.  Watched a flock of Violet-green Swallows move through as I sat for five, and on the way back a nice male Xantus' was desperately trying to get nectar from a flower in the wind!  On the way back I took a little side trip down the road of the next door RV park, where a Flicker was calling but I couldn't get a visual.  Consulting the book later I came to the conclusion that it was almost certainly a Gilded, and also discovered that both the Palm Warbler and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher appear to be regular vagrants, so I may have to write them up and send in documentation to someone (glad I got a photo of the flycatcher, anyway!).

Dragged myself back to the hotel, found a diet Coke, and caught up on the journal before packing up and heading out to the patio for a group picture (and a Reddish Egret Adam and his daughter had seen while kayaking).  After lunch we bussed to the airport and got one more bird for the trip, albeit an uninspiring one: European Starling!

Bird List:
Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens
Brandt's Cormorant Phalacrocorax penicillatus
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Green Heron Butorides virescens
Wood Stork Mycteria americana
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
California Quail Callipepla californica
Western Gull Larus occidentalis
Rock Dove Columba livia
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina
Xantus' Hummingbird Hylocharis xantusii
Costa's Hummingbird Calypte costae
Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon
Gila Woodpecker Melanerpes uropygialis
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
Gilded Flicker Colaptes chrysoides
Gray Flycatcher Empidonax wrightii
Pacific-slope Flycatcher Empidonax difficilis
Black Phoebe Sayornis nigricans
Ash-throated Flycatcher Myiarchus cinerascens
Cassin's Kingbird Tyrannus vociferans
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forficatus
Western Scrub-jay Aphelocoma californica
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
F Gray Thrasher Toxostoma cinereum
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
House Wren Troglodytes aedon
Verdin Auriparus flaviceps
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
California Gnatcatcher Polioptila californica
Violet-green Swallow Tachycineta thalassina
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Lesser Goldfinch Carduelis psaltria
House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
Orange-crowned Warbler Vermivora celata
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
Palm Warbler Dendroica palmarum
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
Clay-colored Sparrow Spizella pallida
Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus
Green-tailed Towhee Pipilo chlorurus
Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus
Varied Bunting Passerina versicolor
Hooded Oriole Icterus cucullatus
Scott's Oriole Icterus parisorum


Mary Beth Stowe
San Diego, CA