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South-end Salton Sea Trip Report: 6-7 Feb. 2010

February 7, 2010

Caliche. Ka-LEE-chay. Also know as hardpan. It’s a layer of calcium carbonate, impenetrable to water, near the top of the soil. It’s common in deserts and it’s good to know about when birding the south-end Salton Sea area during or after a rainstorm. When wet, this stuff glues itself to your tires (shoes, too!) in a layer an inch or more thick, immediately turning them into slicks for as long as you remain on dirt. Back on pavement, you’ll think you’re driving through gravel as it flies off your tires and rattles your floorboards.  Loads of fun.

Red-winged & Yellow-headed Blackbirds (L.Johnson 2/10)

But the birds were good. We found many of the local target birds in between the light showers. Some, like Snow Goose and Cattle Egret, were in huge numbers. Others, such as No. Shoveler, No. Pintail, White Pelican, White-faced Ibis, Long-billed Curlew, Ring-billed Gull and Red-winged Blackbird are common around LA County, but not in such huge numbers. Even the Gambel’s Quail, Sandhill Crane, Mountain Plover, Yellow-footed Gull, Common Ground-Dove, Burrowing Owl and Abert’s Towhee were in larger than usual numbers. Saturday’s birding ended at Unit 1 in the SW corner of the sea: the cranes and geese ululating and honking; the geese and White Pelicans swirling in the sky. The Clapper Rail, calling from it’s reedy haunt, would not come out despite our enticing clicks and croaks.

Sandhill Cranes & Geese (L.Johnson 2/10)

Dinner was at Christina’s, a little Mexican restaurant with delicious food to which we were introduced a couple of years ago, located a few blocks east of the tracks in Brawley on the north side of Hwy 78 (Main St.). I highly recommend it.

After breakfast, Sunday birding started at Ramer Lake, searching for Crissal Thrashers to no avail. We skipped Finney Lake, expecting it would be caliche-impassable, so we set off towards the Calipatria Prison where we found a field full of Killdeer and Mountain Plover about a half mile south of the prison. In an attempt to get closer to the MoPl’s, we came close to getting bogged in the caliche. While looking for a suitable spot to turn the cars around we stumbled on our only Lapland Longspur and 2 Mountain Bluebirds.

The day ended before noon where it often does, in Brawley’s Cattle Call Park. Gila Woodpeckers in the palms, Vermilion Flycatcher busy at work, a Prairie Falcon in the distance and, just before we left, a Zone-tailed Hawk flew in and perched in a tree. It’s hard to top that, so we left. We stopped at Oasis Date Gardens in Indio (old Hwy 195 between Airport Rd. and Ave. 62, a few miles north of Mecca) for a date shake and burgers.  We’ve gotten them here for years, but recently discovered that Shield’s Date Gardens (Indio, Hwy 111 between Jefferson & Monroe) makes a better shake.  Both places have great selections of delicious dates.

Except for the Sandhill Cranes, the numbers higher than 20 in the list below are estimates, sometimes merely wild guesses. Birds of particular interest are in bold.

Snow Goose 6,000 Long-billed Dowitcher 200
Ross’s Goose 500 Ring-billed Gull 5,000
Gadwall 10 Yellow-footed Gull 4
American Wigeon 30 Caspian Tern 3
Mallard 60 Rock Pigeon 10
Blue-winged Teal 2 Eur. Collared-Dove 60
Cinnamon Teal 4 White-winged Dove 4
Northern Shoveler 1,000 Mourning Dove 300
Northern Pintail 1,000 Com. Ground-Dove 20
Green-winged Teal 30 Greater Roadrunner 1
Redhead 4 Burrowing Owl 9
Lesser Scaup 100 Anna’s Hummingbird 2
Ruddy Duck 300 Costa’s Hummingbird 1
Gambel’s Quail 16 Belted Kingfisher 1
Am. White Pelican 300 Gila Flicker 2
Brown Pelican 20 Northern Flicker 1
Dbl-crestd Cormorant 200 Black Phoebe 10
Great Blue Heron 10 Say’s Phoebe 3
Great Egret 20 Vermilion Flycatcher 1
Snowy Egret 4 Loggerhead Shrike 2
Cattle Egret 1,000 Common Raven 20
Blk-crwned Night-Heron 1 Horned Lark 100
White-faced Ibis 400 Tree Swallow 20
Turkey Vulture 15 Verdin 3
Osprey 1 Cactus Wren 2
White-tailed Kite 1 Marsh Wren 3
Northern Harrier 20 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 Mountain Bluebird 2
Zone-tailed Hawk 1 Northern Mockingbird 2
Red-tailed Hawk 25 European Starling 50
American Kestrel 20 American Pipit 100
Peregrine Falcon 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler 20
Prairie Falcon 1 Abert’s Towhee 12
Clapper Rail (H) 1 Savannah Sparrow 4
Sora 1 Song Sparrow 4
American Coot 500 White-crownd Sparrow 50
Sandhill Crane 185 Lapland Longspur 1
Killdeer 100 Red-winged Blackbird 10,000
Mountain Plover 60 Tricolored Blackbird 1
Black-necked Stilt 100 Western Meadowlark 200
American Avocet 30 Yellow-head Blackbird 30
Greater Yellowlegs 2 Brewer’s Blackbird 200
Lesser Yellowlegs 1 Great-tailed Grackle 40
Long-billed Curlew 500 Brown-headed Cowbird 20
Marbled Godwit 40 House Finch 30
Least Sandpiper 50 House Sparrow 30

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