Baja CALifornia & Sea of Cortez

THE THREE F'sFINS, FEATHERS & FOOD

Dates

Feb 7th to 19th 2018

Tour Cost

€ 2.935.-

Single room supplement

€ 500.-

Group size

12 plus two leaders

Tour leader

Local expert nature& bird guide

Airport

London - La Paz Int. Airport via Mexico

What´s included

All ground transport and all meals, from dinner on first day until lunch on the final day, services of guides and reserve entrance fees. We shall be staying in five different comfortable and charming accommodations, often in superb coastal locations.

What´s not included

Transport to / from UK and any overnight stay that may be involved, travel insurance, drinks and any items of a purely personal nature.

Tour code

We will explore the unique deserts and foothills of the Cape District, including Sierra La Laguna National Park in southern Baja California for its endemic birds. In La Paz and Sea of Cortez we’ll explore its rugged coast lines and stay in a paradisiac island, surrounded by whales where seabirds and shorebirds are abundant along with a visit to the famous Magdalena Bay  for close encounters with majestic whales and other marine life.

Selected species list

Endemics : Cape Pygmy Owl, San Lucas Robin, Xantus´s Hummingbird, Belding's Yellowthroat, Baird's Junco, Yellow-footed Gull, Grey Thrasher, Gilded Flicker, Gila Woodpecker, Blue Footed Booby, Heerman´s Gull, Willson´s Plover, Harris's Hawk.

Marine life : Grey Whale, Short-fin Pilot Whale, Orca (or Killer) Whale, Blue Whals, Humpback Whale, Sperm Whale, Hammer-head Shark, Whale Shark, California Sea-Lion, Marlin Fish, Manta Ray, White-sided Pacific Dolphin, Leatherback Sea Turtle, Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, Clarion Fish,


More information

Trip Reports

Introduction

FEW NOTES
Next year 2017 will see our third tour in Baja California. The back to back tours in 2016 worked quite well, but the first was not as perfect as BOLETAS would have liked, although all participants were reasonably satisfied. Boletas therefore made some immediate changes and improvements for the second tour and these and others will now be carried forward in 2017.
The most relevant changes are:
* The tour has been redesigned, alternating the inland activities with the boat trips, of which we have nine, thereby avoiding doing all of the sea activities together.
* In the original tour when visiting the remote La Laguna Nature Reserve, we planned to overnight in the area in cabins, but due to the consequences of the last hurricane, the cabins did not have electricity and there was little water. We will therefore overnight in the nearest area with hotels.
* The Espiritu Santo Island is in a remote area part of a national park where you can witness the incredible geological variation that is still forming the peninsula. Originally two nights were planned there in tents as we were offered a "Glamping" experience. The reality was not that glamorous, so even if the tents were clean, comfortable, solid and well equipped with proper beds and facilities (but with only two toilets, one just for ladies and one sun shower, which anybody used for one night stay), almost everybody in both groups, agreed that one night was worthy and sufficient to enjoy the experience offered by such a unique place.
* When visiting Magdalena Bay for the unique experience of "dancing" with the Grey Whales, we will now, depending on weather and tides, be visiting two different areas to have more chances to enjoy those mammals playing with us

 

BAJA CALIFORNIA is located at the north-west corner of Mexico, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Gulf of California or Sea of Cortez to the other. Over the yearsmany explorers and researchers have being delighted by the uniqueness of the area. Jacques Cousteau named it "The Mexican Galapagos Islands" and the Sea of Cortez "The largest living aquarium of the world". Recently local NGOs have elevated the Baja California Peninsula to prominence in the birding world. Birdwatching is comparatively new in the area and you cannot expect a big list, as in Africa or South America, but with the support of local birders it is very interesting and Boletas will provide the finest birding and the most productive whale watching in Baja California.

This tour is a combination of birding in the dry habitat of the Cardon Cactus "forest", where the density of wintering, resident and nomadic birds fluctuates depending on weather conditions and food availability, and the excellence of one of the best whale watching localities in the world, combined with its associated marine wild life.
We will cover the three most important habitats of Baja California. The first part of the tour is concentrated in the remote and wild Sierra de la Laguna, which harbours a number of endemic subspecies.
Secondly, our tour will be concentrated in the idyllic National Park of the chromatic Espiritu Santo Island and the coastal area of which still maintains the feeling of the colonial Mexican fishing villages. Birding opportunities around La Paz promise an array of seabirds, shorebirds, and land birds including Least Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, both Brown and Blue-footed boobies, Magnificent Frigatebird, ten species of herons including Reddish Egret and White Ibis. During the days concentrated in the dry lands around the beautiful Todos Santos, we will try to see the three commoner species of endemic land birds; Grey Thrasher is common throughout in desert scrub, as is the little Xantus's Hummingbird, although Belding's Yellowthroat is not widespread, but can be found in remnant marsh habitats. Many other birds can be found here too, such as woodpeckers, flickers, orioles and the always difficult sparrows. We can also admire the beauty of unique cardon cacti, agaves and other succulent plants, with breath-taking landscapes, sunrises and sunsets, framed by the ocean.
Finally we will make special efforts to see cetaceans, with whale watching and pelagic birds over nine boat trips, out of Bahia Magdalena and other important bays, with the hope of encountering grey, humpback, long-fin pilot, and perhaps blue and orca whales, not to mention enjoying sightings of whale-sharks, rays and sea-lions.
Summarising, we will experience "The Peninsula Indomitable" or "The Untamed Peninsula", just two descriptions of how explorers have described this remote place, an area attracting nature lovers by its fabulous natural values.
It was Mary Fricker who suggested to me the three F's tour, including food to the birds and whales, which was an excellent culinary experience in the first Boletas tour in 2016. If you love sea food, this tour offers you the possibility to delight one of the best wild fish you probably ever had. Baja California is the place to find some of the freshest mariscos (seafood in Mexico), brought to shore daily by local fishermen and divers, and prepared and served at a variety of stands and restaurants. For daily dinner and lunch we will combine the visit to excellent local restaurants with the hotels where we stay.
We may be joined on a possible second departure by my friend and partner Chris Hall. I have previously worked with Chris on trips to Spain, Morocco, Uganda, Senegal and Cuba and we were very privileged to have Chris with us on this exciting tour, which promises to be both productive and enjoyable. Even non-birding partners will love it!

Itinerary

Day 1 – Feb. 7th - Arrive at La Paz (LAP) International airport. Transfer to our seaside hotel at the edge of the city, where depending on the tide there will be chances to see gulls, egrets, waders and maybe Black Skimmer. Welcome succulent dinner and introduction to our local guides. Overnight in La Paz.

Day 2 –Feb 8th - Introduction to the Sea of Cortez marine wildlife.
After breakfast we will drive to the nearby La Paz Harbour where a 25 Mts. boat will take us for a full day pelagic and whale watching tour as an introduction of what we will see in more detail in the following days. We will navigate beyond La Paz Bay searching for Shark Whale, Humpback, Blue and maybe Grey Whales, plus Californian Sea Lion. On this boat trip we will expect to find Yellow-footed, Bonaparte's, California and Heermann's Gulls. Exquisite lunch on board and return back to La Paz where it will be easy to see Brandt´s Cormoran, Western Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Black-vented Shearwater, Blue-footed Booby and perhaps the rare Red-billed Tropicbird. Overnight in La Paz.

Days 3, 4 - Feb 9th , 10th Sierra de La Laguna Biosphere Reserve - A truly remote place.
Early breakfast and transfer to La Laguna Biosphere Reserve. Our first stop will be in the hidden lake of Santiago where in winter there are good numbers of herons, ducks and some inland waders. Here is a unique site where we can find the rare Thick-billed Kingbird. Other interesting birds are Wilson´s Snipe, Black Phoebe and Marsh Wren. A visitor centre has been created from one of the former Ranchos – "San Dionisio". Here we'll be the guests of Don Cata, Doña Luz and their son Rogelio, who are widely known as some of the oldest families living in this area. On their ranch we'll enjoy a moderate hike through impressive landscape to a remote waterfall where we'll have a picnic lunch. Along the way we'll be searching for many sub species of birds, such as the mythical Roadrunner, Wilson´s Warbler, Canyon Wren, Grey Vireo, Pacific Slope Flycatcher, Green-tailed Towhee, California Towhee and California Gnatcatcher. We'll enjoy a terrific dinner made by Doña Luz, who'll also show us how to make "tortillas" from scratch. We'll then enjoy a night walk for 'owling', searching for Great Horned Owl, Elf Owl and Cape Pygmy Owl. After the owling we will drive to Lo Barriles for overnight.
After early morning breakfast there, we will head to another area of the reserve and visit (by vehicle) the highest area. We'll reach the end of the track and stop for a walk through a ravine where the mountains disgorge their waters. The solitude of the place is overwhelming and birding can produce Acorn and Gila Woodpeckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Scrub Jay, Cassin´s Vireo, Black-throated Grey and Wilsons Warbler, plus Lazuli Bunting to mention a few. We'll lunch under the oak trees, where livestock find shade when it is too hot. After lunch we'll drive down around the Rancho, which is the entrance of the nature reserve and walk along a stream looking for birds that we will not have chance to see in lower lands, such as Green-tailed Towhee, Western Tanager, Yellow Breasted Chat, Lesser Goldfinch, also trying for Northern Pygmy Owl in daylight. Before dusk we will leave the area heading to La Paz where we will overnight.

Days 5, 6 – Feb 11th , 12th -Espiritu Santo Island – A polychromatic paradise.
After breakfast we will go to the 'base', where all needed equipment for the next two days will be sorted out; those wanting to swim and snorkel with the Shark Whales and Sea Lions will choose their equipment for snorkelling; dry suit, goggles, flippers etc. before heading to the nearest harbour to board the pangas. We'll head out into the Sea of Cortez for the beginning of our 2 day/1 night "glamping" trip on Isla Espiritu Santo. Espiritu Santo and the Sea of Cortez is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Sea of Cortez is home to 39% of the world's total marine mammal species, a third of the world's marine cetacean species and 891 fish species. In other words, it's a total bird magnet! On the way out this first day we'll pass several small islands that serve as rookeries for Blue-footed Boobies and Great Blue Herons, and we'll take our time to explore these wondrous spaces. Around lunch time we'll arrive at our safari-style tent camp at Candelero Beach where a terrific lunch spread will be waiting for us. After a lovely lunch we'll settle into the accommodations, walk-in tents with raised cots, mattresses, sheets, pillows,one sun showers, compost toilets and as a complement fabulous food. In the afternoon we'll explore the island by boat, then settle in for a happy hour and a great birding display at sunset watching Brown Pelicans, Yellow-footed Gulls, Caspian Terns, Franklin's Gulls, Bonaparte's Gulls, Royal Terns, Herring Gulls, and more, score their suppers. A lovely dinner cooked by the assistants. Overnight on the island.
After breakfast today we'll hop into our high speed motor boat and head to the permanent sea lion colony of Los Islotes, which is also a major Blue-footed Booby rookery. We'll snorkel and swim with the marvellously curious and playful sea lion puppies, while also enjoying the great array of bird life attracted to the island. It is a truly joyous occasion. We'll return to tent camp for lunch and a siesta, then spend our last afternoon on a boat from the island to La Paz. We will visit the remaining of the Magnificent Frigatebird colony, formerly the biggest in the world with more than 30.000 individuals and with aprox. 12.000 members today, the site on a remote island where the birds built a rough nest constructed in low trees due to the guano accumulated on the trees for years has formed bizarre sculptures between surrealistic and gothic, male adults with its red throat pouch attend the nests with the females and the juveniles in a noisy and chaotic harmony , all an experience¡¡. Slowly sailing to La Paz exploring and searching for whales and the attractive experience of finding the quiet Shark Whale, then watching another great birding display as the sun sets. Truly wonderful. Dinner in a local seafood restaurant and Overnight in La Paz.

Days 7, 8 - Feb 14th, 15th - Birding Endemics in Todos Santos - The Cactus "forest"

After an early breakfast we'll head to Todos Santos for an historical town tour. Todos Santos has a rich and varied history, from the early missionaries, through the booming sugar years, through to its current incarnation as an artists' colony, agricultural centre and surfing hotspot. On this guided tour we will visit many of the historic homes and buildings throughout town, learning fascinating stories of the global forces and colourful personalities that brought these buildings into existence and shaped Todos Santos over the years. After lunch at an amazing local restaurant we may need a siesta if it is too hot, but will eventually enjoy our first local desert birding at a nearby pond with a palm oasis. The fresh coastal waters are one of the most important habitats in Baja for the endangered endemic species, the Belding's Yellowthroat, but we are likely to see several on this first outing. Although degraded for many different reasons we will have opportunities to see Magnificent Frigatebirds, Black-necked Stilts, Black Phoebes, Brown Pelicans, American Coots, Great Egrets, Eared Grebes, Pacific Loons, Tricolored Herons, Northern Pintails, White-faced Ibis and more. In the late afternoon we'll head into the palm oasis for more bird watching, where we're likely to see Xantus´s Hummingbird, Lark Sparrow, Gila Woodpecker, Hooded and Scott's Oriole, Western Tanager, Wilson's Warbler, the interesting MacGillivray´s Warbler and more. From the oasis we'll walk to dinner at a nearby local restaurant where they mix modern and Mexican cuisine. Overnight at Todos Santos.
After breakfast on this day we will drive to the coastal desert. We will do a pleasant walk for few hours through a palm gove and the desert. The Palm trees are the favorite nesting sites of orioles , and woodpeckers and the desert here has abundant bursera microphylla trees which provide food for wintering Gray Vireos and Ash-throated Flycatchers, while the resident California Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Costa's Hummingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Cactus Wren, California Gnatcatcher, and Black-throated Sparrow are all possible, the end of the walk is in a coastal lake where many birds specially flocks of wintering sparrows visit for drinking, other birds we can fin there includes Cinnamon TeL, Pied-billed Grebe, Snowy Egret and waders. Drive back to the nearest Todos Santos for a fresh lunch in one of the local restaurants followed by a delightful Italian stile ice-cream , depending temperatures we con go to a siesta break or visit same place as in the morning there is also a good chance of encountering Harris' Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, plus Common and Ruddy Ground Doves. Almost anywhere we might stumble into flocks of wintering Brewer's and Clay-coloured Sparrows, and some years Lark Buntings are numerous. When in the area an easy and modest two hour hike with hopes to see Cooper Hawk, Logger-head Shrike, Ash-throated Flycatcher, a sub-specie of Western Scrub Jay, Cactus Wren, Northern Mockingbird and many other birds. We will learn about plants such as cacti, agaves and other succulent varieties. We will wait until just before dusk, when the Lesser Nighthawks leave their roosting sites to feed over a nearby lake. Overnight in Todos Santos.

Days 9, 10 – Feb 16th,17th - Magdalena Bay – Dancing with Whales
Today we'll leave Todos Santos and drive up to Magdalena Bay, the largest wetlands ecosystem on the west coast of Baja and one of the most important in North America. The World Wildlife Fund ranks it as one of the most important coastal habitats in Mexico. The Bay is the prime calving ground for the Gray Whale, and between January and March it is possible to see – and often pet - a large number of whales, including mothers and calves. Magdalena Bay also has mangrove forests, barrier beaches and sand dune islands, all of which contribute to the incredible scenery and biological diversity of the area.

It is a four and a half hour drive from Todos Santos to Magdalena Bay, so when we arrive we will be ready to enjoy the first of many wonderful seafood feasts. We'll then get into the pangas of the local fishing cooperatives and head out into the lagoons. We will engage in some pelagic birding and will look for Masked Boobies, Craveri's Murrelet, shearwaters, storm petrels, cormorants, nesting Ospreys, with Peregrine Falcons, Mangrove Warblers and no doubt some other surprises, along the way. We're also very likely to encounter Gray Whale mothers and babies, who often come right up to the boat to investigate as good mammals are curious and like to play. Overnight at Magdalena Bay.Depending on the winds and tides we will decide where the pangas will take us on our next boat trips. Birding or whale watching are the options for another wonderful day with the whales and birds in Magdalena Bay. After lunch in one of the local restaurants by the harbour, we'll head out in the motor boats and check out some of the dunes in the lagoon where we're likely to spot Brandt's Cormorants, Little Blue Herons, Heermann's and Bonaparte's Gulls, Whimbrels, Wilson's Phalaropes, Black-crowned Nighthawks, and more. We'll also have plenty of time for more interactions with the Gray Whales. Overnight at Magdalena Bay.

Day 11 – Feb 18th - Birds in Transit

Today, we have options! We need to eventually return to La Paz, about a three and half hour drive from Magdalena Bay, but other than that we have some flexibility in our day. If we're enjoying birding in the mangroves in Magdalena Bay we can take another panga ride out in the morning and return to La Paz in the late afternoon. If we're ready to return to La Paz, we can go to the local sewage ponds where birding is spectacular including an incredible density of waders, ducks, egrets, ibis and passerines before heading back to our hotel. Again depending on the tides we can spend the afternoon birding around the hotel gardens facing the sea.

Days 12, 13 – Feb 19th , 206th - We will plan this day, probably a free day, with optional shopping in La Paz, according to the timing of your return flights. Arrive London on Day 13.

 

Gallery

Testimonials

Dear All

Firstly I would like to thank you all for making the trip a GREAT one. Dave & I really enjoyed the trip, and would like to thank Josele for providing us with such a wonderful experience.

The tweaks that were made to the trip from last year worked very well.

I have attached a link to my Photos, feel free to download any that you may want to share.

There are also one or two videos that I shall be putting on later. I think you get an automatic email when this happens.

Happy Travels

Karen & Dave - 2017

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Dear Josele,

Just a brief note to say how much Jeannine and I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Baja California tour.

The scenery was exceptional; whales were magnificent; camping on Espiritu Santo was tremendous; and the birding was pretty good as well. We thought that all of the hotels that you used were just right for their position and access to the relevant areas that we explored. Even the food was good (despite the fish and camarones).

Finally your organisation, energy and enthusiasm were exceptional as always.
Many thanks Josele, I look forward to meeting up again.
Alf King - 2107

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Hi everyone
Many thanks for making this such an enjoyable trip – good birds, good company, good food – what more could you want for an excellent holiday!
I really appreciate your patient support with my troublesome back, and all the help identifying so many new birds.
I know some of you will be at the Birdfair in August – perhaps we can meet up and share a few pictures.
Cheers
Angela . 2016

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Dear Josele,

It was perfect! We loved it all. Good luck with your second tour.

What a wonderful adventure we had with you and the Birds of Baja Sur.We really enjoyed all of it especially the mountain cabins and making tortillas at the ranch.The days and nights on Espiritu Santo were a joy and a privilege.
What is adventure with out a few minor minor inconveniences ,so we will not be applying for any what we regard as an unnecessary refund.

We hope that not too many people were disappointed with the Birds of Baja. Looking for birds in migratory nomadic flocks ,in a desert location is the most challenging of all birding .
Good Birding on the next trip.

We love you lots,
Mary & George - 2016

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Hello Josele

Thanks for your email. We got home safely and tired. It has taken much of the last week to get back to normal, and, to cap it all, Imogen picked up a cold, probably from the plane. We enjoyed our trip to Mexico with you very much. The two areas were very different which was good and we enjoyed the cultural parts and the food as well. We saw some great birds and whales, so thank you for that. It is very generous of you to offer a refund and we will send our details to Andy. We did not feel too inconvenienced and actually enjoyed our time on Espiritu Sancto. The cabins were also in a lovely place, though electricity would have been good! So thank you for the refund.

So, once again, a lovely tour with you. We enjoyed your company as usual and it was good to see old friends as well, especially George and Mary. Enjoy the rest of your trip and we look forward to seeing you at the Birdfair.

Best wishes, Roger and Imogen - 2016

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Hi Josele,

Thanks to you for a great tour and the unexpected refund, (going towards flights for Madagascar).
I am working through the Sparrows as I load them onto my PC, should be able to ID them, if not I will forward them to you.
When you next contact Auriel (I do not know how to spell his name) say a late goodbye from Deb and I as we couldn't find him after we got off the plane in Mexico City. We really enjoyed having him in the group with us.

Paul. - 2016

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Dear Josele,

We are telling our friends and family what we have done on holiday and we have realized that although the birding
experience for us was depressing, in fact, the Mayan ruins in Yucatan and the amazing experiences on the island of swimming with whale sharks
and sealions and watching humpbacks so close to us was stunning. Overall, therefore, the holiday was a great success for us.

Thank you Josele for your very hard work. We are looking forward to seeing some of Paul's photos.

with best wishes
Rosemary and David Jackson - 2016

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Dear Andy

Josele has asked us to forward our bank account details in order to refund us some money from the recent trip to Baja. We really enjoyed the trip, there were one or two minor glitches that one might expect from a first time tour, however I hope this doesn't put Josele off from continuing this tour as we saw some amazing sights and it is possibly only the people who just want to see new birds who could be disappointed. Our details are below. ,Robert and Marilyn Waldrom - 2016

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Dear Josele and fellow birders,
A wonderful trip! Thank you very much, Josele and the wonderful guides, for unforgettable experiences. I hope everyone made it home safely.
I greatly appreciated the camaraderie and good humor as we shared experiences. I particularly thank everyone for sharing knowledge and sightings (and helping me on and off the boats, John!). We saw wonderful birds and gazed at memorable landscapes.
If any of you decide to bird Texas, let me know. It was great to meet you all! Happy birding!
My best regards,
Laura Gutierrez-Witt
1801 Lavaca Street Apt 11A
Austin, Texas 78701
USA

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VISA: "UK Passport holders are not required Visa Card for this tour.  The hotels mentioned in the itinerary can not be the one we will finally use.

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