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BAJA CALIFORNIA: THE LAST KINGDOM OF THE WHALES

Saturday 24th March - Saturday 7th April 2018

MIKE WATSON

A Humpback Whale slamming off the southern coast of the Baja Peninsula from the deck of MV Searcher (Mike Watson)

A Humpback Whale slamming off the southern coast of the Baja Peninsula from the deck of MV Searcher (Mike Watson)

Believe it or not there were a few folks who joined our 2018 Baja California: The Last Kingdom of the Whales cruise for the birds! Whilst we did see some very good ones, everyone was completely taken by the fantastic whale show we experienced during our cruise around Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. It really is something else! It was almost like all my previous whale encounters rolled into one trip. Incredible really! Cetacean highlights were the close encounters with Laguna San Ignacio’s tame and inquisitive Gray Whale cow and calf pairs, two Great Sperm Whale pods, five Blue Whales, 20 Humpback Whales including several breaching displays, four very close Fin Whales, a huge pod of Short-finned Pilot Whales and last and least three diminutive Dwarf Sperm Whales. Pinnipeds were well represented with Guadalupe Fur Seals and Northern Elephant Seals on Islas San Benito plus California Sea Lions and Harbour Seals. We also did quite well for mega fishes too with Ocean Sunfish, the endangered Great Hammerhead Shark, Thresher Shark and numerous Whale Sharks on the snorkelling excursion in Bahia La Paz.

Above the water birding highlights on the cruise included Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses, Least and Black Storm Petrels, Pink-footed and Black-vented Shearwaters, Red-billed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird, Blue-footed and Brown Boobies, Sabine’s, Heermann’s and Yellow-footed Gulls, Elegant Tern, Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers, Scripps’s and Craveri’s Murrelets, Cassin’s Auklet, tiny Xantus’s and Costa’s Hummingbirds, Gila Woodpecker and Gilded Flicker, Verdin, Grey Thrasher and Phainopepla, Mangrove Warbler, Scott’s and Hooded Orioles, ‘San Benito’ Savannah Sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia and a host of common western species. The mainland Baja Extension produced the two other Baja endemic species, the tricky-to-find Baird’s Junco and Cape Pygmy Owl high up in the Sierra de la Laguna as well as Greater Roadrunner, the gorgeous Elf Owl, Thick-billed Kingbird and Grey and Cassin’s Vireos of note in some wonderful scenery.

However, the real stars of the show were our superb vessel MV Searcher and its amazing Captain Art Taylor and his crew, who made the cruise a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. The boat itself is in beautiful condition and is very comfortable, the food was simply superb, courtesy of Charlie and Dan and the crew could not do enough for us. They also took spotting cetaceans to a new level, picking them up and identifying them miles away on the horizon and once Captain Art had them within range we saw his special skills at work in slowly approaching them until most were just off the bow. I imagine he would have made a master whaler in another lifetime but happily everything on Searcher is done with the utmost respect for the wildlife of Baja, which is one of the reasons they are permitted access to its protected marine preserves by the Mexican government.

The birding highlight of the tour was finding Baird's Junco high in the Sierra de la Laguna of southern Baja (Mike Watson).

The birding highlight of the tour was finding Baird's Junco high in the Sierra de la Laguna of southern Baja (Mike Watson).