Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Guide's View

Guide Report 

San Ignacio Lagoon, BCS, Mexico

Feb. 27, 2015
By:  Liisa Juuti

Our guests often ask me, "How come can you receive a new group just a few hours after the current group has left the camp?"  The answer is, planning & coordination, great team work and very high energy and stress level.  I’ll share with you how the “change of the group” day for each of us actually is. 

I.  Catalina, Ceci, Elsa and Pedro wake up at 4:20 a.m. and start preparing the packed lunch to be served on the plane, both for the group leaving the camp and for the new group. Usually this means preparing around 120 burritos. After that they start preparing the breakfast for our 25+ guests, serve it and wash the dishes.

II. Cuco wakes up at 5:30 am to help with the kitchen and then drives the guests in a bus to the airport, accompanies the group during the 2 hour flight to Ensenada, meets the new group in Ensenada, feeds both groups with the sandwiches prepared earlier on in the day, flies back from Ensenada to San Ignacio Lagoon with the new group and brings them on the bus to the camp in the early afternoon.

III. After the group has left the camp, our kitchen team starts cleaning up the 15 cabins and 3 tents one by one. Priscila washes by hand the 30+ sheets, pillow cases and aprons. After that follows the cleaning of bathrooms and showers, and once finished, the kitchen staff hurries up cleaning the fish or scallop for dinner. When the new group arrives around 4 p.m. the margaritas, chips and freshly made salsas are ready to be served.

IV. Meanwhile, Maldo drives for 2 hours leaving early in the morning for Santa Rosalia to buy all the food supplies for the new group.

V. M-T and I wake up at 6 am, get the palapa ready for breakfast, serve the breakfast to our guests and say goodbye to the group that leaves around 8 am. I make the cabin plan for the new group and check their special diets. Sometimes we have up to 19 guests with special diets in one group; my respects to the cooks´ imagination! Then we start cleaning up the palapa and separate the trash produced in 5 days. Thanks to our Eco Certificate we separate and recycle about 95% of all our trash with no need to deliver anything to the garbage dump. After having cleaned up and reorganized the lifejackets and rubber boots I do some office work; sales inventory, weather report, and send off the guide reports. If we have time, we wash our laundry and clean up the camper we´re staying in. Then at 1 pm we put our special staff shirts on and head to the airport to receive the new group with drinks, snacks and a big smile, and there's nothing fake about that smile. We love this! 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Census Update - San Ignacio Lagoon

Census Report From San Ignacio Lagoon

February 27, 2015

Gray Whale Calves:  119
Gray Whale Adults:  158

Total Gray Whales:  277

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Guide Report-San Ignacio Lagoon

San Ignacio Lagoon - Guide Report

Feb. 22, 2015
by Maria-Teresa Solomons

Thoughts that stir: the start of a day at the lagoon

The mudflats glisten in the low morning light as I turn over at the alarm to reset it for the 3rd time perhaps. It first sounds at 5.40am when it is still dark but those few precious extra minutes before the sun touches the horizon, lingering between half sleep and half awake, are the luxury I choose to meet the dawn in my own time.
I inhale and exhale slowly for a minute or two to calm my pulse and hold my breath, and from my top bunk camper window, watch the changing colors outside, a beautiful contrast of clouds and reflections. Another couple of minutes pass by and I repeat the process again, each time extending the breath-hold a little more observing the thoughts that cross my mind.

I´m a freediver as well as one of the camp guides here and each day as we all revel in clearly the most intimate contact with an animal you are ever likely to have, I´m reminded of each other life altering experience, of every privileged encounter I have had underwater on my own, dancing amongst giants.
Although as part of the marine mammal protection act in this reserve as well as in Scammons Lagoon and Magdalena Bay, it´s forbidden to dive with the Gray whales, and even then only a very small section of the lagoon is within limits for whale-watching. In order to enter the area each guest receives a paper bracelet for each day that they enter the reserve, from the Secretary for Marine Resources and Natural Protected Areas (SEMARNAT), which is included as part of the Camp Cortez fee. In addition to this the San Ignacio community itself has instigated its own system of monitoring for who comes in and out of the area, and how many boats there can be at any one time. It´s perfect.
Being a guide here is perhaps an Overture to the song of the humpbacks I´ve felt resonate through me at different depths, or the resident Whale sharks I dive alongside in the Sea of Cortez, where I´ve spent many other seasons.

 San Ignacio Lagoon is beyond a doubt the best place in the world for this close an encounter with the Gray Whale. There are almost no worlds that can even begin to express the indescribably sublime feeling that comes with the realisation that both mother and baby have chosen to turn towards the boat.

Holding my breath I remember how yesterday, she heaved her baby up to the extended arms and how I watched the escalating excitement of everyone out there, including the boat alongside waiting its turn. A touch, or more, a caress, is as breathtaking as the unexpected warmth of its spongy rubbery skin.

An alarm sounds again.  Time out is over.  Another full day scheduled ahead!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Guide Report-San Ignacio Lagoon

Game for an adventure! Donna´s 81st year

 By Maria-Teresa Solomons
Most visitors arrive at the Laguna San Ignacio by plane which lands on an isolated desert airstrip, about an hour from the Baja Ecotours camp on the “Burro” (donkey), a converted 70´s American school bus. The bus formerly named, the “cheese bus” by its kid riders,   probably saw its hay-day about 20yrs ago and equally as probably never even imagined the tour of duty it was heading for.
Now Johnny Friday, another name somewhat reminiscent of being lost on another type of desert island, has declared, says, Liisa Juuti, our Finnish head Whale-watching guide, that there will be a newer bus for next year!  Johnny is one of the co-owners of the camp who arrived here in the mid 80´s and saw the potential of all that the lagoon had to offer. What he recognized then has probably not changed much. When our octogenarian visitor, Donna, stepped off the plane last week she would have been another reflection of the quintessential memory of a community which continues to be bathed in an aura of another century.
The Laguna San Ignacio Gray Whale Sanctuary sits on the Pacific side of the 6 million acre (2.5 million hectare), Vizcaino Biosphere reserve, the largest in Mexico, along an almost uninhabited desert coast where it´s estimated about 50% of the Gray Whales arrive between February and March to breed and give birth before returning north to their feeding grounds around 5000 kms away.

For this grand lady to have left her remote southern Californian ranch to come all the way out here must mean that this desert place must hold something special and being as vibrant as she is, Donna was game for all the adventure that this experience is.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Gray Whale Census San Ignacio Lagoon

Census Report

San Ignacio Lagoon

February 20, 2015

Gray Whale Calves:  151
Gray Whale Adults:  196

Total Gray Whales:  347

Guide Report For San Ignacio Lagoon

Guide Report - Gray Whales

San Ignacio Lagoon, BCS, Mexico

By:  Liisa Juuti

February 19, 2015

Besides the daily interaction with the whales and the breathtaking beauty and simplicity of the lagoon, I love the exchange of knowledge and experiences with our guests and guides. Never had I thought that San Ignacio Lagoon was the place I’d learn the steps for Electric Slide (that’s line dance, of course!). Thank you Nancy & Spencer for sharing with us your passion! M-T, one of our guides, has been giving very welcoming yoga / stretching sessions to our guests and sharing her experience of free diving and whale sharks.

We learned a lot from Carrie Newall, too.  Carrie is a marine biology teacher and has been doing gray whale research for almost 20 years. She brings her group of whale enthusiastics and volunteers to our camp every year. She has her whale watching company in Oregon and specializes in identifying the summer resident grays along the Oregon coast. It was in the 60s and 70s that researchers observed that a few gray whales were spending their summers along the coasts of Oregon, California, Washington and British Colombia, instead of migrating to the lagoons of Baja California. At the moment there are about 200 resident whales, of which Carrie has identified about 75 individuals.

How to identify these whales, then? Don’t they all look gray with barnacles in their head? There are various factors that the whale biologists use to identify individuals. The dorsal hump region is a good spot for identifying since it’s always seen when a gray whale surfaces, and as each dorsal hump is as unique as a fingerprint. Grays can also have scars in their bodies - both man-made (caused by a harpoon or boat propeller) or by killer whale attacks - that serve as a way of identifying them. They can have “birth marks”: prominent color patterns such as white spots, horizontal lines or differences in tones. They might have scars caused by barnacles (when a barnacle attaches to the skin, it permanently depigments the skin leaving a unique white barnacle scar). There are also differences in the color of gray whales; some are significantly darker, others lighter than average. Also the fluke can be very different color from one individual to another.  

During their stay at our camp Carrie was quite sure of having spotted a whale called Beacon in the lagoon. It was first identified off Depoe Bay in 2007. It was named Beacon because of the round white spot on the right dorsal hump. Our boat drivers confirmed the visit from Beacon in the lagoon. 

Guide Report-San Ignacio Lagoon

Campo Cortez Update

Laguna San Ignacio

February 19, 2015

We have celebrated a few birthdays this week....and Maldo our camp host, also does the baking...

Roberto takes Kayaks out to the beach for a kayak excursion this week. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

San Ignacio Lagoon Weather Reports

Daily Weather Reports From San Ignacio Lagoon

Dates from February Thru April, 2015

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Guide Report - San Ignacio Lagoon

San Ignacio Lagoon Guide Report

Gray Whales at San Ignacio Lagoon

Feb 11-15
by Stephan Kolditz

Our first trips were once again very successful. We were lucky enough to witness the show of a juvenile gray whale breaching twenty times in a row, quite close to the pangas ! The grays were not the only residents of the lagoon we got a chance to see : every day, we spotted some California sea lions, bottlenose dolphins, common loons or brandt’s geese.
The baby gray whales are progressively getting used to our presence and on some occasions their moms allow them to play with us. Almost all our guests if not all of them got the possibility to pet a baby or an adult. 
On the last day, the weather forecast announced a thunderstorm, but fortunately we were able to go out at sea without getting wet by the pouring rain that started to fall during the night.

Freddie And The Whales

San Ignacio Lagoon Guide Report

Group 2 : Report 15th  
by: Maria-Teresa Solomons

Freddie and the Whales

If you´ve never seen a real whale close-up before, like Freddie, you might have become as excited as he did as, on our fourth trip, a curious baby Gray whale weighing no more than about 1.5 tons and spanning about a third of the length of the 23ft ´panga´ skiff, (small as far as whale babies are concerned), returned time after time for a petting, its patient mother in escort. Freddie´s small frame paled in comparison as he leaned over the side of the boat. 

Freddie and his sister, Alice had come all the way from England with their parents to experience this one moment as we all had.
It´s still early in the season to have expected this close an encounter as most of the adult Grays are on the last leg of their 7,000 mile southward migration to the lagoons of southern Baja California and are usually more concerned with courtship than our skiffs. Although not social mammals characteristically except when mating, throughout the week we were surrounded by curious spy hopping individuals, graceful displays of whale-tales and often up to 5 adults traveling single-mindedly through the lagoon on every whale-watching excursion, the numbers sighted having increased from 224 in the first week of February to 286 by the second week.
For Freddie the day started quietly only on the boat he wasn’t quiet at all. His playful calling prodded on by his quite delicate little sister´s, escalated to high frequency squeals when, close by burst the distinct sigh of two approaching whales and Paco, our panga driver turned to face them… The heart-shaped mist of the mother returning to surface sprayed over us and everyone began to shout “Splash! Splash!”

We made so much noise that another boat came by to watch as we rocked from side to side as the mother and calf dipped and dove under and around us for the next 40 minutes until with a chorus of exalted laughs, Freddie reached out and touched the calf. He threw his arms into the air with clenched fists and yelled, “”YESSSSSS!, with more satisfaction than having scored a goal.

The day couldn’t have been more thrilling when adults become children again. The silent watchers on other boats probably wondered what magic we had onboard that allowed us this close encounter. I swear it was us children laughing!

Happy Cooks Make Camp Fun

Cooks of Campo Cortez

Report: Feb. 15, 2015

We like to think we run a tight ship when it comes to the kitchen. Not only are we very clean and consider personal hygene a MUST at the camp and especially in the kitchen, our staff are all very proud to have taken a 3 day course this past fall on health and cleanliness in the kitchen. We are one of few companies in the entire state of Baja Sur to have taken this course and in fact we graduated more staff than any other company in the state. hats off to our Happy Cooks......

Friday, February 13, 2015

Gray Whale Census At San Ignacio Lagoon

Gray Whale Census For San Ignacio Lagoon

February 13, 2015

Gray Whale Calves:  111
Gray Whale Adults:  173

Total Gray Whales:  284

Thursday, February 12, 2015

San Ignacio Lagoon Guide Report

Guide Report From San Ignacio Lagoon
Gray Whale Sanctuary

February 6 thru 11, 2015

"I'm Stephan, a new guide that just arrived to Campo Cortez. I was born in France and have a strong passion for wildlife, especially marine mammals. As a marine-guide and naturalist, I previously worked in several countries and got to see many species, sperm whales and orcas in Norway, southern right whales in South Africa, humpback whales in Iceland and a huge variety of dolphins off the coast of the Canary Islands in Spain. But I hadn't met any Gray whales in the wild so far, so I I was very excited to come and work here in San Ignacio Lagoon. My first encounter with the Grays exceeded my expectations. 

The plane flew over the lagoon before it landed at our airport. From the window I could see my first Gray whales swimming at the surface and blowing. No doubt, that was the proof that these amazing animals are really abundant in the bay. During our first whale-trip, it didn't take long before we had our first close encounter with the whales, just after we reached the observation area. I found out that Gray whales are very active and confident ; they are keen on interacting with the boats, show a lot of curiosity as they spyhop more often than any other whale I've had the chance to see. It's amazing to see how these bulky creatures can lift themselves so high above the sea surface.
On the second whale watching trip we managed to pet some whales. It was the first time I touched a whale. What a great moment to feel the rubbery skin under my hand. One mother and its calf, particularly, were very trusting and circled the boat many times during the next trips. It seems like babys are gaining self-confidence very early this season since the mothers don't behave in a protective manner and let their offspring play with us. We also observed a few matings and breaches under Baja California's ever-shining sun."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Gray Whale Migration Report

Migration Report from ACS Los Angeles Chapter At Palos Verdes

History Is In The Making This 2015 Migration

February 7, 2015

Here is the count from the Palos Verdes station with a 10 year average as well as the previously recorded record high number of Gray whales migrating and then THIS YEAR and THIS DAY report.

Southbound today  --------   62
    Northbound today   -------   4
    Total Whales today  ---      66
    Cow/calves South today  --  0
    Cow/calves North today -    0

Season to Date
   Southbound ---------    1414
   Northbound ----------   36
   Total -----------------    1450
   Cow/calves South ----  43
   Cow/calves North -- -   0

Today in history (using last 10 Years)
   Average Southbound --- 8.5
   Maximum Southbound --- 31

Season to Date in history (using 10 Years)
   Average Southbound --- 485.2
   Maximum Southbound --- 1002
   Least Southbound --------  230

   Average C/c Southbound -  22.1
   Most C/c Southbound ----  38

   Least C/c Southbound ----  12

Friday, February 6, 2015

Guide Report From San Ignacio Lagoon

Guide Report Feb 1-6, 2015

By: Liisa Juuti

It is just WONDERFUL to be back in the lagoon. The children at the camp have grown up and a new baby was born in the family. The willets, whimbrels and marbled godwits are hanging around in the shore in front of the cabins as if a year hadn’t gone by. The ospreys are around, as usual. Despite of our attempts to suggest a calmer place, the roof of our public baños seems to be THE best spot for nesting... As for the whales, they are just everywhere! There have been windy moments with whales staying below the surface and in inner parts of the lagoon, but for the majority of the time we have had a constant show of spyhopping and fluking, males chasing the females, as well as courageous mothers with their curious babies approaching the pangas.

I was curious to see if the El Niño year has affected the whales.  El Niño of 1997-1998 that warmed coastal waters and disrupted marine food webs brought the gray whale population from near 22,000 to about 16,000 two years later. The whales in San Ignacio Lagoon were significantly skinnier that year. According to the whale census (Feb 5th) there are 224 whales in the lagoon and it is a relief to notice that they look very healthy, active and playful! There are some interesting behavior changes among the gray whales that have been reported, though. Normally baleen whales don’t travel in pods but alone or in very small groups, however a few weeks back they have been spotted to travel in a pod of 18 and another pod of 15 just off the cost of L.A. area. Why is this? Do they feel more secure?

We had a hilarious small group of very active and interesting world travelers visiting us, guided by Jim Dorsey, award-winning author-explorer-photographer-lecturer with extensive experience in wildlife. We had a relaxing kayaking afternoon in the mangroves, where we spotted juvenile blue herons, red egrets and a kingfisher. Our German guest had an unfortunate incident with his camera falling to the water (“It’s not the camera, but the photos!”). To our big surprise, during the Happy Hour Paco, Maldo’s eldest son, walked in to the palapa with the camera in his hand! He had walked about a mile to the mangrove on low tide and had found the camera. So the whale-touching photos were saved! Besides their excellent kayaking and bird spotting skills, a few of our guests proved to be very efficient chocolate clam hunters. They also finished the 20+ catch effortlessly, with lemon and spicy salsa, of course!

More Gray Whales On Their Way

Even More Gray Whales Headed South 

From a recent article and reported from the American Cetacean Society LA Chapter that counts whales off of Palos Verdes:

On Thursday morning the tally for the ACS-LA Gray Whale Census and Behaviour Project, on the Paolos Verdes Peninsula, reached and then SURPASSED the 1,302 southbound whales.  That's the MOST in the 32-year history of the American Cetacean Society project that counts whales and logs information about their behavior.

Read the article HERE

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Guide Report Jan 29th -Feb 3rd Bus Trip

Guide Report ~
Noly Lira  - Jan/Feb 2015

For me, the first Baja trip of the season is always filled with a heightened sense of anticipation.  News of the whale counts down in the lagoons makes its way north and over the border, so that by the time I’m meeting my tour group in San Diego, I’m as excited as my guests who are making this journey for the very first time.  And this year was no different.

It was a nice, big group of eight people, including a precocious six year old and his mum from Australia, as well as an assortment of much more experienced travelers, mostly from the States.  We had a well-traveled group, but most had never been to see the gray whales in the lagoons of Baja, so I knew they were in for a real “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.  I couldn’t wait.

I always do my best to describe the rugged beauty of the Baja Peninsula to my guests upon their arrival, but my words never do it justice.  When we drive through the towns along our route, the unhurried pace and quiet solitude reminds us that we are far south of the border.


Along the way we have the opportunity to view the incredible and vast terrain filled with vegetation that has adapted for survival in a harsh environment.   The Baja Peninsula is famous for dozens of varieties of plants that are at home in such a magical yet challenging land.  The giant cardon is a cactus plant that is found all along our route, and it resembles the saguaro of the Sonora and Arizona desert.  On this trip we were able to see the first blooms on many such flowering species.  The octillio was just starting and the chollas were stunning.

Even though we pass some remarkable sights on our trip south, not until we reach our final destination of Campo Cortez on the San Ignacio Lagoon do the guests realize that they are in a truly unique world.  And as wonderful as all the unspoiled beauty of the camp and its terrestrial surroundings are, the best is yet to come, and it awaits us out in the wonderful azure waters of the San Ignacio Lagoon.

Upon our arrival, everyone settled into their cabins and they were ready for the first of many incredible meals that the camp staff prepares.  Once finished, we were ready for the lagoon and we were fortunate enough to experience friendly gray whales on our first trip out.  Each day of the trip was as incredible as the one before it. 

With so many whales in the lagoon, you don’t know where to look -- with breaching and spy hopping all around us.  On one of our afternoons we spent an hour observing the courtship and mating behaviors of the whales.  

Much thanks to my first tour group of the season: Bob and Pat celebrating a 40 year marriage, Lisa celebrating her birthday, John, Shar, Cathy, Taryna, Thomas, Peggy and Mark's  generous spirits all added to one fantastic and very memorable camp experience.

Until next time,


Gray Whale Census: February 04, 2015

Gray Whale Census For San Ignacio Lagoon

February 4th, 2015

Gray Whale Cavles:  67
Gray Whale Adults:  157

Total Gray Whales: 224

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Solar Power Renewed at Campo Cortez

Campo Cortez Gets An Updated Solar - Wind Generator Make-Over

We just installed our new wind generators and an entire new solar setup with a charging system whereby we can use our generator to charge up our batteries and supply power when we have cloudy days and no wind. It doesn't take much time before we loose battery power at camp on these few days without sun and wind.....

  Our new system is a workhorse supplying over 30amps per hour of power when all systems are running.