El Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Mártir is named for the guy gate keeping in heaven. For a long time (until just this minute) I thought it was some guy with a last name Mártir. Wrong. That’s just a tag on Saint Peter (rock of the church) reminding us he was martyred. Another big oops there. I might have known once but had forgotten he was killed for his beliefs. And this lack of knowledge strikes me as very, very odd. I was just in this guy’s basilica inside the Vatican. My research today, quick and dirty, revealed the church believes St. Peter was crucified head down on the every spot of the basilica’s altar. But details are sketchy and it sounds like early church politics played a role in Peter’s unseemly demise. I guess the church, like so many other things, chooses not to tell the stories that cast it in a bad light. Things like the stories that demonstrate these guys couldn’t agree even in the time of Christ on what Christ was teaching. Nothing has changed. We do know that early Dominican padres founded a mission at the south end of the mountain range and the mountain range and park take their names from that mission.
The park was formed in 1947. It’s home to Picacho del Diablo (the devil is always around) the highest peak in Baja at 10,157′. Numerous large avian species take advantage of the remote and rugged terrain. Both bald and golden eagles are known to frequent the area but most important are the California Condors. The condor reintroduction program has increased the total number of these mighty birds from 22 in 1982 to nearly 500 worldwide today. About half the birds remain in captivity for breeding purposes. Wild populations are not yet stable. This spot in Mexico has had less habitat loss and environmental degradation than US release locations. Consumption of both micro trash and lead ammunition are the greatest threat to individual survival. The birds in Mexico have successfully reproduced on their own.
Burt and I have seen these birds at three of their release sites and this was our second time spotting one in the Parque Nacional. Eight years ago we saw two. One flew over head on the ridge that divides the Baja peninsula, one side waters head to the Pacific Ocean and on the other they reach the Bay of California. The second bird was in the road trying to eat a red yogurt cap. I got out of the car and retrieved the cap. Think of that bird and those whales and fishes and sea life and pick up that micro-trash you see. It all flows downhill.
I blame the lack of posts on my lack of energy but it might be a more deep seated ambivalence. I don’t have much to say. There’s been a lot happening but most of it I’ve written about extensively so it’s not inspiring me to write more. A few weeks ago we participated in the Global Big Day. So I’ll share a little about that.
The folks at UABCS (wah-bes) or the Universidad Autonimo Baja California Sur organized a community event for Global Big Day, May 4, 2019. Normally, Burt and I spend this day intensively birding our home range trying to see the endemic species of Baja California Sur so I wasn’t much interested in a community event that would interfere with my personal birding. Emer and Joaquin convinced it was a good idea to bring the community together on this special day to raise awareness. They also asked the Gypsy Carpenters to play music. So I caved. Burt was unconscious and having his hernia repaired. I had a fever of 102. My ability to resist was compromised. Three weeks later Burt and I drag our lame butts out of bed at 4:15 AM so we can get to the estero in San Jose del Cabo for the 7:00 meet-up to bird the estuary. Neither of us was in good shape. Burt sat in a chair on the estero’s edge with the newly acquire Chava and rested his hernia repair. I birder for two hours with a group of 8 experienced birders. A second group of nearly 20 first timers went off with Emer as their guide. That was a great thing. Afterwards we played music under a tent at a display table as the university students met with the public and shared their knowledge. I can’t really say if it went well or not. I was simply too tired to care. In the weeks before grand ideas of a mad rush to get to the mountains and bird the late afternoon were bandied about. By 11:00 AM Burt and I were done. We headed home with no plans to do anything but rest.
A few hours later we were semi-conscious in out gNash living the good life. Nowhere to go and nothing to do. I was a little bummed at the lamest bird list in years for Big Day but I was happy to be under my covers half asleep. Then I got a text. Lupillo, the best birder I know in Baja, was trying to decide how to finish his Big Day. He was already at over 70 species. (I had 30ish). He was debating the mountains or the Todos Santos area. Hint, hint. Lupillo has no car. If he came to Todos Santos he would need a driver. He didn’t come right out and say, “hey, will you drive me around so I can bird?” It was a subtle, “hey, what are you doing?” So I said, “If you come here, I’ll pick you up and drive you around and you can spend the night with us.” And so Lupillo got on a bus and arrived in Todos Santos at 4:30 PM and I picked him up for phase two of Big Day. I was not excited. That’s how hard this recovery has been.
And so began a mad cap three hours of incredible discoveries. Our first stop was on the north side of La Poza where a drunk man threatened us with bodily harm for looking at his house. Dude, we were just walking by with binoculars. Chill out. Immediately on arriving at the water’s edge I saw an unfamiliar bird, Lupillo got very excited. Lupillo does not get excited. It was a red phalarope. What a cool little bird. It was running around in circles feeding on the shoreline uninterested in our approach. Five minutes into this unexpected excursion and I had a life bird. I was feeling a little perkier. Adrenaline from the drunk helped, too.
Right after that I got Lupillo his first blue grosbeak in breeding plumage. Then we saw some baby killdeer. I’m almost over being embarrassed by my bad IDs in front of experts so you can laugh when I thought they were plovers. Google them. Baby killdeer sort of look like plovers if you don’t notice that the parents are right there guarding them and their plumage is super fluffy. On our way back to the car we found a Wlison’s phalarope. Another lifer for me. The drunk guy had gone inside his house so we reached the car unmolested.
Lupillo and I hit a couple of other spots. Mostly drive bys. I did not want to walk. We got the barn owl in town because we know where it lives. We searched for some rock pigeons and found none. After dark we drove out a dirt road near our place in Pescadero and got the elf owl, a whiskered screech owl, and a common poorwill. At 8:00 I waved a flag of surrender and told Lupillo we had to stop. I was at 67 species for the day and we’d helped push Baja California Sure to over 100 but I was wasted. We headed to the hill we call home. I put Lupillo in the rumpus room with some food and collapsed.
The next morning we did a few car tours and bagged another lifer, the purple martin. It flew overhead while we were looking at a Harris’s hawk. I went from total surrender under my blankets to bagging three lifers in my home territory in under 24 hours. I teased Lupillo that I would still be trying to identify the phalarope if he hadn’t been there but really I never would have seen it because I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed.
We went for a late afternoon walk in the hills with our Montana buddies Aldo and Bequia yesterday. Huge discovery of two burrowing owls on the road as we drove home. The owls were very patient and allowed us all a good look through the binoculars while Burt shined a flashlight. Burrowing owls live underground and prefer to stay close to the ground. They have long legs for walking. Here in baja this species is easy to identify because the other owls are either much bigger or much smaller or have long ears. The squatty head is also a clue to who it is. I played the iBird call but didn’t receive a response. I guess they weren’t fooled.
Burt heads into the mountains on a guided hike Wednesday AM. I’ll be holding down the fort around here alone. I just landed a paying gig as a backup singer so I’ll also be doing that while he’s gone. Side work is a good thing.
When people said we were brave for taking on this bird I didn’t understand. Now that my heart is broken I realize they meant brave for leaping into the chasm of doomed love. We could have left him to his fate that cool night a week ago. It wouldn’t have been the wrong thing to do. It would have been easier to walk away and let nature take its course but we didn’t. We dared to care, we tried to help and now we suffer for his loss. I am always shocked by how the death of an animal can feel so sharp. Someone provided comfort by explaining that love is what motivated us. A short lived but powerful love.
BH’s wound was simply too serious and the resources for repair do not exist here. He would have died without our help and he did die with our help. I wonder if our arrogance caused him more pain or I wonder if humans all over are better because we simply try. That we all collectively care is important. We need to hang on to our desire to help people and animals.
It is sad but also we learned some things. Maybe next time we will leave an injured animal to its fate but maybe not. Maybe we will seek medical care sooner. Maybe we will apply our new knowledge. Maybe we will succeed.
The dude continues to eat despite yesterday’s attempts to ‘help’. After much reading and consulting with various experienced persons we decided to sling the kestrel’s broken wing. First step was a sock on the head. That is instantly calming or, perhaps, so terrifying that the bird is catatonic. With a sock on the head Bad Hombre freezes and curls up his toes. If he happens to be gripping your finger at the time of cloaking you might need help removing him from your finger. I know I did. Burt had to peel BH’s mighty talons from my thumb. I was uninjured but only because his claws hadn’t pinched loose skin. I can now sympathize with how helpless a lizard or bird must feel if caught in this deadly grip. Here I was a mere 1,000 times larger and I needed help to get free.
Once calm and unattached to me we explored the bird’s wing. Sadly, we found an open wound. The wound was healing but there was a little pus. I would guess another bird of prey got a shot at this guy. I cleaned the wound and applied antibiotic ointment. Before treating him I used my iPhone to quickly see if bids were allergic to antibiotic ointment. Some antibiotics kill birds of prey. I knew this because a cow medicine is killing vultures. The internet said ointment is okay. I gooshed a bunch in the hole. Then we wrapped an X-bandage of self sticking tape around the wing and then wrapped another bandage around the wing and the bird’s body to stabilize things. One of the more alarming aspects of caring for the bird is if he freaks out and tried to fly he gets his bad wing all tangled and it is a horrifying sight. I cannot imagine it feels good. The bandages we used are the stuff that sticks to itself but not the skin or, in this case, feathers.
Withing seconds BH was tangled in the bandage around his body. Those crazy strong talons got up inside and tried to pull it off even with the hood on. I re-attached it with more determination and slightly tighter. Same problem. I gave up on it after a second fiasco of wings, bandage, and talon knot. This was looking dangerous for all of us. So we put BH back in the kennel and he slumped over in his post-human contact coma. The X-bandage was in place, the wound was treated, and he was still breathing. Burt and I left for Bridge.
Big surprise. We played horribly at Bridge. I was in a funk. The wound. The bandage failure. Long term care issues. Crazy cards. Really good players. Bleh. We came home and found BH roosting, ready for dinner, bandage off. I told him he was on his own. I was not going to try again. We fed his some grouse heart and other yummy bits and said good night. I feel my funk lifting as I share all this drama with you.
So our dude is still eating well. Yesterday we gave him the head and a foot and a wing from Lorna’s white-winged dove. He made short work of it but would not make a move if we watched. Eyes on the bird equals the bird not doing anything. He isn’t fainting nor is he completely still but he will not give us the satisfaction of seeing him eat. Yet. So we sat there out of eye sight and listened. There were strange noises. We heard a rhythmic thumping sound that I postulate was the removal of feathers. There was scratching. Perhaps he was dragging the parts around the kennel. And (I’m imagining this) there was a contented sigh. So the scene was: noises, peek from human, nothing happening, human moves away, noises, human tries an even quieter, sneakier peek, nothing happening but there are feathers everywhere, some even stuck to Bad Hombre’s face, human moves away, more noises, another pathetic try at peeking, nothing happening. Eventually I gave up and Burt played guitar. More noises emanated from the kennel and I pondered the excellent hearing and will to live of our new buddy. I shot a video of dude defending his food when I intentionally approached and I shot another video of dude enjoying the music post meal. You can see them on Facebook.
I was saying to Burt that Bird’s are stereotyped as being, shall we say, not very smart and I wondered if our guy actually is thinking things like, “Man that was a great bird I caught!” or “This sure is the life, I can’t remember how these meals keep showing up but I sure like them.” Regardless of the avian deep thoughts BH really like eating the feathered friend. There wasn’t a mote of meat left on the head.
I started cooking this morning. I have a new recipe. It’s called Kestrel’s Favorite Soup. Canned cat food, chicken puree baby food, electrolyte drink, and sugar water are all mixed in equal parts. Heat it up until warm and take it with a dropper. Burt found this injured male Kestrel last night while we were birding. It was dragging a wing and ran itself into a dead end where Burt was able to capture him. Now we have a bird of prey living with us. He’s staying in the dog kennel. So far he hates us. He’s paralyzed with fear. The prognosis is unknown. On the plus side: he survived the night. On the negative side: he is a wild creature and all systems are pegged at red, he is injured, he is susceptible to infection. We now he would have died if left alone. Kestrels are estimated to die at a rate of 65% per year. How’s that for a short life? With us he has one last chance to heal and fly away. If he heals and can’t fly we know a guy that will care for him. Burt and I will try to get this ferocious bird and insect eating dude back on his wings. Since these birds are commonly used in falconry there is a lot of information on the internet on how to care for them. Several people have already told me how they succeeded in rehabbing other individuals. If there were a raptor center nearby I would take him there but as far as I know the closest one is in Tucson.
A couple of days ago the Gypsy Carpenters made an excursion to the Southwest Research Station to try and spot a green kingfisher. The green kingfisher is rare in these parts and quite a flashy bird so we thought we’d give it a go. We did not find this particular bird. We saw some hummingbirds and a few lizards. Then I spotted this young wren flitting about in an old log structure. The juvenile bird was not fully feathered but it could fly. It was also feeding itself on small insects in the cracks in the logs. Every few minutes mom came along and delivered a bigger snack. I caught the passing of a nice plump spider. These birds typically lay five to nine eggs so it makes me wonder what happened to the other fledglings. If you are wondering if this indeed is a house wren, you are right to be puzzled. I conferred with several experts before we agreed it was in fact a house wren. The Bewick’s (pronounced Buick) wren is common here, too, and has a pronounced white eyebrow. This bird’s eyebrow is pretty dramatic for a house wren but it’s yellow lower mandible was the clincher. Only house wrens have a yellow lower mandible. I did not know. I enjoyed watching this scene. The young one was quiet and busy checking out the cracks most of the time. The mother bird was busily hunting nearby. Suddenly mom would sing, “I have something for you!” and the baby would sit up tall and fluff its feathers and sing back, “Me me me me me me.” Hearing the young one’s song gave mom a map to its location.
A pitch of Orioles have arrived and two of them are using our fence to get around. Orioles are monogamous and this male female pair enjoyed their morning feed together. The Scott’s Oriole is a fantastic singer. They must have heard about the rumpus room song sessions.
Speaking of singing, our weekend event is being promoted on the radio and the Gypsy Carpenters have leaped off the silver screen and onto the magic airwaves. At least our name has. The substance behind the name, our music and images, remain unheard and unseen. We’re sneaking up on secret cult phenomenon. These things are delicate and can’t be rushed.