Monday, April 6, 2009

A whale-watching iguana

The rocky coast at the tip of Baja California offers good places for whale watching. Obviously, not only humans are monitoring the blue surface of the sea. From the landscaped terrace of the Hilton resort between Cabos San Lucas and San José, this iguana enjoys the view as much as hotel visitors and guests.
Iguanas are not shy. They may hang out with you for a long time and even watch your belongings, while you are going for a hike along the beach.

Interesting Iguana Links
West Coast Iguana Research
Mexico Herpetology/Ctenosaura

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pineapple face at fair in San José Del Cabo

Each year on March 19, San José del Cabo celebrates the feast of its patron saint. This festival features a fair, music, and dancing. This year's festival started just before sunset on March 18, with a band playing in front of the mission and a clown entertaining children from the main stage. The pineapple face shown here was just one curiosity to be found at the fair stands on Mijares Boulevard.

Centro Historico San José Del Cabo

The historical downtown of San José del Cabo in Baja California is a pedestrian friendly neighborhood.

Downtown San José has a main square with shaded benches and narrow streets lined with flowering trees. Artsy and colorful buildings, sculptures, wall paintings, interestingly placed tiles and mosaics are waiting to be discovered. The tile composition over the mission portal (lower right picture), however, is less joyful. It illustrates the killing of Father Nicolás Tamaral during a rebellion of the native people in 1734—about four years after Jesuit missionaries, including him, founded the mission in April 1730 to establish a haven for commercial ships in the Cabos region.

Gastropod shells from the Estero San José beach

The Estero San José and the Sea of Cortez are in some places separated by only a thin bar of sand. One can find shells on both sides of the sand bar. At one of the last winter days, this hand full of mollusk shells was taken from the many shells laying all the way along the lagoon next to the water line. The elongated spires of the shell sculpture show both spiral and axial lines. All shells were found to be dextral: when facing the observer, they have their aperture (the opening through which the mollusk's foot and head protrudes in living animals) on the right side of the axis around which the spiral lines are winding anti-clockwise towards the apex.
Since the lagoon receives freshwater from the Rio San José, the shells should belong to some gastropod species that do well in a habitat with fresh or less salty water. I wonder how much salt water they can tolerate after big waves will have flooded the lagoon with a large amount of sea water?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Estero San José

Paseo San José, the boulevard with the beach hotels at the Bahía San José del Cabo, ends—east of town—after passing this fountain (left picture) and turns into a path leading to beaches and the Estero San José (right picture). This is a natural freshwater estuary. The Perícúe Indians were settling here in the past. The estuary, with over 250 species of birds, is a protected ecological reserve.

Find out more:
San Jose Estuary by Bob Chamlee
A walk in the Estuary

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pelicans and vultures in Baja California

In March of this year, we saw a large number of brown pelicans at the beach between the Pacific Ocean and the lagoon of the bird sanctuary in Todos Santos, Mexico. Pelicans are not the only birds in this area. Over 70 bird species are said to live here or come (like us) as seasonal visitors. Looking upward to the sky, we saw many other birds flying around and surveying the area: vultures. In fact, on the trail between the lagoon and the rocky slope, we passed a few spots covered with several dead pelicans. So, the vultures shouldn't be such a surprise.
Why were there so many dead pelicans. Natural Death? Pollution? Or domoic acid from toxic diatom blooms? In the literature, I found an article reporting and analyzing the massive death of Pelecanus occidentalis in January 1996, at the tip of the Baja California peninsula [1]. This study relates the described event of sea bird death to the fact that pelicans were feeding on mackerel contaminated by domoic acid-producing diatoms. Domoic acid, a neurotoxin, can bioaccumulate in marine organisms that feed on phytoplankton. Thus, sea food can become harmful for sea birds. But I don't know if this explains what we see in Todos Todos.
Fortunately, the blanket of healthy looking pelicans at the beach seemed much larger than the spots of dead ones.

[1] A. S. Beltrán, M. Palafox-Uribe, J. Grajales-Montiel, A. Cruz-Villacorta and J. L. Ochoa: Sea bird mortality at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: Evidence that toxic diatom blooms are spreading. Toxicon 1997, 35 (3), pp. 447-453. DOI: 10.1016/S0041-0101(96)00140-7

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Brown pelican at beach of Todos Santos

This brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is standing at the beach of Todos Santos in Baja California, Mexico. It has its neck and head folded back, relaxing in a bill-on-body posture. This is the same head position with which pelicans can be seen during their flights. They keep their necks and heads folded back on their shoulders while cruising the coast or sailing over the water.