Winter Wonderland at the Salton Sea, Day 2

Posted by ardeidae on February 01, 2006

After a spectacular first day at the Los Angeles Audubon Society's winter trip to the Salton Sea, I was eager to see what Day #2 had in store for us. As Carol and I approached Cattle Call Park in Brawley, my radio picked up talk from two members of our party that had already arrived. They had spotted a Gray Flycatcher (Empidonax wrightii) and were trying to get some photos. About the time we parked the car, other people were arriving. We got out and waited for the rest to show up. It was 33 degrees and sunny, with very little breeze. A quick glimpse of a Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) made for a good start of the day. A Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) flew by and landed atop a mid-size palm tree. A few minutes later, everyone had arrived, so we drove to the south side of the park and joined in on the search for the Gray Flycatcher.

Gray Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Moments after getting out of our cars, the Gray Flycatcher landed on a barbed-wire fence on a gate about 30 yards away.
Vermilion Flycatcher
That perch wasn't the most desirable place for a photo, but I snapped off a few anyway. About that time, a young Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) flew into a nearby tree. I managed a couple photos before the Grey Flycatcher landed in a tree about 20 feet away. We all refocused our attention as it gave us some good looks, and some excellent photos. It flew off and tagged the Vermilion Flycatcher who flew in for a closer look at us. It landed on the rope railings of a fence and twitted around a bit before flying into a tree for a more natural look. I got some good shots before it hopped back down on the rope. It must have stayed around for a good ten minutes.

Gila Woodpecker
As we continued on, we heard a call about a Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis). Sure enough there were two of them on a small tree. Quite active, they were, circling the tree as they climbed. A few moments later two more joined. There were a total of four on that small tree, all at the same time! The party soon broke up and they went their separate ways. One of them chose a highly visible palm tree, content at hanging around for a while. It was soon time to head out to the next location. During our time there, we also saw a Gambel's Quail (Callipepla gambelii) dancing around on the ground, as well as a Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) and White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi) in the air. (Not at the same time, thankfully for the ibis.)

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue
We headed up the 86 and turned onto Vendel Road. A Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) sat on a utility line. A little further ahead we got a call on the radio about a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) on the right side of the road. We slowed down to get a good look. I was looking toward the field, but it was only a few feet away from the road. As we stopped, it threatened to fly off, but must have thought it wasn't worth the effort. Instead it turned back and posed for us. I've never gotten this close of a look, and it was standing tall. What an awesome creature!

A half of a mile up the road, we passed some cattle (Cowus moous) and stopped to look at the field of Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) and Ross's Geese (Chen rossii). We were specifically looking for a blue morph, but no luck. The cattle were very curious and before no time they all mosied over to see what we were up to. Good thing for the fence; I have a feeling they would have hoarded the scope. On the other side of the road, a pond turned up American Coot (Fulica americana), Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca), and Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus). We even had a fly-by of a Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) and a quick visit by a Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans).

We continued down to Unit 2. A Black-necked Stilt spent some time poking around in the water. American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos were in the distance. We heard the call of Sora (Porzana carolina) coming from the reeds in the marsh, and periodically one would pop out into view. One has to be paying attention to get good shots because they seem to disappear as quickly as they came.

After Unit 2, we worked our way over to Lack Road where there were some Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) gathered on a dead tree in the water. As we passed Lindsey, we came upon another dead tree in the water, this time hosting a perched Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Carol and I stopped to get some pictures, but it took off, only to circle around and land almost in the same place. We continued on to Grubel, where we hopped out to see if we could spot a Yellow-footed Gull (Larus livens) among the Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) flying around, but no luck. We drove up a couple hundred yards and checked out all the shore birds wading around. There was quite the collection: Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana), Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus), Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), and Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa). There were also Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) and Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), which are much easier to identify when they're standing side by side. Some Black-necked Stilts pranced around in the water, and on occasion, one would fly by for a good shot.

Geese eating gravel
Geese eating
We spent another half hour or so checking more places where there might be a Yellow-footed Gull, but none of them wanted to be seen, so we headed back to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Wildlife Refuge to have some lunch. As we approached, we passed by a field loaded with Snow and Ross's Geese. Some of them were standing in the corner of the field dining on gravel. I remember eating gravel as a kid and it didn't taste too good. But I guess if you rely on a gizzard to chew your food, you'd learn to like it.
Gambel's Quail
Gambel's Quail
After downing my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (sans gravel), I wandered over to where the Gambel's Quail were the day before. This time the male quail were the ones who were more cooperative for a photograph, though they spent most of their time proving their dominance over each other. An Abert's Towhee (Pipilo aberti) and Northern Mockingbird both landed in nearby trees and posed quite nicely while a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) and a few White-crowned Sparrows gathered on the ground to see if they could find something to eat. A Verdin (Auriparus flaviceps) also showed itself.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
After lunch we set off for Eddin and Sperry roads, a place notorious for dove gatherings, and we found plenty of them. At first the most active bird was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) fluttering around in a tree by the side of the road. Most of my attempts at getting a photo ended up in blurred or blank branch, but I managed to get one or two keepers. Then it was time to rack up the doves. We spotted Ruddy Ground-Dove (Colmbina talpacoti), Ringed Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia risoria), Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), Inca Dove (Columbina inca), and Mourning Dove. Quite a nice catch in the half-hour or so that we were there, though many of them declined the opportunity to be photographed.

We continued our search for the Yellow-footed Gull, near Garst and Red Hill roads, No gull, but there were Black-necked Stilt, Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), Kildeer (Charadrius vociferus), and Northern Shoveler. Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) turned out to be the highlight of the stop.

We were starting to lose the light, but we were close enough to the Wister Unit to make one last stop to look for that Rufous-backed Robin, but still no luck. Maybe next time. It quickly got dark, so we all said our goodbyes. Most of the crew took off, but Carol and I had decided to stay one more night, so we headed back to Calipatria.

The next morning, we packed it up around 9. Since Wister Unit was on our way home, we gave that robin one last chance to show itself. It would have been awesome to say it did, but it was chilly and windy, and there really wasn't much out and about. Nonetheless, the Salton Sea once again proved to be a wonderland of birds. Make sure to check out my Birds of the Salton Sea photo set.





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