#464 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Sunday, 3/1/09, Beth and I had coffee on the patio of our hotel, and then played a little tennis before it got too hot. The hotel grounds were surprisingly birdy with numerous great-tailed grackles and White-winged Doves (a California bird) making quite a racket. I also spotted one Verdin and an American Kestrel. After tennis, we headed out to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor’s Center and enjoyed some more Verdins, Costa’s Hummingbirds, and Black-chinned Sparrows in their garden. We also followed the path to the Palm Canyon campground, where we found some quail, likely California. After brunch at a Mexican restaurant, we drove back down the Yaqui Pass Road and stopped at the Tamarisk Grove Campground one more time. This time there were even more moths, as well as a Bewick’s Wren.

We had come up through the mountains on 78 through Julian, but we decided to take a slightly more roundabout route home along the Great Southern Overland Stage Road to see some different scenery, avoid the winding mountain roads, and check out some of the parks along the way. Our first stop was at the Vallecito County Park at 1:00 P.M. By this point it was quite hot, and most birds had retired for the day. Beth stayed in the air conditioned car while I looked for the few birds that were still active in the heat. White-winged Doves were doing their Barn Owl imitations. Costa’s Hummingbirds were buzzing. Common Ravens were croaking. House Finches and Verdins were cheeping. Phainopeplas were everywhere (relatively speaking).


And after walking around the campground for 20 minutes or so, a small gray and black bird buzzed by. I got my binoculars on it, and for sure it was a gnatcatcher. It looked a lot like a California Gnatcatcher, but California Gnatcatchers are coastal birds of the sage scrub. Out here in the desert, it could only be a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, #464. I followed tit form bush to bush, and got some good looks but was never able to get a photo. Maybe next time.

Our next and final stop was at Aqua Caliente County Park about 14 miles down the road. This is built around some natural hot springs, and has a pool and a spa. This was sufficient to distract Beth for an hour or so, and let me explore a little further. Here I found another Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, some California Quail and White-winged Doves, Mourning Doves, White-crowned Sparrows, still more Phainopeplas, and a Greater Roadrunner. No new life birds though.

Greater Roadrunner with grub in mouth

We got back on the road a little before three, and then drove straight through to Orange County. We did pass through a few immigration checkpoints on the way. I wanted to stop at Bow Willow Campground to look for Canyon Wren and Leconte’s Thrasher, but we had a 6:00 deadline to pick up our dog at the vet, so we skipped it. Maybe next time.

Our total list for the weekend was quite small, maybe 30 birds total and several of those were just seen from I-5 on the drive down. However four of the birds were lifers, and several others were very uncommon back home, so it made a very nice weekend. And of course there were lots of flowers, lizards, mammals, and insects too. (Surprisingly we saw no snakes, not that Beth minded this.) I’ll post some photos of those in upcoming weeks. If you’ve never been to the desert, March is a wonderful time to visit.

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