THE WILDS OF BAJA

1 Dec

For those of you who have never been here, I’m sure that some of you assume that Baja is a settled area that probably resembles some of the places you go for a weekend campout.

 

The population density is actually small for the landmass. It’s clustered in very small to middling sized communities, isolated from each other and connected only by rough, dirt roads and the one arterial highway, Mexico 1. Everywhere else is desert, that looks to the uninitiated like empty wilderness, but that’s far from the truth.

 

This place is alive!

 

The first thing you learn when you come down here is to never put your hand where you can’t see it. There are scorpions here, and although they aren’t deadly, they can give you a nasty sting, so you never put your hand under things and you shake out your shoes in the morning, if you’ve left them outside over night.

 

A Tarantula we found at the base of a rock wall, It may not look it but it was alive.

Spiders in a variety of flavours also live here, from the Brown Recluse, which is a nasty bugger though rarely encountered, to a strange flat black one that can leave you with a nasty bite. It moves incredibly fast and has the added ability to slip under doors. It also lives under things, so again, watch where you put your hands!

 

There are Tarantulas here as well and unlike most of the rest of the arachnid family is fairly innocuous. Now this is saying something coming from me. I do not like spiders, but Tarantulas are so big and furry that for some reason my hindbrain doesn’t see them as dangerous and so my Fight or Flight response just doesn’t come into play.

 

This little lady was just looking for a place to lay her eggs

We see a variety of bugs in our campsite every year and most of them are harmless and interesting, if not downright beautiful to watch and look at. This Preying Mantis marched up our Mesquite tree and proceeded to lay eggs, which we then watched carefully. We were rewarded eventually with a full hatch of tiny miniature mantis. They dried off, puffed themselves up and left to make their own way in life, in less than 30 minutes.

 

Butterflies and moths are constant visitors and the oranges we put out for the birds are certainly an added incentive for them to hang around for a quick feed. This giant moth is only seen in full dark and is easily confused with the tiny bats that appear after sunset, when in flight. They are almost exactly the same size. These are not the only two creatures that are confused for one another. There is another moth that lives further north, around San Quintin, in Baja Norte, and its flight pattern and size makes it a dead ringer for a hummingbird. The only way we could tell the difference was to catch one and check it out.

 

If we hadn't shone a light on the orange at night, we never would have see this beautiful moth.

There are a great many types of snakes and lizards here as you can imagine, this being a desert after all. Even the various islands can boast of having endemic species found nowhere else in Baja, but here’s a kicker, there’s frogs here too.

 

Yeah, that’s right. Frogs.

 

No, they aren’t everywhere, if they were, they’d be toads and there are some of them too, Horned Toads, and a few other species, but I’m talking frogs. When you hike up into the canyons, there are standing pools of water, most likely fed from underground sources since they rarely dry up completely and drought conditions seem to have little affect on them. Frogs can be found around them. At first you are only aware of them from their singing, but eventually you see tiny movement and focus in on frogs moving about the rock walls that encompass the water pools. This is a Pacific Tree Frog and they are tiny, this one was about the size of a quarter, but we’ve found some that are no bigger than your fingernails. Notice just how well they blend into their surrounding!

 

Just one of 3 types we see in the canyons

I mentioned snakes didn’t I? Lots of snakes, almost all of them are completely harmless, though there are rattlesnakes and a few others with a nasty reputation. They rarely appear during the time we’re here because as far as they’re concerned, it’s winter and they hole up until it gets warm. A couple were sighted this year, as quite a few of us arrived earlier than normal and the rattlers hadn’t retreated to their dens, but they are gone now, not to be seen again until April. The rest of the serpents who frequent this area, usually only come out at night to lie on the warm dirt roads. As one book author states, if you want to see snakes down here, get yourself a good head lamp and go for walks at night on a nice dusty, dirt road. Occasionally, various snakes are spotted, but mostly all we see are their tracks, left as they move across the road during the night.

 

I would have included descriptions and photos, but first I would have had to stay up late at night to get shots of snakes and second considering just how many different varieties of Lizards live here we would have been talking about it for days!

 

Waiting patiently for a handout.

Birds are constant visitors and companions here in our campsite and provide an ever-changing view, from the Pelicans that work the waters just off the beach, to the Roadrunners that seem to have a specific feeding route, which we just happen to be on.

Just checking out the campsite

 

The Pelicans are pretty smart and never miss a chance to hang around anyone cleaning fish. They know that there’s going to be heads, guts and skeletons that are not wanted and these gentle birds have a physiology that allows them to digest anything that will fit into their throats. During certain times of the winter they are very well fed here and all you have to do is walk out to the waters edge holding something in your hands and they will appear almost as if by magic. The only sound they make is a very quiet hiss.

 

As I mentioned earlier, we put out oranges for the birds. They are cheap to buy, only 50 pesos for a 10-pound bag, and they provide a good food source. Not to mention continuously excellent photo opportunities, right outside our front windows. We place them in a bush beside us that is already frequented by many varieties of birds due to its constant supply of flowers, seeds and berries. There is a steady stream of Hummingbirds, Verdins, Orioles, Scrub Jays, Vireos, Mockingbirds, Woodpeckers, Sapsuckers, Cardinals, even the occasional Dove and Quail. We also get a few more rare visitors, such as Cactus Wrens, Pyrrhuloxias, Phoebes and these two.

 

Just taking a break

The Ash Throated Flycatcher has so many similar looking relatives that without the camera it’s virtually impossible to figure out which one you’re looking at. These birds aren’t here for the sweet juice or pulp of the orange. They’ve figured out that bees and other bugs come for that, so they just lay in wait in the branches of the bush, and pick them off at their leisure.

We got the impression, he was enjoying the orange.

 

This Chipmunk appeared for the first time yesterday morning. We usually only see these little fellows, running at top speed across the road in front of the car. It has become a running joke here that they seem to have developed a new Olympic sport of running across the road in front of any approaching vehicle. They never get hit since they move at Hyper speed and we are moving slowly due to the bumpy road conditions, but none of us can figure out why they seem impelled to dash across the road only when a vehicle is approaching. Our guess is that now that one has found this new and tasty food source, it won’t be long before others follow. Hmm, I think our orange bill is going to go up!

 

Isn't she just beautiful?

Last Sunday, as we headed to the car to go to the Market, who should be standing just a few feet from the van but this little lady. You know that expression, “A deer in the headlights”? That was almost the impression we got as we all sized one another up. We stared at each other for quite a few minutes before she decided we weren’t dangerous and slowly sauntered off into the bushes. Kit Foxes are numerous around here and though they can be Rabies carriers, they are beautiful creatures and we love to see them. They are not sighted frequently but we have seen one at least three times this year. Whether it’s the same one or not is virtually impossible to tell as they all have very similar markings and usually disappear faster than we can get a camera up. We were lucky with this one, as it appeared to be a young one that was just as interested in us as we were in her. Sometimes you really are in the right place at the right time.

 

Sound asleep!

And on that note, I’m going to leave you with this shot of a young California Sea Lion asleep. We were out kayaking on Tuesday and off in the distance we could see something on the surface of the water. As we got closer we realized it was a Sea Lion, sound asleep, so we decided to see just how close we could get. As you can see from the shot, we got to within 15 feet before he woke with a start and dove. We sat still and he eventually resurfaced just a few feet from where he went down. He came back up a couple of more times in the same place and I guess he figured we were harmless, so he went right back to sleep!

 

We just never know what we’re going to see next and so it pays to always have a camera available at a moments notice. We are surrounded by wildlife here and are very appreciative of being able to experience it on a daily basis. I haven’t mentioned the many fish eating birds, like the Ospreys or Frigates, Cormorants, Herons or Egrets that grace our shores, nor have I included those marine animals that abound in the water at our doorstep. The many land animals that we see or hear regularly are also too numerous to include in this short space. We’ll leave discussion of these inhabitants of Baja to another time, meanwhile I shall endeavor to have my camera with me at all times and take photos if I can!

 

I wonder what we’ll see tomorrow?

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