When most people think of Baja California, they conjure up visions of whales, windsurfing or a Mexico cruise, but not bird watching. Yet this isolated part of Mexico and the adjacent Sea of Cortez provide a variety of habitats for terrestrial and aquatic species.
In contrast to tropical rainforests, the vegetation is sparse and open in the Sonoran Desert, so birds are quite visible. There are no thick tangles of vines and tall trees to search through to find what might be singing. Birding can be easy, even for a beginner. Cardinals, loggerhead shrikes, Gila woodpeckers, and ash-throated flycatchers often perch conspicuously on the top of an exposed cardón cactus, the Baja California equivalent of Arizona’s saguaro. Flowers spring to life following adequate rainfall, and Costa’s hummingbirds and hooded orioles are lured to their rich nectar supplies. California quail and roadrunners scurry along the desert floor of the Baja Peninsula. Hawks, turkey vultures, and swifts circle overhead. Baja California is a part of Mexico but is biologically more closely linked to California in the United States. Although it won’t include everything, a bird book for North America is a better choice than one for mainland Mexico. Two species are particularly sought after because they are endemic, found here and nowhere else in the world. The gray thrasher is fairly plain but of interest due to its limited distribution. Xantus’s hummingbirds are strikingly marked with a black eye stripe, coppery tail, and red bill base.
Perhaps the best way to discover Baja birds is to take a Sea of Cortez cruise aboard an expedition ship that offers landings in the Sonoran Desert along with time in marine habitats. The desert country embraces the nutrient-rich waters of the Sea of Cortez where mangrove estuaries, sandy beaches, and open sea attract great numbers of seabirds, waders, and migrants. Ospreys build their bulky nests on shoreline cliffs. Feeding frenzies sometimes develop around schooling fish, and hundreds of brown pelicans, frigate birds, boobies, cormorants and other seabirds plunge or dive and grab for food before the fish disperse or descend out-of-reach. Dolphins may be attracted at the same time and the frantic activity of excited birds, marine mammals, and desperate fish is a thrill to experience.
In spring and early summer, certain islands become nurseries for breeding seabirds. Blue-footed and brown boobies, tropicbirds, and the endemic yellow-footed gull set up housekeeping at some sites. Isla Rasa, a flat-topped islet, is a major nesting area for elegant terns and Heermann’s gulls that concentrate in tightly-packed colonies to rear their chicks.
So, enjoy Baja travel on your next Mexican vacation, and when you do, bring binoculars, and a bird book. You won’t be disappointed.
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