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Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Guide to Birding Puerto Peñasco

One of the big draws to continue heading south to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico was to continue looking for more unusual bird life. Unlike Madera Canyon, or many other popular birding spots in the US, there wasn't a lot of information out there on where to go or what to look for. I was mostly guided by eBird hot spots, but even that didn't provide information on how to access these locations, which proved to be more difficult (and in some cases requiring more of a sense of adventure) than expected. So, I decided to share in this blog post not only some of the highlights of what we saw, but to also make this a bit of a guide for anyone else looking to bird the area. Click any of the maps below to see a larger version.

eBird hot spots that I'll reference

Increasingly, in areas where there are resorts or communities of higher end homes, access requires going through a gate house. The only way to have guaranteed access to these areas is to be staying in them, though we found in many cases that simply saying we wanted to see the area/beaches/hotels/restaurants was enough to get us through. I didn't like pulling the "I'm an American" card, but that seemed to work, though I suspect this may continue to change and become more difficult unless you're staying there

Location: Puerto and Malecon
Place to stay to guarantee access: Any
Sense of adventure required: Low
Pros: Easily accessible, lots of shore and water birds
Cons: Lots of aggressive street vendors
Additional notes: The port had a lot of bird activity but was pretty industrial so it was hard to get near the water. Eating at a restaurant on the Malecon is probably one of the best bets to have an extended waterfront viewing time without being bothered by any street vendors. We also discovered another great beach that I recommended as an eBird hot spot: Mirador Beach near the bottom middle of the map. We parked near the corner of Calle Matamoros and Aven Campeche where there's an abandoned lot you can walk across to the beach which is a nice mix of sand and rocks. You can also access this beach from Playa de Oro RV Park.

Yellow-footed gull, an endemic to the Sea of Cortez and a lifer for me, near the Puerto

A brown pelican on the rocks in the Puerto
Semipalmated plover at Mirador Beach

Brown pelicans at Mirador Beach

Location: Bahia la Choya
Place to stay to guarantee access: Any
Sense of adventure required: Low
Pros: Easy to access, potentially more open and rocky shoreline birds
Cons: Limited access - we parked at the boat launch (near JJ's Cantina) which didn't seem to be a problem
Additional notes: Looked for but didn't see an access to the supposedly public Tucson Beach. Tide was high when we were there but from the boat launch moving along the shoreline required some scrambling over rocks - may be better at lower tide

A Heermann's gull on the rocks near the Punta Roca del Toro boat launch

Location: CEDO and Las Conchas
Place to stay to guarantee access: Rent a house in Las Conchas, or tell guard gate you want to visit CEDO
Sense of adventure required: Medium
Pros: Long sandy beach nearly empty of people with lots of birds
Cons: Hard to find beach access if you're not staying at a house, probably best to park near CEDO and find one of the walkways down
Additional notes: This was our favorite birding area, but probably in part because we were staying in Las Conchas so we were here the most and it was easy to get to.  CEDO is an intercultural center for research on the regional desert and ocean and has a visitor center that's worth the visit regardless, but will probably also be the easiest way for non-residents to get access to the beach.

Marbled godwit at Las Conchas

Black-bellied plover and Forster's terns at Las Conchas

Willet at Las Conchas

Fin whale skeleton at CEDO

Location: Playa Pelicano
Place to stay to guarantee access: Laguna del Mar or Laguna Shores resorts
Sense of Adventure Required: Medium
Pros: Huge sandy beach, also several man-made ponds with lots of activity, not much human activity of any type going on out there
Cons: Guard gate (we asked to go see beaches), two up and coming resorts may make this more difficult
Additional Notes: The ponds near the Laguna del Mar resort were hopping with birds - ducks, grebes, gulls, shorebirds, swallows, a great blue heron rookery, and more. The sandy beaches were pretty busy, too, with the highlight for me being the Wilson's plovers, but we just had to park in front of the private homes and walk down to the beach from there (again, no issues with doing this.) We didn't go around further to the north closer to Laguna Shores where there were roads to access even more beach, so I'm not sure what access is like here but it looks like there's a lot more to explore. There is another guard gate if you go this way. Watch the tides when you go because when they go out here, they go waaaaay out.

Wilson's plover (lifer!) at Playa Pelicano

Great blue heron on a nest near Laguna del Mar

Location: Estero de Morua
Place to stay to guarantee access: Playa Encanto
Sense of adventure required: Medium
Pros: Amazing huge estuary habitat - good for herons, boobies, shorebirds
Cons: Takes some creativity to find places to view from
Additional notes: The easiest access points are off Freemont Blvd/ City Hwy 3. One of them is marked on the map below as Camino a la Morua. If you look for either the Oyster Farm or the oyster restuarant El Barco on Google maps you will see the two roads. These are sandy roads; our VW Jetta did okay but be careful on the offshoots as there is some deeper sand and some vehicles could get stuck. There didn't seem to be any problem with walking past the oyster farm or restaurant to the beach to bird. The estuary can also be viewed from the end of the road at Las Conchas, though it looked like you would have to walk a long ways across the sand to get near the water. We found a final good viewing area from Playa Encanto near Coopertiva Punta Roja (see Google Maps). This required getting through another guard gate (we said we wanted to see the town), but then we parked near this restaurant and walked down onto the beach with no problem.

Black skimmers and gulls at Estero de Morua

American oystercatcher at Estero de Morua

Loggerhead shrike on the road to Estero de Morua

Location: Estanque de Aguas Residuales (Sewage ponds)
Place to stay to guarantee access: Any
Sense of adventure required: High
Pros: Unknown
Cons: A very poor part of town - lots of trash in the roads, looked pretty sketchy, we didn't feel comfortable getting out of the car
Additional notes: You can apparently park at the end of Sonora Blvd and walk up onto the dikes

Location: Estero de la Pinta
Place to stay to guaranttee access: Mayan Palace or Grand Mayan Resorts
Sense of adventure required: High 
Pros: Previously some impressive bird reports from here
Cons: Apparently no way to access without a pass to the resort, also a local said the birds have moved away from this estuary more due to all the construction
Additional notes: You used to be able to get past this guard gate like the others by asking to visit the restaurant or see the resort, but now it apparently requires reservations or a guest pass. Getting a guest pass means signed up for a breakfast and 1.5 hour (or longer, if what we heard is true) presentation to try and sell you a time share. This gets you a day pass to the grounds and all the facilities. If you want to do this, don't worry, the EcoFun representatives in the Malecon area will find you.

Location: Sandy Beach
Place to stay to guarantee access: Any of the Sandy Beach resorts
Sense of adventure required: Low?
Pros: Unknown
Cons: Unknown
Additional notes: We didn't see an easy way to get to this beach without going through one of the resorts, but we heard you may be able to access it via one of the RV Parks on the bottom left of the map below.

In total, we saw a respectable 60 species in the few days we were there. The "big misses" were the brown and blue-footed boobies that were no where to be found, though were some great finds including the yellow-footed gull and magnificent frigatebirds.

And I've got to finish out this post with a few non-bird related photos from our time in Mexico....

Bottlenose dolphins off Las Conchas
 There was amazing street art everywhere:

And every sunset was pretty amazing, too:

1 comment:

Vera said...

Wow, what an interesting read. You really did a lot of research and you have all of the material to publish a great brochure/booklet. But......then what? LOL (I'd buy one!)