Audubon’s annual bird count involves thousands of novice and professional birding volunteers across North, Central and South America. The 2008-2017 count is the 109th, the longest running wildlife census anywhere.
These counts take place around Christmas, when weather conditions are uninviting across much of the United States and Canada. Fair-weather birders from the north might consider joining the count in balmy Mazatlan, the “Pearl of the Pacific” resort destination just 750 miles south of Arizona.
Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico
Mazatlan is perfectly situated on the coast of Mexico, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. Sunshine is abundant year-round and soft trade winds, golden beaches and warm weather make this a premier destination for tourists around the world. Birders are also attracted to Mazatlan, especially for the many endemic species found in the surrounding area, and 2017 will mark the first Mazatlan Bird Festival (January 16-19), co-sponsored by Sendero Mexico and Pro Natura Noroeste.
Estero Del Yugo
The Estero (estuary) consists of two lagoons, one freshwater, one saltwater, and a tropical deciduous forest, all packed into just twenty seven acres. It is located at the far north end of Mazatlan, on Avenida Sabalo Cerritos. In spite of its limited size and the proximity of considerable tourist development, Estero del Yugo is home to more than two hundred resident and migratory bird species.
The 2017 Christmas Bird Count
This year’s annual bird count was held on December 27, and a group of twenty volunteers met at the Estero’s administration building at seven in the morning. The group split into two, with half driving to nearby Estero La Escopama, another excellent birding area.
The group that remained at Estero del Yugo was fortunate to be joined by Sandra Guido, the Estero’s Administrator, as well as her husband, Dr. Albert van der Heiden, an ichthyologist with CIAD (Centro de Investigacion en Alimentacion y Desarrollo), the conservation organization that originally funded the purchase of Yugo.
Through the Forest to the Levee
The group assembled behind the administration building, immediately spotting a Crested caracara, several Great kiskadees and a Vermillion flycatcher. Taking the easy trail to the left of the building, the group of ten entered the forest between the shoreline and Avenida Sabalo Cerritos, and encountered a number of migratory birds, including Black and white warbler, Plumbeous vireo, Black-throated gray warbler, and both Blue-gray and Black-capped gnatcatchers.
Once the shoreline was reached, many water birds were added, including Least and Pied-billed grebes and Green and Belted kingfishers. At four-tenths of a mile, the trail splits into a loop, and the group followed the right fork over a small footbridge and onto a long levee that separates the two lagoons.
The narrow levee offered close-up views of a resident crocodile, several species of herons and egrets, as well as Neotropic cormorants and Orange-crowned and Wilson’s warblers. Mid-way across the levee, a newly-constructed observation tower allows elevated views some twenty five feet above the water, and the braver volunteers climbed this tower for a sweeping view of both estuaries.
Near the end of the levee, large congregations of water birds were observed, including both Green and Blue-winged teals, Black-necked stilts and various ducks. From the forest, a Golden-cheeked woodpecker joined the list.
Returning to the Departure Point
The trail returns around the left of the saltwater lagoon, once more passing through tropical deciduous forest. Orange-fronted parakeets were spotted in the trees here, as well as a single Nutting’s flycatcher and several Streak-backed orioles.
Waiting near the end of the 1.6 mile walk, the ‘bird of the day’ appeared: a pair of Purplish-backed jays (one a yellow-billed juvenile). They flew back and forth across the trail several times, calling to each other and teasing the birders. Both landed in full sun-lit view, reflecting irridescent purple and blue, then disappeared just as the photographers in the group un-shouldered their cameras.
A Typically Great Birding Day at Estero del Yugo
Birding at Yugo is seldom disappointing, and the annual Christmas bird count for 2017 was no exception. In all, fifty six species were counted, an impressive number for this small, urban setting.