Sultry Salton Sea

Posted by ardeidae on August 21, 2005

Last Sunday Carol and I went on a birding trip with Los Angeles Audubon to the Salton Sea, about an hour and a half east of San Diego. We took off from Los Angeles around 11:30 am and arrived at our motel in Brawley around 3:30…the hottest part of the day. (Although, at this time of year there, I’m not so sure there isn’t any thing but the hottest part of the day.) It was well into the hundreds…and humid. It wasn’t much of a surprise though; we were told ahead of time that “This is the gauntlet of SoCal car birding” and that we haven’t really birded until we’ve been to the Salton Sea. It sounded like a challenge.

We met up for dinner at Aspen in the Desert, joined by Bob Miller, a birding guide with Southwest Birders. Bob grew up in Brawley, so he was able to give us some insight as to what we should be seeing, and where. After dinner, we went on a little mini-trip in Bob’s neighborhood in a search of a resident Western Screech-Owl. Bob has placed nest boxes in his neighbor’s yards in order to encourange owl nesting and it’s been working. Despite Bob’s owl calls, there wasn’t any answer. The outing wasn’t for naught though, we did catch glimpses of some birds flying over: a Barn Owl, a small flock of White-faced Ibises, and some Cattle Egrets. As much as we wanted to continue our search, it was nearing 10 pm and we had a busy day ahead of us. Special thanks go out to Bob for being our guide for the evening. He’s a great guy and if you ever get a chance to meet him, make sure to ask him about the poodle/jaguar/monkey joke.

Our meeting place was Cattle Call park in Brawley at 5:30 am on Sunday. It was the coolest part of the day and everything was in “shade”. I estimated that the temperature was probably around 80 degrees. We could hear the birds waking up and shortly thereafter we had enough light to make visuals. The hour-plus jaunt around the park was a great way to break in the day. Among the list of birds seen were Lesser Nighthawk, Loggerhead Shrike, Cattle Egret, American Kestrel, Great Horned Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, Great-tailed Grackle, Cactus Wren, Mourning Dove, Costa’s Hummingbird, European Starling, Common Ground-Dove, Black Phoebe, Northern Mockingbird, and the rare Abert’s Towhee. The bird that we were especially hoping to see made an appearance as well…the Gila Woodpecker.

Burrowing OwlAround 7 am we all hopped in our cars and headed for the east side of the Salton Sea, via Calipatria. Once we hit Calipatria, we made a left onto Eddins Road and continued for a couple miles before turning off and stopping. It turned out to be a dove stop. There were three different species of doves all in the same vicinity: Ruddy Ground-Dove, Common Ground-Dove, and Inca Dove. We watched a bit before continuing west on Eddins, where we made a quick stop for some Burrowing Owls, also catching fly-bys of Red-winged Blackbird, White-faced Ibis, and Black Tern.

Wood StorkWinding up north to Alcott Road, we added some water birds such as Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Wood Stork, Common Moorhen, Dowitcher (not sure whether it was of the Short-billed or Long-billed variety), American White Pelican, Greater Yellowlegs, and American Coot. Also seen were Killdeer, a Yellow-headed Blackbird, and a Greater Roadrunner.

Down to Hazard Road, we were able to add Snowy Plover, Greater Flamingo, and Stilt Sandpiper before heading on to the intersection of Red Hill and Grant Roads where the list continued to grow with Black Skimmer, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Forster’s Tern, and Brown Pelican.

Wood StorkMy note-taking at this point started to get really spotty. We stopped at a couple more places, but I didn’t add any birds since they were already noted previously in the day. Plus, it was up to 101 degrees with enough humidity that you’d almost have to go into the water to dry off. Anyway, somewhere in there was our bird of the day: the Yellow-footed Gull. At our last stop on Lack Road, we got another good look at the Wood Stork, with sometimes-mingling Great Egret and Snowy Egret. They were all lined up like they were watching a comedy show or something. Maybe they were just panting. I expect it was the latter.

We wrapped it up around 2 pm and started heading back up the 111 towards LA. Just before the 10 Freeway south of Coachella, we stopped at a date farm and had our last treat of the day: a delicious frosty date shake!

I was thankful for the air conditioning in the car on the way home, but I think one tends to ignore or forget (at least a little) about some of the extreme weather one encounters when out observing nature. Out of all the photos I took, I only ended up with a fraction that were keepers…mostly because of all the heat waves. It’s nice to be able to revisit and share everything you saw when you were out, but being able to appreciate nature and creatures in their natural habitat first hand is the real pay-off. There’s just something magical about it that can’t be replicated.



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