Sunday, April 1, 2012

Loreto Bay - for the Birds!

There are many worlds within this place that I call my home, and this week I was introduced to another of those worlds, that of “birding” by a long term Loreto resident, Tom Haglund, who has had a life-long interest in this hobby and has for many years been observing and cataloging and recording the bountiful bird life that surrounds us here.

In fact, Tom’s passion extends beyond simply observing birds, as he is the author of a comprehensive and well respected website: where he has posted over 500 thumbnails of his own stunning photographs of species that he has observed in the area, each of which can be clicked on to enlarge into a beautiful portrait.  Under the “Names” tab he lists over 150 species by their common, Latin and Spanish names, again with pictures.  If that is not enough, Tom has also branched out into a parallel study of mainly insects and butterflies with some other small mammals of the area under the “Others” tab, again with over 150 thumbnails.  And he also offers fine quality prints of over 100 of his photographs which can be ordered from his website, any of which would add a truly local touch of color to any home or office.

Tom had agreed to take me on one of his early morning bird walks and we met at the south end of the man-made lake that separates the 10th and 18th fairways on another perfect still morning about an hour after sunrise.  Never having experienced “birding” before, I was struck immediately by the fact that Tom’s trained eye saw things that were all around us – but that I was oblivious to.  Within minutes, he was pointing out tiny birds perched on a twig, maybe 50 yards away, identifying them by name, sometimes with their Latin and even Spanish monikers, and describing unique features – flashes of color, habits, songs, where they were in their seasonal molt, whether they were coming or getting ready to leave for the north, or if they were indigenous.

Carrying my binoculars and telephoto camera, I was lucky to catch a glimpse, or sometimes grab a photo of what he was identifying, before he was picking out another subject in another direction and describing their unique features or behaviors – seemingly always with another story or anecdote from a seemingly endless trove of experiences.

I quickly realized that it would be impossible for me to record any sort of comprehensive list of what we were seeing, let alone provide any sense of the vast amounts of information that Tom has at his fingertips, after years and years of patient and passionate observations he has made of these surroundings.  But then he mentioned that he would be posting a list of the species we encountered under the “Recent Sightings” tab on his website, (look for the trip on 03/29 at Nopolo).  His other favorite haunt is at Las Garzas, an arroyo on the outskirts of town.  As you can see from this diary, that records sightings several times a week going back over three years, this is a serious passion for Tom – verging on an obsession, and his dedication to his feathered friends is apparent.

When he is not observing an example or describing its behavior or other unique details, Tom is a source of fascinating information about why this area in particular is so rich in species and such a prime location for Birding.  The unique and beautiful surroundings, that many of us appreciate, but too often take for granted, that combines the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range to the west, transitioning through the desert plains to the estuaries and shoreline of the Sea of Cortez, provides a wide range of elevations, micro-climates and vegetation.  Combine these natural features with the man-made development of fresh water sources, intensive irrigated landscaping with many flowering species and acres of grasslands on the golf course and we are surrounded by a unique environment that has become a magnet for dozens of migrating and resident species – truly a Birder’s Paradise!

Far from a voice in the wilderness, Tom has become a vocal advocate on behalf of the subjects of his passion.  As an avid golfer (his obsession with birdies extends to the round white variety as well as the feathered ones!) Tom has seen the evolution of the Loreto Bay area through its several stages up to and including the current management by Homex.  He was telling me that he has recently approached the management of Homex and introduced them to the staggering potential of appealing to the Birder’s hobby as another source of interest and potential for the future development of the area.

It is no coincidence that the sheer numbers and demographics of the hobby would attract the attention of any Developer looking to create new markets.   According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, birdwatchers contributed 36 billion USD to the US economy in 2006, and one fifth (20%) of all Americans are identified as birdwatchers!  And Loreto is uniquely situated to add birding to its growing list of eco-sensitive tourism attractions including kayaking, snorkel and diving and exploring the surrounding desert environment.

After a couple of hours, most of which we spent circling the golf course lake at a leisurely pace, stopping often to observe a subject, or listen to a call, and then travelled to a second spot near the north end of Nopolo to an area of brush near the Tennis Center where we observed yet another species of bird that was exhibiting its own unique mating rituals.  I realized that Tom’s easy enthusiasm, fueled by his vast experience and knowledge, had given me a glimpse of another’s passion for a world I had not realized existed when I woke that morning.

While I will never share his level of commitment to this fascinating sub-culture of birding, this quiet adventure, where Tom shared so willingly his obvious love of nature and allowed me to share a glimpse of yet another amazing aspect of this magical place, opening the door to another world – that of the birds that are all around us here – which I will not take for granted again, while I am “Living Loreto”!