Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mexico, Day 4 - 11 Nov 2008

We would be arriving in port at Mazatlan this morning at approx. 7 am. I woke up early and stepped out onto the balcony just in time to watch the sunrise on the horizon. As visibility improved I could see the mountains in the distance, and a couple of Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring in the golden skies. Small and large fishing boats were nearby, so we were near port. Several Brown Pelicans floated by, as well as small flocks of Laughing Gulls in basic plumage.

Mazatlan is an important fishing port and an important sanctuary for thousands of migrating shorebirds. It will be hosting its first birding festival in January. I was looking forward to the birding and estuary tour I’d be taking today.

Leaving the ship I met up w/ my tour and its leader (Capt. Polo). We boarded a bus for a short ride down to the pier where we then walked a floating dock to take a covered catamaran into the nearby mangrove estuary. As we pushed out I attempted to photograph the numerous Mangrove Swallows that were flying about, but had no luck. I did manage a keeper shot of a small group of Heerman’s Gulls that were swimming nearby. As Polo pointed out Stone Cliff to us I photographed the numerous Brown Pelicans that were roosting on the nearby buoys and light towers. A female Magnificent Frigatebird soared overhead and provided a few pics.

The port was lined with numerous fishing boats, both old and very-old. This one was gutted from a fire and bore the stains of its misfortune. Pelicans lined the masts of the numerous fishing boats and the rocks that lined the shoreline. A nearby light tower provided a nice lookout for a Great Blue Heron. The first mudflat that we encountered hosted hundreds of Turkey and Black Vultures and roosting Laughing Gulls, Royal and Caspian Terns. Unfortunately it was severely backlit and a enough of a distance away to discourage any photo attempts. Instead, I concentrated on the fishing boats and fisherman that unloading large catches of tuna. Rusty fishing boats make for some great photos since they provide so much visual interest.

Farther out another mudflat hosted hundreds of Black Skimmers, American Oystercatchers, Willets, Laughing Gulls, Black-bellied Plovers, Western Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts, and Marbled Godwits. The trees behind them held dozens of White Ibis and Great, Snowy and Cattle Egrets. A lone Osprey sat perched atop a nearby snag. Again, the water was too shallow to approach, and I would have to settle with photographing from a distance.

Continuing on we passed by a sand spit that was being hunted by a famed Mexican Tiger. The poor little guy looked emaciated… I took the opportunity to photograph the many fisherman (2), (3) that we passed as we headed toward the mangroves. As we passed more mudflats I saw Long-billed Curlews, more Caspian Terns, and groups of Willets and Marbled Godwits. More Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets hunted the muddy shoreline, and small flocks of Great-tailed Grackles flew in and out of the mangroves. We spotted a Yellow-crowned Night Heron and another Great Blue Heron. As I photographed them an Osprey flew overhead.

We were offered small bottles of beer produced in the nearby brewery, but I was too busy shooting at passing Laughing Gulls and Caspian Terns to accept. At one point we were leaving open water and heading back into more mangroves when Polo took a small fish out of a bucket and held it up. We were then introduced to three of the cutest pelicans you’ll ever see: Pepe, Pancho and Juanito. The birds were stowing away on the top of the boat and hopped down onto the deck at Polo’s request. Being in the back of the boat I had difficulty taking their pictures through the rest of the passengers, but was happy to just watch their antics.

Pelicans were everywhere! In trees and on rocky outcroppings along the shore. A Brown Booby shared a nearby snag with a pair of Double-crested Cormorants. A pair of Snowy Egrets flew past us and provided a nice flight capture. More Willets and Little Blue Heron later pulled into one of many narrow channels lined with mangroves. As Polo described their ecology, we killed the motor and sat quietly and listened to hundreds of mangrove clams snapping open and shut.

When we finally reached our first destination we hopped off the boat and walked the shoreline for a few minutes. I managed to see several White-winged Doves, an unknown oriole, and several Yellow Warblers. A Tropical Kingbird landed nearby and was soon joined by a Great Kiskadee. We didn’t stay long. Instead, we hopped on a large covered trailor towed by a tractor and headed across the nearby coconut plantation toward the ocean shoreline. Our driver, Polo, his niece Anita, and their dog Peti entertained us as we drove along the shoreline. I was too slow with the camera and missed a fly-over Crested Caracara, but did see groups of Black-necked Stilts, Willets, American Oystercatchers and Whimbrels along the shoreline as we headed toward the restaurant where we’d have lunch. At one point the dog hopped off the trailer and chased a Willet into the surf. We continued on, reassured that he’d catch up to us later.

Along the way I spotted another Crested Caracara, and we stopped long enough for a few flight shots as it took off along the shoreline and flew a short distance. It looked like it caught a lizard, but after reviewing pics it had just picked up a bit of trash that lined the shoreline.

After lunch at a shoreline restaurant I wandered out back to bird the nearby trees. I spotted several Gila Woodpeckers, and found a very vocal Tropical Kingbird perched in a dead tree. It stayed long enough for me to digiscope it w/ the Nikon ED 50. I got numerous pics (2), (3), from about 50 feet away before it flew off. Nearby I flushed several Plain-breasted Ground Doves, but one stayed long enough for a photo. Numerous Turkey and Black Vultures soared overhead, and as I snapped away at them I caught movement in the shrubs nearby. A Broad-billed Hummingbird!

I chased it along the road and managed a few flight shots as it fed on pretty purple vines. Walking back to the restaurant I spotted a young Iguana on a nearby wall, and a much larger Iguana feeding in a nearby tree.

Hooking back up with the tour we boarded the trailer and headed back to the pier to take another boat back to the ship. As we were getting on board I looked overhead and saw hundred of Black and Turkey Vultures forming a large kettle over the mountains. Among them was a single Short-tailed Hawk that provided a photo good enough for identification.

After one last look at Stone Cliff we returned to the pier where we started the tour only to find it collapsed in the water. As the owners struggled to pull it out of the water I photographed a sailfish that was just unloaded from a fishing charter and about to be strung up for display. With the dock finally back up we were able to leave the boat, board the bus and return to the ship. I would then get to spend the next several days sorting through 2000+ photos I took today.
Special thanks go to Capt. Polo and the King David Co. for a terrific tour!

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