This was our second run of this brief but jam-packed tour on the Gulf of California. We kicked off our adventure in Hermosillo where we spent our first afternoon at Parque Metropolitano watching a pair of ultra-cooperative Bendire’s Thrashers and numerous waterbirds under a cool, overcast sky. Soras seemed to call from every clump of vegetation, and we even saw Virginia Rail dart through a gap in the reeds, a rarity for the Hermosillo area. The next morning found us at San Miguel de Horcacitas, a picturesque old Mexican town backdropped by an impressive Organpipe-covered canyon above a lush desert riparian area. Carlos, my longtime birding pal from Hermosillo joined us that morning to show us around his “birding patch.” Highlights from the morning included the close Green Kingfisher sitting quietly above the water, the group of Elegant Quail that eventually showed nicely and the Nutting’s and Ash-throated Flycatchers, which allowed us to take in their subtle field marks. The Five-striped Sparrow, Sinaloa Wren and the Black-capped Gnatcatchers in the Mesquites were icing on the cake.
We then took off to Kino Bay, where we spent the rest of the week birding mangrove-lined esteros, offshore islands and desert hillsides, between bouts of fish tacos, hot tamales, pozole and fresh flour tortillas. Our offshore islands boat trip took us to the southern end of Isla Tiburon, the Cardon-packed Isla Cholludo and Isla Datil where we saw California Sea Lions, Brandt’s Cormorants, roosting Blue-footed Boobies, Red-billed Tropicbirds and rafts of Pacific Loons. We then ventured into deeper water south of Isla San Esteban where we encountered numerous Craveri’s Murrelets, most of which were already paired up. These tiny alcids nest on the many islands in the Gulf of California. They’ll find a rock crevice just above the high tide line where they’ll plop two eggs. Shortly after hatching the cotton ball chicks take to the water where they continue to get fed by the adults. Other highlights from that boat day were the Bottlenose and Long-beaked Common Dolphins, the raft of Red Phalaropes pecking at the water’s surface and the expansive vistas of uninhabited desert islands.
Our next boat trip was up the Infernillo Canal, the turquoise waterway between Isla Tiburon and mainland Sonora. We met Cosme, the boat captain at the Comcaac village of Punta Chueca and were joined by Luis a local Comcaac guide. Every year thousands of Redheads congregate in the Infernillo to feed on the eelgrass that grows in the shallow water, and this year was no exception. We saw huge flocks whirl past our panga, backdropped by the rugged Isla Tiburon. We also saw a handful of Brant (the bulk of the wintering population had yet to arrive), Surf Scoters and a Horned Grebe tucked in with a flock of Eared Grebes. After a field lunch, we drove back to Punta Chueca, said goodbye to Cosme, and drove to Estero Santa Rosa where we scoped a Ridgway’s Rail among the mangrove proproots.
Our final day we birded Estero Santa Cruz, the huge expanse of mud and mangroves just south of Kino Bay. At our first stop we saw Mangrove Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, some White Ibis and Marbled Godwits. We then drove to the other side of the estuary where we scoped several hundred Western Sandpipers with Semipalmated and Snowy Plovers on the shimmering mudflats. Gull-billed Terns performed their routine swoops to pick off unsuspecting fiddler crabs. We then drove around to the mouth of the estuary and compared Royal and Elegant Terns, with a Common Tern and Bonaparte’s Gull mixed in the flock. Right before we had to leave, Tom spotted a Lesser Black-backed Gull in a line of Yellow-footed Gulls—way to go Tom!
We wrapped up the tour with a sunset visit to the Cardon forest outside of Kino Bay and marveled at the colossal cacti. They were so big they made the Gilded Flickers look like hummingbirds! Numerous people deserve credit for the success of this tour. We’d like to thank Carlos for sharing San Miguel de Horcacitas with us, Greg, Ana, and Nicole in our office for all the travel arrangements, captain Cosme for great times out on the water and Hector for sharing his passion for marine mammals. Finally, we need to thank Vickey for those five-star field lunches and that delicious pozole she made for us our final afternoon together. I wish I could have taken some home! Tom and I would like to thank you all for joining us on the Gulf—we had a blast and look forward to birding with you again soon!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
We saw a juvenile at a pond on our way back from San Miguel de Horcacitas.
SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)
One flew with a pair of Greater White-fronted Geese at Parque Metropolitano.
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons)
BRANT (Branta bernicla)
A conspicuous winter visitor on the Infernillo Canal. We saw several on our boat trip.
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
Common at Parque Metropolitano in Hermosillo.
CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)
We saw a few males at Parque Metropolitano.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
MEXICAN DUCK (Anas diazi)
A distant flock flew by at Parque Metropolitano.
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (Anas crecca)
REDHEAD (Aythya americana)
Wow! We saw around 3,900 on our boat trip on the Infernillo Canal.
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
Also at Parque Metropolitano.
SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)
We were treated to nice views of these deep diving molluscivores on Infernillo Canal.
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
These were at their usual spot in the sheltered bay at Isla Alcatraz.
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator)
We encountered small flocks on our boat days.
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
ELEGANT QUAIL (Callipepla douglasii)
After hearing several calling from the bushes at San Miguel de Horcacitas, we finally locked scopes on one sitting quietly in the shadows. It's been many years since we've seen this species on a Field Guides tour!
GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii)
We saw a few flocks in the low desert around Kino. One particularly charming male posed nicely on our way back to the hotel our final morning.
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus)
It was fun to see (and hear!) several at Parque Metropolitano.
HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus)
One was trying to blend in with the Eared Grebes in the shallows of the Infernillo Canal.
EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis)
There were fewer than I'm used to seeing out on the Gulf, but nonetheless we saw a few flocks on both boat days.
WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
We saw a couple flocks around Isla Datil and southern Tiburon.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)
COMMON GROUND DOVE (Columbina passerina)
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
GROOVE-BILLED ANI (Crotophaga sulcirostris)
We scoped some from the overlook at Parque Metropolitano.
GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)
One dashed across the road on our way to San Miguel de Horcacitas.
LESSER NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles acutipennis)
Backdropped by a glorious sunset at Parque Metropolitano.
ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD (Calypte anna)
Seen right outside our hotel in Kino.
COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD (Calypte costae)
The most common hummer of the Kino Bay area. We saw several females and one male at the feeders close to the hotel.
BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD (Cynanthus latirostris)
The common hummer of the Hermosillo area. We saw some around Parque Metropolitano and at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
RIDGWAY'S RAIL (YUMA) (Rallus obsoletus yumanensis)
We drew one out of the mangroves at Estero Santa Rosa. It was a lifer for several on the tour!
VIRGINIA RAIL (Rallus limicola)
Another write-in! We called one out of the reeds at Parque Metropolitano, one of the few records for the Hermosillo area.
SORA (Porzana carolina)
Soras are unbelievably common at Parque Metropolitano. We watched several right out in the open.
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)
Like last year, we saw just two birds flying high over the Cardon forest in the late afternoon.
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)
There were a few in the shallow water at Parque Metropolitano.
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus)
We saw a pair on Isla Alcatraz and at Estero Santa Cruz.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
These were out on the mudflats at Estero Santa Cruz.
SNOWY PLOVER (Charadrius nivosus)
We picked out a few mixed in with the Western Sandpipers on the mudflats of Estero Santa Cruz.
WILSON'S PLOVER (Charadrius wilsonia)
Also on the mudflats at Estero Santa Cruz.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
The most common plover at Estero Santa Cruz.
WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus)
LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)
These enormous shorebirds with oversized bills were scattered across the mudflats at Estero Santa Cruz.
MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)
We saw a handful on the mudflats of Estero Santa Cruz.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
Just four scampered on a sand spit at Estero Santa Cruz.
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
Tom picked out a few at Estero Santa Cruz.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
The peeps that were on the rocks near the boat launch.
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
It was impressive to see so many out on the mudflats at Estero Santa Cruz. The esteros along the coast of Sonora are important wintering sites for this species.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
The dowitchers at Estero Santa Cruz.
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
The dowitchers at Parque Metropolitano.
WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)
One shot in for a landing at Parque Metropolitano.
RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)
We found a cluster out on the open water just south of Isla Datil.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)
Two flew right over us at Parque Metropolitano, a rarity for the Hermosillo area!
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
CRAVERI'S MURRELET (Synthliboramphus craveri)
Excellent! Our time on the open water near Isla Datil paid off with multiple great looks at this near endemic alcid. Tom and Joe got some fabulous photos!
BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
The miniature gull tucked in with all the Royal Terns at Estero Santa Cruz.
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
A ubiquitous feature of the offshore boat trip.
HEERMANN'S GULL (Larus heermanni)
Common. Adults and juveniles were seen at many of the spots we visited along the coast.
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
YELLOW-FOOTED GULL (Larus livens)
Another quasi-endemic of the Gulf of California. We enjoyed multiple sightings throughout our time in Kino.
CALIFORNIA GULL (Larus californicus)
We found a smattering out near Isla Datil.
HERRING GULL (Larus argentatus)
In a line with Yellow-footed Gulls along the Infernillo Canal.
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus fuscus)
Just as we were getting ready to leave Estero Santa Cruz, Tom spotted one in a line of Yellow-footed Gulls. What a find!
GULL-BILLED TERN (Gelochelidon nilotica)
One of my favorites of the trip. We watched several swinging down to the mudflats at Estero Santa Cruz to pick off fiddler crabs.
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
The world's largest tern! We encountered several throughout the trip
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)
The small tern with the dark hood among all the Royal Terns at Estero Santa Cruz.
FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
The larger, more common of the Thalasseus terns we encountered.
ELEGANT TERN (Thalasseus elegans)
Small numbers were mixed in with the Royal Terns out at Estero Santa Cruz.
BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)
I was blown away by how many Skimmers we saw. They definitely seem to be increasing in the Kino Bay area.
RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD (Phaethon aethereus)
We lucked out with great views of a couple just sitting out on the water near the southern end of Isla Tiburon.
PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)
I was struck by how many we saw in the shallows off southern Tiburon.
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
We had nice studies right outside Kino Bay.
MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata magnificens)
These aerial acrobats patrolled the cliffs of Isla Alcatraz. We also saw small groups near our hotel in Kino Bay.
BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY (Sula nebouxii)
We got nice close views of several perched on a corner of Isla Cholludo.
BROWN BOOBY (Sula leucogaster)
We had a steady stream fly past our boat throughout the course of our offshore islands day.
BRANDT'S CORMORANT (Urile penicillatus)
The smaller and more pelagic of the two cormorants we saw. We had great views at Isla Datil.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
We scoped a small flock taking flight over Estero Santa Cruz.
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
We saw a few in the shallows of Estero Santa Cruz.
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
One flew past us at the mouth of Estero Santa Cruz.
REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens)
This is a great tour for seeing Reddish Egret. We saw multiple at Estero Santa Cruz and along the Infernillo Canal.
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)
These were out on the mudflats and roosting in the mangroves at Estero Santa Cruz.
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
We saw a couple at the first spot we stopped at at Estero Santa Cruz.
WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)
The low afternoon light lit them up beautifully at Parque Metropolitano.
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Almost every telephone pole at Estero Santa Cruz has an Osprey nest on it. We were presented with some great photo opportunities of Ospreys sitting on Cardon Cacti.
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
A pale gray male swooped past us at Estero Santa Rosa.
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)
One circled over the hill behind our hotel in Kino Bay.
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
We saw one on the drive to San Miguel de Horcacitas and along the shoreline at Estero Santa Cruz.
GREEN KINGFISHER (Chloroceryle americana)
We couldn't have asked for better views of a female sitting low above the water at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
GILA WOODPECKER (Melanerpes uropygialis)
The most common woodpecker of the Sonoran Desert. We enjoyed watching them right outside the hotel in Kino Bay.
LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER (Dryobates scalaris)
One in the Cardon forest posed nicely in the late afternoon light.
GILDED FLICKER (Colaptes chrysoides)
What a treat to watch a pair in the Cardon forest outside Kino Bay. They looked so small on those giant cacti!
CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara plancus)
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
One really dark individual zipped past us at Parque Metropolitano. We later saw one perched on a snag at Estero Santa Cruz.
MONK PARAKEET (Myiopsitta monachus) [I]
Monk Parakeets are rapidly expanding in Sonora. We saw them at the Departamento de Agricultura outside Hermosillo.
DUSKY FLYCATCHER (Empidonax oberholseri)
One gave its characteristic "whit" note from the riparian area at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)
SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)
VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens)
It was nice to compare both Ash-throated and Nutting's Flycatchers at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
NUTTING'S FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus nuttingi)
BELL'S VIREO (Vireo bellii)
One sat out momentarily at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
GRAY VIREO (Vireo vicinior)
One of my favorite desert birds. We saw one and heard several in some coastal desert with lots of Elephant Trees behind Kino Bay. The birds feed on the Elephant Tree fruits throughout the winter.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
VERDIN (Auriparus flaviceps)
MANGROVE SWALLOW (Tachycineta albilinea)
These zoomed around low over the water at Estero Santa Cruz.
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)
The swallows that were out in the Cardon forest outside of Kino Bay.
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)
BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER (Polioptila melanura)
The gnatcatchers that were in the open desert at Parque Metropolitano.
BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER (Polioptila nigriceps)
The gnatcatcher in the Mesquite woods along the Rio San Miguel at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus)
One warmed itself in the early morning light on a hillside behind Kino Bay.
CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus) [*]
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon) [*]
MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris) [*]
Heard at Parque Metropolitano.
CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)
Watching the last rays of light illuminate Cactus Wrens in the Cardon forest was quite a treat.
HAPPY WREN (Pheugopedius felix) [*]
We heard one in the riparian vegetation at San Miguel de Horcacitas but it didn't come out into view.
SINALOA WREN (Thryophilus sinaloa)
One of these West Mexican endemics showed momentarily in a dense thicket at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)
BENDIRE'S THRASHER (Toxostoma bendirei)
We were delighted to see a pair of Bendire's Thrashers in the open mesquite desert at Parque Metropolitano. They will probably nest in that area.
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
The coast of Sonora is not the place you'd expect to find an American Robin, but we did!
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)
RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW (Peucaea carpalis)
The abandoned lot across from the Prescott College Kino Bay Center has always been a good place to see this species and this year was no exception!
FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW (Amphispizopsis quinquestriata)
One showed momentarily at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata)
We saw a small flock at the base of the "Chichichorras" behind Kino Bay.
LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
SAVANNAH SPARROW (LARGE-BILLED) (Passerculus sandwichensis rostratus)
Strangely enough we saw one from the boat as we circumnavigated Isla Alcatraz.
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
CANYON TOWHEE (Melozone fusca)
GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE (Pipilo chlorurus)
Wow! What a delightful view we had right in front of the Kino Bay Center.
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)
HOODED ORIOLE (Icterus cucullatus)
The oriole we saw at the mouth of Estero Santa Cruz.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)
Hundreds were blanketing a hotel we drove past in Hermosillo.
BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
A regular winter visitor to the esteros of Sonora. We saw two at Estero Santa Cruz.
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)
MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER (Geothlypis tolmiei)
One chipped away in the dense riparian vegetation at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
It's always nice to see this species in the mangroves at Estero Santa Cruz.
YELLOW WARBLER (MANGROVE) (Setophaga petechia rhizophorae)
We could not have asked for better views of a super tame individual at Estero Santa Cruz. It was just five feet away from us!
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)
BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)
There were a few in the Mesquite woods at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)
ROCK SQUIRREL (Spermophilus variegatus)
BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN (Tursiops truncatus)
The first pod of dolphins we saw at the southern end of Isla Tiburon.
LONG-BEAKED COMMON DOLPHIN (Delphinus capensis)
We ran into a small pod of these smaller more oceanic dolphins in the deep water south of Isla San Esteban.
COYOTE (Canis latrans) [*]
We heard some at San Miguel de Horcacitas.
CALIFORNIA SEA LION (Zalophus californianus)
Seen well at Isla Datil and Isla Alcatraz.
COLLARED PECCARY (Tayassu tajacu)
Tom and I were surprised to find a herd crossing the road on our way back to the hotel in Kino. This was my first time seeing them in Kino.
Totals for the tour: 171 bird taxa and 7 mammal taxa