An hour’s drive north from San José is the small and pretty town of Santiago, centered on a large and largely inaccessible patchwork of pond, marsh, and pasture, protected by curious dogs and pushy cattle.
Doesn’t sound all that promising. So, inevitably, we had a blast on our morning’s birding there; the only thing that could have made it better was a sewage treatment plant.
We didn’t see any real rarities, but the air was good, the weather warm, and the birding easy. We simply pulled off at a nice weedy ditch and waited.
Among the first visitors — not counting house pets and livestock — was this gorgeous Xantus’s hummingbird, the most colorful of the species-level endemics of Baja California. We’d seen a few in the days before, and I’d been lucky enough to be introduced to the species a couple of decades ago in the other BC, but this individual returned again and again to feed at eye level just a few feet away from us as we stood on the roadside.
We tore ourselves away to make the circuit of the town, stopping every few yards to listen and look and peer through the fences and the vegetation at the ponds. Common gallinules, snowy and great egrets, ruddy ducks, and spotted sandpipers haunted the edges, while gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers screeched and yelped from the palms and telephone poles.
As the morning warmed, raptors became more obvious: first a Cooper’s hawk, then the usual red-tailed hawks, and late on our walk two zone-tailed hawks, obviously a pair and obviously in unchallenged possession of their hillside home.
It was getting hot, and we were getting hungry, but one last dusty driveway called. It led past a thick hedge with Lincoln’s sparrows and Belding’s yellowthroats skulking inside, into a scruffy pasture where a flock of Cassin’s kingbirds was joined by what were presumably the local pair of vermilion flycatchers and a lovely little gray flycatcher down for the winter.
It was a pleasant morning’s birding, one worth repeating should you ever find yourself in BCS with some spare time. And don’t worry about the dogs and the cows: they’re friendly.