For the last 120 years, the National Audubon Society has held a Christmas Bird Count during the month of December. Originally conceived as a way to introduce people to bird conservation, and in particular, to draw attention to the destruction of the Heron and Egret population by the millinery trade, today counts are held throughout North and Central America. While Pt. Barrow, Alaska might only produce a single species (Common Raven,) a typical count in Mexico will clock in at 200+. For the last 25 years of those 120, we’ve been counting here in San Carlos.
This morning was devoted to counting birds, via kayak. I always try to spend s few hours out in Estero Soldado, the Mangrove estuary that abuts our condo complex. Ostensibly it’s a protected area, but unfortunately, like so many protected areas in the 3rd World, it’s not really protected at all. Fisherman still lay nets – for many years there was an oyster operation in the back bay. There’s lots of trash and people doing things they shouldn’t be doing. But at least it’s protected from over-development and too much human intervention. Which is nice, because it’s a major wintering spot for a whole slew of North American migrants.
Getting in there is a bit of challenge, not because of the protection, but because there are really only two choices – a long haul on open ocean to the estuary opening ¾ of a mile down the beach or carrying the kayak cross-country and finding a way through the broken fences. The latter is our regular approach and that’s what we did this morning. MLW helped me with the portage and sent me on my way.
The birdlife is quite varied. Lots of Gulls and Terns fishing the waters, along with Brown Pelicans and a host of Egrets and Herons hanging out in the trees. Ten or more species are to be expected in only the first 15 minutes of paddling. Then you turn a corner and really start looking for the gems – American White Pelicans and if you’re lucky, Roseate Spoonbills. Far out of sight from any road or trail, they’re accessible only by water. And today was not disappointing for standing on the only bit of mudflat above the high tide were 21 pelicans. I stopped and let the wind slowly loft my boat past them. If you don’t get too close, they’re very tolerant and today they just solemnly stood while I floated past. I took a broad arc out into deeper water and left them behind before circling back in their direction. Taking a closer look from this vantage, I realized the pelicans had been obscuring 3 Spoonbills, hiding out behind them. Another kayaker, a British woman judging from her accent, said “aren’t they beautiful” and then proceeded to quiz me on the other birds there on the sandbar. Willets, Laughing Gulls, and Forster’s Terns filled out the remaining space. We chatted for a moment before she went off into deeper water and I turned back towards home.
Once again on dry land, we devoted the rest of the morning to driving around town hitting the various hot spots for more birds. One of the true beauties of a bird-counting vacation is all the great places you get to go hunting. Water treatment plants are a big plus, as are boat storage ponds. Or run-off collection basins at golf courses. Truly glamorous locations and we did quite well this morning with dozens of species and only a small amount of challenging odors and slippery surfaces.
After lunch, I put those ingredients from yesterday’s shopping trip to good use and made some Mexican Fudge. Actually, it’s American Fudge, but since I made it here its name gets changed. Once it was in the fridge we went out on another birding trip, this time to Empalme at the far end of Guaymas Bay. A nice new causeway with a decent shoulder made birding from the road quite safe and enjoyable even if the drive over on the “new” road was less than ideal, its surface now so degraded that it required driving on either the shoulder or the wrong side of the road to avoid the car-eating potholes.
I spent the waning hours of the day trying to get a decent photograph of the almost-full moon rising over the desert. My results were adequate, at least as good as I get at home, and I was grateful that the skies were clear, unlike the way they’ve been at home this year with most Full Moon Eves being washed out by clouds.
We ended the day with our friend Patricia at JJ’s for another round of tacos and beers and music, the perfect San Carlos Tuesday.