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Puerto Penasco

September 1995

by Richard Palmer

I'm back from my first adventure to Rocky Point, otherwise known as Puerto Penasco. The four hour drive down there was uneventful. I went into Tucson and purchased the Mexican insurance for the 87 Toyota for about $24.00 for two days. At the same time I converted $100 US into $600 Pesos. The Mexicans have re-evaluated their currency so now you don't have $10000 peso notes, a little easier to keep track of.

The trip through the Arizona desert was quiet as it was around 10:00 AM by that time. The only bird of note was a Caracara near Sells, MP100. Crossing the border was easy, just drive on through, no paper work, no stopping just a friendly wave. The habitat changed radically from the border on. At the start there were a few Organ Pipe Cactus and a lot of Sahuaros with some mesquite trees. A little further on we had dropped down to less than a 1000 foot elevation and the vegetation became very sparse desert. Only a few plants and no trees. Thus no birds to speak of. I found a Harris Hawk soring, as well as Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Mourning Doves, American Kestrels, Common Ravens and Loggerhead Shrikes.

Arriving at the town at sea level it became rather apparent that this place was just like the Salton Sea, very hot and sultry. We checked in at the motel which was not much except a place to sleep, somewhat compared to a Motel 6 you might say. I asked before I signed how much it was per night and he said $45 US. I looked at him in disfavor. Right away he said $30 US and I said OK as that is about what the going rate is. When he filled out the papers he put down $150 pesos which comes out to $25 US so I guess he can't figure. No tax either.

We drove around looking for the best birding places and found very few in town. There was a drive along the water front which produced some of the expected species. Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Osprey, Black-bellied Plover, Willet, Sanderling, Heermann's Gull, Yellow-footed Gull, Royal Tern, Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Great-tailed Grackle, and House Sparrow. I found myself at the end of the main sand road going west and had stopped the car to get out and walk the beach. Having done that I returned to the car to leave and three vehicles were blocking my way out. One of them had tryed to go on but had got stuck. The people were trying to get this truck out. Well I thought I would just pull around the other two cars and go on back to town. I managed to get most of the way around before I got stuck in the sand. After digging myself out and putting a board under the tire Dorothy and I got it out. Do you think the others would help, well this bunch didn't. By this time I was hot and had sand and salt all over me.

After cleaning up I headed for a nice air conditioned bar and had a couple of cold drinks. After the drinks we continued around town down another sandy road. They had dug a trench across the main road and we were forced to take a detour. Well we almost made it around but got stuck again about a block from the road repair crew. Some nice young guy stopped with his girl friend and offered to help. We tryed unsucessfully for 45 minutes to get it out but it was just too stuck. This young kid from Mesa finally wondered if the construction crew would help get us out, they had a loader back-hoe which would do the trick if they would help. He didn't know any Spanish so he didn't want to talk to them. I told him he had a good idea and I would talk to them. One of the crew spoke English somewhat so he knew what I needed. He and two others came down in their jeep. Well first they tryed to push me out by hand, no luck. Next they pulled with the jeep, no luck. Finally they dug me out with shovels and were then able to pull me out with the jeep. Why they didn't do this to begin with I don't know but at least I got out. I gave the three $10 and told them to have a couple of drinks on me as it was worth it. So you think this is the end of the story? In the process I misplaced my car keys somewhere and I didn't know where. This took another 1/2 hour to find them. I had laid them down along side the car as I was scooping out sand in front of the car. Well naturally the car buried them when the tire spun.

I had had enough fun for today (Tuesday) so we returned to the motel to clean up once again. We did find a good place to eat (Lily's) so at least that went well.

Wednesday went better but by this time we were pretty well burnt out on Mexican birding. I checked two other places, one had a lot of shorebirds and a few others species. I found Great Egret, Snowy Plover, Killdeer, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Ring-billed gull, and Black Skimmer. The second place turned out to be the best place to bird down here. A place called Cholla Bay north of Puerto Penasco and on the Gulf of Mexico. Access to the area was down a sandy road of 7 miles and I was scarred all the way I would get stuck, but didn't. When we reached the area there was a guard shack and a guard at the entrance. I was sure he wouldn't let me in but once again he just waved me on in. Looking out over the edge on the rocks we found Common Loon (my first and only new Mexican bird), Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Greater Yellowlegs, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, White-winged Dove, Great Horned Owl, Gila Woodpecker, Say's Phoebe, Barn Swallow, Rock Wren and House Finch.

The afternoon and the next morning of birding down here resulted in 44 species. Next time I will do better as I now know more about how to get around and where to go. I will time my arrival at Cholla Bay better with the tide about 3/4 of the way coming in. There were a lot of birds too far out to see well when I was there as the tide was out. So ends the tale of our first trip to Puerto Penasco, but not our last.

Richard & Dorothy Palmer
Green Valley, Arizona