We saw the damnedest thing today.
There is an unnamed estuary around the bend from San Carlos that we call “Tular.” Not sure why, but we picked up that name from somewhere. It’s a dirty little lake hemmed in by some neighborhoods that has an outlet to the ocean at one end. It’s always been a good birding spot if you can ignore the smell of raw sewage that seems to get worse every year. But we brave the odor and park and count whatever presents itself.
Today we were on our way to Guaymas to meet our local friend Patricia at a restaurant she wanted us to try. Passing the water, I thought I saw a bird worth checking and so I slowed down and scanned the water before pulling over. While doing so, I noticed a dog running full bore down the small island that sits in the middle of the expanse. Canus Mexicanus Ratus, that omnipresent tan dog with black points that we call “Mexican Rat Dogs” which you see constantly. Abandoned, or just plain feral, they are all over the place.
This one though was running like mad until it reached the end of the little island and joined a friend before disappearing behind a dune. I grabbed my binoculars to have a look at the bird in question (which turned out to be nothing special) and in looking back I saw that running dog start to run across the shallow water, joined now by three, and then four friends. When it got deep, they began to swim to the other side, then burst out of the water in dog-pack formation, apparently with the goal of chasing down the hundreds of roosting gulls, herons and ducks. Of course, the birds were having none of it and they all took to the air long before the pack reached them. The dogs continued running as a group, this way and that, disappearing a couple of times behind mangrove hummocks until they finally vanished deep into the thick swamp at the end. No birds were harmed in this endeavor, and we’ll never know why they were doing it. But it was genuinely something to watch them perform.
We’ve spent the last two days seriously counting birds. Our reason for being here is a vacation, but our raison d’etre is to conduct the bird count that I described a few nights ago. The count requires some work to do it properly, and a lot of time in the car. In addition to the big spots – the estuary at Empalme, Tular, the estuary here at Pilar and the bay out back – we have a lot of little, far-flung and off the beaten places we visit out in the desert. Yesterday we began the day at Meri Meri, a new coffee shop in town. Run by the most pleasant trio of young people, the coffee was good and the chocolate-chip scone even better. We’re so happy to have a decent coffee presence here in San Carlos because while the need is obvious, places that have tried in the past have largely failed. Fingers crossed for these guys.
Our first stop of the day was out beyond La Manga, the little fishing village where we had lunch the other day. There is a working cattle ranch out there, and the foreman maintains a little seep with some diked in water for the cows. Water in the desert always means birds so it’s usually a good place to simply park and watch. On this day though, not much was going on, although the drive out was quite productive.
The next stop was a trio of sewage ponds that serve a hotel on the outskirts of town. Again not very active but we managed to see a few of the regulars – Least Grebe, Lesser Scaup and a handful of Swallows. The area has really overgrown in the last year, and the newly tall trees on the south side of the pond were festooned with little nests, most likely from this breeding season.
As the day gets warm, the birds start to disappear, so we took a break for lunch and a couple of hours of reading, heading out again around 4 for a quick trip to some rocks in town that are only visible during the lowest of tides. Again not many birds – but a single Surfbird, an Alaskan breeder that occasionally winters here, made the walk out on slippery rocks worth our time.
Today began with a quick stroll in the desert around our place. A few Hummingbirds and a couple of Thrashers were about all we got, but 5 Hooded Orioles made our short jaunt a success. Years ago, they used to roost nightly in the palms right outside our condo but they’d disappeared for some unknown reason. It was a real treat to see them back again.
Following a great breakfast, we lugged my kayak over to the estuary entrance out back and I launched, figuring one more spin in the mangroves might produce something. As it turned out, I didn’t add anything new, but I did have the most pleasant encounter with a pair of Roseate Spoonbills, waking up in their roost in the trees. If the conditions are just right, you can put the nose of the kayak into the wind, slowly paddle past the birds and then let the current float you back offering an excellent opportunity for photos. The birds will usually tolerate this behavior, as long as you don’t get too close and refrain from flailing with your paddles. I spent about a half-hour going up and floating back and just enjoying the close access to these bright pink beauties.
Tomorrow, another morning out in the desert at another water feature and hopefully some better luck. We’ll see, but even if that location isn’t super-productive, every little encounter makes the time well spent.