Chapter 10. Las Glorias, Sinaloa
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2000 All rights reserved.
(Bert) Our drive from El Fuerte to Guasave is only a little over a hundred miles, but we spend 3-1/2 hrs on the potholed roads to Los Mochis and the snarled traffic of this area where three-quarter million people live and work in the agricultural industries. Heading west, past Guasave, stretches a dusty sand flat that John says reminds him of Rockport, another says is like South Padre Island and to me looks like Port O'Connor, all coastal areas of Texas. Our campground at Las Glorias is on a sandy beach overlooking the Gulf of California. Upon arrival we greet the other members of our party who split off before our trip to Copper Canyon. Gwen hands each couple an invitation card, with Snoopy on the front, to a birthday party at her RV site. At 5 PM we all gather - BYOB (drinks) and BYOC (chairs) - under the awning of Gwen and Woody's Golden Falcon 5th Wheel for hot dogs. Penny, age 6 today, comes out to greet us. Gwen helps her open a gift from Mitsu, a small ball which Penny immediately grabs and runs off to play with. John dramatically presents Gwen with another gift and we all laugh as we guess the meaning of the single plastic sandwich bag. Another gift of some biscuits gets set aside as we begin our meal. Later when Gwen comes out with a large birthday cake and we all sing Happy Birthday, Penny is all eyes and ears. She gets the first piece and gulps it down in two bites. What this group won't do for a party! You see, Penny is a shaggy brown and white English springer spaniel.
(Shari) Eight AM, time to head out. We line up outside the gates awaiting our group. Finally we are all out and slowly moving down the road. We only reach 25 mph since the road is so full of potholes. John wants to know who made all these holes and I told him it was Sunday and a Holy day. Walt unhooks their car in Los Mochis to take his sister, Beth, and husband, John, back to the airport. We travel onward. He catches up just as we are pulling into the park at Las Glorias. The last ones in, we park facing the ocean. We only traveled 4 hours, but seem to be quite washed out. We are so happy to meet up with the rest of the group. Sid tells us about the wind, Ed and Carlyn relate how cheap their tire repair turned out to be (120 pesos, plus Ed's tip of one of his tools), Gwen and Woody invite us to a birthday party for their dog Penny, and Dusty and Bob give us a list of 85 bird species seen in our absence. Everybody is hugging everybody else. Bert and I walk the beach and cannot resist picking up shells. I will cart them home intending to make something from them and about 6 months from now they will end up in the trash. That is the cycle anyway. I gather. I save. I throw out. I find some really pretty pink shells that I know I will not throw out, however. At 5 PM we gather for the birthday party and Penny gets some doggie cookies and little baggies for presents. The baggies are really for Gwen when she takes Penny for a walk. We have hot dogs and birthday cake and I wonder who can have a party next. At sunset, everyone sees the green flash but John, Lee and me. Apparently, the sun's image split into upper and lower halves and both flashed blue instead of green. I give it a try, but still do not see what everyone else says is spectacular. Tomorrow I will bring my binoculars.
(Shari) Goodbye Sid, Beryl and Alice. They honk their horn as they drive out, heading to Tucson to visit friends. Our caravan gets smaller. Today all the locals are working and we have the beach to ourselves. I walk south looking for shells and come across four men catching something off shore. They have nets attached to handle bars that have a plow at the end. Moving this plow through the sand, knee deep in water, they gather up shells. None speak English when I ask them what they are doing. With my one word Spanish, I gather they are saving small clams for eating. They come in with their nets laden with shells, pour them into a rectangular plastic container and sift out unwanted shells. It seems they are saving only one shape of closed clamshell. These they then put into a 50-lb. white bag at the back of their pickup. The clams they save are no bigger than mussels and I wonder how they prepare them. Carmen has made brownies and poppy seed cake and she invites us to Walt and Karla's for a farewell. They too, along with John and Kim, are leaving in the morning heading back south. They want to enjoy more warm weather and bird more towards the south. The personality of the group will definitely change without them. Wherever the four of them gathered, there was the party. They always had us laughing and will be sorely missed.
(Bert) Contrary to weather reports in the U.S., spring has arrived here in Mexico. Buds are popping open and blossoms are decorating trees. Birds are putting on bright new feathers (one Audubon's Warbler already wears a full spring plumage). Courting is in evidence. From a lofty height, a Swainson's Hawk releases fresh carrion from its claws and its mate swoops in from below, making a dramatic mid-air catch. Collared Forest-falcons recite lurid love songs across a forested jungle. House Finches sing symphonic territorial songs from treetop perches. A pair of Verdins gathers cottonwood fluffs to build their nest. A flock of Elegant Terns display fully black crowns, bad hairdos and pinkish bellies to attract their mates. Brown Pelicans, resplendent in spring colors, have reclaimed their rookeries and are already caring for young chicks. Spring, my favorite season, is here to enjoy, and I do.
(Shari) Wind, wind, wind! Breezy and cool today! A husband and wife with a small child knock softly on my door. They are selling shrimp in two sizes, medio and grande. I buy four kilos from them and measure the shrimp at over 6 inches long. That is extra grande for sure. I wish I knew more Spanish since I am about the only one at home; the birders are out birding, of course. It is sad that they knock at all our doors and no one is home to answer. I want to tell them to come back this afternoon, when everyone will be back. Tonight we eat at Jan and Jim's and feast on her Mexican meatball soup. It is really very good, made with mint and cilantro, plus any vegetables around the kitchen thrown in.
(Bert) This day's report may be a bit technical for non-birding readers, but it's an exciting find for advanced birders. Colima Warbler is one of those sought after species in the U.S. that is hard to find. Its breeding range is restricted to Big Bend National Park in Texas, and, more narrowly, to the Chisos Mountains, a vigorous hike in summer: a fact I can attest to in my vain attempt to see the species. So, it was with some excitement that I received the reports from Beryl and others that they had seen the warbler at El Guayabo. Yesterday, we returned to the same dry cattle pasture edged in short brambles. Kim was the first to notice two unidentified birds. Given her vast knowledge of world birds, it's unusual for Kim not to identify a bird on first sight. Even after 20 min. observation, lots of field notes and listening to the birds sing, we returned to Las Glorias unsure of the identity of the 5 or 6 birds we watched. Pouring through the books and listening to recordings, Kim, John, Walt and I were 90% sure we had watched Colima Warblers. But we were disturbed by the sea level, open plain habitat in which we found the birds and the unexpected active behavior they displayed - characteristics more fitting of the Virginia's Warbler, a close look alike to the Colima. Hence, this morning we return to the spot, armed with a tape recording and a stack of field guidebooks. On queue, we find one of the mystery birds in the same brush we saw it yesterday. The small warbler responds to my Colima tape recording and sings the same verse. We note the faint eye ring and the short white bridge to its bill. Virginia gets a quick glimpse of its red topnotch. We see a yellow wash at its sides and Woody catches a look at the yellow under its tail. In a general sense, all of our field marks match Colima, but the dull bird only vaguely looks like the photographs and drawings in the five books we consult. Today, from an ornithological viewpoint, we've added a lot of new information to our knowledge of Colima Warbler. In all probability we are seeing these birds in migration. We have added at least four bits of new information: our northern Sinaloa location is not charted in the bird books; the treeless coastal plains here is an unexpected habitat; the very drab, almost featureless, appearance of the birds has not previously been described; and the very active foraging, including vigorous tail wagging, is atypical behavior.
(Bert) Three short bird observations. (1) Monday was a 3-gnatcatcher day: I saw two each of Blue-gray, Black-tailed and Black-capped - an extraordinary experience. (2) Today, while scanning a huge flock of gulls and terns on the beach, I have in one stationary, 45X-view of my spotting scope an amazing collection: Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Heermann's Gull, Herring Gull, California Gull, Royal Tern, Caspian Tern and Elegant Tern. (3) On the mud flats, a Snowy Egret snatches up a writhing object that looks like a snake, but through binoculars appears to be an eel. The action attracts the nearby egrets and they all flock toward the prize possession, trying to steel it away. The egret escapes to the mangrove trees, but another egret still manages to take the eel away from its captor. The second egret scampers into the shallow water with its trophy and attempts to swallow it before others can take it away. Instead, the eel resists by entwining itself around the egret's long thin bill. Again and again, the egret tries to reposition the eel's head toward the base of its bill. The struggle continues for at least five minutes until, finally, the egret gets the head in the right position, lifts up its bill and takes the wiggling eel down its gullet. The 10-in. eel still struggles inside the egret's throat, causing erratic bulges as it slides down the long neck. Finally, with the eel safely swallowed, the egret looks around to see whose been watching and goes about finding something else to eat. I wonder what it feels like to have a live eel wiggling inside my stomach!
(Shari) A la pesca. To the fish we go. Ralph, Virginia, Bert and I pack the car with our rods, reels, bait and drinks. Driving a dirt road past a small village with the same old dirt floor, open-air restaurants we've seen elsewhere. We reach the river mouth, unload our stuff and give the locals something to stare at. Virginia and I, as gracefully as we can, climb down the jagged rocks to the water's edge, put a shrimp on a hook and cast out into the water. A few locals are already there and they too cast out their lines attached to plastic soda bottles. No wonder they just stare at us gringos with our fancy equipment. However, fancy or not, no one gets fish today. After two hours of nothing but sun, we call it quits and go home for lunch. Tonight is dinner out again. Starting at 6 PM we drink all the pina coladas and margaritas we want. At 7 we line up for a Mexican buffet of chicken mole, enchilada, rice, beans, carrot soup and sweet tamale. You'd think we'd be sick of all these Mexican plates, but we are not. The price is right, it tastes good and it's filling. By 8 we all head home. Bert and I watch Glory, a movie borrowed from Pat and Lee.
(Bert) From our campsite on the sandy beach of the Gulf of California, Ralph, Gene and I walk along the shore looking for Snowy Plovers. A half-dozen Mexican men are at work along a half-mile stretch of wet sand. One uses an odd contraption to scoop up wet sand. Bicycle handlebars are attached to a crudely cut piece of metal shaped as a plow, and, to this, a long sack of coarse mesh is attached. The operator pulls on the handlebars, drags the plow into the wet sand and scoops a cubic foot of material into the sack. Then he drags the sack through the surf, the sand escapes, leaving a collection of shells. He repeats the process until the sack is as full as he can carry. Further up on shore he pours his bounty into a red plastic case, the type used to carry four 6-packs of large Coke bottles. Now, he shakes the case and sifts small bits of broken shells through the perforations in the Coke case. From the top he picks out whole shells, tossing them aside. After many cycles of sifting and winnowing, what is left is the treasure he is after: Donax Clams. Only an inch from end to end, these wedge-shaped shells contain a thimble-full of fleshy meat. Given enough of these, they will be the broth of clam soup. But for all his hours of hand labor, his reward is only about 15 pesos per kilo.
(Shari) A parade passes through R-TENT today. Virginia and Shary want to see my craft stuff. Jan comes to talk. Ann drops off 2 lbs. of pasta for me to cook tonight. Pat shows me her poems for the birthday party Saturday. Jerry returns our gas grill adapter. Woody wants to report a bird to Bert. Jerry and Shary want a tour of our motor home; they are considering trading in their 5th wheel for one. Gwen looks in the library exchange for some books to read. Carmen stops by to report bird sightings to Bert. In between, I do some wash and make a peanut cake for tonight's pasta bash. Ann wanted to get rid of some chicken breasts because that is one of the items we cannot bring back across the border. That thought has turned into a chicken Parmesan dinner for the whole group under the palapa. We have a travel meeting behind the sound protection of Larry and Carmen's motor home. Five hundred college-age kids have descended upon the park for some kind of graduation bash. The music is deafening with over 10 speakers pointed towards the campground. An ambulance, squad car, two beer trucks and seven buses of kids pile into the area at 2 PM. We are assured they will be gone by 6 PM: a short, but loud, party. After dinner, Ed invites all of us out to learn about star constellations. The sky looks different down here; packed with gazillions of stars, familiar ones seemingly misplaced to different sections of the sky.
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