Birding for Conservation

Birding for Conservation-Christine Smith

By Christine Smith / Environment for the Americas

Hello! My name is Christine and this is my first blog post for Terra Peninsular. My traveling companion, Lupita, and I have been lucky enough to embark on a three-month long internship with Terra in Baja California. The internship is a partnership with Environment for the Americas, a nonprofit in the United States dedicated to increasing diversity in the sciences and connecting people to birds, all in the name of awareness and conservation.

The first activity of our internship was a trip from January 12th to the 26th. The goal of said trip was to survey birds of interest along the coasts of Baja California and Baja California Sur. The peninsula is home to multiple priority sites that are crucial to what are called “umbrella” species some of which are endemic and losing habitat.

This trip was more amazing than I could have ever imagined. We had the privilege of working in places that many residents of Baja never even see. Pristine beaches, areas where birds find sustenance and rest in the winter, may appear desolate at first glance but they are actually a part of chain of habitats crucial to the survival of many animals. Upon closer observation, there is so much life here. Shorebirds feeding on macroinvertebrates in the sand, plants growing on sand dunes and in marshes, birds of prey hunting, tides shifting, and evidence of nocturnal inhabitants.

Our trip began in San Ignacio, a site of great importance to both endemic and migratory species. There, we met the rest of our team, partners from various organizations in La Paz. Our primary species of interest were shorebirds (part of the Migratory Shorebird Project), black brants, reddish egrets, oystercatchers, snowy plovers, red knots, and species endemic to the peninsula. Having had some previous experience surveying shorebirds for the Migratory Shorebird Project in Alaska, this part of the surveys was more practice for me than anything else.

Having expert birders as our leads on this trip was such a luxury as I had the freedom to ask for help and guidance to improve my identification skills. We all counted and identified birds as a team reinforcing the results of the primary observers. Bouncing our observations off of each other allowed me to sharpen my skills in counting large flocks and identification while narrowing the team’s margin of error.

We continued traveling north to Laguna La Bocana, Guererro Negro, and ultimately, San Quintin. Along the way I saw almost all of the bird species endemic to the peninsula, estuaries, and the reserve in San Quintin that Terra Peninsular protects, and grey whales.

The reserve in San Quintin might have been my favorite site of the trip. It was beautiful; marshes, beaches, and sand dunes, moss, lichen, coyote tracks, black skimmers, snowy plovers, the list goes on. Laguna Ojo de Liebre near Guerrero Negro was swarming with grey whales and their calves. I had never been so close to a whale in my life. Just out of arms reach. Mothers with their calves, pushing them to the surface so they can breathe. I actually saw their eyes, heard them breathe, and watched them swim under our boat. My heart pounded in amazement, actually seeing their massiveness, seeing them living. I was moved.

Baja California is such a gorgeous place, it’s an honor to have had the chance to explore it with people who are working to protect its habitats. The habitats of Baja California are unique and invaluable. The species we monitored are indicators to how these areas are being affected by climate change and in turn help better inform conservation efforts. I’m so grateful to have played even a small part in this.

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