The past few days have been a mixture of birding a lot of extensive wetlands, some very arid deserts, and some desert oases. The mix of habitats has strongly highlighted the drastic contrasts present in Baja, where the ocotillo, cardón and palo verde extend right to the beaches or right to the edge of the mangroves as the case may be.
In any case, we spent a long evening birding the large and excellent portion of Laguna Ojo de Liebre’s salt marsh that is readily accessible from Guerrero Negro. We found a few unexpected birds – Ring-billed Gull and some early Short-billed Dowitchers, Black-bellied Plovers and Greater Yellowlegs, but the real standout aspect of it was the huge expanses of salt marsh. The road out through the marshes is 6.5 miles and is chock-a-block with herons, shorebirds, and Savannah Sparrows. Presumably there are many rails as well but we were out on a quite windy evening and didn’t hear any or try to detect any via playback.
The following morning we drove the back roads in the Vizcaíno desert south of Guerrero Negro in search of the Vizcaíno subspecies of Le Conte’s Thrasher. We found a singing male and got good looks as well as attempted to make our first audio recordings. We managed to get a recording of song and calls, although it was quite windy, so the recording quality is not that great. Seeing and trying to record the Vizcaíno Thrasher was a great experience with a secretive and not very common bird.
Following that we headed to the coast at Punta Abreojos, a very sleepy fishing village with good surf. It is a very rarely, if ever, birded location so we didn’t know what to expect. We had some awesome surprises though, in the form of 2500+ Elegant Terns roosting on the beach right in front of town. We also headed north of town to bird Estero Las Bocanas, which we had previously scoped out via Google Maps’ satellite view. Estero Las Bocanas was terrific, a mixture of salt marsh and mangrove habitat that was absolutely teeming with Mangrove Yellow Warblers, many many herons and ibis and shorebirds. A huge surprise however was finding 16 Clapper Rails in about 30 minutes in the middle of a hot afternoon. They were calling all over the place and we saw a total of 3. Las Bocanas appears to be a great spot for Clapper Rails.
Howling wind and blowing sand drove us back inland as the evening approached so we headed for San Ignacio where we stayed and birded around Petate’s, a nice and quiet campsite on one of the little ponds. We had Belding’s Yellowthroat, a Baja endemic warbler, in our campsite as well as Purple Martins, Hooded Orioles, Cactus Wrens and a Yellow-breasted Chat calling across the pond. Mulegé offers similar habitat to San Ignacio, being another date palm choked oasis, and we found a similar lineup of species, along with a good selection of waders, terns, gulls, and the like at the estuary.
We had a bit of an adventure in Bahía Concepción driving about 30 miles out to Punto Hornitos on the east side of the bay via increasingly poor 4×4 roads. We camped on a remote beach and hiked to the point itself in the morning for a seawatch. We had several Harris’s Hawks along the penninsula along with dozens and dozens of Ash-throated Flycatchers. One quite interesting thing was to see a wide range of birds using the giant Cardón cactus as roosts, including Magnificent Frigatebirds and Great Blue Herons. From the point we did a dawn seawatch and saw 2 Least Storm Petrels, the first perhaps 1 mile out at the intersection of calm and disturbed water, while the second was a bit closer in and appeared to be coming from in the bay and headed out into the Sea of Cortez.