Baja California & the Sea of Cortez: Among the Great Whales Jan 19—27, 2018

Posted by Michael O'Brien


Michael O'Brien

Michael O'Brien is a freelance artist, author, and environmental consultant living in Cape May, New Jersey. He has a passionate interest in bird vocalizations and field ide...

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Amazing natural beauty, delightful weather, and spectacular sunrises and sunsets were hallmarks of our 2018 Baja cruise aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird. With fascinating wildlife sightings at every turn, and an accomplished and friendly team of naturalists on board, our group had a fun-filled, relaxing, and educational vacation. 

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale— Photo: Michael O’Brien


Our adventure began among massive white sand dunes, mangrove thickets, and tranquil waters of Magdalena Bay on the Pacific side of the peninsula. The shallow bays and waterways here are famous for their concentrations of Gray Whales, which gather here in winter to raise their calves, protected from Killer Whales, which stay in deeper offshore waters. We found several mothers with newborn calves and had many wonderful encounters, sometimes just a few feet from our Zodiacs! Although newborn Gray Whales average sixteen feet long and weigh a full ton, they are comical to watch as they learn how to swim, often surfacing awkwardly and tumbling in the process. Aside from Gray Whales, Magdalena Bay offered an amazing abundance and diversity of birdlife. A walk along the dune-mangrove interface yielded an interesting array of land birds, including “Mangrove” Yellow Warbler, Lark Bunting, and both “Belding’s” and “Large-billed” Savannah Sparrows (two subspecies that occur primarily in southern California and Baja). The shores of Magdalena Island were packed with sandpipers and plovers, offering a wonderful class on shorebird ID. Some highlights included American Oystercatcher, Snowy and Wilson’s plovers, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, and every “peep” in the book! Ever-present pelicans and frigatebirds, and a nice variety of herons, loons, grebes, and cormorants rounded out a very birdy first segment to our cruise. 

Read Michael’s full report in his Field Report.