Mexico / Baja California  / Wildlife
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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fauna

The Wildlife of Mexico

Baja California, land and sea – a real paradise for all who love nature!

The Baja California is part of the Sonoran desert ecologically. Of the four North American arid regions, this desert has the greatest number of species and is the home of a very diversified avifauna. More than 300 bird species live here, and you can discover many of them, when taking a walk. In particular the giant cacti (cardones) are very popular breeding-places and often serve as multi-story apartment buildings. Each spring, Gila woodpeckers hammer holes into the stems to breed there. After they have moved out, other species move in: elf owl, cactus wren, American kestrel, Western kingbird, and increasingly often imported European starlings and house sparrows. Other birds build their nests in the axils of cacti – for instance, white-winged doves, red-tailed hawks and mocking birds. From the very top of the cacti, turkey vultures and the crested caracara, Mexico‘s national bird, survey the landscape.

When you take a look at the lower stories, you will usually be able to observe pigeons, various hummingbirds and Gambel‘s quails. Sometimes “Roadrunner”, the swift cuckoo, will cross your way. The seas surrounding the peninsula – the Pacific Ocean in the west and the Gulf of California or Sea of Cortés in the east – are extremely rich in nutrients and fish, a paradise for seabirds. Their breeding areas – the islands in the Sea of Cortés – are still undisturbed and are protected under the national nature conservation laws. Everywhere near the sea, you can find brown pelicans, the elegant divers. Together with Western gulls, Heermann‘s gulls and magnificent frigate birds, they are present, wherever fish is landed or gutted. During boat excursions, double-crested cormorants and three other cormorant species can be observed on their breeding rocks, as can be blue-footed boobies and brown boobies. A typical example of the very efficient Mexican wild-life preservation policy is the osprey. Favorable breeding conditions for this bird are established everywhere by providing towers of electric transmission lines with platforms, and at least 150 pairs breed in the Guerrero Negro area alone.

Finally the mangrove zones. They cover large areas along the coasts and line tranquil bays where gray whales bring forth their offspring. The mangrove zone is the home of no less than nine heron species – e.g. the Louisiana heron, the snowy egret, and the yellow-crowned night heron – besides the white ibis and the belted kingfisher, the biggest kingfisher in the New World.

The Baja California is also an important migrating area for birds from the north. The range is overwhelming, from American white pelicans and brants to blue-winged teals, buffleheads and northern pintails to black-necked grebes and pied-billed grebes. During ebb tide, large areas of mud are exposed and attract wading birds such as avocets, long-billed curlews, greater and lesser yellowlegs, black-bellied plovers, and ruddy turnstones.

In April/May, as temperatures rise, lizards become active. Spiny lizards, side-blotched lizards and desert iguanas begin to scurry over the stones, and rattlesnakes of 18 species go preying, among them the peculiar Santa Catalina rattlesnake, which is endemic of the island of Santa Catalina. In the course of evolution, it lost its rattle, because it has no enemies in its habitat. Mammals are relatively seldom seen in Baja, on the one hand, because they live in hidden and secluded places, and on the other hand, because many species have become rare as a result of persecution and destruction of their biotopes. The latter factor affects mountain dwellers, e.g. cougars, ocelots and black bears, as well as lowland animals such as pronghorns and bighorn sheep. Of the two latter species, only several hundred animals have survived in a preserve in the Vizcaíno desert. Greater numbers are found of mule deer and white-tailed deer – and of coyotes, the wild mammal that is most often seen and heard. You may fairly often have a chance of seeing prairie dogs and other sciurids, brush rabbits, blacktailed jackrabbits, whereas other rodents such as the kangaroo rat are active only at night.

Watching the animal life in the sea is no less interesting. Divers often realize an old dream in the Baja, when they can look at schools of hammerheads, manta rays or pods of dolphins. No less than 60 shark species frequent the waters around the peninsula, among them the plankton-eating whale shark – the largest of its kind. The marine turtles, on the other hand, which were so frequent formerly, become increasingly rare despite protective laws.

Some 900 known fish species live in the Gulf of California, among them the spearfish (sailfish, marlin and swordfish). These elegant fishes of prey can be more than 15 ft (5 m) long; they travel enormous distances and can briefly attain a speed of more than 60 mph (100 km/h). The marlin owns its renown to emingway‘s novel “The Old Man and the Sea”. Its great fighting strength makes it a favorite prey of “sport fishers”, a fact that sustains a whole industry. The Baja California ranks as a stronghold of anglers for spearfish, who take the sword as a trophy all over the world. The large tuna species, e.g. the yellow-fin tuna, the wahoo and the mahimahi, are also caught in great numbers.

Whales and dolphins are seen on almost every boat trip. Bottle-nosed dolphins, common dolphins and spinning dolphins are not worth mentioning; humpback whales, sperm whales, killer whales, and even blue whales are seen somewhat less frequently.

The secret kings of the Baja are the California sea lions. They are said to number 150,000 animals, with 60% living on the coasts and along the islands of the Sea of Cortés. The young are born between May and August and impress onlookers by their comical shows and unbelievable swimming skills. Baja  California, land and sea – a real paradise for all who love nature!