Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the Wing in San Carlos

So diverse is the Sonoran Desert that it is divided into 6 subdivisions, only 2 of which are in the U.S.  The other 4 are all in Mexico, on the Baja Peninsula and the state of Sonora.  And another wonderfully unique feature of this desert is the inclusion of the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California.

San Carlos, and its much larger neighbor, Guaymas, sit at the very southern edge of the Sonoran Desert, in the Central Gulf Coast subdivision, hugging the narrow sea.  I'm of the opinion that anytime you get the chance to be at the ocean, you must take it.   So, that's what we did, again taking advantage of the generous offer of our friends' condo on San Francisco Bay in San Carlos, hauling a turkey bird and all the Thanksgiving paraphernalia, for a lovely week at the beach.

The desert vegetation in this region is fascinating, and perhaps the subject of a future post, but for today, it's all about the birds.  Water, of course, is the magnet for so many species, bringing as it does a plentiful source of food.  But, where the desert meets the sea, you also have the joy of seeing those birds who call the desert home.  The water in the bay was literally alive with tiny, silvery, sardine-like fish, on which the pelicans, herons, egrets, loons, and dolphins feasted from first light until darkness enveloped the bay.

I had as my birding companion my friend Michelle, a relative newbie to birding, who makes up in enthusiasm what she lacks in experience.  Her excitement at each new discovery made me realize just how lucky I am to be able to enjoy such marvelous sights, sounds and places.

At the eastern end of the bay the water enters a mangrove-lined estuary, Estero el Soldado, now being protected by the Municipality of Guaymas, which is also slowly developing visitor facilities, signs and trails.  Currently, the visitor center and all the land around it are fenced off and closed to the public.  On this trip, however, I did see more hopeful indications that progress is being made.  New signs are being erected and scientists were doing studies and placing markers.

In the mangroves, herons, ibises, terns and egrets roosted, and foraged in the shallows.  Most exciting was the discovery of tri-colored herons, roseate spoonbills, yellow- and black-crowned night herons and even a group of white pelicans.  I laughed at the silly antics of the reddish egret as he ran about, danced and jumped, apparently scaring the little fish into submission.

Royal terns cruised endlessly over the shallows of the bay, making their spectacular dives and never coming up empty.  Brown pelicans gathered in huge flocks and went into virtual feeding frenzies, rising from the water surface just a few feet before diving again and quickly swallowing before starting the process again.

American oystercatchers squawked loudly with every disturbance, ospreys soared high above the water, as did the menacing-looking magnificent frigatebird, egrets and willets lined the beach waiting for their prey, and tiny peeps scurried in the surf.

Away from the water, our most thrilling moment came with the discovery of a group of great kiskadees in the tropical trees of the condo complex, foraging for the berries and chasing one another from tree to tree, their distinctive call alerting the observer to their presence.

We watched loggerhead shrikes and ash-throated flycatchers sallying from conspicuous perches, listened to elusive gnatcatchers and sparrows, and got so excited when we spotted the brilliant red of a northern cardinal among the green of a wolfberry bush.  A pair of American kestrels made one appearance, and we spotted a falcon (peregrine, I believe) flying high with a group of black vultures.

My photos don't do these guys justice.  I don't have the camera for really good bird photos.  A choice, at this point, for the incredible convenience of a point-and-shoot over the quality of a DSLR.  But, it's times like this when I reconsider that choice.

Here is the (mostly) complete list.  I'm far from an expert birder and could have some of the gulls and terns wrong.  There were many birds that were just too far away to positively identify, mainly ducks.  I love the birds that flash neon signs telling who they are - like the roseate spoonbill.

Cassin’s kingbird
Reddish egret
Tricolored heron
Great blue heron
Black-crowned night heron
American oystercatcher
Brown pelican
Common loon
Western grebe
Magnificent frigatebird
Double crested cormorant
Great egret
Snowy egret
White ibis
Turkey vulture
Red-tailed hawk
Crested caracara
American coot
Least sandpiper
Royal tern
Snowy plover
Least sandpiper
Common raven
Great kiskadee
Lesser goldfinch
Loggerhead shrike
Eared grebe
Say’s phoebe
Heermann’s gull
Least tern
Rufous hummingbird
Costa’s hummingbird
Gila woodpecker
Chihuahuan raven
Rufous-crowned sparrow
Yellow-rumped warbler
Brown headed cowbird
House sparrow
Roseate spoonbill
Long-billed curlew
Yellow-crowned night heron
Northern mockingbird
White-winged dove
American white pelican
Lesser yellowlegs
Marbled godwit
Ash-throated flycatcher
Western gull
Northern cardinal
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
House wren
Black vulture
Peregrine falcon
Common merganser
California gull
American kestrel
House finch
Common ground dove
Northern rough-winged swallow
Caspian tern
Snow goose
Northern harrier
Rock wren
Redhead duck

I'll have the rest of the photos posted on Picasa soon and I'll post a link here.

May all your birding adventures bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart!


  1. What a wonderful week. I really like that header shot.

  2. Thanks, Carole, for this beautiful informative reportage! We always like to travel - in our thoughts... - through this wonderful region! Heinz and Kaethi

  3. What a beautiful blog! I love the photographs of both birds and landscape. I know what you mean about the choice of cameras--and I agree with you. Since I am primarily a birdwatcher, not a photographer, I have chosen a point-and-shoot that works well for me. But sometimes I wish for a better camera--if I had time and money a better one would require!

  4. The only thing wrong with your posts is that we have to wait too long for the next one. But this was a real humdinger - both for information and a beauty dose. And I loved getting to watch that drunken egret. Made me homesick for the Texas coast. So far I've only seen great blue herons, greategrets and snowy egrets.

  5. Wow, what a great place for birding! I enjoyed your photos and video. :)

  6. What a lovely Blog you have, Carole! Not only do you live in one of my favorite scenic desert places, but you also have the opportunity to visit fabulous beach spots! So many bird - your pics are great. Hope to visit you again after my "break."


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