Wednesday, January 22, 2014

To Bird or To Rage? Todos Santos (Part 1)

Costa's Hummingbirds are the wee kings of cripple, tiny bastions of facemelt. Much sought-after by many birders, to find where they are truly common, one usually has to find oneself in the middle of some strange and random spot in the desert. For any birders who find themselves in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, any longings for Costa's Hummingbirds would be more than satisfied.

Baja California Sur. Most people go there with one thing in mind...raging. Cabo San Lucas is known worldwide for its rage opportunities and beaches (but mostly for rage). However, others go to BCS with something in mind besides forcefed tequila shots, and there is much more to see other than the debauchery in Cabo.

One such place is Todos Santos, just over an hour's drive northwest of Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific side of the peninsula. It's not unknown by any means. Many gringos go there to both visit and live, as the town is known as a small art community and has an abundance of good food (which, to be fair, can be said of most Mexican towns). Birders make it there from time to time as well, and can get a decent fix while birding areas in and outside of town. Xantus's Hummingbirds, Gray Thrashers and Belding's Yellowthroats can all be found without difficulty in the pueblo, and many western migrants and desert residents lurk as well.

I almost felt bad crushing this fragile little gem...almost...

Of course, I have to point out the obvious fact that any birder travelling to Todos Santos is probably more interested in this hummingbird, the one found in Baja California Sur and no place else. Xantus's Hummingbirds (LIFER) are common in the lowlands in winter...and crushing them felt really, really good.

The avian community down in southern BCS is strange, at least for someone who has not been there before...a strange mix of species one would associate with California's coastal chaparral and the Sonoran desert, with some endemic passerines and a pygmy-owl thrown in. Crested Caracaras (above) are, thankfully, a regular sight in the desert and near the edges of town.

I was lucky enough to recently sample the BCS avefauna (truly, it was a sample, not a gorge), mostly while based out of Todos Santos. BB&B and 10,000 Birds (where the Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive will post) will have total coverage, and tips for any future visitors. It was a very interesting birdscape, and we did not even get into the Sierra de la Laguna or the sewage ponds at La Paz.

And for the record, I highly recommend both tequila consumption and debauchery, just do it on your own terms...unless you are in college, then all bets are off.

Mmmmmmm...another life bird, and a Baja endemic at that. Meet the Gray Thrasher, denizen of the peninsula's desert scrub.

We were lucky enough to have all three of the lowland Baja endemics lurking within walking distance of our house. Gray Thrashers were the least numerous of the three, which is kind of funny considering how globally rare the local subspecies of Belding's Yellowthroat is...more on them later.

Cactus Wrens roam around in small, raucous groups, bearing little resemblance to the smaller Troglodytes (that's wrens, not cave-dwellers) that are found throughout the U.S. Strangely, it was here in Todos Santos where I really got the feeling that these birds were behaving much like Rufous-naped and Spotted Wrens, other Campylorhynchus I've seen in other parts of Mexico.

I like this pose...the barred flight feathers melt easily into the barring on the tail. What is the significance? I'm not entirely sure, but a nerve has been struck.

Among the throngs of Common Ground-Doves in Todos Santos, the semi-aware observer can pick out Ruddy Ground-Doves as well. We saw two different birds on the trip, both along a random road in the north part of town. EBird has a couple of reports of substantial numbers of RUGDs in the area, so be vigilant.

Seemingly the most abundant bird in Baja California Sur, White-winged Doves are everywhere. They are thriving. They even invite American Kestrels into their flocks, for good or ill. It is worth mentioning that during our stay, we saw no Eurasian Collared-Doves in either Todos Santos or La fact, eBird does not show any records for Todos Santos at all.

Behold, the White-winged Dove. Their wings may blind you in flight, but the face pattern allures.

It's been a while, so I am now dismayed to have the dishonor of presenting to you, yet again, a terrible photo of a good bird. This is a male Varied Bunting, photographed near Punta Lobos, just south of Todos Santos. These cripplers are uncommon in BCS, but not unexpected.

One afternoon we tried to get out into the desert to find a nice cactus forest to walk through. The road I chose was a poor choice (there was a lack of large cactus to admire), although we may have gotten somewhere interesting if our completely overpacked car had not overheated. Still a nice sunset though, despite the heaps of garbage and animal bones.


  1. What? No crushed vagrant photos, hung like war trophies from a sacked barbarian city? Will you be showcasing the legions of weird, odd, misplaced birds in another blog post? Perhaps there were too many of them to all fit into one post. Yes, that must be it. Besides, no point in pulling out all the stops for the first post, right?

  2. Amazing birds. But next time look under some of that trash, too. That's the best place to find the incredible, mind boggling mole lizard.

    1. Just googled it. Your description does it justice.

  3. Jesus, dude. Those hummingbird crushes are painful.

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