Baja California Mexico
25th December 2019 to 9th January 2020
Yellow-crowned night-heron with crab
Mexico is a huge country and I needed to choose a limited area to visit. The Baja California peninsula seemed an obvious choice. Geographically separate and the internet suggested bird rich. It was not so clear if the bird photography would be good.
We flew to Los Cabos at the southern end of the peninsula on Christmas day flying with Areomexico from the U.K. via a connection in Mexico City. We had booked a hotel for the first two nights close to San Jose del Cabo and I have adopted a new policy on car hire. Since I can never sleep on airplanes and always arrive very tired it is not a good idea to hire a car at the airport and drive in a new country feeling jaded. I need to be more alert. So we took a taxi to the hotel and returned the following day to the airport by a local bus to pick up a car rental.
On this occasion it proved unnecessary as the road to the hotel was empty and the Mexico drivers very slow and cautious on the whole. I was expecting it to be more like driving in Brazil or Venezuela, which can be scary. In Baja it was more like driving in Canada where everyone gives way to everyone else. I think they found my driving more aggressive than theirs and cursed the Gringo!
The peninsula is not overrun with roads. For much of its length it is Highway 1 only, north to south, with occasional tracks or roads going off east or west. Highway 1 does run along the coast at times, but is mostly in the centre. Cars do drive fast on this road through the deserts, but there is little traffic.
We had a guide book "Where to watch birds in Mexico" by Steve N.G. Howell and followed the web site https://birdsofpassage.wordpress.com/mexico-birding-map . Between them they gave us plenty of sites to visit.
Overall Baja California reminded me of Florida. Similar range of species and many of them approachable. We picked up pictures at various sites along our route, but I will only mention the best four that I would have to return to if I was ever in the area again.
The first site to visit was San Jose del Cabo estuary. We parked by the Holiday Inn and walked downstream towards the sea. It was a worthwhile start, with Whimbrel, Killdeer, Ospreys, Turkey vultures, Crested caracaras, Brown pelicans and Gila Woodpeckers getting us started. There were other wader and heron species too.
The Ospreys dived into the water frequently and I enjoyed trying to catch them as they turned in the air to descend sharply down. I kept thinking how much easier this would be with the Sony A9 with no blackout in the viewfinder. I was hoping Olympus would include this feature in their next model.
The site was well worth spending time at and we returned for three visits.
We explored other tracks and sites listed in the guide books for the area, but did little photography. On the whole we did well on the coastal sites and very poorly in the central deserts. Desert species seemed scarce and when we did see something could not get close.
We did a little bit of photography at La Paz on the way north and with hindsight should have spent more time on the sea front in the town where the birds would have been more approachable.
The next very successful place was Puerto San Carlos on the West Coast. We stayed two nights at the Mar Y Arena Hotel and found the sandy peninsula to the south of the town excellent for a variety of species. White Ibis, Heermaans gull and Yellow-crowned night-herons in particular.
At Loreto we stayed at the Loreto Baja Golf Resort and found the grounds to be quite good for bird photography. We stayed here two nights, but got no pictures outside of the grounds.
Towards the end of our two week trip we reached Guerrero Negro. We stayed at the first hotel on the right as you turn off Highway 1 and head west into town, but I forget its name. It was a nice place and much cheaper than anywhere else we stayed.
Head further along the road west, through the small town and you cross a canal on the far edge of town. It was about a 3 minute drive from the hotel. Follow the canal on either bank and there is good photography to be had from the car. On the west bank you come to a barrier and need to park and walk. It is sign posted as a nature reserve and great for photography.
This area and the surrounding salt pans and marshes was my favourite place of the trip and I could spend a lot of time here. Grebes, herons, waders and low osprey nests are widespread.
From Guerrero Negro we had to head south again and it was a full days drive to get back south to the airport for our return flight.