Altamira Oriole in Todo Santos, Baja Sud, Mexico (1)
Birds of Baja
The Birds of Baja for this list were spotted over the Thanksgiving break, 2022 while my family and I were visiting our daughter, Eleanor, and son in law, Jon, in their apartment in Todo Santos, Baja, Mexico. The list is short, due to the abbreviated time with binoculars and few active feeding areas. We did not travel to the mountains of Baja, so that geographic limit also cut down the opportunity to view other species. The list is in the order of our sightings.
The names and some brief descriptions are below the images captured from the internet.
Spotted along the Pacific Coast. We saw these glide-masters flying close to the waves as we strolled the beaches. We saw them the same time as spouts drew our attention to whale watching in Pescadero, Baja.
Also known as the Desert Cardinal, this species looks remarkably like the state bird of Illinois and the mascot of Lincoln High School in Portland, OR: the Cardinal. We saw this beautiful arid terrain bird in the back yard of the house of a couple from Colorado, who have a wildlife sanctuary as their neighbor. An ostentatious bird and fun to watch in the high desert terrain, the Pyrrhuloxia can be spotted and heard as it flies from cactus to branch to ground to perch.
While the White Wing is extraordinary, particularly in flight, the other remarkable identifier of this Dove is the blue eye stripe and the orange ring around the black iris in its eye. This is a fun bird to spot apart from the ubiquitous rural and urban pigeons. The eye is only really visible up close, but the black cheek-whisker and the white wing, flashed in flight, are great field markings.
The light underwing tips are often the only part of this bird that helps viewers know what they are spotting in the sky. Is it a crow? A hawk? No, it’s just a carrion eater, cleaning up the carcasses of road kill and other losers in the desert and farm game of animal roulette.
One of the most colorful of the falcons, the American Kestrel is found all over the Americas. Both graceful and acrobatic, this bird balances on telephone wires, scouring the countryside for the next victim of its short and mighty talons. I love the coloring and the acrobatics as this bird balances on wires, branches, poles and anything else that it finds to surveil the areas underneath its perch.
The crow, commonly known as Corvus, were spotted twice daily (morning and night) in their abundant flocks, called “murders.” The Murder of Crows is a real thing, if you live in most metropolitan areas of the country. I will have a future Witness Post or Birds Post on crows, as they have a unique spot in my bird sighting reservoir.
The Raven is larger than the common crow and its beak is distinctive. One great mascot, the Baltimore Ravens have enlisted the hometown poet/author, Edgar Allen Poe, to lend his name to the three dancing birds on the field.
Also known as the scrub jay in other parts of North America, the Mexican Jay can be near florescent blue in some species. It often travels in packs who jeer at other birds as they come to maraud the neighborhood.
Also called the sea hawk, the river hawk, and the fish hawk, the Osprey is a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey, with a large cosmopolitan hunting territory. It is a large raptor with a great comeback story from the endangered species list. It is amazing to hear them above and to see them carrying their fish flipped around so that they are facing forward and carried to their nest. The fish is fed to their nestlings only minutes after the trout-catching trip.
The image by Jane Tibbetts captures the parenthood of these woodpeckers perfectly. The Hairy Woodpecker and the smaller Downy Woodpecker are some of the more visible woodpeckers that will fly in undulating flight across the woodlands.
That curved bill is hard to beat, even though the coloration of the bird dully makes him hard to spot. Thrashers are pretty fierce when it comes to survival and they can migrate some amazing distances to move from breeding to feeding to winter locations.
Surprisingly colorful and noisy, the startling is one of those species found on every continent. It is adept in taking over areas for feeding and breeding, driving out the native species from their habitat. I personally dislike the starling and the cowbird and the English Sparrow because of the displacement they have developed against the native species in many locations around the globe.
The largest of all native wrens, these birds build their nests in cacti (commonly cholla, prickly pear – pictured above – and saguaro), thorny desert trees, or yucca.
Known for its surprisingly versatile song repertoire, the Mockingbird is a loud chatterbox of a bird. It will mimic lots of birds, insects and even reptiles to get the attention of other animals. It seems to be related to the Catbird (another good mimic) and the thrashers, which can be on the nasty side. The Latin name for the Northern Mockingbird is Mimus polyglottos. The Greek word polyglot in English means ‘multiple languages’. And the Mockingbird is known for its singing in different tones late into the night, even past midnight in some locations.
“I’d left the snow behind … for hot blue air and palm trees and bougainvillea and a mockingbird that serenaded my first sleepless night with an exquisite repertoire of stolen phrases.” -Helen Macdonald in Vesper Flights
The “yellow version” of the species seems to be geographically specific, as I am more familiar with the Red-Shafted Flicker and their habits, which seem to be very similar. This woodpecker is beautiful to watch as it pecks away at decaying trees and swoops in undulating flight from trunk to trunk. The bird in the image above is on a telephone pole, which is also a frequent spot to see these birds. They will peck at nearly anything, even tin rooves, which can create quite a racket. The yellow shafted feathers are easy to spot on the ground for their bright colorization and black/yellow/white tail and wing splotches. Their black eye patches and and necklace are easy identifiers as are the white rump patches while in flight.
These water feeders are looking for anything that moves: snakes, snails, fish, rodents, insects. These omnivores are common in the swampy areas, where they can wade for hours, undetected by their prey. The bright beak on the mature egret is orange or yellow, often differentiated by its diet. Their long legs are black and not easily noticed by the fish swimming just below them.
Great Blue Heron:
This bird is Tracy Hooper’s favorite of all time. It is a graceful flier, it is a talented fisherman, it is a great “yard art bird,” as we know from my father who had a Heron named GEORGE, who frequented their property and the beach in Casey Key, Florida.
This is another in the Egret/Heron families which was nearly hunted to extinction by the feathered hat-makers back in the day. Some distinguishing characteristics of this egret are it uniformly white feathers, its black bill and yellow eye, and it’s yellow feet. They are easy to spot in the habitat (as they seem to collect into colonies of like water birds) and fun to watch on the wing (as they elegantly fly by).
Great White Egret:
This magical bird is in his mating stage of feathers and colorization. Notice the green eye mask, offsetting the yellow eyes and the yellow and black bill. These birds are the size of the Great Blue Heron, and closer to the true color of it’s name that the “Great Gray Heron.” Again this one is majestic in flight and a patient feeder in the mudflats and shallows.
These crowd pleasing birds are all wings and forked tail, unless they are in the breeding season, when the male bright red balloon appears on their throat pouches, a sight to behold. We were with these frigate flocks during Thanksgiving and no pouches were visible. When the pouches are “OUT” it looks like the spinacker on a frigate out at sea. They were is colonies of about 100 birds, which were mesmerizing, as they danced up and down the wind drafts that blew up the hills in Pescadero, Baja.
The male of this species do, in fact, look like their eyes and feathers are covered in cinnamon. They may have rolled in the spice just before landing on the pond. They also have the distinctive blue (teal) wing patch, that is a key field indicator, when they are in flight.
I have mistakenly called this “everywhere water bird” stupid or less savory nicknames. In fact, they are so prevalent, they may be perhaps the most adaptable and smartest water birds in North America. Taking it all back, these remarkable survivors could be the last water birds to make it abundantly into the next century, while the other species fight for remaining habitat, nesting areas, food and mates. This photo close up shows the cinnamon eyes of this bird, which is a field marking I have not noticed before. It’s time to pay more attention to this one.
Lots of geese fly in chevron flight but few are as iconic as the Canada goose. They still take my breath away as the have hundreds of birds in different v formations honking the day and the night away during migration.
Perhaps the most common if all duck, the mallard story is a success story of Duck’s Unlimited and human restoration of marsh habitat. Not a fan of duck hunting, I still admire the progress that hunters have made to restore the shrinking irs sanctuaries along the duck flyways.
Mottled duck or the almost mallard
Small but mighty, this marsh hunter can graze the mudflats with the best of the shore birds. Yet is seems best adapted to diving into the water and chasing after the small minnows below the surface. The tiny call makes them sound in distress, but that yellow eye seems to tell another tale of faked weakness covering pure strength.
Heard before it is seen, this guy is from a wonderful family of colorful cousins around the world. Some of our favorites are from Australia, where we saw some beauties in the Daintree National Park. The Belted version is a graceful flier and an acrobatic diver for small fish just below the surface of the ponds and streams.
White Fronted Goose:
These loud squawkers are formidable, when they strut on the walkways, yielding not an inch to those humans who act as if they own the place. These geese will set the pecking order straight, while they honk and flap their wings in aggressive attention.
So hard to identify. I need to spend more time with binoculars and a serious gull reference guide for these birds.
Quite a male display, no matter how you spice it.
Just look at this couple! What great birds to spot after a hot day and no bird sightings for awhile. They are a treat for sore eyes.
So fun to watch on the wing, the violet-greens seem to be the best fliers, gliders, bug catchers of the lot. I have great fun, also because they are easily identified without binoculars. White torso bars nearly surround the bird below the wing level and that white patch makes them more easily spotted and positively identified.
Tim Lord and Bryan Malcolm are still looking all across the Southwest for the Pygmy Nuthatch. They should get used to this species, which is fun to hear and fun to see at the local feeder.
We spotted a covey of these beautiful ground dwellers as they dashed across the dusty road in Todo Santos headed down to the beach on the Pacific Coast. Photo by Jerry Ting.
Love these songbirds for their bright color and joyful sounds. They are easily coaxed out of their areas for a curiosity look at us humans. Fun to see on the wing.
Yes, king-like these flycatchers. They have the straight back and dull yellow garb and attention to bugs that is interesting to watch, as they swoop up, catch the bug and land again on the same perch for another go at a meal.
See the footnote (1) below and the image and sentences above.
(1) The Altamira Oriole was formerly known as Lichtenstein’s Oriole for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Oriole was originally named in honor of German natural historian Martin Hinrich Carl Lichtenstein, a professor of zoology in Berlin and founder of the Zoological Gardens in Berlin. The name Altamira is a curious one, because I am not sure if is in reference to the famous caves in Northern Spain, or to the constellation/star Mira that is seen in the High (Alta) night sky.
According to my Google Search, scientists have collected and analyzed DNA analysis of the orioles looking for family similarities. Surprisingly, the Altamira Orioles are not close relatives of the Hooded Oriole, which, despite the differences in size, looks very similar to the Altamira. This beautiful weaver has been observed foraging for dead grasshoppers on the fronts of cars. The Altamira Oriole is a solitary nester, with an average of about 800 feet between their sock-like woven nests. Despite this wide spacing, it is not known to be territorial, and almost no aggression has been observed by bird watchers during the breeding season. The color variations from yellow to light orange to bright orange are noticeable in the males, as the females are a paler orange/yellow/green, without the white wing patches.