The smartly spotted Gray Thrasher is one of several taxa endemic to the Cape region of Baja California. Photo: Steve Mlodinow.
Connected to North America by a 770-mile peninsula, the Cape Region of Baja California is in some ways a familiar place, with many of the area’s plants and animals also found in California or the Sonoran desert of Arizona and west Mexico. Yet there are obvious differences, differences that have attracted natural historians for decades. There are many endemic plants and animals here, among them three currently recognized bird species and a number of distinctive avian subspecies, some of them obvious and likely to be split in the future. The tropical habitats of the southern peninsula are also a major wintering area for birds from western North America, and the nearshore waters are rich and diverse. In our quest for the Cape Region’s specialties, we’ll also be frequently entertained by the spectacles of mixed flocks of wintering passerines, multitudes of shorebirds, and even some seawatching.
This is a complete natural history tour, with a focus on the birds but also with time spent investigating the plants, reptiles, mammals, and insects of southern Baja California.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening at 7:00 in San José del Cabo. Night in San José del Cabo.
Day 2: We’ll pace ourselves as we have all day to bird the estuary of San José and the nearby desert. The estuary is where a shallow, meandering freshwater creek meets the sea in an ever-changing delta only a few hundred yards across. In a region beset by an often very extended dry season, the result is a veritable oasis. Being so close to human population always results in unanticipated changes in the nature of the marsh vegetation, but there are almost always a few Belding’s Yellowthroats in the stands of giant bullrush and cattails; sometimes they can be abundant. The shallows also host numbers of ducks such as Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal, several herons and egrets, including Reddish Egret, Common Moorhens, Pied-billed Grebes and Neotropic Cormorants. A look towards the ocean is worthwhile, usually resulting in Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans, and Heermann’s Gull is usually also present. Later we’ll visit nearby desert, home to Western Scrub-Jays, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Verdin and possibly Gray Thrasher. In the afternoon we’ll drive to Punta Colorada, stopping at a pond along the way that should have Least Grebe and perhaps add some unexpected water birds to the list. Our hotel for the next two nights is on a secluded bit of desert coastline facing the Gulf of California, and we’ll have a chance to soak up the atmosphere of this lovely location. Night in Los Barriles.
Day 3: We’ll depart very early this morning to a road that reaches about 2500 feet elevation in the northern foothills of the Sierra Laguna. This will be our chance to search for several endemic forms (many likely true species) that prefer the oak woodlands, and even some that occasionally descend from the pine-oak woodlands closer 6000 feet. Among the birds we should see are California Towhee, the pale American Robin, the dark-eyed Acorn Woodpecker, the Band-tailed Pigeon without a tail band, the very colorful Cassin’s Vireo, the not-so-different Warbling Vireo and the Northern Pygmy-Owl with a higher-pitched and faster-paced song. If we’re very lucky, we could see the Yellow-eyed Junco, usually referred to as “Baird’s Junco,” White-breasted Nuthatch, Oak Titmouse and Spotted Towhee. Numbers of Cassin’s Kingbird also occur here, and the woodland is home to a few wintering Black-and-white Warblers. This is also a good place to spot the highly colorful San Lucan Rock Lizard and the endemic Cape Spiny LIzard. We’ll return after lunch to our hotel and spend some time watching the sea for migrating birds, among which might be Brown Booby, Black-vented Shearwater, Black Storm-Petrel or Red-billed Tropicbird. The beaches here also have Snowy Plover, and at night we could bump into Elf or Great Horned Owl. Night in Los Barriles.
Day 4: We’ll have a relaxed morning at our Punta Colorada hotel. The desert here has abundant Bursera microphylla trees which provide food for wintering Gray Vireos, though it might be a bit late in the season, as many will have already begun their migration northward. The Gray Thrasher is resident here, however, and other desert species should be found, such as California Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Costa’s Hummingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Cactus Wren, California Gnatcatcher, Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrow and Northern Cardinal, while wintering Brewer’s and Clay-colored Sparrows and Lark Bunting could add some interest. After lunch we’ll stop in the town of Santiago where some freshwater marsh will give us one more chance to see Belding’s Yellowthroats as well as some of additional riparian and town species such as Thick-billed Kingbird or Bell’s Vireo, and then we’ll continue on to La Paz. Night in La Paz.
Day 5: We’ll have all day in the La Paz area, which includes some of the best shorebird mudflats in western Mexico. Numbers of Least and Western Sandpipers, Willets, Long-billed Curlews, Marbled Godwits, Wilson’s, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers winter here, while both night-herons in addition to a full complement of herons and egrets are possible. Nearby are the sewage ponds and well-watered agricultural fields where Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Crested Caracara, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Vermilion Flycatcher and American Pipit are among many birds that will keep us busy for the rest of the day. As a result of this abundance, Peregrine Falcon and Merlin consider this a great place to spend the winter. Meanwhile, our hotel is a lovely place to relax right along the bayside boardwalk. Blue-footed Booby could be patrolling the nearshore waters, and a stroll in the shopping district will be on the agenda for many. Night in La Paz.
Day 6: We’ll have the first part of this day to bird the areas near La Paz once more, venturing a bit farther afield to areas north of town where a giant cactus grove is home to both Gila Woodpecker and Gilded Flicker. North of there, the rocky shore should have American Oystercatcher, Yellow-footed Gull and Brandt’s Cormorant while patched of mangrove might harbor Clapper Rail and the lovely Mangrove Yellow Warbler and Northern Waterthrush. The nearby dwarf desert with fascinating plant forms will draw our attention, and Tiger Whiptails and Zebra-tailed Lizards will tease us as they dart away. If there are any flowers, some interesting butterflies could be attracted to them, such as Sonoran Giant and Hepburn’s Metalmarks. We’ll depart late morning to make the drive to Puerto San Carlos with stops. Night in Puerto San Carlos.
Day 7: This morning we’ll take a 3-hour boat trip on the bay and get intimate with the Gray Whales, an experience that you will not soon forget. After the boat ride, we’ll drive back to San José with a stop in Ciudad Constitución for lunch, as well as short stops in Playa San Pedrito and Todos Santos on the way. The oases here are always worth at least a quick check and offer a break to the five-hour drive. Night in San José del Cabo.
Day 8: The tour ends this morning with transportation to the Los Cabos airport for your flights home.
This tour is organised by our American partner WINGS
Updated: 10 September 2016