#465 and #466 at the Salton Sea

A couple of weekends ago (March 21-22), Beth was out of town so I decided to drive farther than normal from my usual O.C. stomping grounds. In particular, I decided to take a spin around the Salton Sea. It’s about 300 miles there, around, and back again, and seemed like a good fit for a weekend. I didn’t get as many life birds as I hoped but I did add two, plus one new species for my California list.

The first bird came almost as soon as I arrived Saturday morning. I drove down Lincoln Street to the Whitewater River delta. However all the gates were closed, and marked off with no trespassing signs. Bummer. However on the way back, I watched an Abert’s Towhee scurry off to the side of the road. This wasn’t a great look, and I might not even count it, except that I saw another one at my last stop of the day at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Visitor Center, and two more the next morning in a vacant lot in Brawley. More often than not, the first bird is a “Is that what I think it was?” and you have to find a few more to be sure. That was the case for #465.

#466 though, left no room for doubt. I’ve looked for Common Ground-doves, without success at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine where they breed; but I found them all over the ground at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Visitor Center where they were attracted to the feeders. Basically this is a sparrow-sized Mourning Dove. I even got pictures:


Although, just now as I look at the photos I notice this bird was banded. Hmm… That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not countable; and I did see more than one individual, at least one of which flew. Still if this is not really a wild bird, it doesn’t really count. Fortunately, I found another one the next morning at the Riverview Cemetery in Brawley, and that one counts even if this one doesn’t.

Another birder also showed me a Barn Owl roosting right next to the center. Not a lifer but rare and special nonetheless. I also had a maybe on a Yellow-footed Gull after walking the path out to the Sea, but I couldn’t be quite sure.

I stayed the night in Calipatria, after a brief stop at the hog farm to look for Ruddy Ground-dove. No luck, though I did find my first Kestrel of the trip.

The next day was not as good. I had an even stronger maybe on a Yellow-footed Gull in Salton City, but again I couldn’t be sure. I found some great birds, especially at Unit 1, including Wilson’s Snipe, Clapper Rail (heard only), and American Pipit but no life birds. Finney-Ramer Lakes had a Greater Roadrunner but I couldn’t explore very far without a 4-wheel drive vehicle. I drove around for a while in a suburban part of Brawley listening for Gila Woodpecker without success. I stopped by the state prison to look for Mountain Plovers, but I was a few weeks too late for them. I decided not to make the drive further south to search for Wood Storks that were probably already gone. Maybe if I’d had another day or a second person to split the driving with I could have done it. Still, the total for day 2 was a respectable 50 species:

  • Eared Grebe
  • American White Pelican
  • Brown Pelican
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Killdeer
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • California Gull
  • Glaucous-winged Gull
  • Caspian Tern
  • Forster’s Tern
  • White-winged Dove
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Turkey Vulture
  • American Wigeon
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Great Egret
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Northern Harrier
  • Clapper Rail
  • American Coot
  • Killdeer
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Black Phoebe
  • Tree Swallow
  • American Pipit
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Great Egret
  • Common Ground-Dove
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • House Finch
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Western Grebe
  • Clark’s Grebe
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • American Kestrel
  • Common Moorhen
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • Northern Flicker
  • European Starling
  • Phainopepla
  • White-crowned Sparrow

I left a little earlier than planned on Sunday afternoon because I was exhausted, and because the sites on the west side of the sea weren’t as good after I left Unit 2. Plus some horrendous winds kicked up in the late morning. I spent an hour waiting for them to die down in a truck stop, but no luck so I just pushed on till the winds died down around the Morongo Casino. It was some of the scariest driving I’ve done in a long time, but it was either that or do it at night in winds, dark, and rain.

One thing I’ll definitely do if I return is bring a four-wheel drive truck or equivalently solid vehicle. Except for maybe three spots, every single stop was a dirt road at best, often several miles long and not always well maintained. My poor little Prius did not appreciate that.

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