Baja Sur Long Weekend

Tropicbirds & tuna

Baja Sur Long Weekend
On August 24th, 2012 in the dawns first light a group of 11 keen sea birders from across the continent gathered on a pristine beach off Los Barriles, Baja Sur, Mexico. In the rapidly breaking day the group was shuttled out to two boats awaiting them with fresh fruit and an enthusiastic crew. After a brief conference on strategy we eagerly departed with visions of flocks of shearwaters, tropicbirds and of course-boobies.

First Image Jen Wren III at dawn, East Cape, Baja Sur

We spent the next three days surveying the offshore waters for seabirds using two boats and covering between 30-65 miles per day. Two out of the three days we focused mainly on areas south and east of Los Barriles travelling down towards and off the well known landmark of the lighthouse at Point Arenas. We searched for dolphin/tuna schools and covered various geographic features with mixed results. On day 3 the larger boat covered an extensive area to the north and east along a NW running canyon out into deeper waters.

First Image
Baja Sur - blue line showing approximate area of Pelagic Birding Aug24-26th/2012

This all was done with the exceedingly professional assistance of Mark Rayor and his mate Diego along with Captain “Chuy” Cota and his mate on the second boat. We had great food including fresh fruit and lunch and given the heat we were provided with much needed ice cold beverages. Mark’s has experience looking for birds with the “California Group - Billings,Howell, Sadowski et al” and has over 20 years of experience on the East Cape. With a small group of people one can charter one of his boats for the day at about the same price per individual or less than a standard North American pelagic trip. Mark’s luxurious 35 foot Cabo Yacht the Jen Wren III is the premiere fishing vessel on the East Cape. Contact Mark through his website
Jen Wren Sportsfishing.

First Image Diego shuttling David Klauber, Bobby Rossetti, Peter Ginsburg & Bruce Rideout out to the Jen Wren on Day 2

The weather was similar on all three days being hot and calm. The wind occasionally gusted to 5 mph but more often than not was dead calm. Day 2 was overcast and bearable. Day 1 and 3 were baking hot. Not exactly ideal seabirding weather.

Generally the pelagic birding was a bit slow to downright slow. We did manage a fair diversity of birds over the three days but numbers were generally small and the birds (other than the boobies) were quite wary and photographic opportunities were quite limited. Although we had good numbers of both Least and Black Storm Petrels they were mostly seen at a distance in direct flight. We spent some time chumming with Menhayden Oil and fish with very limited results. Wedge-rumped Storm-petrels were few and far between with only 2 birds seen.

First Image First Image First Image
Black Storm-petrel showing distinctive long wings and forked tail

First ImageFirst Image Least Storm-petrel with distinctive wedge shaped tail

The primary target bird for this trip
Townsend’s Shearwater proved frustratingly elusive. On Day 1 we saw none. On Day 2 Angus Wilson had a brief look at a very probable Townsend’s. On Day 3 in the morning several of us had a distant “black & white’ shearwater that was very likely a Townsend’s. Finally on the afternoon of Day 3 a suspicious shearwater was sighted of the bow of the smaller boat. Several of us got quick but reasonable looks at the bird and it banked a couple of times allowing diagnostic views of the gleaming white underside with dark undertail, white underwings with a dark border, a contrasting and black topside with marked white “saddlebags”. Minutes after we were able to compare this with a Black-vented Shearwater close to the boat. Sadly the Townsend’s Shearwater sped away from the boat never to be seen again.

First Image First Image First Image Pink-footed Shearwaters of the East Cape, Baja Sur

Pink-footed Shearwaters appeared to be the most common shearwater but still in small numbers. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were seen in very small numbers, I personally only had a decent look at one light morph. Black-vented Shearwater was seen with a few singles on Day 2 & 3.

First Image First Image
Black-vented Shearwater-note brownish topside, lack of white “saddlebags”, scruffy brownish head and neck, long thin bill

Red-billed Tropicbirds are not regular off the East Cape but according to Mark this has been a particularly good year for this species. We saw adults on all 3 days and one young bird was seen with an adult on Day 1.

First Image First Image First Image First Image Red-billed Tropicbirds-adults, off East Cape, Baja Sur

Thank god for the Boobies. These at least provided some distraction and interest for the photographers.
Brown Boobies were seen in good numbers with the majority of birds being subadults with a few juveniles and adults. A few Red-footed Boobies were seen on each day and single Blue-footed and Masked Boobies on Day 1 and 2 respectively.

First Image First Image First Image Adult Brown Booby aeroacrobatics, off East Cape, Baja Sur

First Image First Image First Image First Image Subadult Brown Boobies, off East Cape, Baja Sur

First Image Juvenile Brown Booby, off East Cape, Baja Sur

Red-footed Boobies
were seen on all three days in small numbers and would appear to be a regular post breeding visitor to the region.

First Image First Image First Image First Image Red-footed Boobies, off East Cape, Baja Sur

Every buoy had a booby and many of the Green Sea Turtles had an attending Booby on their back.

First Image First Image Adult Brown Booby, Green Sea Turtle surfing, off East Cape, Baja Sur

First Image Subadult Brown Booby trying to spur along his Sea Turtle (which wasn’t going anywhere as it was deceased)

One of the highlights of the trip was viewing an epic life and death struggle between a
South Polar Skua and a subadult Brown Booby. We had been viewing the Booby when the Skua attached out of the blue. It chased it on the wing for about 50 yards and tackled it into the water. It subsequently tried to drown it. The Booby escaped briefly only to be bought down again by the Skua. In a heated struggle it appeared that the Booby may have jabbed the Skua in the head with its bill and the Skua retreated seemingly dazed. The Booby took advantage and flew off rapidly narrowly escaping death.

First Image First Image First Image First Image First Image First Image First Image Epic life and death struggle-South Polar Skua vs. Brown Booby, off East Cape, Baja Sur

A couple more jaegers were seen one was left as jaeger sp. the other was a subadult Pomarine Jaeger. A single Red Phalarope was seen on two occasions on separate days in roughly the same area - likely the same bird.

First Image First Image Adult basic Red Phalarope - off East Cape, Baja Sur

Below is a complete list of bird species and numbers seen by both boats of the East Cape, Baja Sur.

Baja Sur -Pelagic Trips Aug 24-26th/2012

------------------------------------------------------ Aug 24 -------------- Aug 25 ---------------- Aug 26

Wedge-tailed Shearwater -------------------- 2 ----------------------- 1 --------------------------- 1

Pink-footed Shearwater ----------------------- 4 ----------------------- 26 ------------------------- 14

Sooty Shearwater ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1

Black-vented Shearwater ------------------------------------------------- 3 ------------------------- 3

Townsend's Shearwater --------------------------------------------------- 1? ---------------------- 1 & 1?

Shearwater sp ----------------------------------------- 2 --------------------- 5 -------------------------- 2

Least Storm-petrel --------------------------------- 42 --------------------- 119 ---------------------- 268

Wedge-rumped Strm-ptrl -----------------------------------------------------1 ----------------------- 1

Black Storm-petrel --------------------------------- 48 ---------------------- 88 ---------------------- 30

Magnificent Frigatebird ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1

Red-billed Tropicbird ------------------------------ 3 ------------------------- 2 ------------------------ 4

Red-footed Booby ---------------------------------- 1 ------------------------- 1 ------------------------- 5

Brown Booby ----------------------------------------- 8 ------------------------ 16 ------------------------ 25

Blue-footed Booby --------------------------------- 1 ---------------------------------------------------------

Masked Booby -------------------------------------------------------------------- 1 -----------------------------

Booby sp ------------------------------------------------ 3 ------------------------- 2 -------------------------- 6

Brandt's Cormorant --------------------------------- 2 --------------------------------------------------------

Red Phalarope -------------------------------------------------------------------- 1 -------------------------- 1

Caladris sp ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 7

South Polar Skua ---------------------------------------------------------------- 1 -----------------------------

Pomarine Jaeger ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1

Jaeger sp. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1 -----------------------------

Sabine's Gull ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1

Black Tern ----------------------------------------------- 6 ------------------------------------------------------ 2

Cliff Swallow -------------------------------------------- 4 -------------------------------------------------------

Brown-headed Cowbird -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1

Sealife of the East Cape is certainly not limited to birds. Many schools of Dolphins were seen on the three days with Pantropical Spotted Dolphins seemingly the most common. A few sizeable schools of Short-beaked Common Dolphins were also seen along with a few Spinner Dolphins. A Bryde’s Whale was seen on Day 2.

First Image First Image Short-beaked Common Dolphin, off East Cape, Baja Sur

First Image First Image First Image Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, off East Cape, Baja Sur

Green Sea Turtles
with and without Boobies were very common. On Day 3 we found one ensnared on a hook attached some buoys apparently meant for sharks. We managed to get it to the back of the boat and remove the hook and set it free.

First Image First Image Green Sea Turtle rescue, off East Cape, Baja Sur

I wanted to thank all the participants of this venture for their very good natured participation despite the somewhat slow birding. We enjoyed some nice dinners of fresh Yellow-fin Tuna and shared lots of birding adventures. Thanks to Angus Wilson for sharing his detailed notes which were vital to completing this report.

First Image The Baja Pelagic Consortium 2012 - from L to R

Gary Nunn, David Klauber, Bruce Rideout, Doug Koch, Peter Ginsburg, Mike Danzebaker, Bobby Rossetti, Fritz Karger, John Shemilt, Angus Wison

Prior to the pelagic trips Fritz Karger, Doug Koch and myself spent the day around Cabo birding for the Baja endemics with good success. We were guided by Maria Elena Muriel a local guide with a good knowledge of the natural history of the area. If you are going to Cabo E-mail her the price is very reasonable and promoting the budding local ecotourism business is good for all especially the local birds. In a few hours she found us the three local endemics -Belding’s Yellowthroat, Gray Thrasher and of course the Xantus’s Hummingbird. Maria also leads trips to the mountains for the other Baja endemics.

Maria Elena Muriel, Baja guide-

First Image Belding’s Yellowthroat, San Jose del Cabo, Baja Sur

First Image Gray Thrasher, San Jose del Cabo, Baja Sur

First Image First Image Xantus’s Hummingbird, San Jose del Cabo, Baja Sur

First Image Ruddy Ground Dove, San Jose del Cabo, Baja Sur

We can’t forget the Baja near-endemic Yellow-footed Gull. This species was considerably less common than I had anticipated and was considerably outnumbered by Western Gulls.

First Image Yellow-footed Gull, second winter, Los Barriles, Baja Sur

First Image Yellow-footed Gull, adult, Los Barriles, Baja Sur

So long Baja-next stop Christmas Island then off to the South Indian Ocean.

First Image Baja sunrise from the Jen Wren

Kirk Zufelt
World Pelagic Birding Headquarters
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario