Sardine Disco Balls, Or Cabo Pulmo


A free diver swooping into a sardine ball. Credit Keith Sepe

Joanna Klein’s story in the Science section of the New York Times this week, titled Swimming With the Mysterious Sardine Disco Balls of the Philippines, has had me thinking in recent days about the Gulf of California, and specifically about Villa del Faro. If you have reason to be in the Philippines, click the image above to get a quick view of what may be in store for a diver in certain waters.

But otherwise, I will riff off that photo in the direction of Baja California Sur. The intensity of those sardine schools are comparable to the biodiversity in the waters of Cabo Pulmo. Continue reading

The Gulf Of California In Front Of Villa Del Faro


Seth sent a snapshot he quickly took on his phone yesterday late morning at Villa del Faro. He had already told me the day before that they were seeing whales in the same vicinity of where the boats are in this photo, but he had not had his phone handy to snap a picture. So this would have to do. It looked as though a regatta was passing by. Continue reading

Villa Del Faro Morning Walk

vdfwalk1This post from yesterday reminds me of an early morning walk I took a few days ago with Seth and Jocelyn, when these two donkeys came wandering down the road. One seemed determined to get his head and shoulders portrait in the best possible light.

So I indulged him, and both seemed happy with a bit of nose-petting. No carrots, but never mind. When we continued our walk they started to follow, but then, nope. They wandered off in the opposite direction.

vdfwalk2Donkeys do that. A walk at dawn is the best way to know a place–at its quietest, and as per donkey logic, in the best possible light. I had arrived at Villa del Faro after a visit at Chan Chich Lodge, where dawn greets you with howler monkeys howling, and on a walk you will definitely hear a symphony of birdsong. At Villa del Faro you will hear birdsong, but different; at most it will be chamber music, more likely solos and duets. Continue reading

A Place To Reflect, To Reconnect, To Recharge


This past week I have been at Villa del Faro with Seth and Jocelyn, reviewing plans for 2017. It was a week in which the thought came to us: people need time to reflect (among other important things). I took this photo of the Stone Beach Cottage at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday and I can visualize many friends, colleagues, and plenty of as yet unknown folks who would benefit from some reflection time there. Continue reading

Birding from VdF: Todos Santos

Oasis Playa Las Palmas de San Pedro, near Todos Santos

Oasis Playa Las Palmas de San Pedro, near Todos Santos

Check out my last post for an introduction to this series and to read about the Sierra de la Laguna.

At three hours away from Villa del Faro, the town of Todos Santos is a bit of a stretch for a day trip, but could be accomplished by a determined driver or could be an addition to a stay here on the East Cape. Todos Santos is a very pleasant town on the Pacific coast of the southern Baja Peninsula, and two spots in particular are relatively well-visited by birders in the region: a little wetland area right by the beach at the southern edge of town called La Poza de Todos Santos (poza meaning “pool” or “puddle”) and a hotel associated with the spot called Hotel Posada la Poza (posada meaning “inn” or “lodge”).

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Birding from VdF: Sierra de la Laguna

Sierra de la Laguna as seen from SJD International Airport

Sierra de la Laguna and its highest point, El Picacho, as seen from SJD International Airport

Check out my last post for an introduction to this series and to read about the San José Estuary.

Down here at the tip of Baja California Sur, some part of the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range can be seen pretty much from anywhere with a good view inland. In fact, when you land in the Cabos airport, it feels next-door. When we were last here at Villa del Faro in July, Jocelyn wrote about some spots in the southern region of the Sierra Biosphere Reserve, and for our second trip last week, we visited the north (the middle is the most mountainous, with no access roads that we know of, just 6-hour hiking trails).

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Queso and Identity


Scenic side road on the way to El Triunfo.

If queso was a food group it would certainly be my favorite. But that’s not what this post is about – even though cheese is a primary ingredient in many Mexican dishes and I had lots of it this past weekend. What this post is really about is the kinds of unexpected quirks one encounters when road tripping in Baja California Sur (B.C.S) and the unusual, but interesting conversations that come up with locals. Seth and I covered three towns: La Rivera, El Triunfo, and Todos Santos, for different lengths of time, but each with a distinctive story to tell.

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Birding from VdF: San José Estuary


Since last week, I’ve been based back at Villa del Faro in Baja California Sur, Mexico, where I’ll be co-managing the property with Jocelyn for a good while. In addition to having the opportunity to see what kind of birds show up here in their winter migration, I’m also hoping to have time to check out the surrounding region for other birding hotspots. I’ll do this not only for my own interest, but also because we may get guests here in the future who are bird-watchers.  I’d like to be able to recommend areas based on my own experience, so they don’t have to rely solely on eBird, which helps find certain spots but can’t give you any directions that Google Maps doesn’t have.

Nevertheless, eBird is one of the best ways to quickly figure out what locations within a region are popular for birding, whether because they have lots of species or because lots of birders pass through there (or both). Continue reading

The Green of Baja


Green is not the first color I associate with Baja California Sur and as the coastal outline slowly became clearer through my plane window I was stunned by the vibrancy of color I was witnessing. The “rainy” season of Baja, which only means a few inches of rain in a span of three months, had transformed the dry, craggy landscape into a verdant, blossoming oasis. In my previous trip to Baja, I had been informed of this phenomenon but I was unprepared, nonetheless, for the volume of greenery and pop of pink and blue flowers.

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American Coots

The title may be reminiscent of recent movies like “American Sniper,” or “American Hustle,” or slightly older ones such as “American Psycho” and “American Beauty.” But as the video suggests, the American Coot is a type of bird, a wading species in a family called Rallidae, which most non-birders probably haven’t heard of because the birds are typically either near water or hiding in dense vegetation. Coots, along with rails, gallinules, and crakes, make up the Rallidae family, and all these types of birds like to stay on the ground, very rarely flying or venturing into trees unless it helps escape a predator. They’re more closely related to cranes than to ducks.

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Boca del Tule, Kayak & Surf


The shore down below Villa del Faro is known as Boca del Tule, since the Tule arroyo –– a seasonal river in the desert –– runs into the ocean at that point (boca means mouth in Spanish). The beach is public but very few people are ever on it, partly because we’re an hour away from the closest city, San José del Cabo, via dirt road. Now and then you’ll see a couple fishermen, or if the waves are good, some surfers. Last week, Jocelyn and I tried surfing both here at Boca del Tule and also at a better-known surfing beach just twenty minutes south called Nine Palms.

Both spots offered fair surfing for either experienced or newbie surfers, since Continue reading

A Dawn Excursion Continued

The main building in dawn light

My last post on this topic involved the ocean, but the bulk of that morning earlier this week was actually spent out in the chaparral: scrubby, thorny, and sparse vegetation in the desert just outside of Villa del Faro. Right before I exited the property I spotted a black-tailed jackrabbit warily watching me as I descended the hill–these hares are a common sight on the side of the dirt coastal road out here.

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Dawn Rays at Villa del Faro

Yesterday morning I got up early to see the sun rise from the balcony at the hotel, and was pleased to see the full golden orb rise from the watery horizon to the east. While facing the ocean, I heard some distant slaps, like someone smacking their palm against the surface of the water, and looked across the kilometer or so (less, most likely) between the balcony and the shore to see some rays––eagle rays, I think––leaping out of the water, but also just poking the tips of their “wings,” or side fins, into the air without leaving the waves themselves.

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Villa del Faro’s Layout

The hotel entrance

There are just over a dozen buildings on property, and most of them are for rent by guests wanting to get away from bustling cities or hectic work environments and come down to Baja for some relaxation and the sound of wind and waves.

Villa del Faro’s website references the architecture and interior design as a blend of Mexican hacienda and Italianate villa, which I think perfectly reflects the feel of the structures and decorations experienced as one wanders through the gardens and arches.

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An Introduction to Villa del Faro, via Birds

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male Hooded Oriole at Villa del Faro

Jocelyn and I are visiting a property on the southern tip of the state Baja California Sur in Mexico, on the long peninsula running from the mainland into the Pacific Ocean, creating the Sea of Cortez. Grey and Humpback Whales use the sheltered and warm waters in the Bay of California to give birth and raise their calfs, but unfortunately for us, we aren’t here at a time during which these marine mammals can be seen from the many patios and balconies at Villa del Faro.

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