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South-end Salton Sea Trip Report: 11-12 Feb. 2012

February 14, 2012
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It was very gusty at times but at least we didn’t have rain-soaked caliche clogging up the tire treads as we did in 2010. Foam and spray blowing off the waves made birding difficult along the seashore.

We began finding local specialties at the Wister Unit meeting spot: several Verdin, two Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, several Abert’s Towhees, and a large flock of Gambel’s Quail crossing Davis Rd. There was only a single Killdeer at the mud pots, but the hunting ponds were full of ducks, mostly Northern Snoveler, Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal. A large flock of Barn Swallows perched on a phone wire on Schrimpf Rd. (one birder thought some were Rough-winged) and scattered when a Red-Tailed Hawk soared by.

The Garst Rd. ponds held even more ducks and a large contingent of White-faced Ibis. Although the sea at the road’s end has retreated even farther, we still found loads of ducks, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets (including one just beginning to develop a red head), Ring-billed Gulls, and a single Forester’s Tern, but no Yellow-footed Gulls. The previously submerged sand bar towards Mullet Is., once home to flamingos and other long-legged waders, is now exposed and covered with vegetation.

Sonny Bono Refuge HQ provides a great lunch stop, with Abert’s Towhees and Gambel Quail around the picnic tables and at the feeder. About a dozen Common Ground-Doves patrolled the parking lot. We decided to walk out to the pond at Observation Hill, and found it full of the usual ducks, joined by Long-billed Dowitchers, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Ducks, a few Lesser Scaup, and a great many California Gulls in extremely bright breeding plumage, with bright yellow feet and yellow-orange bills. We had a brief flurry of excitement when one of us – not saying who, to protect the guilty – mistakenly took the really bright and not-so-close Calif. Gulls as Yellow-footed Gulls. Well, they did have yellow feet, but otherwise, they were too small and too gray. (I admit it – it was me.)

Gulls & ducks at Refuge HQ pond (C. Almdale)

Just outside the park HQ we found a Burrowing Owl hiding inside a plastic culvert-like thing with just his head poking out. We then checked out a Snow Goose flock and found some Ross’s Geese among them  At nearby Obsidian Butte we again didn’t find Yellow-footed Gull, nor around the sea perimeter road to Lack & Lindsey Rds.  Tons of gulls and a few Greater Yellowlegs, but the wind was so fierce that we fled.

By 4:30pm we were at the seed factory on Carey Rd. south of Brawley (between Hwy 86 & Dogwood Rd.) enjoying distant views of about 100 Sandhill Crane. Many cranes feed on the seed & chaff here, so it’s a good place to locate them before they go to their evening roost. The roosting location varies, but when they leave, you can follow them to the roost if you are speedy & lucky. This time, they were in a shallow pond on the east side of Dogwood, but it was on private land and a long view through the scopes.  But it’s always nice to hear them ululating as they fly, even on a noisy roadside.

After dining at the famous Christine’s Mexican restaurant on east Main St. in Brawley, and an early bedtime, we re-grouped the next morning at nearby Cattle Call Park.  After much searching we found a pair of extremely-active-but-momentarily-resting Gila Woodpeckers, the world’s brightest yellow Orange-crowned Warbler, and had a very good – albeit brief – view of the Zone-tailed Hawk, who flew back and forth behind a tree across the valley and was spotted by the ever-alert Alex.  This is the first time I’ve seen this bird this early and without the usual companionship of al flock of Turkey Vultures.

We searched in vain through the roosting & nesting Double-crested Cormorants at Ramer Lake for a reported Neotropic Cormorant. Instead we found an odd duck, actively bathing and keeping out of sight inside the branches of fallen snags. We later agreed that it was a juvenile Eurasian Wigeon.

We then toodled over to Unit One. On the way we stopped and watched flocks of 1000’s of White Pelicans, soaring high overhead. Arnold Small once told me that they’re not getting ready to migrate, as we guessed, but “they just like to get up and exercise their wings.”  At Unit One we found the expected large flocks of Snow Geese as well as plenty of Ross’s, and, not so expected, about 300 Sandhill Cranes grazing in the field.  From the observation tower, we saw in the far distance a great many ducks including about 60 Redhead.  Below us a Sora and several Marsh Wrens called, but wouldn’t appear.

The trip was declared over. We stopped at the date shake place in Thermal, then headed homeward, only to find the mother of all traffic jams on the #10 at the San Gorgonio Pass.  There was a 3.5 hour delay because CalTrans – fixing a few potholes near Banning – encountered still-unexplained problems which turned an expected 6-hour job into a multi-day carmageddon.   [Chuck Almdale]

H – Heard Only
In Bold – Bird of Special Interest

South-end Salton Sea

2/11-12/12

2/6-7/10

Snow Goose

1000’s

6,000

Ross’s Goose

300

500

Gadwall

40

10

Eurasian Wigeon

1

American Wigeon

200

30

Mallard

100

60

Blue-winged Teal

2

Cinnamon Teal

25

4

Northern Shoveler

1,000

1,000

Northern Pintail

1,000

1,000

Green-winged Teal

400

30

Redhead

60

4

Lesser Scaup

3

100

Bufflehead

5

Ruddy Duck

80

300

Gambel’s Quail

30

16

Pied-billed Grebe

5

Horned Grebe

1

Eared Grebe

50

Western Grebe

2

Double-crested Cormorant

200

200

American White Pelican

1000’s

300

Brown Pelican

100

20

Great Blue Heron

30

10

Great Egret

20

20

Snowy Egret

50

4

Cattle Egret

1000’s

1,000

Green Heron

1

Black-crowned Night-Heron

20

1

White-faced Ibis

1000’s

400

Turkey Vulture

20

15

Osprey

1

1

White-tailed Kite

5

1

Northern Harrier

30

20

Sharp-shinned Hawk

1

Cooper’s Hawk

1

Zone-tailed Hawk

1

1

Red-tailed Hawk

40

25

American Kestrel

20

20

Peregrine Falcon

1

1

Prairie Falcon

1

Clapper Rail

(H) 1

Sora

(H) 1

1

Common Gallinule

1

American Coot

50

500

Sandhill Crane

300

185

Black-bellied Plover

10

Killdeer

100

100

Mountain Plover

60

Black-necked Stilt

400

100

American Avocet

500

30

Spotted Sandpiper

1

Greater Yellowlegs

4

2

Lesser Yellowlegs

1

Long-billed Curlew

75

500

Marbled Godwit

30

40

Least Sandpiper

20

50

Long-billed Dowitcher

100

200

Ring-billed Gull

1000’s

5,000

Yellow-footed Gull

4

California Gull

500

Herring Gull

10

Glaucous-winged Gull

2

Caspian Tern

60

3

Forster’s Tern

1

Black Skimmer

1

Rock Pigeon

50

10

Eurasian Collared-Dove

70

60

White-winged Dove

2

4

Mourning Dove

50

300

Inca Dove

2

Common Ground-Dove

12

20

Greater Roadrunner

4

1

Burrowing Owl

1

9

Anna’s Hummingbird

2

2

Costa’s Hummingbird

1

Belted Kingfisher

2

1

Gila Woodpecker

4

2

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

2

Northern Flicker

4

1

Black Phoebe

12

10

Say’s Phoebe

6

3

Vermilion Flycatcher

1

Western Kingbird

2

Loggerhead Shrike

6

2

Common Raven

200

20

Horned Lark

100

Tree Swallow

60

20

Barn Swallow

200

Verdin

9

3

Cactus Wren

2

Bewick’s Wren

1

Marsh Wren

(H) 4

3

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

3

2

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

2

Mountain Bluebird

2

American Robin

20

Northern Mockingbird

25

2

European Starling

100

50

American Pipit

40

100

Orange-crowned Warbler

3

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Audubon

30

20

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Myrtle

1

Abert’s Towhee

10

12

Savannah Sparrow

4

Song Sparrow

4

4

White-crowned Sparrow

60

50

Lapland Longspur

1

Red-winged Blackbird

1,000

10,000

Tricolored Blackbird

1

Western Meadowlark

60

200

Yellow-headed Blackbird

5

30

Brewer’s Blackbird

40

200

Great-tailed Grackle

50

40

Brown-headed Cowbird

30

20

House Finch

100

30

Lesser Goldfinch

4

American Goldfinch

7

House Sparrow

100

30

Total Species

103

92

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