The longest running Amphibian Community on the Internet.

Tags Register FAQ Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read Caudata.org Store


Sonoran Islands, Mexico - Spring 2012 **WARNING** - no amphib content

This is a discussion on Sonoran Islands, Mexico - Spring 2012 **WARNING** - no amphib content within the Field Herping Accounts forums, part of the Fieldwork / Fieldherping category; I apologize that the following account contains literally no amphibian content. I thought some of you may be interested in ...

Field Herping Accounts Share your field herpetology experiences with accounts/articles, photos, and advice.

Like Tree7Likes
  • 6 Post By Schell
  • 1 Post By Schell

Reply

 

LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 15th June 2012   #1 (permalink)
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Nationality:
Posts: 6
Gallery Images: 0
Comments: 0
Rep: Schell has shown reliable knowledge
Default Sonoran Islands, Mexico - Spring 2012 **WARNING** - no amphib content

I apologize that the following account contains literally no amphibian content. I thought some of you may be interested in reading about my recent trip. Mods, if you feel this is off-topic, please feel free to delete it.

This trip was literally months in the planning phase. After our Sinaloa Trip last fall, Scott and I immediately began putting together a spring trip to several - to be determined - islands off the Sonoran coast for this spring. The objective was to photograph and document the endemic species that live nowhere else on Earth. Simple goal, right? Well not so much. No Mexico trip ever goes strictly to plan.

The logistics involved with getting out to these remote islands is often complicated and ill defined. Scott (http://www.naturestills.com) had been working with a Tucson dive-shop to charter their boat for the entirety of the trip. Discussions opened in February when we were quoted a very reasonable price. Negotiations didn't conclude until literally the day before we were supposed to leave, when inexplicably, the original quoted price doubled.

For this trip, I knew that I would have the opportunity to photograph some large lizards at a distance and recently, I have been trying to take a more hands-off approach. My Canon 100-400 f/4-5.6 telephoto is really versatile as a walking around lens. Itís compact, relatively light, and reasonably sharp, but its reach and speed leave something to be desired. This is clearly the job for a long prime lens. But what to do? Sell my car for lens money? Tempting. Fortunatley, Borrowlenses.com to the rescue. For a fraction of the cost of ownership, I reserved the formidable and legendary Canon 500mm f/4L for an entire 10 days.

The next day I took the early flight to Tucson where Scott picked me up from the airport and we headed out to handle a few final logistics before heading across the border. The lens was shipped to and held for pickup at the local FedEx hub in Tucson. After a quick stop to pick up the literal and figurative Canon, and a stop by Trader Joes to outfit the expedition with rations - still not knowing whether we would actually be needing food for the islands - we headed to grab the rest of the crew and get on the road.

We arrived in Bahis de Kino and checked into our hotel. After dinner, we all headed out to see what was moving. Turns out, not much. Fortunately what we did find was a lifer for everyone.

Click the image to open in full size.
Sonoran Banded Gecko (Coleonyx variegatus sonoriensis) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

The next morning, we piled into the truck and headed after one of my main targets for the trip. When I was in Kino last fall, I was successful in photographing a couple of immature individuals of this species, but there is no substitute for seeing that bright blue streak against the red rock. I was also excited to try out the 500mm prime hanging around my neck.

We decided the best course was to split up into two groups of two to maximize our coverage. After about 45 minutes of rock-hopping with an extremely expensive, precarious and fragile necklace, I spotted a brilliant sapphire adorning the granite hillside.

I dropped my pack and slung the massive 10 pound piece of glass to my eye. Slowly approaching one step at a time. After a few paces, the male repositioned himself and inflated his black throat. It was at this point he revealed what he was obviously protecting. Over the top of the rock, I could see the head of his female poking up.

Click the image to open in full size.
Dickerson's Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus dickersonae) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Overall I am totally stoked with the resulting photo and is definitely my favorite shot of the trip. Even if I didnít get a single other shot with the 500 the rest of the trip, it would have still been worth the rental cost.

In the early afternoon, we again piled into the truck and headed south to San Carlos. There are two ways of getting from Kino to San Carlos. Since we had to make to to San Carlos by 5 to get to the diveshop that would be taking us to our first isla, we had to book it.

Fortunately, we made it to the dive shop 5 minutes before closing. We got our affairs in order for the next day, managing to join a scheduled dive trip to Isla San Pedro Nolasco - and for a reasonable price at that. We then checked into the nicest Mexican hotel Iíve ever stayed at. After dinner and some sort of cheese lime desert pie (yeah, tasted exactly like it sounds) we werenít really up for cruising, but we did want to go after one critter that was conveniently located to our accommodations.

Under the concrete bridge next to our hotel, we stumbled upon a California Leaf-nosed Bat night roost with dozens and dozens of individuals (no photos, sorry). I was enthralled as Macrotus are a very rare species in California. Meanwhile, I walked by not only one but two of our targets hanging out on the cobblestone bridge abutments.

I was quite happy with how this shot came out:

Click the image to open in full size.
Sonoran Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus homolepidurus homolepidurus) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

We headed back to the hotel after a brief photo shoot. I was excited at the opportunity to get a good nights sleep. Alas, it was not in the cards. I was awoken at 5am by the apparent lumberjack in the other bed and was unable to fall back asleep.

We headed down to the harbor for our 8am departure. We arrived at North Point of Isla San Pedro Nolasco about 9:45 and as the divers began suiting up and dropping over the side for the first of three dives, we confronted the logistics of accessing the island. True enough that many of the islands in the Sea of Cortes have nice accessible beaches, however this is not one of them. Picture barnacle and algae covered rocks jutting steeply out of the water with a 4-5 foot ocean swell. Then imagine transporting expensive hydrophobic equipment from the boat to the island a couple hundred feet away.

Equipped with a couple of pelican cases, some plastic trash bags and a sit-on-top kayak, we soon faced these challenges head on. Scott and I took the first leg. Scott got in the kayak first, then me and finally the pelican case containing all my gear. We paddled over to the most accessible looking piece of rock we could find and I attempted to disembark the vessel. After a couple of attempts at retaining my dignity and remaining dry, I finally bailed overboard and clambered barefoot up the barnacled rocks to the first available perch where I offloaded the peli-case and bag containing my boots. Scott then ferried back to the boat to grab Tim and transfer his gear into the other peli-case realizing that his backpack would almost certainly end up in the drink and all his gear ruined. Dave decided (wisely) that he wanted no part of this endeavor and elected to remain on the boat.

The three of us had boots on the ground as the divers were about half-way through their first dive, leaving us a mere 30-40 minutes before we had to be back on the boat to move to the next spot. Fortunately the first few herps were conspicuous and unafraid. Within minutes, we were photoging.

The terrestrial megafauna of Nolasco consists of a species of Spiny-tailed Iguana that were abundant and the nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons squawking at us from the cliff above for encroaching on the small cave containing two downy chicks (again, no photos of the chicks).

However, here are some shots of the Iguana:

Into the sun:
Click the image to open in full size.
Pedro Nolasco Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura nolascensis) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

And another with the sun at my back:

Click the image to open in full size.
San Pedro Nolasco Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura nolascensis) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

It was at this point, we realized we were overdue to get back to the boat, so we downclimbed to the waters edge, removed our boots and packed up our gear. After a few brief moments of trying to get back onto the kayak from the island with the swell, we determined this to be a foolish venture and decided it would be best to throw our **** in the kayak and swim back to the boat.

We managed to find the endemic Side-blocthed Lizard, Whiptail and Leaf-toed Gecko, unfortunately I wasnít able to get any photos of the Leaf-toed, and only managed voucher photos of the Side-blotched and Whiptail. There were also many more Iguana at the second location so here instead of something more interesting - here is a portrait shot of a nice adult male:

Click the image to open in full size.
San Pedro Nolasco Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura nolascensis) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

In addition to the endemic fauna, there is also some endemic flora worth mentioning. I know little of these plants, other than they are endemic, theyíre cactus, theyíre colorful and evidently somewhat prized in horticultural circles.

Click the image to open in full size.
San Pedro Nolasco Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus websterianus) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Click the image to open in full size.
San Pedro Nolasco Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus websterianus) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Click the image to open in full size.
Mammillaria multidigitata by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Click the image to open in full size.
Mammillaria multidigitata by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Although perhaps the least productive of the three islands we would visit on this trip, Isla San Pedro Nolasco is also the most accessible (from port), so a return visit in certainly in the cards.

Having had a successful day, we headed back north to Kino, met up with our boat captain, negotiated the specifics of the upcoming voyage and headed to a restaurant to celebrate with langosta (lobster) with all the accoutrements including fresh tortillas. I swear, you havenít tasted tortillas until youíve had authentic Mexican tortillas.

Up early again the next day, we met up with Saul at the boat ramp, loaded up our impressive amount of gear, and began the trip to Isla San Esteban. The trip wasnít too bad, and a short while later, we were offloading our gear onto the cobble beach.

We set up camp, and headed out to scour the island for the handful of San Esteban endemics. This was the island that all of us were anticipating and it did not disappoint. Nearly immediately we had found the endemic whiptail. Distracted by the small dark lizard, we had totally overlooked the 2-foot monster perfectly camouflaged in the dappled light at the base of the cholla.

The San Esteban Chuckwalla or Piebald Chuckwalla is the king of all chucks. Its large size and coloration are unique in the genus. They are also listed as federally threatened by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. They are certainly impressive animals and highly photogenic. Like many of the insular species, they have little or no fear of humans.

I set up my tripod for this HDR shot:
Click the image to open in full size.
San Esteban Chuckwalla (Sauromalus varius) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

I like how this portrait turned out.

Click the image to open in full size.
San Esteban Chuckwalla (Sauromalus varius) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Pushing up the arroyo, we spotted several of the San Esteban Iguanas perched on the Cardons. My left shoulder was beginning to get sore supporting the massive 500mm although it was worth it to get this shot:

Click the image to open in full size.
Isla San Esteban Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura conspicuosa) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

By this point, it was mid-day and getting very hot. Scott had brought a pop-up canopy that came in very handy. We siestaíd in the shade of the canopy for a couple of hours until my comrades decided it was time to go fishing.

While they were out, I was able to get some shots of the avian inhabitants of the intertidal zone. Our visit coincided with the middle of the nesting season. Most of the gull chicks had hatched out and were under the careful watch of their parents. Even walking in the vicinity of the chick elicited the parents to mob the intruder and/or attempt to **** on them as they encroached.

Click the image to open in full size.
Yellow-footed Gull (Larus livens) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Click the image to open in full size.
American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

As the sun was getting low in the sky, I went out after the certainly endemic, yet undescribed, San Esteban Uta.

Click the image to open in full size.
Isla San Esteban Side-blotched Lizard (Uta ssp). by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

As night sank in, we geared up and again split into to two groups. With any luck, we would find the long-shot species of the trip. About 90 minutes in, we spotted what we were looking for. As a matter of fact, we found a pair within about 10 meters of each other.

The four of us settled in for a lengthy photo shoot. About two hours and countless flash pops later, we were mostly satisfied with the results. This was a difficult snake to pose - all it wanted to do is coil up into a ball. It took me nearly 30 minutes to get it into a position that I was happy with. Ultimately Iím pleased with the result even though the background isnít terribly interesting.

Click the image to open in full size.
San Esteban Rattlesnake (Crotalus estebanensis) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

While we were getting our shots, we managed to come up with another species.

Click the image to open in full size.
San Esteban Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus xanti estebanensis) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Iím not as happy with this shot as the shot of the Sonoran Leaf-toed Gecko, but what are you gonna do? These tiny geckos are delicate and difficult to work with. In fact, while Tim was shooting this individual, it spontaneously dropped its tail when it wasnít even being touched!

The next morning, I was again up to watch the sunrise which gave some nice light over the cobble beach.

Click the image to open in full size.
Isla San Esteban by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

We finished shooting a couple of holdovers from the previous day, packed our things and got back on the boat for our final island destination: Isla San Pedro Martir.

The seas were calm for this crossing and we made good time. Although Martir did not have a proper beach, the rocky landing was relatively straight forward.

San Pedro Martir Side-blotched Lizard is the largest species of Uta on the planet.

Male

Click the image to open in full size.
San Pedro Martir Side-blotched Lizard (Uta palmeri) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Female

Click the image to open in full size.
San Pedro Martir Side-blotched Lizard (Uta palmeri) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Isla San Predro Martir also supports one of the largest Blue-foot Booby colonies in the world. It also supports nesting Heermannís Gulls, Pelicans and the like. Basically, the entire island is covered in guano. Seriously, its covered! Completely white and encrusted like nothing I have ever seen before.

The abundance of roosting birds has two main consequences that were not automatically apparent (to me at least). The first is that huge numbers of birds die here. These carcasses subsequently support huge numbers of large flies. The flies provide a seasonal prey base for the Uta and they were taking full advantage.

The Uta were abundant and working the beach, intertidal zone, the adjacent rocky cliffs hard for these large flies. While waiting for the boat to return, we spent some time sharing a small cave with a large male Uta and several of his females. Like other insular species, these Uta displayed no fear of people and even jumped onto our backs to take flies off our shirts. After swatting several flies and seeing the Uta snap them up, we began literally hand-feeding them to the lizards, which they willingly accepted. Donít believe me you say? You think Iím exaggerating? I have proof!!

Click the image to open in full size.
San Pedro Martir Side-blotched Lizard (Uta palmeri) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

The second consequence is that the white guano encrusted rocks reflect light like a mirror. Despite the relatively modest ambient temperatures, the intensity of the light was overwhelming and has the potential to cause heat exhaustion extremely rapidly.

Here are some of the Heermannís Gulls closer to the beach

Click the image to open in full size.
Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Climbing higher up onto the island, we were focused on finding the last of our target species so we could hurry up and get off the island. Fortunately, we managed to get an individual in-hand without too much trouble. Iím not particularly satisfied with the shot of this species, but by the time we had the opportunity to get shots, that I was fine with a voucher.

Click the image to open in full size.
San Pedro Martir Whiptail Lizard (Aspidoscelis martyris) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Anxious to get back on the boat, we hailed Saul, loaded up and headed back to Kino. Along the way, we ran into a pod of Short-fined Pilot whales that Scott was eager to swim with, so he bailed over the side of the boat while I swapped lenses to my wide angle and grabbed a couple of photos from the surface.

Click the image to open in full size.
Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Click the image to open in full size.
Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

We disembarked the boat and thanked the captain. We stopped for one last meal of marlin and shrimp tacos and turned north towards the border arriving back in Tucson around 10:30.

All in all, I think we managed to salvage what could have been a total failure and turn it into a reasonable success.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers,

Rob

More of my photos are available on my website at robschellphotography.com or follow me by 'liking' my facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/RobSchellPhotography



Schell is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 15th June 2012   #2 (permalink)
Prolific Member
 
evut's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Nationality:
Location: [ Members Only ]
Posts: 979
Gallery Images: 53
Comments: 10
Rep: evut is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgevut is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgevut is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgevut is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgevut is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgevut is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgevut is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgevut is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgevut is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgevut is considered an Authority at Caudata.org
Default Re: Sonoran Islands, Mexico - Spring 2012 **WARNING** - no amphib content

Thank you for posting, I really enjoyed reading your account. The photos are stunning - my favourite is the San Pedro Martir Side-blotched Lizard female.



evut is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 15th June 2012   #3 (permalink)
Field Herper
 
Niels D's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2011
Nationality:
Location: [ Members Only ]
Age: 35
Posts: 1,213
Gallery Images: 0
Comments: 0
Rep: Niels D is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgNiels D is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgNiels D is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgNiels D is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgNiels D is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgNiels D is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgNiels D is considered an Authority at Caudata.orgNiels D is considered an Authority at Caudata.org
Default Re: Sonoran Islands, Mexico - Spring 2012 **WARNING** - no amphib content

Looks like you had a great time over there resulting in really beautiful pics! Thanks for sharing.



__________________
P.r.schrenckii/L.laoensis/P.deloustali/P.chinensis/P.guangxiensis/Paramesotriton sp (Roter Warzenmolch)/S.lacertina/Triturus macedonicus/T.dobrogicus macrosoma/T. karelinii/C.e.popei/N.viridescens/P.waltl/C.orientalis
Niels D is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 15th June 2012   #4 (permalink)
Prolific Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Nationality:
Location: [ Members Only ]
Posts: 591
Gallery Images: 0
Comments: 7
Rep: grius is a well respected, valued and knowledgeable member of Caudata.orggrius is a well respected, valued and knowledgeable member of Caudata.orggrius is a well respected, valued and knowledgeable member of Caudata.orggrius is a well respected, valued and knowledgeable member of Caudata.orggrius is a well respected, valued and knowledgeable member of Caudata.orggrius is a well respected, valued and knowledgeable member of Caudata.org
Default Re: Sonoran Islands, Mexico - Spring 2012 **WARNING** - no amphib content

Fantastic photographing man, really superb pictures!!



grius is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 15th June 2012   #5 (permalink)
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Nationality:
Posts: 6
Gallery Images: 0
Comments: 0
Rep: Schell has shown reliable knowledge
Default Re: Sonoran Islands, Mexico - Spring 2012 **WARNING** - no amphib content

Wait, Wait, Wait...

You didn’t think we were done did ya?

I still had three days on my lens rental...

I hopped a ride with Scott back to El Cajon on Tuesday with the intent of spending the next three days herping San Diego and Imperial County. Unfortunately, shifting weather conditions left me with only one decent day to herp. I had better make the most of it.

This was one day where my apparent insomnia would work in my favor. My plan was to hit the low flats early in the am and hit the higher elevations in the later morning. I arrived about 7:30 and began to cruise for my first target. The mercury climbed rapidly, and the lizards began to pour out onto the sandy road.

The first lizard of the day was thankfully my first target. A species that has eluded me for some time. While I has thankful to finally get this monkey off my back, she had seen some melee in her day. Both of the top horns had evidence of damage and she was missing a chunk out of her tail. Through the magic of DOF, I think I managed to effectively minimize the prominence of her injuries. Hoping I would find a studly male, and figuring that she had already seen enough stress in her life, I let her go relatively quickly getting only one stock macro shot.

Click the image to open in full size.
Flat-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

A few minutes later I spotted this guy hanging out on the roadside berm. A perfect opportunity to utilize the 500. From the drivers seat, I was able to support the lens on the passenger window sill to get my shots. This is exactly why I want to get a long prime - even in hand with a macro lens, I don’t think I could get a better shot. Sure, the lighting might be more even, but you would never be able to get it to replicate that pose!!

Click the image to open in full size.
Western Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides rhodostictus) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

By 9AM surface temps were in excess of 110F, so it was time to head to higher ground. On this day higher ground was also accompanied by winds gusting in excess of 30MPH. The high winds didn’t suppress all herp activity though. I saw a couple of chucks at distance, the spinys were out and even saw a few Uta and a Petrosaurus.

Now that I was prepared with a proper long lens, I was hoping to find the big, gorgeous Baja California Collared that I saw at this location last year. I caught a glimpse of a female at one point, but she quickly vanished as soon as I broke eye contact. I was becoming resigned to failure. I literally parked at the location where I had seen the male last year and decided to just wait. I soon had that feeling that I was being watched. I grabbed the binos and began scanning the rocks. Although, not a big beautiful adult, this little immature male is way better than nothing.

Click the image to open in full size.
Baja California Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus vestigium) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Click the image to open in full size.
Baja California Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus vestigium) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Reasonably satisfied that I hadn’t been skunked and despite the suboptimal weather, I did one more pass. I’m glad I did. Not 100 feet from where I saw that male vestigium last year, I spotted this pretty girl perched up on a rock.

Click the image to open in full size.
Long-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia wislizenii) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr

Frankly I am totally shocked at how C. vestigium and G. wislizenii are able to be sympatric, but evidently they are and their cohabitation is well known in this area. If anyone has any literature on niche partitioning of these two species where they co-occur, I would love to see it.

Sadly, that night, I had to head home. I rented a car and drove the 7.5 hours back to the Bay Area arriving about 12:30AM. Although I wasn’t able to take full advantage of my lens rental period, the cooling trend in San Diego did not bode well for success over the next two days and ultimately needed to get home for other reasons.

For anyone who is interested, here is the shot of the large male I found at this location in 2011.

Click the image to open in full size.
Baja California Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus vestigium) by Rob Schell Photography, on Flickr



Schell is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 15th June 2012   #6 (permalink)
Caudata.org Donor
 
Join Date: May 2007
Nationality:
Posts: 208
Gallery Images: 0
Comments: 0
Rep: Alejandro has given consistently good advice and informationAlejandro has given consistently good advice and informationAlejandro has given consistently good advice and information
Default Re: Sonoran Islands, Mexico - Spring 2012 **WARNING** - no amphib content

Thanks a lot for sharing!



Alejandro is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Tags
endemic, insular, island, lizard, mexico, reptile, sonora

LinkBack
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are On


Similar Threads

Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Ozarks & Ouachita Mountains - Spring 2009 - WARNING HEAVY IMAGES John Field Herping Accounts 36 1st March 2010 14:17
Some pics - P. perezi in Canary Islands OZIRIS Anura: Photo Gallery 0 20th October 2009 12:56
Amphibians of the Netherlands Antilles Islands? John General Discussion & News from Members 20 4th April 2008 07:06
Hello from the Canary Islands - Spain Corallus Introductions Area 4 22nd August 2007 11:46
Fat content of waxmoths tom Live Food General Discussion 2 7th September 2006 15:38


All times are GMT. The time now is 08:10.