Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Posts tagged ‘birdwatching’

Sailing and Hiking in the Sea of Cortez: Puerto Escondido to Los Gatos

November 27, 2014, Balance gleefully left the bay at Puerto Escondido and sailed across to Honeymoon Cove on Isla Danzante, a tiny distance of only 3.7 miles. We anchored in the beautiful shallow NW cove and gave thanks on Thanksgiving Day for a break from the wind and a peaceful anchorage. Our thoughts circled around our families so far away: living the cruising life this fall meant missing all the excitement young grandchildren generate at the holidays. Many cruisers fly home for the holidays, then return to the boat in January. Instead we ate a simple dinner and gazed up at the stars shining brightly overhead, while Balance gently rocked at anchor.

After a short paddle to shore the next day Goat Woman and Nikk enjoyed some exhilarating hiking. We conquered the small hill overlooking the other side of the island, then set our sights to the highest hill, a steep, zig-zagging scramble on loose volcanic rock. Thorny trees and spiky cacti often blocked the way. At the apex cliffs plunged steeply to the Sea in front of us, and as we looked across to Isla Carmen a pod of about 20 dolphins swam by, too far away to photograph, but close enough to enjoy with binoculars. Luckily neither one of us stumbled on the way down. We discovered 8 kayakers with Baja Adventures paddling into the cove. Back in Puerto Escondido we shared the dining room with them at the Hotel Tripui where their trip to the islands was stalled by the ferocious winds. Three days later they finally arrived at Isla Danzante.

P1120152.JPG

The next morning it was time to check the internet from the “office”; a sturdy rock on the hill with a view of surf, sea and the tower in Loreto. We wanted to be sure that another storm was not due for a few days, and with internet reassurance we headed to Bahia Salinas up at the NE end of Isla Carmen. At the tip of Isla Carmen we looked for Blue Whales, the largest whales in the world at 90 feet, but to no avail. We later learned that the Blue Whales wouldn’t swim into the area until January. Bahia Salinas is named for the huge salt ponds just behind the beach. The machinery and buildings looked old and rusting, we saw no piles of salt ready for harvest, and there were only a few Mexicans at the formerly busy operation.

P1120165.JPG

As we carefully tiptoed across the mushy salt pan, we spied a Loggerhead Shrike perched on some rusty machinery, waiting for a tasty dinner morsel of vertebrate or invertebrate. It’s a striking bird, with a large black bill, white, gray and black plumage, and a few black whiskers on either side of its bill. It prefers desert habitat where it skewers its prey onto thorns or spines, and then dines one bite at a time. (see photo at the end of this blog, after further text is typed, photos can’t be inserted, arghh)

On Sunday there was still no wind and Balance motor sailed with a reefed main down to Isla Monserrat and the Playa Amarilla (Yellow Beach, or Yellowstone Beach, as it is sometimes called in cruising guides). The shallow turquoise water with soft sand became the perfect place to anchor. When the only other boats left we once again were alone to explore the rocky shore and the striking yellow cliffs. Instead of the usual volcanic rocks, these cliffs are sandstone, and once again I want a geologist to tell us why the cliffs are so brilliantly colored yellow.

P1120184-0.JPG

Sweating and wilting, we continued in the heat of afternoon, from the beach to the yellow cliffs behind, and found an opportunity for one of us to pose partway up the cliff face. Can you see which one is posed on the cliff face?

P1120193-0.JPG

On Isla Danzante, and again on Isla Monserrat we found hundreds of black and yellow butterflies washed up on the shore. Why they wind up beached dead or dying is still a mystery to us. It reminded us of the fragility of all life, no matter how beautiful or precious the life may be, death comes for us all.

P1120179-0.JPG

While we searched the beach near the kayaks we found an iridescent wasp, it’s colors reminded me of the dichroic glass that I used to use to create fused glass art.

P1120201-0.JPG

White gypsum cliffs at the top of the hills on Isla Monserrat looked like snow as we sailed southwest late in the day. Dolphins came to play in the bow wake, gliding alongside Balance, then swooping off to surface, blow and breathe, before once again joining in at the bow. From a perch way out on the bow, you can look down at the dolphins cavorting.

P1120206.JPG

We’ve visited Agua Verde twice before, you can read about it and view some gorgeous pictures from a previous blog in 2013 The Magic of the Sea of Cortez . This time in the fall of 2014 we thought the calm, tranquil little East Cove to be the perfect spot. We pulled in near Solitary Voyager, a Valiant 40 which is a cousin to Balance. Sometime in the night the winds came, kicking up wind waves in the anchorage and by 8:30 am, after a very bouncy night in the V-berth both boats got out of Agua Verde. Solitary Voyager disappeared around the north side of the sandy island Arrecife San Marcial, while we motored east through the passage with our mainsail up for stability once again. As we turned to the south the northerly winds kicked up four foot waves that overtook us from behind. Balance sailed with main and headsail, but Helmer the autopilot failed to keep us on course and Nikk took the wheel for the next two hours until we arrived in the little protected north cove of Los Gatos at noon. Nikk placed Balance in only 11.5 feet of water, as close to shore as we could get to avoid the pounding waves wrapping around the headland. Last spring the bay was filled with boats, now we were the only boat once again until we saw a sailboat far to the east, making its way towards Los Gatos. It was Solitary Voyager! We thought they were sailing for Mazatlan, but their skipper, Kai, just wanted to sail farther out and down to islands to the south. The huge chop, with waves 3-4 feet high coming one after the other every 4 seconds made that a really uncomfortable ride, and the safest thing to do was come into Los Gatos to anchor. We got on the VHF radio to let them know it was OK for them to anchor right behind us to avoid being tossed around by the waves. Their skipper, Kai, paddled over on his surfboard on his way to the beach. Little did we know then how many adventures together awaited us.

It was a dark and stormy night…..oh wait, it was dark and bouncy, not stormy. I bounced and rolled in the forward V-berth before finally getting up and settling down on the settee with the lee cloth keeping me from pitching onto the floor when we rolled. Before dinner I had baked some chocolate chip cookie bars and after getting up in the morning, kayaked over to Solitary Voyager to deliver the treats, since I could tell that the captain and crew were pretty young. In fact, they were 24 or 25 years old, two Kiwis and a Canadian with a Kiwi father. They met at Uni in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand, and were traveling together in the Sea after Kai bought the boat in San Carlos and spent several months fixing her up to sail in Mexico and then across to New Zealand in the spring. Nikk paddled over to visit, too, and with lots of laughter and stories, we started getting to know this fun trio. After Solitary Voyager took off for San Evaristo Nikk and I paddled to shore to explore some more of the area, promising each other not to scale the highest hill and try to bushwhack through cacti and scrub like the first time we were here.

The geology of Los Gatos makes it look like the Southwestern United States, with red and cream sandstone bluffs, easy to climb. I wouldn’t want to try climbing them after a rainstorm when I bet they would be a slick ride.

P1120215.JPG

P1120221.JPG

P1120217.JPG

P1120228.JPG

The last picture shows a Hermit Crab we found, maybe a relative of Pepe, the famous Hermit Crab who lived aboard a sailboat for a short time.

In the next installment we travel from Los Gatos to La Paz, with many epic hikes and beautiful anchorages.

.

IMG_0699.JPG

Birds of the Costa Alegre

Once more the speeding train of time has swiftly moved, and here I am, back in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle after over a month in Portland, Oregon, helping my daughter’s household run smoothly after the birth in mid-December of the new, lovely granddaughter. With two older boys, 7 and 4 also at home, I was pretty much busy from 7am until about 9pm. So here at last are some pictures of the birds we saw in November and December as we explored the Costa Alegre (see the two previous posts for more about our adventures).

This post might be titled The Cacti and the Mangroves, because our closest sightings of birds occurred on the islands populated with huge cardon (?) cacti, or in the estuaries populated with mangroves. Very different ecologies, and very different bird sightings. The cacti were roosting spots for Magnificent Frigatebirds, Black Vultures, and Brown Boobies. Brown Pelicans roosted in nearby trees, and the occasional furtive dweller back in the thick tangles of vegetation would tease me with a quick sighting that defied identification. I was surprised to see Brown Boobies perched on cacti.

20140210-182659.jpg

The Brown Boobies were nesting underneath the cacti, and even out in the open on the occasional grassy spots, which is why Isla Pasavera is so popular with the birds, because of it’s steepness, there are areas where the vegetation is mostly grass.

20140210-183613.jpg

Just like on Isla Isabel last spring, the Boobies were hardly disturbed by our presence, I don’t think that too many people climb up the steep hillside above a tangle of cacti and other plants, to take pictures of the birds. We found this pair, were they greeting, courting, or fighting?

20140210-184014.jpg

At Punta Perala, and again at Tenecatita, there were long estuaries to explore with the kayaks, sometimes wide open, sometimes close and dense, so dense that in one place we needed to take apart our paddles and use just half the paddle like a canoe paddle, dodging the mangrove roots that closed in around us.

20140210-184736.jpg

20140210-185003.jpg

20140210-185211.jpg

After about two hours of paddling and exploring in the Tenecatita estuary, we came out of the thick growth of mangroves to find a lagoon perhaps a half mile wide, with a deserted fishing camp at one end.

20140210-185704.jpg

20140210-190227.jpg

The estuaries are rich with life, the vegetation and water and air supporting all the animals, from the tiny gnats and spiders to the large herons and egrets, all part of the teeming variety of creatures there. We didn’t ever see a crocodile in these waters, I’m not sure if they have been hunted for flesh and eggs by the local Mexicans, if they are really elusive, or if we just didn’t spot any. Here are some promised shots of some of the birds we saw.

20140210-191152.jpg
White Ibis

20140210-191516.jpg
Tri-colored Heron

20140210-192508.jpg

20140210-195837.jpg
The first picture was tweaked with Snapseed, to make it really green. The Great Blue Heron and the Great Egret look like they ingested green dye instead of fish. The next bird is a Lesser Yellowlegs, doing the Stroll. (That’s a dance from the early 60’s, in case you never saw American Bandstand).

In the mangroves we also saw Belted Kingfishers, Green Kingfishers, Long-billed Curlews, Marbled Godwits, Whimbrels, Black-necked Stilts, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, a Common Black Hawk, Mangrove Swallows, Tropical Kingbirds, Great Kiskadees, and we startled a Paraque, which usually is active only at night. Hope you’ve enjoyed this cactus and mangrove tour. For something different, the next blog will probably show shots of this past week, when I worked for two days in a spay and neuter clinic, and then got to do chemistry with four young friends here in the marina.

Costa Alegre, The Cheerful Coast

Finally I am posting a few pictures from our sail (actually from our mostly motorsail) down from Punta Mita to Barra de Navidad last month. That stretch of coastline is called Costa Alegre, which translates to The Cheerful Coast, or The Happy Coast. It’s a remote stretch of a beautiful junction of long, pristine beaches and rocky islands and outcrops. Some development has taken place, especially in Careyes, where a Club Med occupies one end of the little bay, and a stretch of very colorful mini-mansions and condos marches down to the former Bel-Air hotel at the other end.

20131217-094200.jpg
Little Tehuamixtle on Ipala Bay. We anchored here two nights and explored the town and hillside above. Nikk climbed the lighthouse and scared off the resident Black Vulture.

20131217-095206.jpg

We snorkeled in most of the bays we anchored in, and even found an old wreck right off the beach of Tehuamixtle. We have definitely decided that I am purchasing an underwater camera when I go to Portland in January. The kayaks also had a lot of use, taking us to shore for some landings in the waves that were way too exciting, or inland on the estuaries to look for birds, or around some of the islands.

20131217-100219.jpg

20131217-100540.jpg

Those last two shots show the different kinds of kayaking in peaceful estuaries or rolling waves. I don’t get pictures of the exciting landings through the surf because the camera is safely stowed away in the waterproof case, but that’s another reason to invest in a Go Pro waterproof camera that I can strap to my head.

The islands are mostly protected for the nesting birds. I’m going to do another post to show some of the birds we communed with on the way down.

20131217-101335.jpg
This is Isla Passavera in Chamela Bay, home to frigatebirds, vultures, and Brown Boobies, who all roost at the tops of cacti, a strange sight.

20131217-101753.jpg

To Be Continued….our friends are waiting for us to paddle in to spend a day ashore.

. If you travel this section of the west coast of Mexico by boat, you must find a bay with shelter from the prevailing swell, or have a rocky and rolly night. If you travel by land, just take a road off Hwy 200 coming down from Puerto Vallarta that travels west to the beach. There are magical spots for camping on or near the beach, just have plenty of insect repellant. We have specially-made screens for the hatches and the companionway opening, the screens are extra-fine mesh that keeps out even the tiny, horrible biting gnats called Jejenes, and we are so grateful for them!

When we sailed into Carayes, we felt like we’d been transported from rural Mexico to the Riviera.

20131217-164906.jpg

Careyes refers to the Careyes Turtles which lay eggs on the beach just south of the little village of Careyes. These are very endangered turtles, and the area has been turned into a closed and protected preserve. If you have a car you can drive to the preserve and ask to help in December, when the turtles come ashore, or later when the eggs hatch, to shepherd the little hatchlings safely to the ocean. I’m sure they would welcome contributions of money, too.

There was only one restaurant in Careyes, Playa Rosa, with pink bungalows for rent. We paddled in and ordered lunch and drinks. The lunch of fish in a delicious garlic and wine sauce, with rice and vegetables was very tasty, but we gagged when we received the bill of 900 pesos (about $78US)! I had to use the favorite expression again, “Hijole!”. (Holy crap!)

Hope you enjoyed the pictures, I will try to post a blog for those birders out there soon, but if that doesn’t happen for a while, then I’ll say Feliz Navidad!

Tag Cloud