Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Caravan

Our trek to Organ Pipe was interesting, but it was the work in Mexico that had me more interested.  A lot of birders signed up for a gull workshop with AZFO's Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym.  And on the last day of the conference, a large caravan of birders crossed the border into Mexico.

Magnificent Frigatebird
We planned on staying the night in Rocky Point or Puerto Peñasco.  Many of the birders wanted to go with the caravan together.  No matter how many times I write this, there are still birders who are afraid to cross the border even though it's completely safe to travel to Rocky Point.  Like everything else, people need to use common sense. 

30+ birders scour the ocean with their scopes
We spent our morning with scopes and gulls.  But we also had our own agenda.  I wanted to do a count around Morúa or the Pinto Estuaries so we broke away from the group after lunch to do our own counts. I've been doing work around those areas for several years now and had never birded the area in October.  We rented a place on the Morúa estuary and really had a nice hike full of excellent birds there.

AZ Fish and Wildlife's Troy Corman and Wrenegade team member Tim H scope the horizon for possible rare birds

It's hard to navigate areas with large groups of people.  Many were there to spot the Yellow-footed Gull which is a bird of interest for many people.  These gulls live around the Sea of Cortez in good numbers.

Yellow-footed Gull
We said our good-byes and then were off to our sector of Rocky Point to get some work done.

At Morúa Estuary, we do a major bird count
The first bunch of birds we crossed paths with were plovers.  Snowy Plovers were everywhere.  They are the cutest of the bunch.   

Snowy Plover
Another common plover along the Pacific waters is the Black-bellied Plover.  Most of the shorebirds are in their winter plumage right now so they all look rather gray together.  Some can be downright tricky!

Black-bellied Plover
Another special bird that people come to see in Rocky Point is the Wilson's Plover.  They have a big bill and are the sassiest of the bunch.  In the pic below, the bird is throwing a little "tude" at an oncoming Snowy Plover. 

Wilson's Plover is the sassiest of the bunch
Even though it is cooler and pleasant, the sun can be quite strong as it bleaches the landscape.  In the pic below, we arrived at the mouth of the estuary where the bird life was at its highest.  I discovered my first Black Skimmers for Mexico here.

The bright light of the dunes and the ocean create a bleaching of color affect
Another great bird to see was the Elegant Tern.  They were the most common tern in this area next to the Forster's Tern. This species is listed as Near Threatened.

Elegant Tern
There were schools of fish everywhere.  And where there were large numbers of fish, there were hundreds of birds diving into the waters. Heermann's Gulls closely followed Brown Pelicans and tried to steal the food from their bills. 

A near threatened Herrmann's Gull sits on the back of this Brown Pelican
On Sunday morning, Gordon wanted to do his survey at Cholla Bay.  So he showed a couple birders how he likes to do his count.  As always, we had a great time and finished our counts with a nice list of bird species there.  The key is to go at low tide if you're a photographer.  At high tide, Cholla Bay is great with a scope.  

Short-billed Dowitchers
Short-billed Dowitchers had to be carefully ID'd by listening to their flight call.  As they flew, we were quickly able to ID them as Short-billed and not Long-billed.

Birding Cholla Bay at low tide is great for photographers wanting to get up close to the birds
As the bay drains of water, shorebirds, like the Red Knot below, go crazy on the crabs. 

A dull winter plumaged Red Knot forages for food
I've seen Red Knots in a lot of places but they are often too far to get clear views. One of my goals for this visit was to observe this species better. And it was great! 

Western Willet
Our special find, and definitely off my radar, was this gorgeous Fox Sparrow, the Sooty-colored subspecies. At the Morúa and Pinto Estuaries, there are specific green spaces or migrant traps that have green lawns and mesquite bosques.  I looked over at the trash bin and saw a bird scratching on the ground.  At first I thought it was a towhee until we put our bins on it!  HOLY COW!  We ended up with a Fox Sparrow on our Mexican life list. I also added a Dark-eyed Junco which was yet another bird I had not expected for Mexico.  Anyhow, the migrant traps around the hotels are great near the estuaries!!  I've had so many surprise warblers and sparrows show up in these green spaces. 

A rare Fox Sparrow
Our adventures continue......


  1. Some great shots here, love the gull on the pelican. Cheers Diane

  2. Hello, great post on your Mexico trip. I would have been one of the caravan group, just to feel safe. I see a few plovers that would be lifers for me, the Wilson Plover and the Snowy Plover. Lovely views of the water and beach. Great report, beautiful birds and photos. Happy Birding, have a great new week!

    1. Sounds like someone needs to take a trip to a spend some time on their beautiful beaches:)

  3. Cheeky gull on that pelican. :) I want to go here, this winter. Maybe you can show me around?

  4. Wow, so many great shots. And the commentary is excellent as usual.

  5. Beautiful photos - the Snowy Plover is just SO cute. Well done on the Fox Sparrow :)

    1. Thank you! That was so exciting to find. It was a great way to end our count.

  6. I think I would pass on the caravan.

  7. Hello! Great photos. The Elegant tern and the Yellow-footed gull are wonderful!

  8. Great!!!beautiful images .. congratulations and regards from Madrid

  9. Good to see all those shorebirds Chris. Interesting how you waited for the dowitchers to call before you definitely ID them. Wish our birders over here did that, especially since most have little experience of dowitchers. Nice photography in all that sun.

  10. Fascinating birding trip and some beautiful shots!

  11. Some good looking Plovers, but love that Frigatebird.

  12. Great pictures - at least the Red Knot is a bird we can both see!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne


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