Birding Postcard from Colombia


Lazuline Sabrewing, El Dorado, Santa Marta Sierra (photo Prudy and Bob Bowers)

Colombia is smaller than 25 other countries, and just two-thirds the size of Alaska, and yet it holds the world’s record for most species of birds. Nearly 2,000 species have been documented to date, or nearly 20 percent of the world’s total. Colombia’s count exceeds that of every other country in the world, including its bird-rich border-sharing neighbors Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil, which incidentally is nearly eight times larger than Colombia. In spite of this, birders have been slow to explore Colombia’s avifauna, in large measure due to the country’s 52-year war with FARC, a conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people.  That conflict appeared to have ended when government and rebel leaders signed a peace accord in Havana last month. A public referendum endorsing the accord was held on October 2nd, and was expected to pass by a wide margin, but instead failed in a close vote. This may cast a shadow on Colombia’s future birding prospects, but there is reason to be hopeful, since both sides are tired of fighting and seem willing to continue seeking an acceptable solution. From a birding perspective, the doves are dominating the hawks.


Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Termales del Ruiz (photo Bob Bowers)


Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (photo Prudy and Bob Bowers)

Prudy and I took advantage of this stabilization in August, and traveled to Colombia for a month’s exploration of many of the country’s best birding destinations.  We flew into Bogota, spent two days with a local guide at four sites near the capitol and another two visiting cultural sites, then flew two hours north to spend 3 days birding on our own on San Andres, a ten square-mile, little-known island off the coast of Nicaragua. From there, we returned to Bogota, then flew to Cali, where we joined local guides Andrea and Alejandro. Recently wed, this young couple have started a birding and herping tour service, appropriately called ‘Birding and Herping’, and they had agreed to spend 10 days with us, following a birding itinerary we had put together to cover the three Andean cordillera between Cali and Medellin. We parted with Andrea (the ornithologist) and Alejandro (the herpetologist) at Medellin, from where we traveled on our own to Cartagena, and from Cartagena to Santa Marta, Minca and finally El Dorado, an eco-lodge in the Santa Marta Sierra before returning to Bogota and home.


Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Anchicaya Valley (photo Prudy and Bob Bowers)


Colombia’s National Bird, the Andean Condor (photo Prudy and Bob Bowers)

The primary cities of Colombia are large (Bogota is nearly nine million), traffic-bound centers of growth and hustle, but once outside these metropolitan areas, birders are faced with problems of access, transportation and some challenging roads. In spite of this, and by using local guides, we saw much of this spectacularly beautiful country and many wonderful birds. We recorded 345 species, almost all of which were birds we had not seen before, including 55 species of hummingbirds and 14 of Colombia’s 78 endemics. We also took more than 7,600 photographs. In addition to Colombia’s 56 National Natural Parks, many lodges, private homes and fincas share hummingbird and other feeders with visiting birders. One of our favorite sites was the Hotel Termales del Ruiz, nestled more than 10,000 feet high in the Andes’ Los Nevados, and featuring a volcanic-warmed thermal swimming pool. Each morning, you can hold miniature sugar water feeders while dozens of hummingbirds swarm around, perching on your head and hands for up close and personal observation.


Colombia’s endemic Yellow-eared Parrot (photo Alejandro Echeverry, Birding and Herping)

This is an adventure we recommend without reservation, and guided trips are offered by several U.S. based companies. This is the easiest and most convenient option, although you can also arrange personalized guided trips in Colombia using the same guides that would accompany your states-originated trip at a fraction of the cost. Several U.S. airlines fly direct to Colombia, and with a flight time of just four hours from Atlanta to Bogota, fares are reasonable. Living this close to the country with more bird species than any other in the world is an opportunity that should not be skipped.

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Birding Sonora’s Free Zone

Rose-throated Becard (Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Rose-throated Becard (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Having hundreds of species never seen in the U.S. and a border just an hour from Tucson, Mexico is a natural magnet for Arizona birders.  But birding by car in Mexico is a little more complicated than birding in Arizona. You need Mexican car insurance, and in most cases you need a tourist permit as well as a car permit, documents that can take an hour or more to obtain at the permit station 21 kilometers south of Nogales, Arizona.  However, you can get a taste of birding Mexico without the time-consuming hassle to get permits.  Mexico allows U.S. visitors 72 hours in Sonora without either a visa or car permit, as long as you don’t venture out of the ‘free zone.’ You still need to have Mexican car insurance, but that’s easy to get by phone in Tucson.

This Sonoran ‘free zone’ includes mainland Mexico west of highway 15 from Nogales to Guaymas and north of highway 2 from Imuris to Naco, Arizona. That’s a lot of territory and includes birding hotspots in Rocky Point, Hermosillo, Kino Bay, San Carlos and Guaymas.  Car permits are not required for visits in this area regardless of length of stay, and staying 72 hours or less obviates tourist permits.  Three days isn’t much time to bird these hotspots, but you can sample enough to decide where to spend more time on a longer trip.  And even though a tourist permit is required for stays longer than 72 hours, it’s free for 7 days and only $20 for up to 180 days.

Five-striped Sparrow (Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Five-striped Sparrow (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Rocky Point and San Carlos are a bit far for a 3-day trip, but there are two free zone birding destinations that are less than 130 miles and only about 2 hours from Tucson.  One is Rio Magdalena in Imuris and the other is Rancho El Aribabi, just 20 miles east of Imuris on highway 2.  Rio Magdalena is an under-birded eBird hotspot with just 15 reports, but 155 species have been listed here on visits dating back to 1980.  The creek-like river flows year-round, attracting Black-bellied Whistling Duck, teals, mergansers, and grebes.  In addition, this hotspot has reported Mexican specialties like Elegant Quail, Green Kingfisher, White-tipped Dove, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Crested Caracara and Black-capped Gnatcatcher.     A dirt road parallels the river, with multiple opportunities to park and bird, distracted only by friendly ranchers on horseback. Imuris is just 43 miles south of Nogales.

Cocospera River (Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Rio Cocospera in Rancho El Aribabi (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

The second hotspot is Rancho El Aribabi, a 10,000-acre cattle ranch at 3,500 feet in the Sierra Azul Mountains 19 miles east of Imuris.  The ranch focuses on conservation and research, and is open periodically to small group overnight visits.  The ranch guest house sits above the Rio Cocospera, a small stream flowing through a heavily treed riparian area rich with birds.  Birding the riverfront trails in early morning is like walking through nature’s cathedral.  In spring, Summer Tanagers are abundant and singing Sinaloa Wrens compete with machine gun chattering Yellow-breasted Chats.  EBird shows 157 species for this hotspot.  We stayed here two nights in May, and our group recorded 50 species including Gray Hawk, Sinaloa Wren, Green Kingfisher, Five-striped Sparrow, White-tipped Dove, Buff-collared Nightjar and Rose-throated Becard.  EBird reports for one of these birds, the Sinaloa Wren, have occurred in just 3 places in the U.S., all in Arizona: Tubac, Patagonia and Ft. Huachuca, and never for more than a single bird.  Aribabi is just 35 miles south of Arizona, and we watched 2 pairs of Sinaloa Wrens singing and nest-building.  We videotaped two minutes of this nest-building and singing activity, which can be found on YouTube here. We fully expect this bird to be nesting in Arizona before long.

Entering Mexico to bird these two hotspots is hassle-free and no more difficult than birding Santa Cruz County. If you’re interested in seeing some birds seldom, if ever, seen in Arizona, email me for details (

(This article was published in the August, 2016, issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson)

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The Wren from Sinaloa

Gordon Karre-SIWRMay142016_5225 (2)

Sinaloa Wrens nest building at El Aribabi, Sonora (photo Gordon Karre)

Sinaloa, the Mexican state that lies along Sonora’s southern border, is well known for the popular beach-front tourist destination, Mazatlán. You might also associate it with a major drug cartel, but if you’re a birder you’ll probably think first of its namesake bird, the beautiful Sinaloa Wren, Thryophilus Sinaloa. The Sinaloa Wren is endemic to western Mexico, and just 21 years ago was unknown north of Alamos, deep in southern Sonora. However, by 2006 it had expanded its range into central and northern Sonora, and ultimately made its first appearance in Arizona in August, 2008, in Patagonia. Today, 12 years later, Sinaloa Wrens continue to appear in Arizona rarely but expectedly, and although they have not been seen in Patagonia for 6 years, for the past 3 years single birds have been found in both the Tubac area and in Ft. Huachuca. Sinaloa Wrens have not yet been found in any other U.S. state, nor has more than a single bird been found, so it’s still a crowd-drawing event when one is reported here.



Sinaloa Wren at nest, El Aribabi, Sonora (photo Pete Baum)

This may well change, however, since the wren now is routinely found nesting at Rancho El Aribabi on the Cocospera River just 35 miles south of the Arizona border. We visited El Aribabi in May, 2014, and although we never saw a Sinaloa Wren, we clearly heard one singing, a loud but harmonious song that competed well with the clatter of Yellow-breasted Chats. We returned to El Aribabi again this May, and this time found two pairs of Sinaloa Wrens building purse-like grass nests draped across riparian tree branches. Each monogamous pair sallied out to find grass and fine twigs, added them to the growing nest and, as they flew away, broke into song.


We videotaped two minutes of this nest-building and singing activity, which can be found on YouTube here.  This song is well-described as ‘complicated and harmonic.’

This beautiful bird has moved 400 miles north of Sinaloa in just 2 decades, and is now nesting 35 miles south of Arizona. I think it’s safe to bet it won’t be long before she loses her endemic status in Mexico. After all, birds can’t read and they have wings.

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Best Places to Bird near SaddleBrooke

Rare Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the Regional Park

Rare Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Catalina Regional Park (Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Compared with other outdoor activities like pickleball or biking, birding requires less equipment and burns fewer calories.  And, unless you’re on a quest to see all of the world’s 10,000 species, it’s also a lot cheaper.  In fact, with clear windows and a few feeders, you can enjoy birds from the cool comfort of your own home, although you’ll eventually have to venture outside if you want to find the 383 species eBird lists for Pinal County or the 450 species listed for Pima County.  Jointly coordinated by Cornell University’s Laboratory for Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, eBird is a massive real-time online checklist program that collects bird observations from citizen scientists around the world.  Anyone can register as an observer for free, submit bird sightings from anywhere in the world and review the collected data in a number of convenient ways.  The system permits online recording of observations both at one’s personal sites, such as your own yard, or at established ‘hotspots’, notably bird-rich sites open to the public.  I use eBird regularly, both to document my own birding experiences and to research potential locations for birding and writing.  For this article, I turned to eBird to find all of the ‘hotspots’ listed for Pinal and Pima Counties, and, not surprisingly, found 49 in Pinal and more than 100 in Pima (eBird only shows the top 100 hotspots.  You can view these data as a summary list of hotspots in order by the number of species documented, or each site individually, with the bird species detailed and ranked by those most recently seen.  You can further explore the results by looking at individual observer’s dated checklists, with the actual number of each species recorded.  In some cases, photographs are included, often to support sightings of unexpected or rare birds.

Mexican Jay, common in Peppersauce Canyon

Mexican Jay, Peppersauce Canyon (Bob and Prudy Bowers)

The top hotspot for Pinal County is Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, with 260 species recorded to date, and the top hotspot for Pima County in Sweetwater Wetlands, with 294 species.  Both of these locations are a bit of a drive from SaddleBrooke, but it’s easy to combine birding at Sweetwater (I-10 near Prince) with other Tucson errands, and we often combine a trip to or from the Phoenix airport with a stop at Boyce Thompson.  If you’re picking up friends or family at Sky Harbor, consider swinging by Boyce Thompson on the way home. The gardens, trails and water features are a treat for all visitors, whether or not they’re interested in birds.

Juvenile Gray Hawk, Common to 7B Ranch Nature Trail

Juvenile Gray Hawk (Bob and Prudy Bowers)

For the best birding closer to home, these are my ten favorites:  The Canada del Oro Wash east of the Preserve and Unit 21, The entry drive and main golf pond at SaddleBrooke Ranch, Catalina Regional Park, Catalina State Park, Honeybee Canyon Park, Willow Springs Road, Oracle State Park, Peppersauce Canyon, 7B Ranch Nature Trail and The Shores Recreation Area on the Gila River.  More than 150 species have been reported on eBird at many of these sites, and none of them are more than an hour’s drive from SaddleBrooke.  Access to all of these sites is easy, except for our own stretch of the Canada del Oro Wash, which SaddleBrooke has fenced off to keep cattle out of the community. However, the land east of the fence is State Trust Land open to the public, and if we could manage to talk SaddleBrooke into installing a few cattle gates or walk-arounds, we could all enjoy this beautiful stretch of trees, often flowing water and an amazing variety of birds. All of the sites also have a number of relatively level and short trails to accommodate those of us no longer capable of steep climbs and rock scrambling.

Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Catalina Regional Park

Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Catalina Regional Park (Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Even without gates, you can bird the west side of the CDO Wash from a three-quarter-mile trail that begins at the south end of Desert Sky Drive cul-de-sac.  Public parking is available just past the main golf course pond in SaddleBrooke Ranch, where you can easily look for water birds on the pond. Catalina Regional Park offers a trail to a bird-rich pond just three tenths of a mile south of the end of Lago del Oro’s paved section, and everyone is probably well aware of how to access Catalina and Oracle State Parks, as well as Honeybee Canyon. If not, email me for directions, and remember that Oracle State Park is open only on Saturday and Sunday.  Peppersauce Canyon and campground are on the Mt. Lemmon Highway south of Oracle State Park. The 7B Ranch Nature trail, a scenic one-mile loop through a mesquite bosque, is a mile east of Mammoth on Copper Street, and the Shores Recreation Area is about 4 miles north of Winkleman.  The Shores is actually in Gila County, where you enter the park, but since you look across the Gila River into Pinal County and there are lots of birds in this lovely riverfront setting, I’m including it anyway.

(This article is scheduled for publication in the June issue of the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, Tucson)


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Water Birds in the Desert

Snowy Egret, SB Ranch visitor (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Snowy Egret, smaller than the Great, but just as stunning (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

As anyone who has seen the movie ‘The Big Year’ knows, unusual weather can lead to unusual birding, and on April 10 we had both.  An abnormal monsoon-like storm front swept into the Tucson area from the southwest, and it swept in a couple of unusual birds with it. As the afternoon storm pushed in, we took some Oregon friends to SaddleBrooke Ranch to see if there were any notable water birds on the large golf course pond.  We found Mallards as expected and Wilson’s Phalaropes, not expected, but commonly found on Arizona ponds in spring and fall.  The big surprise, however, was a Heermann’s Gull, a very rare visitor to Arizona.  Heermann’s Gulls live year-round in Baja and the Sea of Cortez, as well as seasonally along the U.S. west coast. Nowhere else in the U.S. except rare visits to the southern edge of the southwest deserts, and likely only after unplanned rides in a storm system.  In Pinal County, this is just the fifth  sighting ever, and the only one in spring.  The second storm-related sighting was a Caspian Tern that mysteriously appeared at Sam Lena Park pond in Tucson.  Caspian Terns are also common in Baja and the Sea of Cortez, and can often be found on sandbars near Heermann’s Gulls.  Maybe these two birds decided to hop a storm front together and take a spring break.

Heermann's Gull in homeland Mexico (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

A rare visitor to SaddleBrooke in April, this Heermann’s Gull is at home in the Sea of Cortez (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Although these examples are rare desert finds, water birds in general are anything but unusual in the Sonoran Desert.  Just like your ‘snowbird’ neighbors, water birds are common desert visitors, especially in the winter.  Between SaddleBrooke and SaddleBrooke Ranch we’ve documented more than 30 water birds to date.  By comparison, popular birding hotspot Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson has recorded 87 water bird species, but with more than 8,000 documented birding checklists and daily visits by multiple birding enthusiasts, they easily outgun the few of us who scan the SaddleBrooke ponds.  In spite of this advantage, however, it’s been six years since a Heermann’s Gull visited Sweetwater.  Among the SaddleBrooke water-based birds, we’ve recorded ducks, egrets, avocets, herons, kingfishers, wigeons, teals and osprey, as well as a Greater White-fronted Goose and a Brown Pelican.  Not to mention the Heermann’s Gull.  Neotropic Cormorants, once considered rare in Arizona, have increased dramatically in recent years.  This April, relatively large numbers were seen on SaddleBrooke golf course ponds, flying in from some unknown southern base every morning to fish, and then heading back at sundown.

A rare sight in SaddleBrooke, American Avocets  (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Stunning American Avocets at sunset in SaddleBrooke (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

My own favorite water visitor was a group of 13 American Avocets who showed up on April 12, 2013, together with a lone Neotropic Cormorant.  Avocets are strikingly beautiful and elegant with long, thin upcurved bills.  They’re 18 inches in length and have a wingspan of nearly 3 feet, but only weigh 11 ounces.  The males and females are identical, and the rust-orange head and neck of a breeding-plumaged adult combined with a black and white body, bluish legs and upward sweeping bill is something even seniors don’t forget. Put 13 of these beauties together on the edge of a pond during an Arizona sunset, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better photo-op.  Unfortunately, these birds chose the restricted Mountainview golf course to pose for pictures, but since they broke the rules, we packed our camera in the golf cart and followed suit.  Sneaking under the Patrol’s radar isn’t recommended, but it’s cheaper than taking up golf.

The above article will be published in the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, May 1, 2016.

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Rare Birds in Catalina State Park

Rufous-backed Robin, Catalina State Park (photo Jerry Schudda)

Rufous-backed Robin eating hackberries, Catalina State Park, Arizona (photo courtesy of Jerry Schudda)

Catalina State Park is one of Arizona’s state park gems, and remarkably the nearest one to a major population center.  The park was established in 1983, and consists of 5,493 acres of high desert/lower Sonoran Life Zone. The park entrance sits at about 2,600 feet above sea level in the Santa Catalina Mountain foothills, and a complete system of trails follow contours up and out of the park into the adjacent Coronado National Forest.  9,157-foot Mt. Lemmon is just 9 miles from the park as the raven flies (no crows in this part of Arizona) and readily accessible for hardy hikers.  For a couch potato, the state park is also just 5 minutes from an In-N-Out Burger, Walmart and a 12-screen movie theater.

Rufous-backed Robin in Alamos, Mexico (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Rufous-backed Robin at home in Alamos, Mexico (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Birders love Catalina State Park’s ease of access, varied habitat and large list of resident and migratory birds. The park is an eBird hotspot with 188 reported species from more than 1,600 individual reports.  Notably, this is one of the more reliable sites to find Rufous-winged Sparrows and Crissal Thrashers year-round, two birds that draw distant visitors from across the U.S., Canada and beyond.  Unusual rarities can show up here, as well, and recently two species did just that. Late last November, a birder reported a Rufous-backed Robin, a Mexican bird that hung out near the main parking lot gorging on the park’s healthy crop of hackberries for more than three months.  The last time a Rufous-backed Robin was seen anywhere close to Catalina State Park was a month long stay from December 26, 2007, until January 25, 2008.  That was eight years ago, but some of us think it could be the same bird.  Rufous-backed Robins are seen from time to time in Arizona, but to give you an idea of the rarity of this visitor, you have to drive to Alamos, Mexico, some 475 miles south of Tucson to find them easily.

An Arizona rarity, the White-throated Sparrow (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

White-throated Sparrow in Catalina State Park (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Unlike 2008, we were extra fortunate this year with the simultaneous visit of another park rarity, the White-throated Sparrow.  Two or three of these beautiful sparrows joined the robin in late December and continued lingering into March along with the robin.  White-throated Sparrows are seen more often than Rufous-backed Robins in Arizona, but until this visit they have never been reported on eBird, the primary reporting tool, within Catalina State Park.  If you are from Canada, the Midwest or eastern U.S., you’re no doubt familiar with this sparrow, since it breeds in all Canadian provinces and either migrates through or winters in Midwest and Southeast states (as well as along the California to Washington coast.)  Its presence in the mountain states or most of Arizona, however, is almost unknown, and it’s considered a rare transient to winter resident in our part of the state. Like our common winter visitor the White-crowned Sparrow, male and female White-throated Sparrows are identical.  Both species are remarkably similar, but the White-crowned Sparrow has a yellow-orange bill and the White-throated Sparrow has a white throat (surprise!) and a bright yellow lore (small feather patch between eye and bill.)

With luck, both of these rarities will return next winter so you’ll have a chance to see them.  Year-round sightings of all rare birds in southeast Arizona are reported on the Tucson Audubon web site, at www.tucsonaudubon.cor/rba.html.   For these two local rarities, always take a close look at their more common cousins, American Robins and White-crowned Sparrows, since rare birds are like undercover agents avoiding detection.  Who knows, you might even find one in your yard.

The above article will be published in the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, April 1, 2016.


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Baja’s Birds, Boojums and Behemoths

Xantus's Hummingbird, Baja California (photo Bob Bowers)

Xantus’s Hummingbird, Baja California (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Mexico’s peninsula state, aptly named Baja (lower) California, is always a delightful destination, but February might be the best time to visit. Amazing birds are seen at any time of the year, as are wondrous boojum trees, but the gray whale nurseries are active only from mid-January to mid-February.  Baja stretches 800 miles from the California border to Cabo San Lucas, ranging from 30 to 150 miles wide with an incredibly diverse habitat that includes Sonoran Desert, 10,000-foot mountains and 3,000 miles of ocean coastline.  Baja’s birdlife is equally diverse, with resident desert species, mountain birds, shorebirds and pelagics, and a large percentage of the world’s population of Least and Black Storm Petrels, Heerman’s and Yellow-footed Gulls, Elegant Tern and Blue-footed Boobies breed in the Sea of Cortez.  A fair share of Mexican endemics can be found here as well, including Belding’s Yellowthroat, San Lucas Robin, Baird’s Junco and the Xantus’ Hummingbird.

50-foot Boojum Tree, Baja California

50-foot high Boojum Tree, Baja Calfornia, Mexico (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

From mid-January to mid-February, however, the peninsula’s greatest draw is the gray whale nurseries along the Pacific Ocean.  In December, gray whales leave their summer feeding grounds in the Chukchi and Bering seas and swim 5,000 miles south to the sheltered warm water lagoons of Baja. Whales mate in and near the three nursery lagoons, and females impregnated the prior winter birth their calves in the shallow lagoons, nursing their young until they are strong enough to begin the 5,000 mile swim to the arctic.  This is the longest migration of any mammal on earth, and these newborn calves will grow from their one-ton infancy into 50-foot, 70,000-pound behemoths.  These three primary nurseries can all be reached by car from the U.S.  The smallest is Magdalena Bay, about 125 miles west of Loreto, and the next largest lies farther north at San Ignacio Lagoon.

Spy-hopping Gray Whale in Ojo de Liebre Lagoon

Spy-hopping Gray Whale in Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Baja California, Mexico (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

The largest nursery is Laguna Ojo de Liebre, close to Guerrero Negro, a small village 450 miles south of California.  When we last visited Laguna Ojo de Liebre (eye of the jackrabbit), 2,000 whales had been counted in the shallow lagoon, including 900 newborns.  Open pangas take up to a dozen people out for closer looks.  It’s illegal to approach the whales nearer than 100 meters, but nothing prevents the whales from coming to the boats, and they often do.  Mother whales seemingly encourage and guide their young alongside the low draft boats, coming so close that tourists can reach out and pet the 2,000-pound calves, whose silky looking skin actually bristles with whiskers.

Prudy petting a 2,000-pound  baby Gray Whale

Petting a 2,000-pound baby gray whale in Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Mexico (photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Although you can book a tour to check off this bucket list item, there are many reasons to drive yourself.  For one thing, tours are expensive, and driving to Guerrero Negro can be done in the same time it takes to get from Tucson to Denver.  Besides, if you drive you’ll get to see those incredible Boojums. These strange endemic ‘trees’ begin showing up about 220 miles south of Tijuana, and forests of them stretch 230 miles south to the border of Baja California Sur.  They may be the most exotic of hundreds of exotic plants found in Baja. Related to our ocotillo, Boojums (Fouquieria columnaris) were named by Godfrey Sykes, a Tucson botanical explorer. For some unknown reason, Sykes picked the name from a fictional character in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark.  For some other unknown reason, the name seems perfect.  A Boojum looks like a tall inverted carrot, with a broad base, narrowing to a peaked top, in late summer capped with a yellow candle-like flower giving it the Mexican name, Cirio.  Starting as a single stem, they can grow to 50 feet, and often split into multiple stems which can twist into wonderful photogenic shapes. You can see a couple of Boojums at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, but it’s not the same.  Do yourself a favor. Take a break, drive to Baja, take photos of weird Boojums and pet a baby whale.  Oh, and check out the birds, too.


The above article was originally published in the Saddlebag Notes Newspaper, February, 2016.

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