Page 1


The Last Kingdom of the Whales

24 March–7 April 2018 1 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Harlequin Duck (drake), Laxรก.

A Blue Whale flicks its tail in readiness for a deep dive in the Sea of Cortez. Cover: Humpback Whale (Mike Watson). Birdquest/Wild Images Guide: Mike Watson MV Searcher Naturalists: Paul Jones, Andrea Dransfield and Bruce Stewart.

2 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Believe it or not there were a few folks who joined our 2018 Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales cruise for the birds! Whilst we did see some very good ones, everyone was completely taken by the fantastic whale show we experienced during our cruise around Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. It really is something else! It was almost like all my previous whale encounters rolled into one trip. Incredible really! Cetacean highlights were the close encounters with Laguna San Ignacio’s tame and inquisitive Gray Whale cow and calf pairs, two Great Sperm Whale pods, five Blue Whales, 20 Humpback Whales including several breaching displays, four very close Fin Whales, a huge pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales and last and least three diminutive Dwarf Sperm Whales. Pinnipeds were well represented with Guadalupe Fur Seals and Northern Elephant Seals on Islas San Benito plus California Sea Lions and Harbour Seals. We also did quite well for mega fishes too with Ocean Sunfish, the endangered Great Hammerhead Shark, Thresher Shark and numerous Whale Sharks on the snorkelling excursion in Bahia La Paz. Above the water birding highlights on the cruise included Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses, Least and Black Storm Petrels,

Pink-footed and Black-vented Shearwaters, Red-billed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird, Blue-footed and Brown Boobies, Sabine’s, Heermann’s and Yellow-footed Gulls, Elegant Tern, Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers, Scripps’s and Craveri’s Murrelets, Cassin’s Auklet, tiny Xantus’s and Costa’s Hummingbirds, Gila Woodpecker and Gilded Flicker, Verdin, Grey Thrasher and Phainopepla, Mangrove Warbler, Scott’s and Hooded Orioles, ‘San Benito’ Savannah Sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia and a host of common western species. The mainland Baja Extension produced the two other Baja endemic species, the tricky-to-find Baird’s Junco and Cape Pygmy Owl high up in the Sierra de la Laguna as well as Greater Roadrunner, the gorgeous Elf Owl, Thickbilled Kingbird and Grey and Cassin’s Vireos of note in some wonderful scenery. However, the real stars of the show were our superb vessel MV Searcher and its amazing Captain Art Taylor and his crew, who made the cruise a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. The boat itself is in beautiful condition and is very comfortable, the food was simply superb, courtesy of Charlie and Dan and the crew could not do enough for us. They also took spotting cetaceans to a new level, picking them up and identifying them miles away Great Sperm Whale, Sea of Cortez (Mike Watson)

3 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

A Gray Whale calf hitches a ride on its mum’s back in Laguna San Ignacio (Mike Watson).

on the horizon and once Captain Art had them within range we saw his special skills at work in slowly approaching them until most were just off the bow. I imagine he would have made a master whaler in another lifetime but happily everything on Searcher is done with the utmost respect for the wildlife of Baja, which is one of the reasons they are permitted access to its protected marine preserves by the Mexican government. Once all of the passengers had gathered at San Diego’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf we set sail after dark, heading to the outer harbour and towards the open sea, the Pacific Ocean. However, it was not time for bed yet as we cruised slowly past some illuminated bait fish pontoons. Crowded on the pontoons were stacks of Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Herons, Brown Pelicans as well as a couple of Snowy Egrets and Heermann’s Gulls. Also here were a lot of California Sea Lions, jostling for position on the tightly packed pontoons. We made a final pass and headed out to sea, the crew worked very hard on this voyage, in shifts, sailing through the night to cover deceptively long distances to get us to our next destination in time for morning.

We awoke to the first of many terrific breakfasts served in the saloon as we entered the Mexican port of Ensenada, where we cleared customs and immigration, a small number of port officials boarded Searcher to complete our formalities. The harbour area here was quite birdy and produced Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Brown Pelican, Marbled Godwit, Black Skimmer, Glaucous-winged Gull, Royal and Elegant Terns, Out in the bay lie the Islas Todas Santos (‘Islands of All Saints’), which cannot be landed on but we approached close enough to check some visible birds, which included Common Loon (including one in breeding plumage), our first Black-vented Shearwaters, Brandt’s and Double-crested Cormorants and a Peregrine Falcon high over the cliffs. Almost as soon as we had done with birding here, Captain Art announced a large pod of dolphins, which transpired to be Long-beaked Common Dolphins, around 300 strong, although dolphin numbers are notoriously difficult to estimate with many animals under the surface at any one time. We set a course to cross the dolphins’ path and pretty soon we had numerous animals zooming past the boat on their way

4 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Black-footed Albatross near Islas Todas Santos (Mike Watson).

somewhere, some simply coming closer to check us out. This was to become a feature of our first couple of days. An encounter with dolphins is a very moving and uplifting experience for many people, to think that these animals that look pretty much like fish have highly developed brains like ours. Not long afterwards we also spotted our first of many albatrosses - the majestic Black-footed and then whales, two Gray Whales, thought to be bulls were on the move offshore here. We had received a warning to take anti-sea sickness remedies at the start of the cruise, owing to a recent storm, the northwest swell of which was still clearing out. The journey south was very bumpy crossing the waves and then being bumped in the side by the swell too, which led to some significant up and down, combined with side to side movement. Many folks went to sleep through this period, which is the best way to cope and thankfully it was the only significantly rough sea conditions of the whole trip. Those who stayed up on deck were rewarded with some great seabird action including two Laysan Albatrosses, another ten or so Black-footed Albatrosses, our first Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters, Red and Red-

necked Phalaropes, Sabine’s Gull and Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers. By next morning we had crossed the huge Bahia Sebastian Vizcaíno and were anchored in the lee of the Islas San Benito, tiny specks of rock to the west of Isla Cedros. Bleary-eyed I went up for breakfast well before dawn to meet some of the group saying ‘There have been lots of auks on deck and we’ve been throwing them off’ ***@@£$%! Fortunately there were still a couple left, crucially a Scripps’s Murrelet, one of the trip’s most wanted birds and a Cassin’s Auklet. Everyone got to see the Scripps’s before we checked its pure white underwing and let it go on its way. That was a close shave! Particularly as the bumpy sea conditions were making spotting auks on the sea very difficult so our chances of the good views needed to ID more of them were reduced. The sky was cloudy at first here and it was decidedly cool, not exactly what I was expecting from Baja! We made an excursion to the westernmost of the islands, landing on a small and sheltered pebble beach by a tiny fishing hamlet. Passing by a small church and the bizarre sight of a toy doll hanging from a noose outside one of the

5 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

small fisherman’s shacks, we were soon into the seabird colony. The fishermen themselves were very friendly here and we did not ask what the hanging doll was about. The seabirds were nowhere to be seen except for one poor Scripps’s Murrelet, which had succumbed to three evil cholla cactus heads, impaling itself on their spines. I had not seen anything like this before but as Karel later discovered, these cholla heads with their devilish barbed spines are so springy they almost jump and a single spine stuck in your hand can turn into five or six requiring a careful operation with pliers to extract them! Evil cacti spines aside we were soon watching the delightful although a bit smelly Northern Elephant Seal colony, where the fast growing pups were hanging out. We enjoyed photographing their cute faces and the occasional interaction between them but they do not do a lot else. A little further along the rocky seaweed covered shore we found a small number of Guadalupe Fur Seals, also incredibly endearing, these seals formerly required a circumnavigation of the island but are now easily admired from the same trail as the elephant seals. From our birders’ point of view it impossible to ignore the cute little ‘San Benito’ Savannah Sparrows, which are simply in every

little clump of vegetation on the island from top to bottom. They have previously been treated as a subspecies of ‘Large-billed’ Savannah Sparrow, however we note that they are now split as a separate species by Handbook of the Birds of the World and are therefore immediately of greater interest to bird listers! Also here were Black Brants, grazing along the shore, Black Turnstones and Black Oystercatchers in the shadows of the seaweed-covered rocks, four pairs of ospreys at their nests on rock pedestals plus a rusty-tinged Northern Mockingbird. We continued around the coast but inexplicably missed the tiny trail up the side of the island to the old lighthouse and instead found our own, less-well trodden (well probably never-trodden) and more precarious route up there. I have made a note not to do that again. The plateau on which the lighthouse sits was covered in White-crowned Sparrows but none of the hoped-for Horned larks unfortunately. Back at the fishing village a few Eurasian Collared Doves had somehow found their way here and set up home and a Say’s Phoebe was flycatching from one of the build-

Northern Elephant Seal pup, Isla San Benito. Next page: Heermann’s Gull (a rare variant with white wing patches) and Guadalupe Fur Seal (Mike Watson).

6 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

7 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

8 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

9 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Gray Whale, Laguna San Ignacio. Previous Page: The two remaining endemic vertebrates of Isla San Benito, ‘San Benito’ Savannah Sparrow and below, San Benito Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana stellata) (Mike Watson).

ings. It was nice to see Kenny and the boys in Searcher’s skiffs taking us back to our new home with another tasty meal in prospect. The evening cruising south was very pleasant with the heavy swell directly behind us now and each wave almost catching us up but much more comfortable. Another Laysan Albatross and a couple of Black-footeds were our last of the cruise as we passed the extreme westernmost coast of the Baja Peninsula. We also saw a lot of Black-vented Shearwaters and Cassin’s Auklets on this section of the trip as well as a couple of Northern Fulmars. After another night cruising south we reached the sand bar at the entrance to famous San Ignacio Lagoon. There was an obvious northward passage of inshore seabirds as we neared the shallows including around 10 Common Loons, again some in breeding plumage, two Pacific Loons, c50 Surf Scoters, c10 Hudsonian Whimbrels, c10 Pomarine Jaegers and a single Long-tailed Jaeger. In this area we also started to see numerous blows of Gray Whales, they were all around us in fact as we

entered the lagoon. Laguna San Ignacio is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the few places where the eastern Pacific Gray Whales have their calves and rear them until it is time to make the hazardous northward migration to Alaskan waters for the summer. Formerly found in the Atlantic as well, the Gray Whale was extirpated from there by man by the early 18th century. The first whaling expedition to Laguna San Ignacio took place in 1860 but fortunately the activities of whalers did not completely wipe them out as they did in the Atlantic (although there have now also been two sightings in the Atlantic Ocean since 2010, in Israel(!!!) and Namibia suggesting that they might even repopulate their former range). Whaling was prolific in the mid 19th century when between 1846 and 1874 an estimated 8,000 Gray Whales were killed. This petered out until Gray Whales were given protection in 1936. Gray Whale is one of the smallest of the great whales, measuring up to 15 metres and weighing only 30 tonnes. Its etymology is also

10 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

11 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

A Blue Whale swims north off Bahia Magdalena. Previous page: Grey Whales and watchers and below, a close up of the barnacles attached to their skin (Mike Watson).

an interesting story, it was described by John Edward Gray in 1865 placing it in the monotypic genus Eschrichtius after the zoologist Daniel Eschricht. However, its common name refers to its colouration rather than John Edward Gray! It is a bottom feeder, hence its appearance in shallow coastal waters, where it turns its head to the right to browse on benthic crustaceans. This often results in blindness in the right eye of older whales. The special thing about San Ignacio is the keenness of the whale calves to seek contact with humans. When I first saw photos of these contacts between the whale calves and tourists I thought that this seemed an unnecessary intrusion but it is not until you see that the whale calves impose themselves on folks in the small tourist pangas (the Mexican term for small motorised skiff) wanting to be stroked and rubbed by us that you see this is not the case. In fact this was the highlight of the whole cruise for almost all of us. We had three panga rides on our first day in the lagoon and another two on the second day for those who wanted, which resulted in repeated close whale encounters,

many with actual contact and on the last one, a breaching calf. It was amazing to see how gentle the mothers were near our boats, completely tolerant of their naughty not-so-little ones, often swimming right under our small pangas. Although whales dominated our panga trips we did see a few birds on them including Caspian and Elegant Terns, chased on one occasion by a young Long-tailed Jaeger. We also saw plenty of Common Bottlenose Dolphins in the lagoon. Whilst in the lagoon we also did one mangrove trip seeing plenty of gorgeous yellow Mangrove Warblers close by in the mangrove trees as well as Red-breasted Merganser, Turkey Vulture, American White Ibis, Blackcrowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Tricoloured and Little Blue Herons and Belted Kingfisher. We also heard the super noisy Ridgway’s Rail, although it refused to show at this stage of the tide. In the lagoon itself we added Great and Reddish Egrets, American Oystercatcher, Long-billed Curlew, Black-bellied (or Grey) and Snowy Plovers, Sanderling,

12 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Western Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs and Ring-billed Gull. An evening beach walk with Paul was very enjoyable watching these birds along the shore in lovely evening light. California Gull was particularly common here, many in much bleached and faded plumage. Although we had some great panga encounters we also had an amazing visitation by a cow and calf pair, who were intent on rubbing their skin along Searcher’s anchor chain. We could see flakes of skin rising to the water’s surface as the anchor chain tugged slightly.They also surfaced repeatedly around the boat while we had lunch affording some terrific views, especially of the playful calf who liked to hitch a ride on his mum’s back at times. We anchored overnight in the lagoon and although it was a little chilly again and the full moon pretty much killed off Paul’s valiant star gazing attempt this was a rather idyllic setting. There are not too many coastal places like this in these latitudes. We often roll out some kind of well used cliché to describe leaving an enjoyable location but this one was very special indeed and we really did need to tear ourselves away. Again we sailed south overnight reaching the Bahia de Magdalena area in Baja California Sur by early morning. Today was a big day at sea in some of the most productive waters

of the cruise for seabirds and therefore for all ocean life. We were close to the continental shelf today and suddenly we started to see Black Storm Petrels everywhere. A couple of Least Storm Petrels was also spotted, a species more common in the Sea of Cortez later on the cruise. Pink-footed Shearwaters appeared in numbers too and we saw our last Black-footed Albatrosses as we started to encounter our first Magnificent Frigatebirds. Paul explained how frigates were used in Napoleonic times to carry out daring raids on enemy ports, behaving in a similar way to the birds now bearing their name. These klepto-parasitic pirates really are the masters of the skies at sea, a massive hooked bill attached to a ball of feathers body and enormous glider wings. We also saw our first Brown Boobies today. Red Phalaropes numbered in the hundreds together with a few Red-neckeds and our highest total of Sabine’s Gulls passed north today as well. Craveri’s Murrelet was also added to our trip list but you had to be on the bow at the right time for that one. All of this birding was very nice but by far the biggest excitement was for the two Blue Whales we saw today. Not the largest of their kind they Northbound Blue Whale off Bahia de Magdalena (Mike Watson).

13 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Humpback Whale, Gorda Banks.Next pages: Humpback Whales (Mike Watson).

were probably younger animals but very impressive nevertheless. The lovely change in the colour of the water, as sunlight reflected off their marbled blue backs, just before they surfaced was particularly nice. Captain Art showed some great skills in gently cruising up to them and then keeping pace with their movements as he estimated their speed. Before long they were swimming off Searcher’s bow. Later, nearing the Tropic of Cancer, our first Humpback Whales appeared, now we were approaching their favoured waters off the southern tip of Baja. No matter how many of these amazing creatures we see they remain the most popular of all the whales and invariably put on the best show. Before dawn next morning we passed Cabo San Lucas and then San Jose del Cabo as we made our way to the Gorda Banks a seamount famous for its fishing and Humpback Whales. As expected there were some Humpback Whales in this area and we had our biggest

tally of the cruise, 11 in total including some cow and calf pairs and some really tremendous breaching right next to Searcher as we halted our westbound voyage and meandered around following these amazing ‘winged’ whales. On a hot and sunny afternoon we rounded the Baja Peninsula and entered the Sea of Cortez. We were keen for a hike on dry land now after a couple of days at sea and put ashore at a lovely beach at Los Frailes, The only problem being that everyone else thinks it is lovely and despite its comparative remoteness it attracts a lot of local visitors too, particularly at Easter. We found an access track we could bird along behind the beach and its scattered villas and quickly scored the Baja endemic Gray Thrasher, which came in very quickly to check us out. Magnificent Frigatebirds cruised over the beach and its immediate hinterland, nothing is safe from them, sometimes mingling with Turkey Vultures. A couple of Common Ground Doves were new for the

14 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

15 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

16 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Grey Thrasher, Los Frailes. Next page: Fin Whale (Mike Watson).

tour as were numerous White-winged Doves, which are very common all over Baja. A female Xantus’s Hummingbird was frustratingly brief and was missed by some (the extension was much better for them of course) and a number of Gila Woodpeckers was seen. Other interesting birds included our first Crested Caracara (white at each corner as Bill Thompson III once told me), American Grey and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Verdin, the gaudy Scott’s and Hooded Orioles, Clay-coloured and Lark Sparrows as well as brief Pyrrhuloxia and Lazuli Bunting. We spent the rest of the day cruising north towards Bahia La Paz, where we had a date next morning. Cruising past hundreds of frigatebirds thermalling on the offshire islets we entered the bay in which the city of La Paz is situated. It is a rather unlikely setting for one of the most impressive spectacles of all of Baja, neither remote nor picturesque, in fact quite industrial in places. However, a little further north of the city at El Quelele a significant gathering Whale Sharks takes place. The north-facing geography of the bay causes plankton to accumulate in its shallow western reaches, in turn attracting the largest fish in the sea from far and wide to

congregate here in spring. Although billed as a snorkelling experience it is also possible to get very nice views of these incredibly beautiful creatures from the snorkeling pangas, as the sharks gently cut through the murky waters of the bay, just below the surface. We could see some very nice detail of their shapes from their rectangular faces to the gorgeous spotting along their whole length. The experience was only detracted from a little by an incapable snorkeler from another party, who was so inept that she could not put her head under water and only noticed the immense Whale Shark that passed so close to her, when it almost smacked her in the face with its tail. The spectacle does attract rather a lot of other tourists, however, it was another not-to-bemissed/once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of our folks. Our snorkelers were blown away by their own adventures underwater, which included numerous encounters and the ability to swim with some very slow moving sharks. They are usually a bit more of a challenge to keep up with so everyone could have a great time. Today saw another highlight of the tour, an encounter with three Fin Whales! The second

17 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

18 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

A pair of Blue-footed Boobies loses out in their fight with a raven at Isla Los Islotes. Next page: Wandering Tattler and Heermann’s Gull (Mike Watson).

largest but the fastest-swimming of the great whales lived up to its reputation and popped up all around us in different directions, testing our crew’s skills in keeping up but we did enjoy a few very close blows and a great look at the smoth dark grey backs that seemed to go on forever before their dorsal fins reached the surface as well. They were gone soon so we continued on our way as well. The afternoon saw another snorkelling opportunity for our underwater enthusiasts and also a round island boat ride for our birders at Isla Los Islotes, just at the mouth of Bahia de La Paz. This tiny clump of rocks is a well used seabird colony as we could see by the amount of guano there but there were many ledges unoccupied and we heard that fewer birds were around than usual. Maybe something to do with recent weather/sea temperatures? Despite this we still had some great encounters and we added the lovely Blue-footed Booby to our trip list. We noted four pairs of Blue-footed Boobies here alongside three Brown Boobies. There ought to have been more but we had some very nice views of the ones we did see. A rather unfortunate outcome for one of the

booby pairs was their nest being raided by a raven, which, after a struggle, disappeared with an egg. I wonder if this had something to do with the unoccupied ledges? Also ‘showing well’ here were Wandering Tattler feeding amongst colourful Sally Lightfoot crabs and a Spotted Sandpiper, a super close Heermann’s Gull and some Yellow-footed Gulls, which take over the role of default gull in the Sea of Cortez. Our snorkellers got to swim alongside some of the many California Sea Lions here, their second once-in-a-lifetime experience of the day! Searcher Naturalists Andrea and Bruce also reported some good reef fish sightings. We spent the rest of the day cruising towards Punta Colorada on Isla San Jose, where we set anchor for the rest of the night. Another Humpback Whale entertained and a Thresher Shark was seen briefly breaching in the area of a feeding frenzy. The dawn light on the lovely yellow limestone cliffs here was very pretty but so also thought the National Geographic vessel and its at least one million passengers already landed there. We decided to let them have the little arroyo that winds up into the hills

19 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

20 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

21 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Great Sperm Whales, mum, calf and another plus Common Bottlenose Dolphin. Next pages: Great Sperm Whale (Mike Watson).

to themselves and call in on our return south. What a good call that was by Captain Art! As we passed Isla las Animas the spotters up top picked up a pod of sperm whales on the horizon, their peculiar off-centred nostrils on the left side of their heads cause them to give a characteristic, roughly 45 degree angled blow, which, in calm weather is obvious even from a great distance. We gradually closed in on them and realised that we were in the middle of a large pod of at least 22 animals of all ages from small calf to the mums themselves. We even saw a group of three youngsters swimming together for a while before a couple of mums turned up from the depths. This is obviously fairly close to where these animals give birth and we were very privileged to be able to enjoy this protracted encounter. Great Sperm Whales usually appear as a log-like object on the water’s surface, until they start rocking back and forth, make a couple of false dives and then the real thing, tail flukes and all, as they head for the depths. We were fortunate to see this countless times, as well as some detail of their bulbous heads and wrinkled backs.

Great Sperm Whale is the largest toothed predator on the planet, with bulls measuring up to 20 metres long. The bull which sank the whaling ship, the Essex, a whaling ship out of Nantucket, Massachusetts in 1820 was the inspiration for the novel ‘Moby Dick’ and was claimed to be 26 metres long! Bulls do not have anything to do with raising young, this role belongs solely to the cows and they are smaller at up to 11 metres long. Cows are sometimes half the length of bulls and a third of their weight but they still weigh up to 15 tons and are very impressive creatures nevertheless. They exhibit the largest difference in size between the sexes, as well as having the largest head and tail flukes in proportion to the size of any cetacean. More than one million sperm whales were killed by the whaling industry between 1800 and 1985 when it was given full protection and even Japan stopped hunting them in 1988. However, with such a low rate of birth and a long period of maturity it will take time for their numbers to recover to former levels, thought to be around 1,100,000. These waters also produced our best Least

22 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

23 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

24 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Storm Petrel sightings of the whole cruise with around 20 tallied in addition to around 50 Black. A Black-vented Shearwater was one of only a handful in the Sea of Cortez and we also saw one of only two Red-billed Tropicbirds of the tour. Finally everyone had now also had a view of the scarce Craveri’s Murrelet too. After the sperm whale encounter we continued northwards to our next landing place at Tembabichi. The landing was happily deserted, except for a fisherman’s pickup and trailer on the beach, he had obviously gone off fishing somewhere. A tight raft of around 300 Eared Grebes in the surf here was an exceptional sight. We started with a lagoon just behind the beach with Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Reddish Egret, Tricoloured Heron and both Semipalmated and Wilson’s Plovers. Following the jeep track inland a little way we passed some cactus forest, which was the birdiest place here, producing California Quail, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Gilded Flicker, California Scrub Jay, Cactus Wren, California Gnatcatcher, Grey Thrasher and Black-throated Sparrow. An elusive hummer evaded identification and there was a new mammal for the tour in the form of Black-tailed Jackrabbit. As we left a Western Osprey was perched on a large Cardon Cactus and an ambitious Peregrine Falcon swooped repeatedly towards an Eared Grebe on the sea before finally ad-

mitting defeat. We spent the evening cruising further north towards Isla Catalina, our landing site for the following morning. Isla Catalina has probably the best example of the beautiful Sea of Cortez island cactus forest, with enormous Cardon and Barrel Cacti and lush desert vegetation. We made a hike up a lovely little arroyo in the northwest corner of the island but sadly we failed to see its endemic rattleless rattlesnake, which we learned happens from time to time. Had I known this I would have devoted more manpower to searching for it but we will have to leave it to next time for those lucky enough to return to this lovely little island. Birding was fun but we only added Red-tailed Hawk, White-throated Swift and Loggerhead Shrike to our list here. Kaptain Kenny’s Krazy Koastal Kruze followed, a very enjoyable skiff ride to the southern tip of the island resulting in some nice views of Eared Grebe (more of them were feeding around the rocky coast here) and Wandering Tattler as well as the nesting ospreys. In the afternoon we reached the northernmost extent of the cruise in Bahia de Loreto where Wright’s Metalmark (Calephelis wrighti), Isla Santa Catalina. Next page: Isla Santa Catalina and Santa Catalina Side-blotched Lizard (Uta squamata), which is endemic to the island (Mike Watson).

25 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

26 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

27 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

28 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Blue Whale, Bahia de Loreto (Mike Watson).

we had a brilliant encounter between a widely scattered trio of Blue Whales in the sound between Isla Montserrat and Isla Carmen. Captain Art persisted until the boys up top spotting one of the whales fluking in the distance. Gradually we closed the gap and to our delight this one was a real diver and showed its flukes to us several times in the low angle evening light, lovely stuff! Blue Whales of course do not always show their flukes when they dive. They are also full of facts like their tongue is as heavy as an African Elephant, their heart is as heavy as a car, a human could swim through their largest blood vessels, they’re the heaviest animal that ever lived and amazingly they are still alive today! Paul told us another amazing fact, when feeding their mouths take in the same volume of water as the volume of the saloon of MV Searcher. Wow! That is a helluva lot of water! Another fabulous day also included a Great Hammerhead Shark, which was seen close enough for its head pattern to be discerned from the bridge of Searcher and Kenny excelled with a mega distant dot that turned into our best Red-billed Tropicbird

sighting. The day ended with some great Margueritas served on the stern deck at anchor off Isla Montserrat and we cruised back towards Isla San Jose. Next morning we enjoyed the sunrise at Punta Colorada for a second time, although it was a little subdued by cloud on the horizon. The hike up the narrow arroyo here was probably our nicest of the cruise, producing some lovely views of both Phainopepla and Costa’s Hummingbird. Verdin was also common here and was seen nest building. A Great Horned Owl was also seen at the limit of the hike, the first one on a Searcher Baja cruise, ever I gather! Cruising south on the last leg of our journey back towards the cape turned into a real whale extravaganza, first Captain Aaron (we had lots of captains on board but Aaron is the one who skippers MV Searcher when Art is not on board) called Dwarf Sperm Whale on the tannoy. We had three chances of this tiny whale with the upturned surfboard surface profile and we all got on the last one at least as the sun caught its little dorsal fin. Surprisingly difficult to get on to. Next came a large pod

29 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Kenny steers another skiff load of happy Birdquesters, MV Searcher in the background (Mike Watson)

of Short-finned Pilot Whales, which contained a large bull with a massive curved dorsal fin, some of them breaching as they pressed on their way relentlessly. Finally there was another large pod of Great Sperm Whales (or maybe the one from the other day), which was estimated at around a similar number. Again they were well scattered across a wide area but Captain Art managed to put some of them just off the bow, affording more superb views, another magnificent job! Eventually we had to drag ourselves away from this area lest we miss our rendezvous at the Port of Cabo San Lucas next morning. We were all very sad that it was over but glad we had been lucky to take part in this special voyage, described by most of the crew as one of their best. Ships cook Charlie told us ‘You know it’s good if I come out to look at it!’ and he and Dan were distracted from their work in the galley plenty of times on this cruise. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to our fellow passengers but hopefully we all met some new friends on this voyage. Finally I should say a big thank you again to Captain Art Taylor

and his crew Aaron, Alec, Kenny, Ryan and ship’s cooks Charlie and Dan in the galley, who keep everyone going. These are the guys who made everything possible and so much fun. Some of us stayed on for the Baja mainland extension and embarked on our next and very different adventure. BAJA MAINLAND EXTENSION Our three nights and four days extension felt like a lot longer, we packed so much into it. After we disembarked we took a taxi to San Jose del Cabo Airport, where we picked up our rental van and then headed down to the coast a short distance away. The estero, a coastal lagoon behind the beach is famous as the site for the gaudy Belding’s Yellowthroat. If all endemic birds were as easy and co-operative as this one my life would be much easier but I guess not quite as exciting! Within a couple of minutes of arriving on site we were watching a pair of the yellowthroats close by in a tiny patch of reeds. The male’s bright yellow supercilia were very striking. What a great start!

30 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Belding’s Yellowthroat, Estero San Jose (Mike Watson).

The estero itself was very birdy and we added numerous species to our trip list here including Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teals, Piedbilled Grebe, White-faced Ibis, Green Heron, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Mourning Dove, American Kestrel and interestingly a Groove-billed Ani, found by sharp-eyed Dawn, which we thought at first was a Baja mega but it seems that it has become established here since the publication of Howell and Webb. We headed north to the little seaside town of Los Barilles in the east cape, where a nice taco lunch stop got us into a little more Mexican frame of mind for the next few days. The afternoon excursion was to an area of desert scrub near Los Barilles where we have had some success in the past. It was still quite hot when we started out but the temperature cooled towards the evening and we caught up with some nice views of species missed by some of us previously, notably a female Xantus’s Hummingbird after several more Costa’s. Woodpeckers were common with Gila and Ladder-backed as well as Gilded Flickers. Or-

ange-crowned Warbler and California Towhee were new for the tour as was a brief Lesser Goldfinch and everyone finally got a nice view of Pyrrhuloxia. Way before dawn we were off into the interior, scattering a few Black-tailed Jackrabbits and a surprised Bobcat off the winding jeep track that led us deep into the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range. We had some very recent information to go on, however, that would transpire to be of very little use to us in the end and we would have to find the birds according to years old intel. As dawn broke we could hear the thrush sound-alikes Scott’s Oriole and Black-headed Grosbeak but it would take some time to actually see them. We were right on the waypoint for the ever tricky-to-find Baird’s Junco from around three weeks earlier but not a dicky bird here. Ugh that was a deflating moment as we walked a little further and realized that they were not around anymore. I had expected it to be so much easier with such a recent lead to go on. So we would have to resort to hiking uphill towards one of Pete Morris’s waypoints from many

31 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Baird’s Junco, Sierra de la Laguna (Mike Watson).

years ago. Dani Lopez-Velasco has a theory that they move uphill as the spring progresses and this may well be the case. We finally found them 200m higher on a trail that was only ultimately 30m short of Pete’s waypoint. They were so interested in us, that one almost landed on my camera lens as I continually backed off, they were too close! We enjoyed walkaway views, very happy that the most important and most difficult endemic had been seen. Backtracking down the mountain we passed the point again where some had seen a San Lucas Robin briefly on the way up and then where we had heard a Baja Pygmy Owl calling. The pygmy owl, the fourth of Baja’s four mainland endemic bird species, woke up again and eventually allowed some nice views calling from an oak tree, albeit outside DSLR range. We couldn’t find another robin and after much effort (17km/24,000+ steps) as the temperatures rose we descended to our vehicles. We added quite a few more new species to our trip list here including Band-tailed Pigeon, Greater Roadrunner, Cassin’s Vireo, the gorgeous Black-throated Grey Warbler,

Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Spotted Towhee and Western Tanager. After another early finish we were back to the mountains before dawn again, this time concentrating on the lower elevations this time. The lovely little Elf Owl, the world’s smallest took no time at all to put in the spot light just above us for everyone helping it to third place in the ‘bird’ of the trip contest, splitting Gray and Great Sperm Whales! We did not have any luck with Western Screech Owl here at all, maybe no longer present or silent owing to breeding? We did hear another Cape Pygmy Owl, though calling much lower down than the birds yesterday. Dawn broke and we birded several of the main watercourses very carefully seeing more Xantus’s Hummingbirds, which were commoner lower down. We also got some great views of Acorn Woodpecker, with a dark iris on Baja and soon afterwards a ‘Black’ Merlin in the same trees. We also caught up with the Baja subspecies of Warbling Vireo and added the smart MacGillivray’s Warbler, usually an arch-skulker but with not much understorey to hide in here.

32 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Audubon’s and Wilson’s Warblers, Chipping Sparrow, the smart Green-tailed Towhee and Ruby-crowned Kinglet were also new today and everyone caught up with the dapper Lazuli Bunting at long last! A penultimate roll of the dice back at our desert track at Los Barriles saw the launch of ‘Operation Grey Vireo’, which happily was a big success with some nice close views of this smart ‘grey bird of the southwest’. It all happened very quickly just as we made a drink stop in the shade one flew in and landed right in front of us. Bam! Smiles all around. A brief foray in the evening for screech owl was probably chasing some lazily pinned eBird sightings, in completely unsuitable habitat, so off to bed then. Our final flourish came on the way to the airport where we made a stop halfway and birded for an hour or so in lowland village/riverine habitat at Miraflores resulting in a series of very nice sightings. The most notable addition was Thick-billed Vireo, heard only moments after we got out of our vehicles and then tracked down to a nearby yard where we were able to watch it in the scope at leisure. It has indeed got a big hooter and is well-named. Other new species included Brown-headed Cowbird and Black-and-white Warbler but there were

more birds we had seen before too notably warblers - MacGillivray’s and Black-throated Grey Warbler as well as another 50 or so Orange-crowned. It was a great note to end on and make our final journey to San Jose del Cabo’s airport to go our separate ways after a great tour of a corner of the world that really deserves more attention. If you have any interest in cetaceans at all then a Searcher whale watching cruise is simply a must! ‘Bird’ of the trip (as voted by participants) 1. Baird’s Junco 2. Gray Whale 3. Elf Owl 4. Great Sperm Whale 5. Humpback Whale 6. Cape Pygmy Owl 7. Xantus’s Hummingbird 8. Blue Whale 9. Pyrrhuloxia 10. Scripps’s Murrelet Costa’s Hummingbird (Mike Watson).

33 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Scripps’s Murrlelet on the deck of MV Searcher off Islas San Benito (Mike Watson).

SYSTEMATIC LIST OF BIRD SPECIES RECORDED DURING THE TOUR The species names and taxonomy used in the report mostly follows Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). IOC World Bird Names. This list is updated several times annually and is available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org. Species which were heard but not seen are indicated by the symbol (H). Species which were only recorded by the leader are indicated by the symbol (LO). Species which were not personally recorded by the leader are indicated by the symbol (NL). Species which were only seen on the extension are indicated by the symbol (Ext). Species marked with the diamond symbol (◊) are either endemic to the country or local region or considered ‘special’ birds for some other reason (e.g. it is only seen on one or two Birdquest tours; it is difficult to see across all or most of its range; the local form is endemic or restricted-range and may in future be treated as a full species). Conservation threat categories and information are taken from Threatened Birds of the World, BirdLife International’s magnificent book on the sad status of the rarest 10% of the world’s avifauna, and updates on the BirdLife website: http://www. birdlife.org/datazone/home E = Endangered, V = Vulnerable, NT = Near Threatened, DD = Data Deficient. Brant Goose ◊ (Black B) Branta [bernicla] nigricans Ten on Islas San Benito. Cinnamon Teal Spatula cyanoptera c10 at Estero San Jose (Ext). Ssp Septentrionalium Blue-winged Teal Spatula discors Two at Estero San Jose (Ext). Surf Scoter ◊ Melanitta perspicillata Maximum c50 at the entrance to Laguna San Ignacio. Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator Six in the mangrove channels at Laguna San Ignacio. California Quail ◊ Callipepla californica Four at Tembabichi. Ssp achrustera Pacific Loon (P Diver) Gavia pacifica Four logged in the Laguna San Ignacio area. Common Loon (G N Diver) Gavia immer A total of 28 logged with up to 10 daily at Laguna San Ignacio. Laysan Albatross ◊ Phoebastria immutabilis Three seen at sea, all before Laguna San Ignacio. NT Black-footed Albatross ◊ Phoebastria nigripes A total of 16 logged, the last near the Tropic of Cancer. NT Least Storm Petrel ◊ Oceanodroma microsoma A total of c30 seen, mostly in the Sea of Cortez. Black Storm Petrel ◊ Oceanodroma melania Much commoner than the previous species, a total of c170 seen. V Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis Two seen cruising south of Islas San Benito. 34 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Red-billed Tropicbird - an ancient bird species, Sea of Cortez (Mike Watson) Sooty Shearwater Ardenna grisea A total of seven logged, mostly off Bahia Magdalena. NT Pink-footed Shearwater ◊ Ardenna creatopus A total of seven logged, mostly off Bahia Magdalena. V Black-vented Shearwater ◊ Puffinus opisthomelas c850 estimated, the highest numbers south of Isla San Benito. NT Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps Two at Estero San Jose. Black-necked Grebe (Eared G) Podiceps nigricollis Max c300 Tembabichi, small numbers elsewhere. Ssp californicus Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis A total of c50 noted. Red-billed Tropicbird ◊ Phaethon aethereus Two seen, both in the Sea of Cortez. Ssp mesonauta American White Ibis Eudocimus albus Maximum c20 Laguna San Ignacio. White-faced Ibis Plegadis chihi c100 at Estero San Jose (Ext). Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax Maximum c30 San Diego Outer Harbour. Yellow-crowned Night Heron Nyctanassa violacea One Laguna San Ignacio and three Tembabichi. Green Heron Butorides virescens Three for some at Estero San Jose (NL) (Ext). Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias c40 Maximum San Diego Outer Harbour. Great Egret Ardea alba Two Laguna San Ignacio, one Tembabichi and two Estero San Jose. Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens A total of nine logged, the first at Laguna San Ignacio. NT Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor Two at Laguna San Ignacio. Ssp ruficollis Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea Two at Laguna San Ignacio. Snowy Egret Egretta thula A total of 17 logged, maximum c10 Estero San Jose. Ssp brewsteri Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis Very common throughout. Ssp californicus Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens Common from Bahia Magdalena onwards, total c500 logged! Blue-footed Booby ◊ Sula nebouxii Four Isla Los Islotes and three thereafter Sea of Cortez. Brown Booby Sula leucogaster A total of 18 logged, all but two Sea of Cortez. Brandt’s Cormorant ◊ Phalacrocorax penicillatus Maximum c200 Islas Todas Santos. Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus c50 Logged. Fairly uncommon. Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura Maximum c25 Islas Los Islotes. Black Vulture Coragypa atratus One for Karel only near Los Barriles (Ext.) (NL) Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus Total 18 logged, maximum four pairs Islas San Benito. Ssp carolinensis Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus One Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). Ssp suttoni Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii One near Los Barriles (Ext). Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis Singles Islas Catalina & Punta Colorada. Common on the extension. Ssp suttoni 35 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Magnificent Frigatebird (Mike Watson) Ridgway’s Rail ◊ Rallus obsoletus Two heard only Laguna San Ignacio.(H) Ssp levipes NT Common Gallinule (Laughing G) Gallinula galeata c10 Estero San Jose (Ext). Ssp cachiannans American Coot Fulica americana Eight Estero San Jose (Ext). Black Oystercatcher ◊ Haematopus bachmani Five Islas San Benito. American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus Eight Estero San Jose (Ext). Grey Plover (Black-bellied P) Pluvialis squatarola Two Laguna San Ignacio. Ssp cynosurae Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus Three Tembabichi and Estero San Jose. Wilson’s Plover Charadrius wilsonia Two Tembabichi. Ssp beldingi Killdeer Charadrius vociferus One at Estero San Jose was the only record (Ext). Snowy Plover Charadrius nivosus Two at Laguna San Ignacio. NT Whimbrel (Hudsonian W) Numenius [phaeopus] hudsonicus c60 logged included 2 groups migrating at sea. Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus c40 Laguna San Ignacio. Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa Two Ensenada and c10 Laguna San Ignacio. Black Turnstone ◊ Arenaria melanocephala Three Islas San Benito. Sanderling Calidris alba Up to 20 at Laguna San Ignacio. Ssp rubida Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla c150 Estero San Jose (Ext). Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri c50 Laguna San Ignacio. Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus/Short-billed Dowitcher L griseus One Laguna San Ignacio. Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus Small numbers at sea. Red Phalarope ◊ (Grey P) Phalaropus fulicarius c250 estimated off Bahia Magdalena. Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius Maximum c10 Estero San Jose. Wandering Tattler ◊ Tringa incana Singles at Isla Los Islotes and Isla Catalina. Willet Tringa semipalmata c15 Laguna San Ignacio. Ssp inornata ‘Western Willet’ Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca One Laguna San Ignacio. Black Skimmer Rynchops niger One San Diego Harbor for some then two Ensenada. Sabine’s Gull ◊ Xema sabini Maximum c40 off Bahia Magdalena plus another couple of sightings. Bonaparte’s Gull ◊ Chroicocephalus philadelphia c10 Islas Todas Santos - Islas San Benito & 2 Sea of Cortez. Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla One Bahia La Paz. Heermann’s Gull ◊ Larus heermanni Small numbers throughout the tour. NT Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis Two Laguna San Ignacio. 36 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Cassin’s Auklet (Mike Watson). California Gull Larus californicus Very common along Baja’s west coast. Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens Immature Ensenada. Western Gull ◊ Larus occidentalis Very common until Los Cabos, not noted in the Sea of Cortez. Yellow-footed Gull ◊ Larus livens Common in the Sea of Cortez where it replaces Western Gull. Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia c10 Laguna San Ignacio. Royal Tern Thalasseus maximus Very common west Baja, small numbers Sea of Cortez. Elegant Tern ◊ Thalasseus elegans Small numbers west Baja. A large feeding flock of c600 Bahia de Loreto. NT Pomarine Jaeger (P Skua) Stercorarius pomarinus A total of 16 logged, most in the Laguna San Ignacio area. Long-tailed Jaeger (L-t Skua) Stercorarius longicaudus 12 Islas Todas Santos - San Benito, two thereafter. Scripps’s Murrelet ◊ Synthliboramphus scrippsi One on the deck of MV Searcher off Islas San Benito. V Craveri’s Murrelet ◊ Synthliboramphus craveri A total of eight from Bahia Magdalena onwards. V Scripps’s Murrelet ◊ Synthliboramphus scrippsi/Guadalupe Murrelet ◊ S hypoleucus 8 unidentified murrelets. Cassin’s Auklet ◊ Ptychoramphus aleuticus c80 between Islas San Benito and Laguna San Ignacio. NT Rock Dove (introduced) (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia Noted in towns in the south cape area. Band-tailed Pigeon Patagioenas fasciata Five in the Sierra de la Laguna. Eurasian Collared Dove (introduced) Streptopelia decaocto Four Islas San Benito(!) and a few on the extension. Common Ground Dove Columbina passerina Two Los Frailes and six Miraflores. Ssp pallescens Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura Small numbers on the extension. White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica Common on land from Bahia Frailes onwards. Groove-billed Ani Crotophaga sulcirostris One found by Dawn at Estero San Jose. Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus A total of three on two dates in the Sierra de la Laguna. Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus One flushed from high up the arroyo at Punta Colorada. Baja Pygmy Owl ◊ (Cape P O) Glaucidium hoskinsii Nice views of 1 Sierra de la Laguna & 3 more heard only (Ext). Elf Owl ◊ Micrathene whitneyi Lovely views of one in Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis Two Isla Catalina and Punta Colorada. Xantus’s Hummingbird ◊ Basilinna xantusii Only one on the main tour at Los Frailes then 16 on the extension. Costa’s Hummingbird ◊ Calypte costae Six Punta Colorada and five Sierra de la Laguna. Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon Two Lagnua San Ignacio and one Tembabichi. Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus c20 Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). Ssp angustifrons Gila Woodpecker ◊ Melanerpes uropygialis c30 noted, from Los Frailes onwards. 37 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Xantus’s Hummingbird, female, Sierra de la Laguna (Mike Watson) Ladder-backed Woodpecker Dryobates scalaris Singles Tembabichi, Santa Catalina, 3 on the ext. Ssp lucasanus Gilded Flicker ◊ Colaptes chrysoides One Tembabichi and four on the extension. Northern Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway One Los Frailes and c15 noted on the extension. American Kestrel Falco sparverius One Estero San Jose was the only record (Ext). Merlin Falco columbarius One Sierra de la Laguna. Ssp suckleyi ‘Black Merlin’. Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus Five on the main tour and one Sierra de la Laguna. Ssp anatum American Grey Flycatcher ◊ Empidonax wrightii Singles Los Frailes and Tembabichi and five on the extension. Pacific-slope Flycatcher ◊ Empidonax difficilis One Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). Thick-billed Kingbird ◊ Tyrannus crassirostris Two seen and two heard only at Miraflores on the extension (Ext). Ash-throated Flycatcher Myiarchus cinerascens Seven logged on the main tour and c30 on the extension. Say’s Phoebe Sayornis saya One on Islas San Benito. Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus Two Isla Santa Catalina. NT Grey Vireo ◊ Vireo vicinior One near Los Barriles. Cassin’s Vireo Vireo cassinii Four seen on the extension in the Sierra de la Laguna. Ssp lucasanus Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus Two seen Sierra de la Laguna and another two heard only. Ssp victoriae California Scrub Jay Aphelocoma californica The first were 2 at Tembabichi then c30 on the extension. Ssp hypoleuca Northern Raven (Common R) Corvus corax Small numbers throughout. Ssp sinuatus Phainopepla ◊ Phainopepla nitens One Punta Colorada then six on the extension. Ssp lepida Verdin ◊ Auriparus flaviceps Commonly seen on land from Los Frailes onwards.Ssp lamprocephalus Swallow sp. One at Tembabichi was probably Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula One Sierra de la Laguna (Ext.) Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus c10 Tembabichi and a similar number on the extension. Ssp affinis Blue-grey Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea Two seen on the extension (Ext). Ssp obscura California Gnatcatcher ◊ Polioptila californica First noted at Tembabichi, fairly common thereafter. Ssp magaritae Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos One Islas San Benito then common from Los Frailes onwards. Grey Thrasher ◊ Toxostoma cinereum One Los Frailes, two Tembabichi and another seven on the extension. Common Starling (introduced) (European S) Sturnus vulgaris Common around Los Barriles. American Robin ◊ (San Lucas R) Turdus [migratorius] confinis One for some Sierra de la Laguna (NL) (Ext). House Sparrow (introduced) Passer domesticus Two Islas San Benito then common on the extension. House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus Two at Islas Catalina and Punta Colorada and several on the extension. 38 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Black-throated Sparrow, Punta Colorada, Isla San Jose (Mike Watson) Lesser Goldfinch Spinus psaltria One for Mike only near Los Barriles (LO) (Ext). Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia One briefly for some at Miraflores (NL) (Ext). Orange-crowned Warbler Leiothlypis celata One at Tembabichi and c55 on the extension. MacGillivray’s Warbler Geothlypis tolmiei One Sierra de la Laguna and two Miraflores (Ext). Belding’s Yellowthroat ◊ Geothlypis beldingi Four at Estero San Jose (Ext). V Mangrove Warbler ◊ Setophaga petechia c10 in the mangroves at Laguna San Ignacio. Ssp castaneiceps Audubon’s Warbler Setophaga auduboni One Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). Black-throated Grey Warbler Setophaga nigrescens One Sierra de la Laguna and two Miraflores (Ext). Wilson’s Warbler Cardellina pusilla One Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). Scott’s Oriole Icterus parisorum Five Los Frailes then common on the extension. Hooded Oriole Icterus cucullatus Three Los Frailes then common on the extension. Ssp trochiloides Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater A male at Miraflores was the only record (Ext). White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys c30 Islas San Benito and one at Miraflores. Baird’s Junco ◊ Junco bairdi Three Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). NT Savannah Sparrow (San Benito S) Passerculus [sandwichensis] sanctorum Abundant on Islas San Benito. NT Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina Two Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). Clay-colored Sparrow Spizella pallida Five Los Frailes and four Sierra de la Laguna. Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus Eight Los Frailes then c50 on the extension. Black-throated Sparrow ◊ Amphispiza bilineata Eight on the main tour then one on the extension. Rufous-crowned Sparrow Aimophila ruficeps Three Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). Green-tailed Towhee ◊ Pipilo chlorurus One Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus Eight Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). California Towhee ◊ Melozone crissalis A total of 11 in the Sierra de la Laguna plus two Miraflores (Ext).Ssp albigula Western Tanager Piranga ludoviciana A total of seven Sierra de la Laguna plus one Miraflores (Ext). Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus A total of seven logged Sierra de la Laguna (Ext). Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis Several noted after the first at Los Frailes. Pyrrhuloxia ◊ Cardinalis sinuatus First seen briefly at Los Frailes then three seen well on the extension. Lazuli Bunting Passerina amoena Two Los Frailes, three Sierra de la Laguna and c10 Miraflores.

39 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Northern Elephant Seals, Islas San Benito (Mike Watson) Mammals Black-tailed Jackrabbit Lepus californicus Two Los Frailes then six Sierra de la Laguna. White-tailed antelope Squirrel Ammospermophilus leucurus One near Los Barriles. Coyote Canis latrans Two Laguna San Ignacio. Guadalupe Fur Seal Arctocephalus townsendi 7 Islas San Benito and 1 near Islas las Animas in the Sea of Cortez. Californian Sea Lion Zalophus californianus Common throughout. Northern Elephant Seal Mirounga angustirostris Two Islas Todas Santos and c200 Islas San Benito. Harbour Seal (Common S) Phoca vitulina Six Islas Todas Santos. Long-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus capensis c300 near Islas Todas Santos and c200 off Bahia Magdalena. Short-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala macrorhynchus A pod of c40 south of Isla San Jose, Sea of Cortez.DD Common Bottlenose Dolphin (C Bottlenose D) Tursiops truncatus Common from Laguna San Ignacio onwards. Blue Whale Balaenoptera musculus Two off Bahia Magdalena and three Bahia de Loreto. E Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus Three Bahia La Paz. E Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae A total of 24 logged from around Tropic of Cancer onwards. Gray Whale Eschrichtius robustus Two Islas Todas Santos and up to c40 daily at Laguna San Ignacio. Great Sperm Whale Physeter catodon Two encounters with large pods Sea of Cortez, estimated at 22 and 25. V Dwarf Sperm Whale Kogia sima Three south of Isla San Jose. DD Mule Deer Odocoileus hemionus Five sightings on the extension, maximum three Sierra de la Laguna. Bobcat Lynx rufus One at night Siera de la Laguna. Bat sp. A couple at Los Barriles.

40 BirdQuest/Wild Images Tour Report: Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales 2018 www.birdquest-tours.com

Profile for Mike Watson


A BirdQuest/WildImages tour report


A BirdQuest/WildImages tour report