Spiny tailed iguana

Spiny tailed iguana
Spiny tailed iguana

The reptile above looks like it might be looking for a bird meal but that’s not their normal food choice. The spiny tailed iguana generally eats fruits and flowers, occasionally an insect or small animal. Eggs are a popular choice, too. That being said, the birds were having none of it. They stayed a safe distance away from this creature while it made a through inspection of our feeding station. I suspect it came by for the oranges. Our compost is just over the fence and so that might also be an attractant.

Energy levels remain low all around the gNash. Burt is not his usual chipper or energetic self. That’s to be expected after somebody opens a hole in your gut and leaves behind a foreign object. The doctor said all is healing as expected but still 5 more weeks without full exertion. The mesh is stiffening up nicely with scar tissue to plug the “rodent’s” hole. Burt is cleared to drive the automatic and in two weeks he can drive the Dodge.

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Pat Owens, Rest in Peace my friend.

Here's a bird for Pat
Here’s a bird for Pat

My friend Pat would have said a prayer for us but now she’s dead and I am left wrestling with my complicated emotions. The last two weeks haven’t been too difficult, no worse than anybody’s share of life’s burdens and much lighter than many, but they were enervating. I knew the financial shock of our taxes would pass quickly and it did. Burt’s hernia required some effort to find a doctor but we did and the surgery was affordable and quickly done. But before he had his surgery I popped out a rib while rolling over in bed and he came down with the flu. I was blinded by the rib pain. I mean literally blind. I could not see. Burt was in bed with a fever and I was pacing the gNash like I’ve seen dying animals pace. I could find no rest. I thought I knew pain. I hope I never know pain like this again. That morning we headed to the ER and I got pain pills. The next day Amir (thank you, Amir) popped my rib back in. Then I got the flu. Then Burt had his surgery and somewhere in here Pat died. And now 8 days post surgery I can almost manage to think clearly enough to share my emotional pain.

For those of you that have been here these last 9 years you may remember Pat as our steadiest comment provider. Until Trump ran for president Pat and I were able to overcome all political and religious differences and meet on the vast common ground of our love of service to others, nature, dessert, and travel. Pat was funny and silly and not-worldly. She wrote letters to prison convicts and made me teeth cleaning appointments when I was in her area. She made lemon bars for Portal Irish Music Week (until Trump). She gathered clothes for my kids. She kept up and she sought out ways to help me and a lot of other people. She loved her lord and Jesus and she showed it in her service to others. She was suspicious of gays, deeply afraid of the border issues (she lived there so I’ll not dispute her), loved going to Mexico to shop at the Pink Store, and said some crazy things that I would alway stry to gently share a different perspective about. In our 7 years of near daily contact we never had a direct disagreement over politics. I knew she was conservative and, well, you know me. There was no reason to talk about things like that. She and I were people of action. Actions speak louder than words.

Pat loved the Gypsy Carpenters. She designated herself our roadie/groupie and made herself a t-shirt. She used to come to all our shows. We played a party at her house once. She needed cheap dental care and I took her to Mexico. It was a good relationship based on common good. Where the fuck did it all go wrong? I wish I knew. I feel like if I could figure this out we could solve the bigger problems.

My first inkling there was a problem was when Pat one day didn’t show up to comment and one day turned into ten days. I had recently written a rare political piece about how grateful I was that the ACA (Obamacare) worked for me. It shows you how regular she was. I noticed in a day that she wasn’t reading my work. I wrote and asked if she was okay. She said yes, but she hated Obama and couldn’t stand to read my blog. I gently told her she was my friend and I though we could still be friends despite not agreeing on politics. Just like always. She came back. For a little while.

Somewhere in here I learned from a friend (also now deceased) that Pat was a committed Trump supporter. I found it hard to believe but remember this was before the elections. I didn’t realize Trump’s sway with evangelicals yet. I decided to ignore the information. I also decided if I felt like saying something political on my blog I would. Pat stopped writing and I didn’t reach out again. Trump was elected and I was so angry I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to her again. Portal Irish Music Week came and went two more times. One time she slyly delivered lemon bars through a mutual friend. The last time there was nothing.

Occasionally our paths would cross, we shared some hikes, we had mutual friends, but he bond was broken. We’d been polarized by external circumstances and neither of us knew how to reach across. Here’s where I am not sure about what is right and what is wrong. What I do know is Pat withdrew from all aspects of the life I knew. Many friends said she changed or no longer participated in the community. Because our relationship was largely virtual I had no way of knowing this. I wonder why? Did she feel mocked, belittled, defensive?

Is it now impossible for me to be friends with people that support Trump? I still think yes, but I wonder if I owe those friends a check in? An I love you? An our past matters to me? Or, as I feel is the case here, I did reach out and she turned away from me so do I make my peace and move on?

I do know this. Pat Owens you were a good friend to me and I will never forget you. I could have used your prayers this week even though you know I don’t believe. I never resented them.

 

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Iguana on the gabion

Iguana
Iguana

For those of you following along I regret to inform you of a potential hitch in the home building process. Burt has a hernia. We’re exploring options. Surgical repair seems to be required as soon as possible if he is going to work this summer. Meanwhile I bring you the iguana. I hear they taste like chicken. I’d rather watch them and eat a chicken.

This month eBird is requiring photos on our checklists if we want a chance in the Leica binocular lottery. I wish someone would just buy me a pair of Leica binoculars and I could ease up on all this citizen sciencing. I don’t mind the 20 checklists but the additional effort for photos is a logistical nightmare for me. Yesterday, between doctor appointments in Cabo San Lucas, we popped out to the estuary and I saw 39 species of birds and a few reptiles. Burt went body surfing while I toted my phone (because they want a map and the GPS is in the app on my phone) and my binoculars and my camera and my purse. My bins strap attachment point broke a few weeks ago so carrying my bins is not hands free. There was a lot of straps and three things for my hands. It was a spastic scene of tech juggling. Not what birding brings to mind. Science! It’s fun! and it’s a nuisance. Any idea on how to rig a strap for the binoculars are welcome. My string solution is suboptimal. I really want to win the Leica.

Common Gallinule
Common Gallinule
Great egret
Great egret
Osprey with a hairdo
Osprey with a hairdo
Reddish egret doing its feeding dance.
Reddish egret doing its feeding dance.
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More details of the trip

Giant tortoise front foot.
Giant tortoise front foot.

There are crazy, rich people doing bad things all through history. It helps sometimes to remember now is no different than any other time. Right now might be closer to home for some of us but corruption and exploitation are a continuous part of human history. From the bible’s first stories (allegory, mind you) to current day news, from the current situation in the U.S. to the Galapagos Islands you can find people lining their own pockets at the expense of others everywhere.

At Egas Port on Santiago Island in the Galápagos there are the remains of a salt production facility.  Internet research reveals only a tamed down version of this story our guides told us. In the 1960s Hector Egas was granted a salt monopoly in Ecuador by his buddy the president. There was no shortage of cheap salt available in Ecuador and it made no sense to mine salt on an island over 600 miles from the mainland and ship it to consumers but the monopoly made that a money making situation. An additional economic plus came from Egas promising his workers land in exchange for work. Out in the islands with nothing to do after work, the workers even made block in their spare time. For free. Because that block was going to be used to build a hotel (where they might work) and their future homes. Meanwhile they mined salt and lived in rough circumstances and received very low pay. They bunked in a barracks. Oh, there was a soccer field. This lasted about two and a half years.

But surprise, surprise. New elections came and Egas’ buddy lost. Egas also lost his salt monopoly and the workers learned that Santiago Island was a national park and there was no land for them. They were out of work, out of luck and they had to go. Today everyone is gone. Only some pilings from the barracks, a commemorative sign and scattered remnants remain. Current day ship workers still use the soccer field, the salt lagoon is a safe home to breeding birds, including flamingos, and there are still blocks visible along the trail. Visitors are not allowed to visit the lagoon but can take a very scenic walk along rocky cliff and grottoes. Notable for our trip were the fur seals and a wee oystercatcher hatchling. Darwin himself spent several weeks on this island while the HMS Beagle sailed off to restock with water. Darwin was constantly afflicted with sea sickness so he leapt at the chance to stay on land for a few weeks.  There’s a feature of surging, roiling water seaside named Darwin’s toilet. No proof on whether or not Darwin found relief there.

Moral of the story: the regular people got screwed, the villain’s family is still prominent, and elections happen. And it’s hard to get to the truth of the history. Googling only came up with superficial stories. Nothing on the exploitation and heartbreak the workers must have felt after spending years working towards a dream of their own home.

Female laza lizard on concrete block.
Female laza lizard on concrete block made by salt mine workers. Puerto Egas on Santiago.
Whale spine
Whale spine with Darwin smiling.
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Trip Report

Galapagos February 2019 Naturalist Journeys, LLC trip with hosts Susan and Burt Mittelstadt. More photos daily as data limits allow.

Group at the Airport in Galápagos
Group at the Airport in Galápagos

Guests: Mariel, Roy, Jill, Maggie, Baird, Janis, Chuck, Mary, Peggy, Bobbie, Julia and Janet.

Before flying to the Galápagos our group of fourteen travelers took an excursion to Antisana National Park to see creatures of the high Andes. Rain was predicted for the afternoon so we got an early start despite some late night arrivals. Despite the predictions it was as clear a day as one could hope in the mountains. Manuel was our knowledgeable guide and Jonaton our expert driver. Our goal was the Andean Condor. At the first pullout it was clear we weren’t at sea level. Despite pounding hearts and fuzzy heads (the elevation all morning was near or over 13,000’) we were all thrilled with instant success. Andean condors were spotted by Maggie at rest on cliffs across the deep canyon. Manuel set up his spotting scope and showed us how to take great photos with our phones and the scope.

The day continued to amaze. Condors were spotted at a total of three locations with one very close flyby. Lunch was a delicious Andean feast. The rain started to come down just as we puled away to head for our hotel. Here’s what else we found that day:

Andean duck
Silvery grebe
Eared dove
White-collared swift
Sparkling violetear
Ecuadorian hillstar
Black-tailed train bearer
Tyrian metaltail
Shining Sunbeam
Giant hummingbird
Slate-colored coot
Andean lapwing
Andean gull
Black-faced ibis
Andean condor
Cinereous harrier
Variable hawk
Black-chested buzzard-eagle
Carunculated caracara
Tawny antpitta
Stout-billed cinclodes
Plain-capped ground-tyrant
Sedge wren (Paramo)
Great thrush
Paramo pipit
Rufous-collared sparrow
Black flowerpiercer
Plumbeous sierra-finch
Plain-colored seed eater.

White-tailed deer
feral dog
Andean rabbit
Alpaca
Feral horse

Andean condor on the Antisana NP sign
Andean condor on the Antisana NP sign
There's a condor in there.
There’s a condor in there. Two.

Galápagos

Day One: Arrival in San Cristobal

We were met at the airport by the brother and sister team of guides, Ivan (I-love) and Karina and four more passengers of our ship the Eric. These two very experienced guides got us to the Eric for lunch and a safety drill and then we were back in out pangas for a visit to the Galapaguera, a tortoise breeding facility on the Island of San Cristobal. At the port we found our first creatures of the Galápagos. There were sea lions, Sally Lightfoot crabs, blue-footed boobies and a green heron. In Galapaguera we saw our first of Darwin’s finches and learned about efforts to restore the archipelago’s land tortoise populations. The highlight bird was our first of two woodpecker finches. We also were introduced to the poison apple tree. The rainy season was well underway and the island was lush with greenery and the air heavy with humidity. Our winter escapees had found a warm refuge. That evening we met the crew and toasted to our great luck to all come together on the fantastic final voyage of the Eric. Our evening meal was the first of many tasty meals. Sleepyheads one and all we hit the racks and motored all night towards Genovesa.

Smooth-billed ani
Galapagos petrel
Frigate (sp)
Blue-footed booby
Brown pelican
Great egret
Cattle egret
Striated heron (Galápagos)
Galápagos flycatcher
San Cristobal Mockingbird
Yellow warbler
Woodpecker finch
Medium ground-finch

Galápagos sea lion
Sally Lightfoot crab

Our first embarkation on the last voyage of the Eric.
Our first embarkation on the last voyage of the Eric.
Our Crew
Our Crew

Day Two: Genovesa, Darwin’s Cove and Prince Philip’s steps.

First activity of the day was a walk at Darwin Bay. Immediately we were met by the archipelago’s famously accessible wildlife. Birds and lizards and fish all seemed to welcome our observations and photographs. Our first marine iguanas were here. After our short walk and talk we donned our gear and hit the water. This group was a happy bunch of snorkelers. Ivan even had a Ring-of-Happiness and individual support for our less experienced participants. After the hour long swim we headed back on ship for snacks and lunch and sea kayaking and paddle boarding. Late that afternoon, after music and a siesta we did a deep water snorkel. Hammerhead sharks and many of their sea companions joined us, including a baleful purple octopus. Back on board to change and then back in the pangas. We climbed the Prince Philip steps to see the vast population of birds that make this remote isle famous. Target bird was the short-eared owl. Bobbies, gulls, frigates, doves, mockingbirds, there were a lot of birds, both species and numbers. As we walked we learned about the Nazca boobies practice of NAV (non-parental visitor aggression) and we watched a juvenile spar with an NAV. The short eared owl has developed a daylight hunting strategy to avoid the Galápagos hawk. It can take birds much bigger than itself and on Genovesa it frequently waits in cracks to ambush incoming storm petrels. We spotted four of these interesting birds on our afternoon walk. One gave quite a show looking as though he might have a pellet to expel. Nothing materialized despite a solid ten minutes of what appeared to be owl expectoration. Then it was back to the Eric for more food and libations. The very active day sent us to bed right after dinner.

Galápagos dove
Ruddy turnstone
Wandering tattler
Swallow-tailed dove
Lava gull
Red-billed tropicbird
Band-rumped storm petrel
Wedge-Rumped storm petrel
Galápagos petrel
Magnificent frigatebird
Great frigatebird
Nazca booby
Blue-footed booby
Red-footed booby
Brown pelican
Yellow-crowned night-heron
Short-eared owl
Galápagos mockingbird
Large ground-finch
Large cactus finch
Galápagos storm-petrel

Underwater:

Spotted eagle ray
Blue chinned parrot fish
Sea cucumbers
King angelfish
White sea urchin
Pencil spend sea urchin
Marine iguana
Wrass
Barberfish
Yellowtail surgeon fish
Gold rimmed surgeon fish
Hammerhead shark
Manta ray (sp)
White-tipped reef shark
Morrish idol
Octopus
Spine-tailed mobula
Diamond stingray
Pufferfish
Blue-chinned parrotfish
Hieroglyphic hawkfish
Three-banded butterflyfish
Giant damsel fish
Panama sergeant major
Large banded blenny
Calico lizard fish
Guinea fowl puffer
Grouper (sp)
Baby jack (sp)
Streamer hawkfish

Nazca Boobies
Nazca Boobies
Short-eared owl
Short-eared owl. Well hidden.

Day Three: Santa Cruz Island, Black Turtle Cove, Baltra, Dragon Hill

After a sound sleep and another long night crossing we headed out early into Black Turtle Cove on the pangas. Here we learned about the mangroves and saw an abundance of penguins, turtles, and nursery sharks. A pair of Pacific green turtles obliged us with their mating practices. The penguins swam by in formation. It seemed like they were seeking handouts. The next activity was another snorkel. The snorkels were so full of saline that further lists only contain notable animals. Midday was occupied by refueling at Baltra. The Gypsy Carpenters helped pass the time with a singalong
in the lounge. That afternoon we snorkeled (again :)) and took a hike up Dragon Hill in search of land iguanas and giant tortoises. Of course we saw both. This group had magic.

White-Cheeked pintail
Smooth-billed ani
Black-necked stilt
Whimbrel
Least sandpiper
Wandering tattler
Lesser Yellowlegs
Lava gull
Elliot’s storm-petrel
Blue-Footed booby
Frigatebird (sp)
Brown pelican
Great blue heron
Galápagos flycatcher
Yellow warbler
Large tree-finch
Small ground-finch
Common cactus-finch
Medium ground-finch
Semipalmated plover

Pacific green sea turtles
Black-tipped shark
hammerhead shark
Concentric pufferfish
Chocolate chip seastar
Spiny lobster
Blue seastar
Pencil sea urchin
Sand dollar
Diamond ray

Day Four: Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza, Bahia Urvina

By day four we are really into the rhythm of our daily activities. Getting in and out of our wetsuits, eating great food, napping, singing. every day is action packed. This day we arrived at the western most part of our trip. Fernandina is the youngest island in the archipelago. Our landing on the dock brought us nose to nose with marine iguanas and sea lions. Overhead we found three Galágos hawks. Underfoot there were lava lizards sunning onto of sea iguanas. We saw the rarely seen flower of the lava cactus and flightless cormorants. Our afternoon hike on the edge of Isabela Island was filled with enormous marine iguanas, giant tortoises and more cormorants.The day’s snorkels were excellent again but it was hard to imagine better, but more was waiting.That night we had a special concert by the Eric’s crew. I-Love led the group in high energy songs but Segundo moved us with his traditional ballads. Those guys could really jam. There were songs and dancing and Maria led is in the limbo. Then collapse into our beds with smiles again.

Galápagos dove
Smooth-billed ani
American oystercatcher
Semipalmated plover
Whimbrel
Wandering tattler
Franklin’s gull
Lava gull
Galápagos penguin
Magnificent frigatebird
Frigatebird (sp)
Blue-footed booby
Flightless cormorant
Brown pelican
Striated heron (lava)
Galápagos hawk
Galápagos mockingbird
Yellow warbler
Small tree-finch
Small ground-finch
Medium ground-finch
Darwin’s finch (sp)

Mola mola (giant sunfish)
Octopus
Pacific green sea turtle
Marine iguanas
Penguins

Day Five: Isabela Island, Elizabeth Bay, Tagus Cove, Darwin’s Crater:

After another fortifying breakfast we took a panga ride along the coast of this marvelous island. The surprise was seeing the largely vegetarian Pacific green sea turtle with it’s jaws firmly locked on an half eaten fish. A large half eaten fish. Somebody was craving protein. A concentric pufferfish was dining on a moth. The damp season had brought a lot of insects and the birds and fish were taking advantage. Spiders (argiope sp) in beautiful webs were also seen everywhere. The morning snorkel was laden with sea life. Penguins, cormorants, turtles and iguanas in a parade amongst the permanent creatures of the deep. we learned that an animal is a land creature if it eats on land and a marine creature if it eats in the sea. One irritable flightless cormorant took a nip at Bobbie’s right calf leaving a small red dot. Another first for our group. Really, the visual wonders of the sea made it hard to end every snorkel. Our guides frequently had to chase some of us back into the boat. That afternoon we hiked to Darwin’s Crater for magnificent views of the mysterious salty water body and the vast lava field making up the north of the island. Mockingbirds and finches entertained us with their feather fanning mating displays. Heaps of Monarch butterflies raised questions of migration and food sources. They do not migrate and there is milkweed on the islands. How the Monarch got to the Galapagos is a mystery.

Brown Noddy
Galápagos penguin
Flightless cormorant
Brown pelican
Galápagos flycatcher
Galápagos mockingbird
Small ground-finch
Medium ground-finch

Golden eagle ray
spotted eagle ray
Sea (Tree) lion
Pacific green sea turtle
Concentric pufferfish

So many fish. We got tired of trying to sort them all out. Heads were exploding.

Day Six: Puerto Egas of Santiago, Rabida Island

At Puerto Egas we learned about a short lived era of human habitation that left behind a few ruins. It was the eternal story of corruption and exploitation that we hear all over the world. People were promised land that the promiser did not own. A change in government ended it all and everybody left. Today the island teems with wildlife. A group of fur seals were frolicking in the grottos near Darwin’s toilet. We could see the different facial features between the sea lion and fur seals, even thought this fur seal is not a true seal. The dominant male greeted our group with a large bellow. Along the edges of a tidal pool was an American Oystercatcher with its wee down covered hatchling no larger than an egg on legs. Sally Lightfoot crabs added dots of red and gold on the dark sculpted rocks. Zig zag spiders decorated trailside trees. On our morning snorkel we spotted a huge stone scorpionfish and a school of salema I would have said numbered over 100,000 individuals. The afternoon snorkel had a spotted tiger eel snake and toothy moray eel. Late in the day we hiked the red soil of Rabida. Before we even had our shoes changed Burt yelled, “Flamingo” and Karina ran to see if he was kidding. He was not. For the first time in years and only the second time ever in her 20+ year career there was a flamingo in the brackish water at Rabida. Oddly, it was the second time in 18 months for Burt and Susan to see a flamingo here. Their amazing good luck continued. We got an eyeful of that calm and showy bird. It was spectacular. We all watched as it swung its improbable bill back and forth in the water filtering out crustaceans and preened its bright pink feathers.

Red-necked phalarope
Galapagos martin
White-cheeked pintail (Galápagos)
American flamingo
Galápagos dove
American oystercatcher
Semipalmated plover
Wandering tattler
Brown noddy
Galápagos penguin
Galápagos shearwater
Magnificent frigatebird
Frigatebird (sp)
Nazca booby
Blue-footed booby
Brown pelican
Galápagos flycatcher
Galápagos mockingbird
Finch (sp)

Moray eel (sp)
Tiger eel snake
Sea horse

Day Seven: Highlands of Santa Cruz Island and the Darwin Center

Our tour was coming to an end and there was a kind of gentle sadness infecting us. Not only would we have to say good-bye to new friends but all of us, crew and passengers, had to bid farewell to the Eric. After nearly three decades of service the Eric was being replaced by a new ship. We all loved this hard working craft and nobody wants dot see it retired. Still we had fun and more things to see and more songs to sing. That morning we visited the Darwin Center and Karina delighted us with a passionate presentation of the land tortoise restoration program. She explained how island by island rats were being eradicated. It was a complex process but slowly they were notching up success. Land tortoises are breeding in the wild for the first time in 100 years in some locations. Then we took an hour to explore the town and stock up on gifts for home. After lunch we took a bus ride to the highlands and visited the Gemelos, twin sink holes. Green warbler-finches sang for us and a woodpecker finch sped on past. At the working ranch we observed the tortoises in mid-migration across a working farm. We also walked through a dark and damp lava tube. Karina explained how these tubes form when the lava cools at different rates. A cooler and harder exterior can contain a warmer flowing interior, like a straw and soda. That night we played music and gathered ourselves for the parting.

White-cheeked pintail (Galápagos)
Smooth-billed ani
Franklin’s gull
Galápagos shearwater
Frigatebird (sp)
Blue-footed booby
Brown pelican
Cattle egret
Yellow-crowned night-heron
Galápagos flycatcher
Galápagos mockingbird
Yellow-warbler
Green warbler-finch
Vegetarian finch
Woodpecker finch
Small tree-finch
Small ground-finch
Finch (sp)

Day Eight: Interpretive Center at San Cristobal, Departure

The final day was spent touring the exhibits at the San Cristobal Interpretive Center or hiking up Tijeretas Hill followed by a snack and wi-fi in town as we waited for our flight to Quito. The hill hike rewarded us with a breeze and expansive views of Puerto Ayora and the Pacific. Our group arrived in Quito and had one last dinner together and then it was off on ur own journeys. Some headed home, others to Mindo for more birds, and others for a more expansive tour through Ecuador. It was a privilege to be in your company. We were lucky to have a group of warm and interesting companions, guides that wanted to share their home with us, and a crew that saw to our every need.

Blue-footed boobie
Ruddy turnstone
Franklin’s gull
Frigatebird (sp)
Great blue heron
Great egret
Yellow warbler
San Cristobal mockingbird
Small ground-finch
Finch (sp)

San Cristobal lava lizard

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Oh! My aching back!

Campfire
Campfire

On the upside I can say black cohosh seems to have knocked the night sweats down by half. I am sleeping better. On the downside, I threw out my back. Again. This must be the fourth time in two years. I’m getting demoralized. I had a nice adjustment yesterday that decreased the pain but was no miracle cure. I have to wonder if there is a more serious underlying injury.

Despite the constant pain, the kind of pain that makes me realize why we have an opioid epidemic, we went camping last Saturday. The four of us piled in the Exploder and drove a couple of hours into the wilds of Baja for a night on a vacant beach with a few hundred birds on a nearby water hole. Dolphins surfed the sunlit waves as grebes dove for dinner. Burt warned up rabbit stew on a drift wood fire. I wandered restlessly finding comfort nowhere except in distraction. At twilight scores of lesser nighthawks came to clear the air of mosquitoes. Their long narrow wings materialized out of nowhere and within ten minutes had disappeared again. A few hundred mourning doves flushed from nearby scrub while we walked to the water hole’s edge.

The next morning we watched avocet and frigates and coots and yellowlegs and all their buddies feed. The rainy summer and fall have provided lots of habitat for overwintering birds. This month we’ve spotted 101 species. That’s nearly half of all the species I’ve ever seen in the Baja. Quite a start to 2019 and a good distraction.

Dog pile in the tent.
Dog pile in the tent.
The skeleton of an old light house.
The skeleton of an old light house.
flor
flor
Flower
Flower
Firelight flatters Ollie.
Firelight flatters Ollie.
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Christmas Bird count successful

We forgot take a photo before splitting up into the field. Here are some of us that did the 2018 Todos Santos CBC.
We forgot take a photo before splitting up into the field. Here are some of us that did the 2018 Todos Santos CBC.

This year’s Todos Santos Christmas Bird count was an unprecedented success for our area. I hope in future years we’ll be able to look back and see it as the start of a new day for citizen science in our part of the world. Twenty people from three countries speaking at least two languages got together and split up over 170 square miles of terrain to count as many birds as they could in one day. The first three years of counting only uncovered 74, 66, 44 species respectively.  We got 51 species with my team alone on CBC day. Our combined CBC circle teams tagged at least 109 species together. (An increase of 47% on the best year and 147% on the worst.) We don’t have the final numbers yet because only half our teams have submitted their completed tally sheets. Among those species seen were prized endemics found only in Baja California Sur: the San Lucas Robin, Xantu’s hummingbird, the Gray thrasher, Cassin’s (San Lucas) Vireo, the Vioscosa’s Band-tailed pigeon, and the Acorn woodpecker. Some people may quibble over endemic status for some of these but our Baja pride dictates we support the local UABCS scientists working so hard on the status of these birds. There were a couple other subspecies seen, too, but I can’t recall which right now.

I am eternally grateful to all the hard working bird professionals that came out to support the community effort. Staff and students of the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur gave up a day of their holidays to ensure our success. Burt and I are will continue to do what we can to help your programs succeed. Many thanks also to the expert guides and non-professionals who lent their eyes and ears. Your love of the birds is inspiring. And finally, to the newbies that were eager to learn and offered any support they had with driving, navigating, and feeding of teams. May you continue to learn and share all you have. Here’s who turned out: Emer Garcia, Gerardo Marrón, Victor Armando, Joaquin Corrales, Daniel Galindo, Andrea Quintaro, Kurt Radamaker, Cindy Radamaker, Bequia Martel, Damian Gonzáles, Pablo Gonzáles, Bobbi McElravey, Bill Levine, John Konovsky, Don Martin, Alejandra Yarely Barrios, Osiel A. Flores Rosas, Haidé Cruz, Burt Mittelstadt and me.

The week before the count Burt and I drove a lot of miles to make sure we knew the most productive areas and the best routes through the mountains. The results show our prep work proved worthwhile. Many people were surprised the mountain endemics were in our circle but we knew where to find them and those sweet birds showed up on the big day. What a relief. Thank you woodpeckers and robins.

My own personal day was spent slogging through my home turf of downtown Pescadero. But before that I had to get everyone else split into teams and out in the field. That night my fitbit said I slept 3 hours. Adrenaline was pumping as soon as my head hit the pillow. Thoughts kept popping up: Did I have enough maps, cars, snacks? Will they find the snipe at the dam? What about those Harris’s hawks? Do I need to bring sunscreen and bug juice? What if nobody helps me in Pescadero? When was the last time I saw a gray thrasher? What if nobody shows up? The alarm went off at 5 AM and I was in Todos Santos at our meeting point at 6:45. Burt arrived 15 minutes later in a spare vehicle. By 7:15 it was obvious we had enough experts and support to cover all the areas I had hoped to reach. I showed the teams my suggestions and we split up the people into teams of experts and support. There was a mild squirmish over the mountain areas. Our main coastal oases were so familiar to the best birders that they hoped for a day in the new terrain. Burt wound up in a car with 5 people, all of them with strong local skills and two of them at the expert level. That A team headed to the mountains. We had six teams. Three coastal oasis and town with agricuture and desert, and three in the desert to the edge of the mountains with some agriculture.

As for me, I had two amiable and kind helpers the first three hours but the slogging through sewage ponds and desert thorns under an unrelenting sun burned my guys out by lunch time. after a quick count at my feeder and some lunch I finished the lonely afternoon chasing sparrows and birds of prey in our agricultural fields. Around 3 PM Emer called in to say his team was done and back in Todos Santos. They had done the Santa Inez dam and its environs. We agreed to regroup and have a snack with the teams that were in from the field in Todos Santos. I did  a rough run through of total species seen. Aside from the endemics we added 12 species that weren’t even expected to be seen in our count during the CBC. I’ve got my work cut out for me explaining all the new birds.

After the snack groups went home to Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, and La Paz. Kurt’s team was unaccounted for until 5 PM. They finally retired and headed to their hotel and Gerardo, Burt and I headed out to try and pick up some missing species and the night birds. Finally at 8 PM we showed Gerardo our guest bed and crashed. You might think the next day we would give it a rest but I had one of Baja’s best birders in my guest room and he was willing to bird my backyard and see what Pescadero had to offer so no, there was no rest for us.  Burt and I took Gerardo to our local black water effluent and Gerardo got to work. He confirmed my find of the endangered Belding’s Yellowthroat in our local cesspool, but where I was lucky to see one, he found six. This bird is a difficult ID. It is easy to wishfully call a common yellow throat a Belding’s so I was eager to confirm I wasn’t seeing things. I am very relieved. Gerardo is our local eBird reviewer and the only person ahead of me for number of checklists submitted to eBird in 2018. I tease him because if I was here full-time we’d have a real competition. And so we spent another day birding in the company of the amiable and productive Gerardo. We went to Elias Calles and La Poza, too. At 3:00 we parted because Burt and I had a tennis match with my dad and Sara Gay. After that I collapsed.

A special shout out to Jackie Lewis and Bonnie Bowen for encouraging me and Todos Santos EcoAdventures for passing the baton.

One of Baja's endemic species.
One of Baja’s endemic species, the gray thrasher. He sat there and said, “Count me!”
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Todos Santos Christmas Bird Count Tomorrow

Todos Santos Christmas Bird Count Circle. It’s 176.6 square miles or 457.4 km2 or 45,739 hectares. It’s big.

Did you know in the late 1800s there was a Christmas tradition of the Christmas side hunt? Parties would divide up and head into the wood in a competition to see who could kill more things, feathered or furred. Charming. If you think we’ve evolved since then remember we still do this with coyotes and rattlesnakes and other ‘vermin’, just not as a Christmas tradition. In 1900 ornithologist Frank M. Chapman came up with a new idea. Frank said, “Hey, it’s getting kind hard to find all those animals. Maybe we should count them and see how many are left.” No, not really. What is true is that Chapman was justifiably concerned about the birds and he proposed the switch from killing to counting. That first count had 27 counters in 25 locations. They found 89 species. You can see the results HERE. I’ll bet a librarian deserves credit for us knowing those very first results. Conservation was a new idea and what is now known as the CBC or Christmas Bird Count is still going strong. Here’s a link to what the North American coverage looked like in 2014.

The CBC has grown and overtime developed standard protocols. The result is a powerful data set fueled by citizen scientists over the course of more than a century. The cumulative years of methodically counting have netted priceless scientific insight. Many conservation advances of teh past can be credited to the sound scientific conclusions from this long view of nature. Sadly, there’s a lot more work to be done. The rapid pace of climate change is outpacing nature’s ability to adapt. Using this data we can see population shifts in real time. Many species will not make it as food and precipitation cycles gyrate wildly. The NY Times just published a story on one special spot on our globe. You can read it HERE. We can relate to this anecdotal story of boobies and penguins and iguanas but the truth is this is a global disaster and it’s happening all around.

Despite the horrifying news we chose to move forward in hope and continue to collect data. It might only be an exercise in respect and acknowledgement as we consciously observe the destruction we have wrought but perhaps it will help provide answers on how to move forward. I don’t know but I’m going to go out and count.

So tomorrow is our big day. Birders from all over the area are coming here to lend a hand. Novices and experts will work together to take stock of our treasured birds. We meet at 7 AM at the Todos Santos Bus Station. I have maps and snacks. Bring your sunscreen, bug spray, binoculars, and hats.

Desert Stink Bug
Desert Stink Bug
Class prep
Class prep
Decorations in downtown Pescadero.
Decorations in downtown Pescadero.
My lonely tree.
My lonely tree. Every last kid in town has a stomach bug.

 

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La Paz, BCS, México CBC

La Paz Christmas Bird Count circle
La Paz Christmas Bird Count circle. Check out the unique geography.

Christmas Bird Count season is upon us. That’s something to celebrate. This is the 119th anniversary of the largest citizen science project in the world. It’s successful because humans all over agree to go out and focus their birding efforts in a tight circle on a scheduled date. The collective CBC circles cover an area and span of time to have produced the most important bird trend data in the world. Burt and I were lucky to have participated in a Portal, AZ count a few years ago.  We followed our friend Peg Abbott of Naturalist Journeys as she birded her way up a mountain road over the course of a day. Peg explained the science of the CBC and shared her incredible bird identification skills while we spotted and kept count for her. We are hooked on birding in large part because people like Peg have generously spent time helping us learn the birds.

Yesterday Burt and I went to La Paz to help count in their amazingly diverse circle. They’ve got desert and agriculture and miles of shoreline and the open water of La Paz bay. Daniel Galindo-Espinosa is the compiler for La Paz and he welcomed our participation and has agreed to come to Todos Santos and help me out this week when we do ours. We were assigned to help our buddy Emer Garcia of the UABCS birding program at the city’s wastewater treatment plants. This might seem like a loser spot but it is actually one of the most important habitats in the Baja Sur region.  I kind of hoped for a new area and new birds but I was relieved for two reasons. Emer is a pro and Burt and I had birded the area the day before so we knew what to expect. Still it was also kind of overwhelming. The volume of birds on the treatment lagoons can make you crazy when you’re desert rats like us. We are used to spotting birds as individuals. Counting entire flocks and picking out unique individuals inside of heavy flocks is tiring work. It takes practice. Our team of 5 set to it with Emer keeping us under control and we think we did a pretty good job. Our search revealed 59 species and over 1000 individuals. There was nearly 100 white-faced ibis alone. And the ducks. Holy quakery, Bat Man, there were a lot of ducks.

Meanwhile Burt and I have been driving roads to make sure we can get people out to the areas we want birded this Thursday. Today we are taking one last excursion to the border of the Sierra de la Laguna. I saw something I’m hesitant to report just yet so we’re going to try and find it again and also check out some other spots.

Join us Thursday at 7AM (12/20) if you’d like to participate in the Todos Santos Christmas Bird Count.

The big wigs of BCS birding. Some of them.
Some of the birding people.
Our team at the La Paz sewage lagoons.
Our team at the La Paz sewage lagoons. The ducks were far away and tightly bunched.
This guy lost his tail while dancing like michael jackson. Thanks, Melissa
This guy lost his tail while dancing like michael jackson. Thanks, Melissa
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THINGS ARE A LITTLE BONKERS

Wildflower
Wildflower

So Burt and I are getting into the swing of things. We’ve just plunged right in. Spanish, yoga, surfing, birding, kid’s classes, Bridge. Our schedules are packed full of fun and meaningful interactions so it’s not like we were looking for anything to do. The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is coming is these next three weeks. Birders all over the world work together to get an annual census. There are rigorous scientific protocols everyone agrees to follow. These protocols have given us 118 years of priceless data on birds. Todos Santos has had its own CBC for only 3 years. We’ve got some catching up to do. I noticed last week that I did not know when our CBC was planned so I contacted the organizers. There were a few emails back and forth where in summary I politely informed them that the answers they were giving me did not follow Audubon’s protocols. They very kindly said, “Will you take over for us?” I said, “Yes.” That old adage of no good deed goes unpunished comes to mind.

Now I am a scrambling to learn the formalities of running a circle and finding enough birders to cover our area. Luckily we know a bunch of the best and so far they are eager to get this thing underway with the new management.  And by best I mean waaay wayyyy better than us best. So buh-bye. I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Olliebutt
Olliebutt
Lunch
Lunch. That is a sesame chili salsa. nom nom nom.
It rained 2" mas ó menos.
It rained 2″ mas ó menos.
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