Posts Tagged ‘mexico’

Photo: Baja California

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
An Ocean Wave at California Coast   Photo by Vera Smirnoff, Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest

An ocean wave on the California coast. Photo: Vera Smirnoff, Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest

The winter season is fast approaching, and as it gets colder many of us think of somewhere warm and toasty… like Baja California, Mexico. It’s a big blue ocean out there, full of amazing living creatures, and Baja California’s Pacific Coast is one of the premiere whale watching areas in the world.

While we dream of going south to warm weather, gray whales have the same idea and are on the move from the Arctic to warmer waters. As they migrate from their colder feeding grounds, they enter a more sheltered area in the Gulf of California to raise their young calves.

Imagine getting up close and personal with one of the largest animals on our planet, along with snorkeling with sea lions and the variety of exotic fish of this region.

This video from the Smithsonian Channel shows the blue whale, the largest animal on the planet, off the coast of Australia. But you don’t need to go that far away to go whale watching.

Check out our Baja California: Among the Great Whales tour for your own big blue adventure!

What’s your favorite ocean creature?

SI Research Notes: NMNH Division of Birds

Monday, August 31st, 2009
At the Division of Birds in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History preserved bird specimin stretch as far as the eye can see. Photo: Chip Clark

The Division of Birds storage facility in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Photo: Chip Clark

Linda Stevens is the Field Notes Coordinator for Smithsonian Journeys. Combing the Institution for interesting projects happening around the world, she prepares these research notes especially for travelers. Click here to learn more about Linda.

The National Museum of Natural History’s Division of Birds houses and maintains the third largest bird collection in the world with over 625,000 specimens. The National Collection, known in ornithological literature by the acronym USNM (referring to the old name of United States National Museum), has specimens of 80% of the 10,000 known species in the world’s avifauna. While the majority of these specimens consist of study skins, the USNM also manages skeletal and anatomical (alcohol preserved) collections. Additional collections include egg sets, nests, and mounted skins. In recent years, tissues frozen in liquid nitrogen have also been preserved.

The USNM Bird Collection contains many specimens of historical importance. The first group originated from the private collection of Spencer Fullerton Baird, who collected in Pennsylvania in the early 1840’s. Baird later became the second Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Another early component of the collection derived from the U.S. Exploring Expedition from 1838–1842, commanded by Captain Wilkes of the U.S. Navy. Theodore Roosevelt collected birds as a boy and later as a member of the Smithsonian African Expedition, and his specimens are part of the USNM collection. Finally, a major portion of the collection has been derived from the activities of the U.S. Biological Survey from the 1890’s to the 1930’s.

The National Collections are maintained as a resource to promote ornithological research and as such are irreplaceable.

The USNM holds approximately 3,500 bird specimens from Baja California. John Xantus, who was one of Spencer Baird’s corps of collectors, collected a significant portion of the Baja specimens. Xantus was originally an army officer who collected for the Smithsonian while he was posted to various forts in the west. In Baja, he was assigned to do coastal surveys and record weather observations. Other significant portions of the Baja California collections came from the International Boundary Survey in 1896, and several expeditions of the U.S. Biological Survey.

Click here to learn more about our small ship expedition to Baja California.

Video: Whale Watching in Baja California

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Whale watching is a exhilarating experience for anyone willing to spend a few days on the Sea of Cortez. Whales can be incredibly curious creatures and often glide right up to our small Zodiac boats, checking us out as we take a good look at them as well. Here, watch highlights from our annual Baja whale watching tours and see these whales up close.

Now it’s your turn. Click here for more information on our Baja whale watching experience.

What’s your wildlife adventure of a lifetime? Share with us below.

Photo: Desert Sunset in Baja California

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009
The beautiful desert landscape of Baja California with our expedition ship in the background. Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

The beautiful desert landscape of Baja California with our expedition ship in the background. Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

Each winter, one of the world’s most exciting wildlife phenomena takes place in the bays and lagoons of Baja California’s Pacific Coast—gray whales arrive by the thousands to breed, give birth, and nurture their young. Follow their migration to the warm and sunny climate of Baja to cruise aboard the 62-guest expedition ship, National Geographic Sea Bird. This small ship is ideal for exploring this remarkable region and can easily maneuver to follow whales or a school of playful dolphins. Although the whales are a highlight of the journey, there is so much more. Awake to a desert-hued sunrise, savor a beach barbecue as stars move across the night sky, snorkel among playful sea lions, and kayak through crystalline waters.

Click here to learn more about staff member Jessica Engler’s trip to Baja California.

Click here to view more small-ship expeditions.

Dreaming of Baja California

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Jessica Engler has worked on the Smithsonian Journeys marketing team since 2006, editing and reviewing all online tours, managing our monthly e-newsletter, and providing editorial support for the Journeys blog as well as printed publications. A graduate of James Madison University, she has also worked for Shakespeare’s Globe in London and the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. Here, Jessica shares her reflections on our Among the Great Whales adventure.

Stuck in a cube all day often times looking at fabulous travel images, I often find myself daydreaming of past journeys that I have been on. Two years ago, I joined Smithsonian travelers in balmy, dry Baja for one week in February. From the moment I stepped aboard our expedition ship, the National Geographic Sea Lion, I instantly forgot freezing  Washington.

For the first few days of the journey, we devoted our mornings to observing gray whales. Every year, thousands of gray whales migrate to the protective waters of Bahia Magdalena to breed, give birth, and nurture their vulnerable offspring. So each day, we boarded zodiacs (small inflatable motorized boats that can hold up to 15 people) in search of these fascinating mammals.

Whale watchers get incredibly close to the gray whales while out exploring in a zodiac

Lucky whale watchers meet and greet some friendly gray whales while out exploring in a zodiac off the coast of Baja California.

For three days, we followed the gray whales and watched as they nursed, played, and interacted with each other. The time spent among these majestic animals was truly memorable, but it was our final day of whale watching that I most cherish. That morning we departed as usual with a local driver, a naturalist, and approximately 10 eager passengers, including myself. We cruised for 30 minutes before we sighted a mother and calf pair and slowly approached for a better view. Our driver, well versed in the practice of keeping a non-threatening distance, maneuvered us to a slow idle. (more…)