Salton Sea Highlights 2010-2011

 

Updated 07-30-2011

The following are highlights from several trips I made to the Salton Sea during the Fall and Winter of 2010 and early 2011.

I have really been blessed to be able to call Southern California my home and have some may great places to go to within a few hours of my house.  The number of environments are staggering and the diversity of wildlife is impressive.  One tends to get spoiled when you live in the same place for your entire life and I am guilty of taking for granted the access that I have to so many different spots so close to home!   One of those, and perhaps my "local" favorite, is the Salton Sea area.

The Salton Sea is about a 1.5 hour drive for me, to get me into the heart of the birding areas and other than the middle of the summer, it's a pretty "cool" place to visit.   There are several great web sites that go in to great details about the area so I will not do a complete citation on the history and ecosystems of this place other than to say, it's one of those places that, if you are a birder in particular, you have to go to at least once.  Even if you are not a bird watching enthusiast, it would be hard to image that you would not at least be slightly impressed with the sheer volume of life in the area and it's not a "wild" area either.  It's heavily agricultural, in fact you'd be hard pressed to find much of anything "native" or "natural" other than some salt bush and creosote here and there.  That may be why the area supports so much life.  It's sort of like a "rest area" along a long, deserted highway.  It's a friendly stop on a long northerly or southerly journey for many of the birds that come here.  Check out the following links for more information on the Salton Sea:

http://www.fws.gov/saltonsea/

http://www.desertusa.com/salton/oct_salton.html

http://southwestbirders.com/swb_birdfinding_salton_sea.htm

I have a fairly regular pattern that I have been following the past few years on my visits to "the sea", unless there is a specific target or rare bird (e.g. the Bean Goose from this past fall) then I will typically start with Cattle Call Park in Brawley and make my way to the Visitor's Center and then take the sea wall to Red Hill, work my way back and around over the SW side of the sea and then head back home.  This is an area where you have to constantly be on the lookout.  Each field could contain something out of the ordinary.  Freshly plowed or burned fields for example could have Longspurs, Mountain Plover or Red-throated Pipits, each telephone pole could have a Prairie Falcon or Peregrine, each Gull could be the next Ross's Gull or Ivory Gull to be seen here, Yellow-footed Gulls are as common some times as California Gulls, all the species of Terns can be found here, and don't forget to look for Flamingos!  I think you get the drift.  I will make some additional comments below but for the most part, the pictures can do the talking from here on out...

Abert's Towhee

As I stated in the preamble above, I have been starting at Cattle Call park in Brawley as a first stop on may occasions.  It's a great place for some of the more "land loving" birds and in the fall and winter also good for some harder to find species.  Vermilion Flycatcher, Warblers and even Gray Flycatcher are more or less regulars there.  It's also a good, consistent spot to pick up Gila Woodpecker, Red-shafted Flicker, Abert's Towhee (as above) and Gambel's Quail.

American Avocet

One of the great things about the Salton Sea is that you never know what you are going to see.  One trip California Gulls and Caspian Terns will be everywhere, the next time it will be Forster's Terns and Black Terns, or you could see a hundred Black Skimmers huddled together on a sand bank.  Just never know.  On this particular trip, Herring Gulls were abundant...

American Herring Gull

 

American Herring Gull

 

American Herring Gull

There is typically an abundance of Hawks and Falcons in the valley.  American Kestrels are quite common as are Red-tailed Hawks but many species of hawks and falcons can be seen in the area.  White-tailed Kites can also be around at the right time of the year and it's a very dependable spot for Northern Harrier as well.

American Kestrel

 

American White Pelican

The shot below kind of tells it all!  Not only are there a ton of different species (and some rarities) but the sheer abundance is also amazing!  In the winter when you have tens-of-thousands of Snow Geese and then layer on top of that tens if not hundreds of thousands of ducks of all species, it's pretty mind-boggling!

American White Pelicans mixed with Brown Pelicans and assorted gulls

 

Anna's Hummingbird

 

Black Phoebe

 

Black Skimmers

 

Black Tern

 

Black Terns

 

Black-bellied Plover

 

Black-bellied Plover

Just about any of the irrigation canals in the area are going to have all of the normal species of herons and egrets hanging around.  It's a very dependable spot for Black-crowned Night Heron for example.

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

Black-necked Stilt

As I mentioned earlier. The fall and winter (and to some extent spring) are excellent times to visit some of the areas for things other than waterfowl and shorebirds.  There are usually large numbers of migrating warblers around as well. 

Black-throated Gray Warbler

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

Brandt

 

Brown Pelican

 

Brown Pelican

 

More Brown Pelicans in flight

 

Brown Pelican

 

Bullock's Oriole

Another one of my favorite things about the Salton Sea area is that it's one of the worlds best places to see Burrowing Owls.  These little owls with attitude are quite common if you know where to look.  My favorite time to see them is in the late winter/early spring when their young are fledging.  You will often see mother guarding the "door" with two big pairs of yellow eyes peering out at you from a little bit further back in the burrow.  Just about any dirt canal or berm will have at least one Burrowing Owl as a resident.  My record count for one day is 26.

Burrowing Owl

 

 

Burrowing Owl

 

 

Burrowing Owl

 

 

Burrowing Owl

 

 

Burrowing Owl

 

 

Burrowing Owl

 

 

Burrowing Owl

 

Caspian Tern

 

Caspian Tern

 

Caspian Tern

 

Cattle Egret

 

Cattle Egret

 

 

Cattle Egret

 

Cinnamon Teal Pair taking off

 

Cinnamon Teal

 

Barn Swallow

 

 

Barn Swallow

 

Barn Swallow

 

Common Moorehen

 

Common Yellowthroat

 

Double-crested Cormorant

 

Double-crested Cormorant

 

 

Double-crested Cormorant

 

Dragonfly sp.

 

Dragonfly Sp.

 

More Cormorants

 

Eared Grebe

 

Eared Grebe

 

Eared Grebe

 

Eared Grebe

 

Eurasian Collared Dove

 

European Starling

 

Gamble's Quail

 

Gamble's Quail

 

Gila Woodpecker

 

Glaucous-winged Gull

 

Gray Flycatcher

 

Gray Flycatcher

 

Gray Flycatcher

 

Gray Flycatcher

 

Great Blue Heron

 

Great Blue Heron

 

Great Blue Heron

 

Great Blue Heron

 

Great Egret

 

Great Egret

The Salton Sea is also a consistent place to see California's main contribution to the Cuckoo family, the Greater Roadrunner.   They can be quite abundant at times as well.  This one below was one of six that I chased around a freshly plowed field as they were feasting on easy pickings of large insects and ocassionally a lizard...

Greater Roadrunner

 

Greater Roadrunner

 

Greater Roadrunner

 

Greater White-fronted Goose

 

Greater Yellowlegs

 

Greater Yellowlegs

 

Greater Yellowlegs

 

Female Hooded Oriole

 

Horned Lark

 

Horned Lark

 

House Sparrow

 

Killdeer

 

Killdeer

 

Lark Sparrow

 

Laughing Gulls

 

Laughing Gulls

 

Lesser Sandpiper

 

Lesser Sandpiper

I am sure other people have more luck with these species than I do but the Salton Sea is also the only place I have ever found Nighthawks active during the day.  On several occasions I have seen Lesser Nighthawk, like the one below flying around catching insects during broad daylight hours.  Makes it a ton easier to photograph them!

Lesser Nighthawk

 

Lesser Scaup

 

Loggerhead Shrike

 

Long-billed Curlew

 

Long-billed Curlew

 

Long-billed Dowitcher

 

Long-billed Dowitcher

 

Marsh Wren

 

Mixed shorbirds along the Salton Sea

 

Nashville Warbler

 

Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker

 

Northern Harrier

 

Northern Harrier

 

Northern Harrier

 

 

Northern Harrier

 

Nothern Mockingbird

 

Northern Shoveler

 

Orange-crowned Warbler

There are several resident Osprey that I have probably taken 10,000 pictures of over the years.  They seem to be very comfortable here and calm and at least my experience has been that they allow close approach making the photography a breeze!

Osprey

 

Osprey

 

Osprey

 

Osprey

As mentioned earlier, you never know what you are going to see!  I flushed this Prairie Falcon (only the second one I have ever photographed) while trying to get a picture of a Loggerhead Shrike.  It was sitting in the same tree as the Shrike and I never saw it until it took off!

Prairie Falcon

 

Prairie Falcon

 

Red-necked Phalerope

 

Red-tailed Hawk

 

Ring-billed Gull

 

 

Rock Wren

 

Rock Wren

 

Ross's Goose (Dark Morph - possibly Ross's x Snow Goose hybrid)

 

Ross's Goose (Dark Morph - possibly Ross's x Snow Goose hybrid)

 

Ross's Goose (Dark Morph - possibly Ross's x Snow Goose hybrid)

 

Ruddy Duck

 

Rufous Hummingbird

Another one of those "you never know" moments when I caught this Sage Thrasher silently moving through the brush at the Visitor Center.  Only my second one ever!

Sage Thrasher

 

Sage Thrasher

 

Masses of shorebirds - near Red Hill

 

How many species can you see here?

 

Sandhill Cranes taking flight

 

Sandhill Cranes

 

Savannah Sparrow

 

Savannah Sparrow

 

Say's Phoebe

 

Dowitchers coming in for a landing, possibly Short-billed

 

Another Dowitcher, showing the distinctive rump and back patterns

 

A few Snow Geese in a pond

 

Snow Geese

 

Snowy Egret

 

Snowy Egret

 

Snowy Egret

 

Stilt Sandpiper

 

 

Tree Swallow (on left)

 

Verdin

 

Verdin

 

Verdin

 

Verdin

 

Western Grebe

 

Willet

 

Wilson's Warbler

 

Wilson's Warbler

 

Yellow-footed Gulls

 

Yellow-footed Gulls

 

More Yellow-footed Gulls

 

Yellow-headed Blackbird

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Well, as I said, I was going to try to let the pictures to most of the talking on this report and I hope they did!  I wish you all the best and hope to run into you somewhere "out there"! 

Thanks again - Brad -

 



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