The other day, I had a really interesting experience, and met two extremely interesting and kind souls… Resulting in this story and a suggestion for a day trip from Los Ayala to…
The Gravel Pit in La Peñita – Why? – For Bird-Watching of Course!
Ken and Bea Rauch, Jaltemba Bay’s renowned bird photographers invited me to accompany them on one of their birdwatching expeditions, and being an avid photographer, I jumped at the opportunity. I am not quite certain, but I may have even invited myself. We set a date, and Bea sent me a preliminary email advising me to wear long pants, runners or hiking boots, and to wear a hat. She also told me to bring along a bottle of water, binoculars and my camera.
I was curious as to why I would need binoculars when my only intent was to take some beautiful bird photos, not to just view them. However, I do own a pair of binoculars, purchased for the sole purpose of viewing whales during an Alaska cruise some years ago, and surprisingly enough, they were easy to locate (the binoculars, not the whales).
The very next day I just happened to run into Bea at the market in La Peñita. Noticing my usual foot attire; flip flops, Bea gently reminded me to wear runners or hiking boots on our bird watching trip. When I asked why I needed to wear runners or sneakers to the gravel pit, she said that we would be trekking through bush, and there might be ticks. “Ticks?” No worries, she said, “Just slather on some baby oil and you’ll remain tick free. If you do get a tick, you’ll know, and they are easy to remove!” About this time I began to think perhaps I had made a mistake!!
I decided not to tell Bea that I did not have any runners, simply because since living the barefoot life in Mexico, my feet have become soft and chafe at the thought of wearing any type closed shoe. I hike to Punta Raza in flip flops (a pair with extra straps for stability). Oh, yes, I also needed to wear a hat. Well at least I had that element covered!
The gravel pit is located on the north side of the Highway 200, just across from La Peñita, a couple of kilometers down a winding dirt road found just north of the Global Gas Station. Ken & Bea usually walk there from their vacation digs in La Peñita and back. When I told them I’d pick them up in my Jeep, they thought it was a luxury. My 1996 Jeep with over 230,000 miles on it… Luxury… mmm!
Arriving at the appointed time, I find Ken and Bea waiting for me, and the first subject of conversation is of course my footwear! So I explain my closed shoe dilemma… She says I should be fine. We drive along the winding dirt road, that leads to the gravel pit, and the first thing I notice is that they really don’t know where we are going. This is of course my fault because we are traveling by car, whereas Ken & Bea’s sense of direction is based entirely on walking landmarks from past day trips. These landmarks include a colorful, old brick house, horses, trees, and friendly people that they have met on other bird watching trips in this area. Author’s note: “All of the forgoing have a tendency to relocate from time to time with the possible exception of the colorful old brick house!”
Oh well, even if you have no interest in bird watching, a trip to the Gravel Pit; is a great day trip, off the beaten path, and a chance to experience real rural Mexico. The scenery is rich with life and true Mexican country color. We drive by pineapple and mango plantations, seasonal rivers that are drying up. Along the way we spot horses, cows, roosters, chickens, dogs, and odd looking houses full of life and friendly children. The country side is real, pretty, quaint and reminiscent of old country western movies featuring John Wayne, but here the scenery is tropical and the folks are real Mexican ranchers and cowboys.
After several wrong turns we finally find the road which leads directly to the Gravel Pit. Ken & Bea’s landmark is a horse tied to a tree. I presume this horse has been tied to this tree since at least 2004, which is when Ken & Bea tell me they first started visiting Jaltemba Bay. Indeed, it seems that for every single landmark we pass, either Ken or Bea has a story to tell.
We finally find the Gravel Pit, and it looks pretty unremarkable to me. Nothing but a riverbed that is half dried up, excepting a small meandering, marshy, muddy rivulet and piles of gravel. Bea tells me to look here, look there and in the process she is naming all kinds of birds that she can see, but that I can’t see.
Ken tells me Bea has amazing eyesight… Now, I know what the binoculars are for. First birdwatching lesson, use binoculars to spot the birds you want to photograph. Eventually with Bea’s patient guidance and some lessons on how to use the binoculars, I start spotting a couple of birds, here and there. Bea tells me to keep an eye out for Canadian birds, and I am wondering why we are looking for Canadian birds here in Mexico when Bea tells me they migrate here for the winter. This bird expert even knows the difference between Canadian and Mexican birds. I wonder if they have different accents. We spot some canvasback ducks floating in the water around the gravel pit. I’m anxious to get a photo, but I don’t have a long enough lens, so I attempt to get closer to the birds. I rush forward, excitedly, with my camera to get a shot, but scare them away. The second, bird watching lesson I needed to learn? Shuffle your feet! Always!
As our birdwatching expedition progresses, I notice that Ken and Bea have the easy banter of a happily-married couple that has been together, forever. They constantly chat, and are totally in sync with each other; and they seem to have an innate instinct which lets them know when a bird is in the area, and that it’s time to be silent. They chatter, speaking of their world travels, and adventures, and of course a whole lot of birds they have seen in Jaltemba Bay Mexico, and all over the world. You know those couples who can communicate with each other and not even say anything! They tell me that when we arrive at the bird watching area that the fourth rule of bird watching is silence. No talking! I take this to indicate that it is time to get serious, and off we go!
They lead me on a hike; taking me through the surrounding area of the Gravel Pit, and I note that we are not following any particular path and walking through scrub brush that reaches as high as my knee caps, I am thinking that it is likely rich with flora and fauna, along the lines of scorpions and snakes and similar critters and,oh yes, ticks. Ken and Bea proceed without a care in the world. I am beginning to relate to Goldie Hawn in the movie Private Benjamin.
Birds Spotted on Our Day Trip as reported by Bea…
- Night Heron
- Green Heron
- Brown Ibis
- Black-bellied Whistling Ducks
- Canvasback Duck
- Northern Jicana
- American Coots
- Black-necked Stilts
- Great Egrets
- Netropical Cormorants
- Lesser Grebes
- Turkey Vultures
- Streak-backed Oriole
- Yellow Warbler
- Mexican Crow
- Sinaloa Wren
Click here to read Part 2 of Christina Stobbs’ hysterical adventures in bird watching.
To learn more, you can also read Meet Local Folks Ken & Bea Rauch.
About the Author: Christina Stobbs is a writer and photographer who lived in Los Ayala year round with her husband Robert. As a photographer, she feels fortunate to have lived in an area so rich in flora and fauna, and abundant in natural beauty. She enjoys landscape and wildlife photography, and has a fondness for pelicans. Most recently, she starting selling her photos with stock companies Dreamstime and Big Stock Photos. As a writer, she states that living in Mexico is perfect because each and every day is full of surprises.
This story was submitted by one of our regular contributors. If you want to join in and share information, stories or photos of Jaltemba Bay, Mexico, please email them to Allyson@JaltembaBayLife.com
(Originally published January 2012 on Magical Los Ayala.)