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.
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.
You can see why I’m whining below. Aside from the glorious bruise on my upper thigh all is well. We saw the green flash last night from cliffs above the boundless Pacific. On our way to the perch there was a spider in the wind and a fruiting cactus wedged in a crack of rock.
We’re getting into the swing of our normal routine. I’ve returned to Spanish classes and yoga. Burt has been out surfing. We’ve played Bridge. Team Mittelstadt tied for first place yesterday. My dad will be here in about 10 days. Tennis will resume then or sooner. We’re meeting with the neighborhood kids in a week for the first class of the season. Tomorrow we’re off on a birding expedition with the UABCS (Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur) ornithology students.
The car battery was dead when we tried to head to La Paz, again, so we switched from Dad’s RAV 4 to our trusty and huge Dodge truck. Add buying a new car battery to the day’s agenda. We arrived at the Immigration office a few minutes after they opened. The office is a small white building with the a band of red and a band of green about a third of the way up its exterior. The Mexican flag. Inside are tightly packed rows of chairs, three windows for officers, a bathroom, a sign-in sheet and a number dispenser like the butcher used to have when I was a kid. The space gives the impression that desperate people spend hours waiting their turn for assistance. We’ve (so far) never waited more than five minutes and haven’t even had a chance to use the bathroom. There was one guy in line ahead of us. That was good since I left all the papers in the truck. Burt ran back to get them while I stared at TV. A Mexican version of the US’s The View was broadcasting. It’s called the HOTTIES. I kid you not. It’s a morning news program with a panel of five young women. Okay, maybe I misread the headline and they were talking about a band or porn stars. But I’m pretty sure I read the name of the show. Before I could figure it out Burt returned and it was our turn.
So far all our paper work appears to be in order. The officer, different than the one of two days ago but equally friendly, found our accounts on their computer system, so I had successfully applied on-line. Then she reviewed our paper forms and all the copies with us. She helped us fill in a few blank spots and was pleased to see we had three copies of the bank receipt for paying for the visas. She handed us a receipt saying we’d made the application and told us we should hear something in ten days. Ten calendar days is the 8th of December. Ten business days is the start of the holiday season. It’s out of our hands now. We made our submittal in ten minutes.
Before we reached the car I received two official emails, one for each of us, saying our visas were in process and they gave a link to our personal account where we could check the status of our application. I will try to avoid checking it several times a day. In college I would check my P.O. box several times a day even though I knew the mail only came in once a day. This compulsive mail checking developed because a friend would slip fun notes in the box’s slot and I never knew when one would arrive. I never shook the habit even when the note fairy graduated. Texting and all the other modes of communication we have today have ruined the note leaving habits of our past. Even Mexico is sending me email. Burt texts.
I hope we did it all properly. Time to start enjoying our season here. We stopped in at the old municipal market and picked up some fruits and I bought a liquado of strawberries, papaya, milk, honey, and ginger. Liquados are the original smoothie. My server accidentally made twice what I paid for but she gave it all to me anyway but only with a small cup. I drank and she refilled. Burt bought two bottles of local honey. The honey is the color of black tea. Then we headed to Soriana a modern and enormous grocery store and department store all in one. Sorianas are like Walmart Superstores with appliances. At Soriana I found Splenda for my ant eradication program. Reputable online sources say Splenda kills ants. Glad I don’t eat it. And finally we went to an AutoZone and bought a new battery for dad’s car. He’ll be here in two weeks. I’m sure he’ll appreciate a functioning vehicle.
Now we are home and collapsed in bed. It’s warm. Ants are around but their numbers are greatly reduced. Birding plans tonight.
So there’s this thing I wanted to tell you about but so much time has passed it seems I should move on. So, next time I’m wondering what to write about remind me to describe Jack’s house to you. Burt calls it a unibomber cabin. He’s got the drift of it but Jack’s place is more interesting because he’s not intentionally leaving behind modern conveniences. Jack’s home is magnificently uninviting and it has water and electricity. I’d like to capture the sensations of visiting in writing. Meanwhile, here we are in Mexico.
After leaving Jack’s place in the Sierra foothills we’d planned to visit San Francisco area friends. The vast and thick plume of smoke from the Camp Fire forced us to keep moving south to look for clearer air. Smoke is nothing to mess around with when you have a heart issue and when you’ve already been exposed to severe concentrations in the past (Hello, Montana?). It was sad to bail on friends but bail we did. This brought us to the central coast for a few days of pre-Mexico chores and an early Thanksgiving feast. It was smokey but not deadly in the Paso Robles area. I was irritable. My constant state these days. Backache, eye blob, trumpitis and the hot flashes have returned. Our friends were nice to me, anyway. I dragged everyone out to see Bohemian Rhapsody and it did wonders for us all. It was a fun movie even if it strains credibility.
Finally we were on the road to Mexico. Then we realized we had more chores and it was Thanksgiving week in LA. We were slowed by our desperate need for new batteries for the gNash solar system and tires, too. This put us in the deadly no man’s land between Bakersfield and LA. The Tejon Pass area. OMG. An hour north of LA on the Monday before turkey day and the roads were full of semis all looking for a place to pull over and make their required rest stops. We drove ina circle for an hour. There was a Walmart we almost dared becuase teh manager said it ‘might be okay.’ They only rented the lot. Dispersed signs said otherwise when we finally spotted them. Rather than dare the LA spaghetti we headed back NORTH to a Pilot truck stop. It was full at 5:00 PM. We went to another huge vacant parking lot. Abandoned mall. More signs forbidding parking. Burt was tired. I was my usual crabby-assed self. Finally we decided to hit a state park about 15 miles west of the freeway. We arrived around 8PM. It was dark. There was room. We were up at 4 AM and on the road towards Potrero State Park. That place was empty when we arrived but due to fill by the next day. An entire family tree had rented the place for Thanksgiving. That disaster was barely averted. A day later and our usual spot to hang before we cross the border would have been full, too. We learned to avoid LA during the holidays after a couple of bruising trips early on. Ever since we’d made an effort to enter Mexico from points further east but we forgot there was a reason and it wasn’t merely because we happened to be there. Maybe we’ll remember this time. LA and San Diego and all points in between from the Sunday before Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day should be avoided at all costs. State parks on the coast are filled months in advance. And they cost too much, too.
My mood lightened as soon as we crossed the border and then a day later Burt was sick. He dragged his ass and our home down the peninsula in 5 days instead of 3. I did offer to drive but the thought of me one-eyed driving on the shoulder-less transpeninsula highway was an idea neither of us could stomach. The extra days gave us time in La Paz to start our visa process so it worked out brilliantly.
And so here we are. The gNach is on her spot in El Pescadero. Ants swarmed in as soon as we landed. Burt’s been unpacking these last two days. I have torn the trailer apart rooting out the ants. I found an open bag of raisins and a withered fig that they were using as their home bases. All food is tightly sealed and all crumbs swept away. Hopefully they will migrate on their own. When I’m not spraying the army of hormigas with white vinegar I am rounding up the paper work to finish the next stage of our visa application process.
Here’s an abridged version of the visa process: 1. Apply for the visa in the US. This means show up to a consulate with passports and many copies of evidence that you can afford to retire in Mexico. Bring photos. 2. Cross the border and make sure you fill out your new visa forms correctly showing you are seeking residency. You now have thirty days to finish the next stage. Go! 3. Freak out when you realize two weeks of national holiday and a changing of the federal government all occur within your 30 days. 4. Read online to make sure you don’t mess up. 5. Freak out and lose more sleep over the new president (AMLO) and his minions and the holidays. Last time the government changed all the immigration procedures went out the window. 5. Show up in the migracion office of your county or state. For us this is La Paz. La Paz ia an hour away from our home. 6. The migracion officer is very helpful but she says: you know the holidays are coming up. You must move fast. We ask when the holidays start. We are given a very vague answer with a shrug. Any day now what with the president changing this Saturday and the Virgin of Guadalupe of the 12th and Christmas on the 25th and then New Year’s Day….I’m verklempt just writing this. 7. There is an online form we must submit online and print. There are forms in hard copy we must fill out. There is a fee we must pay at the bank and bring back a receipt in triplicate. They ask for a bill that shows where we live, power or water, I explain we have solar power and use trucked water, we have no bills. She says bring a google map. We need more photos. The dreaded official ID photos of Mexico. Our officer suggests we can get it done in La Paz today. 8. I run to an internet cafe to fill out the online form but the guy has stepped out. He’s left a sign saying he’ll be back. Burt is off trying to park. 9. Burt returns but the internet is still closed. We head off to do the photos. 10. The photos are below. No hair on forehead or ears. There’s a communal pomade pot for slicking your hair into submission. You can imagine how inept Burt and I were. The results are stunning. 11. Head back to internet cafe. Guy still not there but two nice women want in so they call him. He shows up. He’s sad to inform me the internet doesn’t work. Then it suddenly does. I spend 40 minutes looking for and filling out the forms. I go to print them and the internet crashes. No charge. 12. I take advantage of this disaster to head back to migracion and ask a few questions about the forms. This works well because the officer now recognizes me and seems eager to help. She takes me step by step through the forms. 13. I decided I am too tired to face trying on-line forms in Spanish again. I’m too tired to make sure I don;t screw up. If you make a mistake on your forms the whole process is rebooted and you lose your fees. 14. Burt an I decide to head to Pescadero and make camp. 15. Ants. 16. I successfully fill out the online forms. 17. I head into town to pay taxes, transfer money, pay for visas at a bank and get my copies of all forms. 18. The tax office internet is down. 19. The bank informs me I am using a bogus number for my money transfer. I panic. Am I committing fraud or have I lost $3,000? 21. In a deep funk I swing in the tax office. The internet is restored and I pay my less than $100 in annual property taxes. 20. I go home to regroup again. 21. April prints out the online forms. 22. I find the correct transfer numbers. 23. We head to the bank to get our money and pay for the visas (we’ve been home 48 hours) with the plan to head to La Paz and execute the next step. 24. At lunch Burt says,”What time do they close?” I check. The answer is at 1PM. We give up for another day. 25. The car battery is dead. 26. Ants.
So tonight, after two days of ants, unpacking, cleaning, copying, form filling, and bureaucracy dancing we are going out to dinner. Tomorrow at 8AM we are going to La Paz with many more copies of everything than they said we would need. Please pray, cross your fingers or make sacrifices according to your beliefs. The office is open 9 AM until 1 PM. And here’s the gospel truth, this system is a piece of cake compared to the US and for this I am grateful. We have to get her done. The new president arrives in just two days.
With Semana Santa still going strong the kids are out of school and bored just like when we were young. Semana Santa is a two week long school holiday that spans the week before and the week after Easter. Burt and I decided to take advantage of our roaming hooligans freedom and show then the area. We crammed 11 of the kids into the Exploder and took them to a secret pocket beach. Cramming 11 kids in a car without seat belts is also reminiscent of when we were young. It’s troubling. I lost a lot of sleep the night before this adventure thinking about the five minutes of highway driving, the 100′ cliffs we would walk along, and the rough Pacific ocean they would play in. I put that all out of my mind and we headed out.
Our outing was to an exposed cliff side hike up and over the rocky coast and down into a small sandy cove with milder than normal currents. Bobby Mc from down the beach drove down in her quad and met us with boogie boards and life jackets. This hidden spot is not widely known and requires either the mile long walk we chose or a two mile sand walk. Beach walking is hard. If you have a quad you can take it. Sometimes there’s a sea cave at this cove and sometimes there isn’t. It just depends on where Mother Nature has put the sand.
As usual, the kids were well behaved. Before we left I gave them some ground rules. No running on top, no pushing, follow Burt, etc. They complied. I was in the rear when the bulk of them reached to first view point. I could feel the collective shock and awe from 50 yards back. The kids were stunned by the cliff top views. I’m pretty sure none of them had been at such an exposed spot over the ocean.
Down in the sand I found the entrance to the cave. Frixicia crawled in and after about a body length of worming her way under she could stand up. She sent out the bat call and it was a melee. Five kids piled into the nearly buried cave. They took turns crawling in and out. The claustrophobes and I stayed outside. Burt watched the other kids playing at the water’s edge. Eventually my curiosity beat down my anxiety and I crawled in alone. I was fine until the kids tried to join me and blocked the entrance. I ordered them away and made as hasty an exit as I could on my belly. I’m still finding sand in my crevices.
Tomorrow is our annual singing event at the Festival del Chile y La Fresa. The kids are not singing beautifully but they are enthusiastic.
I baked two loaves of jalapeño cheese bread this week. One lasted long enough to make it to Ladies Bridge yesterday. That’s two weeks in a row where I made food instead of purchasing something. It’s a record for me. Despite this admirable streak of DIY cookery I maintain a healthy disdain for all things domestic. Burt’s role as chief feeder is no threatened.
Despite the domestic exhaustion I managed a spontaneous outing with five of the kids. We took a hike to the arroyo called Agua Para Los Cochis. The water for the pigs arroyo is up and over a ridge just south of Pescadero. Several notable things happened on the hike. The kids were quite alarmed we were driving on rough roads and hiking without Burt. They seemed to be under the impression that this was a man’s job. That gave me a giggle. Burt was resting from his first match in the three day Aprils Fools Tennis Tournament. I played good wife and spectated. The match was enjoyable but not much exercise so I scheduled the walk with the kids. Let’s have a huzzah for an inadvertent blow to gender roles.
Elvis and Olive accompanied us on the walk, too. Now for you or me dogs on a hike is normal. In Mexico most dogs never leave the yard. Many spend their lives chained to a tree and act as biological security alarms. The kids were stunned into silence when the dogs came with us. They know our dogs but were quite alarmed to find them in the car. Despite months of exposure they remain unconvinced that Elvis doesn’t plan to eat them. Of course, I never even considered this a cultural exchange moment until it was underway. By the end of our two hour hike the kids were keeping their eyes on the pooches and calling to them. They all wanted to whistle like me. I have a good sharp dog calling whistle. I tried to teach them how to do it but it was a failure. On the car ride back the kids were willing to share their seat with Elvis. Elvis, though silent, clearly adores the children. Olive hates them.
Then there was the hiking itself which was exactly like hiking with seven year-olds anywhere. Feet hurt, teeth came loose, someone fell, there was water and mud to complain about…There was: how far is it? Have we reached the top? and I ran out of waters. And then there were the rocks. I mean to tell you I never knew rocks could be so interesting. Before the hike started I handed out ball caps to protect the kids from the sun. The ball caps became rock bags as soon as we arrived. Half an hour in I was being begged to take the rocks. What luck that I did not have a bag or a pocket to spare. I suggested placing the rocks in a pile for later. The kids slavishly carried 10 pounds of rocks around until their arms gave out. Then they would drop the pile and start over again. Every arm load ended with them begging me to help carry the rocks. I held firm. There are rocks near the car, I said. There are rocks in the road, I said. There are rocks at home, I said.
When we were on our last march uphill and headed to the car, Janexi yelled from far behind, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard.” She was carrying 8 rocks. I yelled, “Drop the rocks, kid.” She dropped the rocks and caught up. Happily no tears were shed. I held her hand the last stretch. After 4 miles and two hours of walking we landed safely back at the car. The kids demanded the promised rocks at the car. I found out I was a liar. The rocks sucked where we parked the car. I did what I could to dig up a few to salve the betrayed rock hounds but I felt like a bad girl for promising rocks where there were none.
We’re planning another walk this week. I will not have a bag. If I had had a bag I would have had 60 pounds of rocks to carry and then the commotion of sorting out who’s rock was who’s.
Burt proceeded to win all his tennis matches. Today, after his last match, we headed north into the countryside. The desert is full of birds in the uninhabited areas. Migration is in full force. Large flocks of sparrows would get up and fly away whenever we stopped. Burt and I reached a new wetland called Boca Carrizal. There we found some snowy plovers, a willet, and a great blue heron. On the way we saw thirty more species of birds. It was a good day.
The guests are gone and we’re back to our regularly scheduled week here in Pescadero. Until Friday. Friday upheaval awaits. Mimi is off to Dad and SG’s house. Olive and Elvis will join a pack where the human leader is named Pickle. Burt and I will board an overnight flight to Ecuador. The neighborhood kids will have to run amok without us.
I cut Burt’s hair today. A few too short shaves with the electric clipper and now he always asks for a scissor cut. Annoying. I like the shaver but I gave him a good clip despite wishing I had the magic buzzer. Afterwards Burt held Olive and I hand trimmed her face and secret spots. Olive is growing her hair out and sincerely hopes it is never cut again. Like a mother of a kid with long hair I tell her she has to do a better job managing it but she likes it matted and riddled with stickers. How she gets on with a woowoo full of spines I do not understand. This spot cleanup was a kind of winter detente. When we get back from Ecuador she’s going in to see the professional trimmer at Doctor David’s house of anxiety.
In other news we had a special guest teacher in yoga these last three days and today I can barely muster the energy to get out of bed. It started out easily enough on Monday that I hardly noticed we were doing more and deeper work. Yesterday I thought well that was a nice pushy workout. Today I thought why am I here? It was like boiling a lobster slowly. By the time I realized what was happening I was already dead. In short: excellent yoga week.
My dad is still here hanging with his girlfriend SG. I generally will refrain from reporting on this fun love affair. It’s there’s to blog about. But here’s a brief story of caution. Two weeks ago SG swallowed a fish bone. It felt like it was caught in her throat so the day after the meal she visited an ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor). The ENT did not see a bone but noticed a small cut. He thought the bone might have cut her esophagus on the way down. He advised her to take it easy. About 4 days later SG noticed a swelling. Right away she got in to another doctor and this new doctor sent her to the hospital in San Jose del Cabo. The hospital is an hour away. Long story short here: the next day SG had surgery to remove an abscess from her esophagus. She was in the hospital for 5 days. The surgery was 2 1/2 hours long and left an 8″ scar. My grandma was right. Swallowing a fish bone can kill you. The surgeon thinks the bone punctured her esophagus and left behind some bacteria. The puncture closed up and an abscess of ucky stuff developed. I’ve had some cats with these types of infections. SG was wearing a drain just like my brawling kitties. Mimi used to regularly give and get nasty infections. She was quite a pugilistic feline when she was younger.
Today SG got a clean bill of health. We are all relieved to hear the good news. The love birds can get back to their regular activities. Yay, SG.
Here are a couple of pictures from our hike to Puerto Viejo or Old Port. When this area produced commercial amounts of sugar cane the shipments left via rowboat at this port. Large shipping vessels anchored off shore. There are bits of old infrastructure to admire such as the stone quay and dry set rock fences and roads and even the remnants of a turtle cannery but I am always blinded by the dramatic landscape. Here the last vestiges of the mountains crash into the sea. Sea lions blubber about on the rocks below while verdin, black throated sparrow, and a cactus wren sing courtship songs. Sometimes the wind carries the sea lion’s grunts and groan all the way up to our perch. The cardon cactii stand watch like lighthouses on cliff edges. The palo verde, nipped by the harsh salt wind, grows close to the ground with octopus like tentacles.
Traditionally visitors approached this area from the north but a recent hotel development has caused confusion (putting it mildly) and animosity about access. Guards and scary looking dogs patrol the area now and a massive amount of vital mangrove habitat was destroyed, threatening the endangered Belding’s Yellowthroat. Best to steer clear even if the road is open. We decided to see what the walk was like from the south and found it to be easy and rather more pleasant because we could avoid all views of the unsightly hotel and its environmental destruction. Yes, our heads are firmly in the sand. From where we parked and walked there was very little evidence of the massive development all around. The area remains a very wild pocket, one of the last, between Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas. Scat all around and game trails onto sheer cliff faces indicated coyotes and/or bobcats make regular excursions into the deep canyons. I hope the area stays protected.
Recently I took my rings in to a guy to be resized. Abel works in an 8′ by 8′ space behind a rack of shoes in Todos Santos. I showed him my rings and asked if he could resize them. He wondered why since they appeared to fit fine and I explained that when I exercise my fingers swell and recently they were swelling so much the rings hurt my hands. I was worried he wouldn’t be able to resize them because one is white gold and the other is palladium but it was easy. Right then and there he put them on a thingy and beat them with a hammer. Beat, check, beat, check. Twenty minutes later they were cleaned polished and just a little but bigger. Thank you, Abel.
We drove down here with a 5 pound bag of bird food. Burt was feeling tolerant of my whims. Usually he says, “Too much. Buy it there.” I only bought it because I was afraid I would forget to buy some here. As soon as we were situated I put out some seed. It was a cheap bag of food and nobody came. I tried a couple of locations. Nothing. All the other bird features were busy but sugar water only attracts a subset of feeder birds and I wanted to see more varieties. I despaired. Maybe my food was spoiled or just not to their tastes?
Last week our friend Bobbi asked us to come to her place and help her identify her birds. It was on our way to her house that we spotted the pair of cara-caras sitting in the dead palm. As we sat there on her porch and watched a veritable flock of birds dining ten feet away I realized my mistake. It wasn’t the food. It was the location and type of feeder. The bowls were too exposed and the table was too close to our trailer. I made one small change. I placed the food in a piece of driftwood and hung the driftwood on the fence. The feeding station is two feet further away from our trailer and higher off the ground. The next day there was a seed eater on it. A very shy cardinal flitted in and out taking a seed at a time. The day after that four new species of birds were in the yard: Black headed grosbeak, house finch, phainopepla, pyrrhuloxia. Yippee skippy!
Moral of this story, same as all the rest: Don’t give up.