A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Gulf of California: Mexico's Rich Desert Coast 2023

December 4-9, 2023 with Micah Riegner guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
This is THE best tour we offer to see Craveri's Murrelet. On our boat trip south of Isla Tiburon we saw close to 80 individuals, most of which were paired up. Soon they will find a crevice on one of the islands to lay their eggs. Upon hatching, the fluffy chicks will immediately head to the water where they will be fed by the parents until they are independent. Photo by Micah Riegner.

I've been going to Kino Bay since I took my first steps there, so it’s always nice to return and relish those childhood memories of birding the estuaries, going out on the pangas and seeing seabirds and marine mammals, eating fresh tortillas and watching vivid orange sunsets from the beach. This trip brought back those memories and, sadly, memories of Tom Johnson, who co-led the tour with me only last year. I still can’t believe he’s gone...

Our first afternoon after touchdown in Hermosillo, we birded Parque Metropolitano seeing good numbers of waterbirds, lots of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, a Virginia Rail and Bendire’s Thrasher. The next morning, we drove to the sleepy town of San Miguel de Horcasitas and birded the riparian area along the Rio San Miguel. It was good to see a decent amount of water in the river. We crisscrossed the river, finding Black-capped Gnatcatchers, a male Streak-backed Oriole, both Happy and Sinaloa Wrens, several Green Kingfishers and last but not least, Elegant Quail. They were mixed in with a covey of Gambel’s Quail, about 8 of each.

From Horcasitas we returned to Hermosillo, packed up and left for Kino Bay. We made a brief stop at Estero La Cruz where we scoped several Snowy and Wilson’s Plovers on the mudflats. The following days in Kino we continued to bird the Estero, finding swarms of overwintering Western Sandpipers, a Ridgway’s Rail that swam across a shallow pool, a gorgeous male Mangrove Warbler and numerous herons, including Reddish Egrets dancing in the shallows. During our desert forays we found overwintering Gray Vireos in the hillsides covered with fruiting Elephant Trees, lots of Ash-throated Flycatchers, a Cassin’s Sparrow and, my favorite, a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl. In all the years of visiting I’ve never seen it there. Special thanks to Fiona Reid who told me about it after her visit here a couple weeks ago.

During our week in Kino we had nice calm weather to take two boat trips, one up the Infernillo Canal and one offshore to the deep water south of Isla Tiburon. For our Infernillo trip we were joined by Jaime and Lauren, who conducted a Brant Survey, tallying upwards of 1580 individuals that day. We also saw hundreds of Redheads and, to my surprise, several hundred Surf Scoters, a dramatic increase from last year. A pod of Bottlenose Dolphins encircled our boat giving us great views. The next day we left for deeper water to the south of Isla Tiburon where we found flocks of Black-vented Shearwaters streaming south toward Isla San Pedro Martir, close to 80 Craveri’s Murrelets and a last-minute Red-billed Tropicbird. We encircled both Isla Cholludo and Isla Alcatraz and saw Blue-footed Boobies on the cliffs, good numbers of Brandt’s Cormorants and a pair of Common Goldeneye.

Our final morning before we left for the airport we had the rare opportunity to see baby Olive Ridley Sea Turtles hatching from their nest. Cosme, the boat captain for Prescott College, runs a turtle monitoring program and keeps close tabs on nesting turtles, so he knew exactly when they’d be hatching. What a wonderful way to wrap up our time in Kino, watching those tiny turtles squirm out of the sand! I wish them the best of luck out there in the open ocean. There were lots of people who played a role in this tour. First, I’d like to thank Nicole in our office for all the arrangements, Cosme for his expert captaining of the panga, Lauren, Jaime, Luis and Ulises for sharing the work that they do, Holly and Ana for their station orientation and Vickey for her great Sonoran lunches. I’d like to thank you all for joining us on this coastal desert adventure and I look forward to seeing you again soon!


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

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

BRANT (Branta bernicla)

During our boat trip up the Infernillo Canal we saw upwards of 1580 individuals. They come to these shallow waters to feed on eelgrass during the winter.

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Red-billed Tropicbirds breed on Isla San Pedro Martir that lies smack in the middle of the Gulf of California. We saw this one on our boat trip off Isla Tiburon. Photo by Micah Riegner.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

A few were on the ponds at Parque Metropolitano.

CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)


REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

Redheads come to the Infernillo Canal in the thousands to feed on eelgrass seeds during the winter. We saw several enormous flocks taking off and blanketing the sky. What a sight!

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)

SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)

I was blown away by how abundant these were on the Infernillo Canal. Last year we only saw a couple, but this year we saw several hundred.

BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)

Seen in great light at Parque Metropolitano.

COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)

There always seems to be a pair that hangs out in the shallows near Isla Alcatraz and this year was no exception.


Again, huge numbers on our Infernillo Canal boat trip.

RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

ELEGANT QUAIL (Callipepla douglasii)

We had an outstanding experience watching a mixed group of Elegant and Gambel's Quail at San Miguel de Horcasitas. They were scratching around in an old corral.

GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii)

Seen at Horcasitas and around Kino Bay.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus)

Surprisingly abundant at Parque Metropolitano.

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

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Bendire's Thrasher is peculiar species found in open desert with scattered shrubs. Its status in Sonora is still being worked out. We saw this one at Parque Metropolitano outside of Hermosillo. Photo by Micah Riegner.

EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis)

We saw a handful on our boat trips, plus a few at Parque Metropolitano.

WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

The more common Aechmophorus seen on the Infernillo Canal.

CLARK'S GREBE (Aechmophorus clarkii)

We picked out 2 in a big flock of Western Grebes on the Infernillo Canal.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)

WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)

We were fortunate to run into roadrunners almost daily during the tour.

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)


The larger of the hummingbirds coming in to feed on the flowers at the Casablanca Inn.

COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD (Calypte costae)

The most common hummingbird in the Kino Bay region. We saw them regularly in front of the Casablanca Inn.

BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD (Cynanthus latirostris)

The common hummer around Hermosillo.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

RIDGWAY'S RAIL (YUMA) (Rallus obsoletus yumanensis)

We were able to call one into view at Estero la Cruz. It swam across a little channel right in front of us!

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I was blown away by how many Surf Scoters we saw this year on our boat trip up the Infernillo Canal, the narrow, shallow body of water between Isla Tiburon and mainland Sonora. We saw several hundred along with several hundred Brant and Redheads. Photo by Micah Riegner.

VIRGINIA RAIL (Rallus limicola)

We saw a pair chasing around at the edge of one of the lagoons at Parque Metropolitano.

SORA (Porzana carolina)

Seen pecking around the edge of a pond at Parque Metropolitano.

COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)

AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)

Lots were lined up at Punta Perla on the Infernillo Canal.

Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus)

Seen at Estero La Cruz and at Isla Alcatraz.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)

Several were out on the mud flats at Estero la Cruz.

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

The following plovers were out on the mud flats at Estero la Cruz. When we first arrived it didn't look like anything was out there, but upon closer inspection we could see that the mud was covered with plovers!

WILSON'S PLOVER (Anarhynchus wilsonia)

SNOWY PLOVER (Anarhynchus nivosus)

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus)

LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)

Mary Lou was overjoyed to see this long-awaited lifer. We saw several at Estero la Cruz.

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Gray Vireos spend the winter along the coast of Sonora where they feed primarily on the fruit of Elephant Tree, the northernmost representative of the genus Bursera. Photo by Micah Riegner.

MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)

These were the Dowitchers that were out at Estero la Cruz.

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

We saw a decent sized flock at Parque Metropolitano.

WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)

Dave spotted one that flushed from the vegetation at Parque Metropolitano.

RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)

Amazingly just one was seen out on the open water south of Isla Tiburon.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

Again, just one individual during our entire boat trip south of Isla Tiburon.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)

We saw one in the cobble along the shore of Isla Alcatraz.

SURFBIRD (Calidris virgata)

We saw just one on the rocks near the boat launch in Kino Bay.

SANDERLING (Calidris alba)

A few scuttled across the sand at Punta Perla.

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

The close peeps we scoped at Parque Metropolitano.

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

Several big flocks covered the mud flats at Estero la Cruz.

Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)

CRAVERI'S MURRELET (Synthliboramphus craveri)

I was pleased to see so many on our boat trip off southern Tiburon. We saw at least 80 individuals, most of which were paired up.

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Kino Bay is known for its vivid sunsets. This one greeted us upon our arrival to Kino Nuevo. Photo by Micah Riegner.
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

A couple were seen on our Infernillo boat trip.

LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)

HEERMANN'S GULL (Larus heermanni)

Several hundred were lined up along the cobble spit at Isla Alcatraz.

RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)


These near endemics are abundant around Kino.

HERRING GULL (Larus argentatus)

CALIFORNIA GULL (Larus californicus)

We picked out a few among the more common Yellow-footed Gulls.

BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)

Several hundred were out at Punta Perla on the northern end of the Infernillo Canal.

GULL-BILLED TERN (Gelochelidon nilotica)

We saw this species swooping over the mud flats at Estero la Cruz.

CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)

FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)

ELEGANT TERN (Thalasseus elegans)

Just a couple were mixed in with flocks of the more common Royal Tern.

ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)

Phaethontidae (Tropicbirds)

RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD (Phaethon aethereus)

Woohoo! I was thinking we'd miss this one because we went almost all day without seeing one, but just as we approached Isla Alcatraz, we came across one sitting peacefully on the water. It then took off and flew right in front of our boat. This species breeds on Isla San Pedro Martir right smack in the middle of the gulf.

Gaviidae (Loons)

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)

We saw big flocks of these on both of our boat trips.

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Numerous Black-vented Shearwaters shot past our boat during out offshore excursion south of Isla Tiburon. They are known as pardelas in this part of Mexico. Photo by Micah Riegner.

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

Pretty common along the coast.

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER (Puffinus opisthomelas)

Wow! There was a steady stream of these moving south during our offshore boat day. Some came quite close to the boat.

Fregatidae (Frigatebirds)


We saw several dozen circling over Isla Alcatraz.

Sulidae (Boobies and Gannets)

BROWN BOOBY (Sula leucogaster)

Both Brown and Blue-footed Boobies were out roosting on Isla Cholludo and Isla Alcatraz.

BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY (Sula nebouxii)

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

BRANDT'S CORMORANT (Urile penicillatus)

The glossy black cormorants we saw roosting on Isla Cholludo.

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

Several of these winter residents were seen at Estero la Cruz.

BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)

LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)

TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)

REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens)

Estero la Cruz is a great place to see these shallow water dancers.

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This male snazzy Mangrove Warbler came right into view at Estero la Cruz. Photo by Micah Riegner.

SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)

GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)

Incredible scope views of one just sitting in the middle of the water at San Miguel de Horcasitas.


GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)

WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

One circled over Parque Metropolitano.

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

HARRIS'S HAWK (Parabuteo unicinctus)

We saw two along the road near Estero Santa Rosa.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Strigidae (Owls)

FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL (Glaucidium brasilianum)

Awesome! I was particularly excited about seeing this species since it was the first one I've seen there in all my years of going. We saw it right outside the Kino Bay Station.

We encountered a pod of 30 or so Bottlenose Dolphins on our boat trip up the Infernillo Canal. Video by Micah Riegner.
Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

Seen at Horcasitas and Estero la Cruz.

GREEN KINGFISHER (Chloroceryle americana)

Several were out hunting along the Rio San Miguel at San Miguel de Horcasitas.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus nuchalis)

One snuck around low on some mesquites at San Miguel de Horcasitas.

GILA WOODPECKER (Melanerpes uropygialis)


Both male and female were seen in the desert behind Kino Nuevo.

GILDED FLICKER (Colaptes chrysoides)

It was nice to have repeat views at San Miguel de Horcasitas and around Kino Bay.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara plancus)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

We had a surprisingly obliging male perch out in front of us at San Miguel de Horcasitas.

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

One sat out on the cliffs at San Miguel de Horcasitas and on a cardon at Estero la Cruz.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

GREAT KISKADEE (Pitangus sulphuratus)

Another surprise find was the Kiskadee at San Miguel de Horcasitas. It was the first time I've seen it there.

GRAY FLYCATCHER (Empidonax wrightii)

Quite common around San Miguel de Horcasitas.

DUSKY FLYCATCHER (Empidonax oberholseri)

Seen too at San Miguel de Horcasitas.

BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

This short video shows a few of the terrestrial birds we saw on the tour. Filmed by Micah Riegner.

ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens)

Common in the desert around Kino Bay, especially in areas with Elephant Trees, which they feed on during the winter.

NUTTING'S FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus nuttingi)

Seen on the dry slopes above the Rio San Miguel at San Miguel de Horcasitas.

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

PLUMBEOUS VIREO (Vireo plumbeus)

This species is uncommon along the coast. We saw one mobbing the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl behind the Kino Bay Station.

BELL'S VIREO (Vireo bellii)

We had one close to the water at Parque Metropolitano and one at San Miguel de Horcasitas.

GRAY VIREO (Vireo vicinior)

I love seeing Gray Vireos on their winter territories around Kino Bay. We were lucky enough to find several in the Elephant Trees behind the Prescott College Kino Bay Station.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Remizidae (Penduline-Tits)

VERDIN (Auriparus flaviceps)

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

MANGROVE SWALLOW (Tachycineta albilinea)

Seen perched on the wires at Estero la Cruz.

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

A few flew about at the cardons right at dusk.

NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

Regulidae (Kinglets)

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)

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Another sunset, this time in the Cardon forest. These are the largest cacti in the world, reaching 63 feet! Photo by Micah Riegner.
Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)

BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER (Polioptila melanura)

We had nice close looks at a few at Parque Metropolitano.

BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER (Polioptila nigriceps)

We searched through several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers before we finally found a pair of Black-caps at San Miguel de Horcasitas.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus) [*]

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)

CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)

HAPPY WREN (Pheugopedius felix)

We saw a family group of these astonishingly well at San Miguel de Horcasitas. They were out in the open for several minutes.

SINALOA WREN (Thryophilus sinaloa)

Close views at San Miguel de Horcasitas.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)

BENDIRE'S THRASHER (Toxostoma bendirei)

Seen at the usual spot at Parque Metropolitano. We also saw one along the fence on the drive from Hermosillo to Kino.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

Ptiliogonatidae (Silky-flycatchers)

PHAINOPEPLA (Phainopepla nitens)

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This was the first Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl I've seen in Kino after almost 30 years of visiting the area. It was getting mobbed by a flock of verdins, hummers and vireos. Photo by Micah Riegner.
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)

LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW (Peucaea carpalis)

Seen along the road near San Miguel de Horcasitas.

CASSIN'S SPARROW (Peucaea cassinii)

When I was in College I found a Cassin's Sparrow singing behind the Prescott College Field Station. We played a recording at the same exact spot and sure enough a bird responded and popped right out!

BREWER'S SPARROW (Spizella breweri)

BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata)

LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

SAVANNAH SPARROW (LARGE-BILLED) (Passerculus sandwichensis rostratus)

We saw one from the boat at Isla Alcatraz. It was hopping around on the cobble beach.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

CANYON TOWHEE (Melozone fusca)

GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE (Pipilo chlorurus)

Incredibly close views at San Miguel de Horcasitas.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

I was amazed to see so many at Parque Metropolitano. Last time we did't see any.

WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)

A few flushed off the road near Estero la Cruz.

STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE (Icterus pustulatus)

Finding one at a nest was one of the highlights from our morning at San Miguel de Horcasitas.

BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

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The Infernillo Canal is an important wintering site for Brant. They come to feed on the eelgrass that grows in the shallow water. We saw over 1500 individuals during our boat trip up the canal. Photo by Micah Riegner.

GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)

We called one into view from the mangroves at Estero la Cruz.

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

YELLOW WARBLER (MANGROVE) (Setophaga petechia rhizophorae)

Wow! We saw a gorgeous male with a brick red face at Estero la Cruz.

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)


DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)

HARRIS'S ANTELOPE SQUIRREL (Ammospermophilus harrisii)

A rather tame individual gave us great views at the boat launch behind Kino Bay.

ROCK SQUIRREL (Spermophilus variegatus)

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN (Tursiops truncatus)

A pod of around 30 individuals encircled our panga on the Infernillo Canal. Check out the video!

CALIFORNIA SEA LION (Zalophus californianus)

Seen on both our boat trips. We saw several hauled out on Isla Alcatraz.

COLLARED PECCARY (Tayassu tajacu)

We saw a small group dash in front of us at the Cardon forest.

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This Cassin's Sparrow was a sweet bonus during our morning birding around Kino Nuevo. They're pretty scarce along coastal Sonora. Photo by Micah Riegner.

Totals for the tour: 169 bird taxa and 6 mammal taxa