Birding in Baja


I spent the last week on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico. This wasn't one of my usual birding trips. As my first real vacation since Belize and Guatemala in 2012, I really needed a chance to relax and unwind. We were invited guests of one of my wife's insurance associates at the Diamanté Cabo San Lucas, a new golf resort located on the coast. At Diamanté, we definitely got the relaxation we needed. I also managed to find exactly 100 species of birds in six days without ever leaving the resort's 1,500 acres. [googlemaps!1m10!1m8!1m3!1d29403.554615925255!2d-109.9823445!3d22.8969766!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!5e0!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1448307713434&w=100%&h=450]


The resort's luxurious accommodations could serve well as the basecamp for a high end birding tour. While areas have been developed or are under development for various resort and golf accommodations, they have done an excellent job of retaining native habitats. The habitat away from beach is predominantly dense and tall desert scrub and thickets with many species of cactus, including the tall saguaro. This is reminiscent of many parts of Arizona if Arizona were on the coast. Indeed, this area harbors many of the same birds, save for presence of several Baja endemics. The golf courses, as courses often do, attract their own suite of species, especially to the artificial ponds and wetlands that are sprinkled throughout. The beach is an excellent location to find seabirds and watch for whales.

Stunning rock formations on the beach. Photo by Marcus C. England.

Desert scrub is typical of the interior. Photo by Marcus C. England.

My Daily Activities

I awoke each morning right around sunrise, generally before anyone in the house. I would make coffee, and then drink a cup or two to wake up before walking right outside our villa where I'd bird the scrub directly behind the house, or the wetland in front of the house. I would often have 30 or more species of birds by 8am. After breakfast, I'd either go birding or running on most days. Sometimes the running would add to my species list (even though I wouldn't have binoculars with me). Then, I'd cool off by relaxing in the pool. I would then bird again in the late afternoon as the sunset, usually borrowing the villa's golf cart so I could go farther out on the property. Despite giving no "hardcore" birding effort, I got total of 50-65 species each day I was there without leaving the property. I documented all observations in eBird using the eBird app on my iPhone. I also took over a thousand photographs, including several species that are uncommon in southern Baja. I also found some time to work on artwork, but not as much as I hoped, as I forgot to bring my watercolor brushes.

A sketch of a Roadrunner I completed over an hour or so in one lazy afternoon in Mexico.

The Birds

My daily bird tallies were somewhat inflated by the presence of a large number of migrants. Particularly common were sparrows, including White-crowned, Lark, and three Spizellas. Common resident species included Gilded Flicker, Gila Woodpecker, Cactus Wren, Common Ground-Dove, and Crested Caracara. The coastal zone was never particularly "birdy", but Semipalmated and Snowy Plovers were well-represented. I observed two Baja endemics in the forms of Xantus's Hummingbird and Gray Thrasher.

A Gray Thrasher on a saguaro cactus. This species is one of several Baja endemics present at the resort. Photo by Marcus C. England.

A Crested Caracara on a saguaro cactus. Photo by Marcus C. England.

Greater Roadrunner. This bird was photographed within 100 feet of our villa. Photo by Marcus C. England.

As I learned from my years in Belize, however, the birdlife is certain to change greatly over the course of the year. It would be of great interest to me to see what is there during spring migration, as well as the summer when migrants are not present.

I found and photographed two species that are considered rarities in the region. One of these, Cackling Goose, was probably inevitable given the affinity that geese have for golf courses. The other, Surf Scoter, may or may not be actually rare, but simply undercounted because of inadequate coverage of the Baja coast by birders.

A pair of Cackling Geese, a regional rarity, on one of the golf course ponds at Diamante Resort. Photo by Marcus C. England.

One of two Surf Scoters, a regional rarity, observed close to shore at the Diamante Resort. Photo by Marcus C. England.

Species List

The following is the list of 100 bird species I observed at the Diamanté resort from November 16 to November 21, 2015.

Species (exported from eBird)
Cackling Goose - Branta hutchinsii
Gadwall - Anas strepera
Green-winged Teal - Anas crecca
Ring-necked Duck - Aythya collaris
Surf Scoter - Melanitta perspicillata
Ruddy Duck - Oxyura jamaicensis
California Quail - Callipepla californica
Pied-billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps
Sooty Shearwater - Ardenna grisea
Magnificent Frigatebird - Fregata magnificens
Brandt's Cormorant - Phalacrocorax penicillatus
Neotropic Cormorant - Phalacrocorax brasilianus
Double-crested Cormorant - Phalacrocorax auritus
Brown Pelican - Pelecanus occidentalis
Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias
Great Egret - Ardea alba
Snowy Egret - Egretta thula
Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis
Green Heron - Butorides virescens
Black-crowned Night-Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - Nyctanassa violacea
White-faced Ibis - Plegadis chihi
Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura
Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
Northern Harrier - Circus cyaneus
Cooper's Hawk - Accipiter cooperii
Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis
Common Gallinule - Gallinula galeata
American Coot - Fulica americana
Black-bellied Plover - Pluvialis squatarola
Snowy Plover - Charadrius nivosus
Semipalmated Plover - Charadrius semipalmatus
Killdeer - Charadrius vociferus
Spotted Sandpiper - Actitis macularius
Willet - Tringa semipalmata
Sanderling - Calidris alba
Least Sandpiper - Calidris minutilla
Wilson's Snipe - Gallinago delicata
Bonaparte's Gull - Chroicocephalus philadelphia
Western Gull - Larus occidentalis
Gull-billed Tern - Gelochelidon nilotica
Royal Tern - Thalasseus maximus
Rock Pigeon - Columba livia
Common Ground-Dove - Columbina passerina
White-winged Dove - Zenaida asiatica
Mourning Dove - Zenaida macroura
Greater Roadrunner - Geococcyx californianus
Barn Owl - Tyto alba
Lesser Nighthawk - Chordeiles acutipennis
Common Poorwill - Phalaenoptilus nuttallii
Costa's Hummingbird - Calypte costae
Xantus's Hummingbird - Hylocharis xantusii
Belted Kingfisher - Megaceryle alcyon
Gila Woodpecker - Melanerpes uropygialis
Ladder-backed Woodpecker - Picoides scalaris
Gilded Flicker - Colaptes chrysoides
Crested Caracara - Caracara cheriway
American Kestrel - Falco sparverius
Merlin - Falco columbarius
Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus
Black Phoebe - Sayornis nigricans
Ash-throated Flycatcher - Myiarchus cinerascens
Cassin's Kingbird - Tyrannus vociferans
Loggerhead Shrike - Lanius ludovicianus
Western Scrub-Jay - Aphelocoma californica
Common Raven - Corvus corax
Northern Rough-winged Swallow - Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Tree Swallow - Tachycineta bicolor
Violet-green Swallow - Tachycineta thalassina
Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica
Verdin - Auriparus flaviceps
Bushtit - Psaltriparus minimus
Marsh Wren - Cistothorus palustris
Cactus Wren - Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Polioptila caerulea
California Gnatcatcher - Polioptila californica
Gray Thrasher - Toxostoma cinereum
Northern Mockingbird - Mimus polyglottos
European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris
Orange-crowned Warbler - Oreothlypis celata
Common Yellowthroat - Geothlypis trichas
Yellow Warbler - Setophaga petechia
Yellow-rumped Warbler - Setophaga coronata
Chipping Sparrow - Spizella passerina
Clay-colored Sparrow - Spizella pallida
Brewer's Sparrow - Spizella breweri
Lark Sparrow - Chondestes grammacus
Lark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorys
White-crowned Sparrow - Zonotrichia leucophrys
Savannah Sparrow - Passerculus sandwichensis
California Towhee - Melozone crissalis
Green-tailed Towhee - Pipilo chlorurus
Pyrrhuloxia - Cardinalis sinuatus
Blue Grosbeak - Passerina caerulea
Lazuli Bunting - Passerina amoena
Hooded Oriole - Icterus cucullatus
Scott's Oriole - Icterus parisorum
House Finch - Haemorhous mexicanus
Lesser Goldfinch - Spinus psaltria
House Sparrow - Passer domesticus