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Business/Birding Trip to Palm Springs, California (1 Viewer)

veagle

Well-known member
In Palm Springs for 2 days of a national meeting of College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. The plan is to spend a half day today in the Mountains north of Palm Springs, and on Friday, meet with Henry Detwiler of Southwest Birders, who will spend the day with me at the Salton Sea. Flew from Rapid City, via Denver, where I saw 3 House Sparrows in the Denver Airport. Upon arriving in Palm Springs, I rented a car from Budget, and drove up the Palms to Pines Highway, out of Indian Wells. My first stop was at the Pinyon Flats Campground. Not much of a campground, but I got good looks at a number of Western Scrub-Jays. Climbing steadily, the temperature dropped and the the skies got very cloudy. After the intersection with Highway 371, I saw some birds along the road, pulled over, and got plenty of looks at a good group of Western Bluebirds. Also some Say’s Phoebe, and then got a glimpse of a mostly black Woodpecker, as it flew across the road. As I got closer, I saw an excellent Acorn Woodpecker, with the obligatory acorn in its mouth.
Another couple of miles ahead was Hemet Lake, where I got a parking permit, and drove along the lake to a parking area where there was quite a bit of activity. Before parking, I had spotted a small group of White-crowned Sparrows. Spotting some birds in the water, I walked closer, and was somewhat disappointed to see nothing but American Coot. But as I walked closer to the water, a number of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted about in the trees near the lake, along with a number of Dark-eyed Juncos, of the Cassiar sub-species. Also in the trees were a number of Mountain Chickadees, a Northern Flicker, and a Pygmy Nuthatch. I walked over to a fence which separated the state park from a private area, and found 3 striking Lesser Goldfinches about 10 feet away. Nearby was an American Goldfinch, and a House Finch.
I started walking back toward my car, and spotted several large birds near a trailer at the far side of the parking area. As I got closer, I got really good views of half a dozen California Quail, along with Juncos, and White-crowned Sparrows all walking around on the ground. Just before leaving, I noticed some activity near the ground in several trees. Spotted a Bushtit first, then an Oak Titmouse. Finally, just before leaving to return to my hotel, I saw a Red-tailed Hawk being harassed by an American Crow. Back in the Palm Springs area, saw a large number of Rock Pigeons. Once I get home, next weekend, I'll add some pictures.
 

veagle

Well-known member
Very nice Dick ! It Must have been great to see the California Quails !!

Yeah, it was a good day. I did have the feeling that if I had more knowlege and skills, there were a variety of birds that were out there that I must have just missed. But I guess that's always the case!

Saw you added some good finds to your year list recently.
 

veagle

Well-known member
Well, I just got back from the Salton Sea. Amazing. I will need a little time to write it up, but my preliminary review indicates 111 species seen today, including 19 life birds! What an amazing place. I saw thousands of Snow Geese, Northern Shovelers, Ruddy Ducks, hundreds of White Faced Ibis, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, White Pelicans, Brown Pelicans, Great-Tailed Grackles, Long-billed Curlew, Sandhill Cranes, Least Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitchers. A day I won't forget for a long time. More to come, including photos.
 

veagle

Well-known member
The Salton Sea – “From Anna’s Hummingbird to Red-Necked Phalarope” - Part I

I left my hotel at a few minutes after 5 in the morning for a 7 am Rendezvous with Henry Detwiler, of Southwest Birders, for a grand tour of the Southeastern portion of the Salton Sea. I had done some research with Patten, McKaskie, and Unitt's Birds of the Salton Sea: Status, Biogeography, and Ecology and worked with Henry to develop an itinerary that would 1) seek to find a broad range of area birds, and 2) attempt to see as many life birds as possible. The drive was about 80 minutes from my hotel location, and little was seen as the sky gradually lightened. I arrived at the Calipatria Inn at about 6:45, and as I waited for Henry to arrive, I started to hear birds calling. There were several small flowering trees bordering the driveway, and in the closest tree, I observed my first bird of the trip, an Anna’s Hummingbird. A good omen. The only time I had seen one before was last year, when one the first South Dakota record was seen in Rapid City. Also in the same tree was a House Sparrow.

Henry arrived, we got things set up in my rental car, and off we went to the first stop. Just a few miles south of Calipatria, we pulled off Route 111 in an undeveloped area. Our target here was Phainopepla. Just after 7 am, it was quite cool – I thought I had seen 46F in a thermometer in Calipatria. In any event, as we began to walk around, you couldn’t help but notice the sheer numbers of birds around. Almost immediately, we saw American Kestral and Mourning Dove, with Double-crested Cormorants and American White Pelicans flying over in formation, and a few Yellow-rumped Warblers in a tree. It didn’t take long to identify the Cardinal-like profile of the Phainopepla, and we got good looks at several over the next few minutes. Also identified was the first of many Abert’s Towhee that we would see this day, as well as Northern Mockingbird, and Say’s Phoebe. As we walked back toward our car, we saw what would be a very common bird today, but was nevertheless my first Black Phoebe. Then overhead, a lone Long-billed Curlew flew over. Henry assured me we would see many more today, and he was certainly right about that.

We next drove to a gravel road that went by Ramer and Finney Lakes. Lots of Great-tailed Grackles, and White-crowned Sparrows seen along the road. Lots of larger grebes in Raymer Lake, and inspection indicated both Western and Clark’s Grebes, in good numbers. Many gulls, most Ring-billed, along with a single Bonaparte’s Gull. Northern Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks in good numbers. Smaller number of American Wigeon and American Coot. Also seen was a Snowy Egret. As we left the lakes, we saw a Eurasian-collard Dove, and several Gambell’s Quail, and then a group of three Common Moorhen in plain view on a small bridge.

Our next destination was Cattle Call Park in Brawley. On the way, we saw random Western Meadowlarks, a few Killdeer, a Sharp-Shinned Hawk, and some Red-winged Blackbird. Just before getting to the park, Henry spied a couple of Gila Woodpeckers on a nearby Palm tree. We got excellent looks at the pair, a male and female. Also seen in the same tree was a House Finch.

Our targets in Cattle Call Park are the Gray and Vermilion Flycatchers, but neither is seen. Instead, we do see a number of Cactus Wren, a Northern Flicker, a few more Gila Woodpeckers, and large numbers of Great-Tailed Grackles. A Kestral calmly scans things from a nearby telephone wire. Along a fence near the New River, we see numerous Abert’s Towhees, and Black Phoebes are everywhere. We decided to look at the other side of the park, and that turned out to be a good decision. We hear the only American Robin of the day, and see a few Northern Mockingbirds flitting about. We spotted another Anna’s Hummingbird, along with several Verdin, flashing their yellow highlights. Several Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were also in the area. Before we leave the area, we get some good looks at Loggerhead Shrike.

From here, the plan is to make a stop along the New River to look for Roadrunner, then head over to the Sea.

Note: I've added a shot of the Western Scrub Jay
 

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veagle

Well-known member
The Salton Sea – “From Anna’s Hummingbird to Red-Necked Phalarope” - Part II

Henry had identified an area where he thought we could see Greater Roadrunner. On the way, we encountered a flock of Horned Larks, and overhead, a large number of White-faced Ibis seemed in a hurry to get somewhere. Once we arrived at the New River, we parked the car, and began walking along the road. A couple of Great Egrets, and a pair of Kingfishers welcomed us. And it quickly became evident that this spot was going to be a good location for sparrows. A good dozen Lark Sparrows, along with a few Savannah Sparrows congregated in one tree. Nearby, I spotted a Brewer’s Sparrow, along with a few Chipping Sparrows. Henry then got excited about seeing a White-throated Sparrow, which is reportable in this part of the country. As we continue down the road, I spot a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos, and we add a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Just as we lament the fact that the Roadrunners haven’t materialized, in the distance we see 3 Greater Roadrunners, doing just what we expect them to do. We drove down the road, got better views of them, and a Red-tailed Hawk circles overhead, as we leave the area.

From here, we drive out Young St. to the Salton Sea. My first impression is that I have found birding Nirvana. Where do I start? Birds everywhere, we get out our scopes and begin to scan. A number of terns gets our attention first, comprised of Forester’s and a half dozen Caspian Terns. Out in the water are hundreds of American White Pelicans, and Brown Pelicans, along with Double-crested Cormorants, drying their wings. Working the shoreline, Black-necked Stilts are everywhere, along with American Avocets, Long-billed Dowitchers, with smaller numbers of Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, and Marbled Godwits. Plenty of peeps as well, mostly Least Sandpipers, and Western Sandpipers. As we scan further from shore, there are hundreds of Northern Shovelers, Ruddy Ducks, and American Coot, and a few Lesser Scaup. Mixed in among a mixed flock of California, Ringed-billed, and Herring Gulls is a single immature Brant, and a few Laughing Gulls. Looking north along the coast, we see a number of Great Blue Herons, and Great and Snowy Egrets, and a mixed group of Lesser Yellowlegs and Greater Yellowlegs, along with a couple of bobbing Spotted Sandpipers. I could have stayed here for hours, but Henry assured me that there’s much more to see. And just to prove he’s right, as we begin to drive, we spot a Peregrine Falcon in a snag, and get close enough for some good pictures. I have included one taken by Henry.

Next stop: Obsidian Butte
 

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veagle

Well-known member
The Salton Sea – “From Anna’s Hummingbird to Red-Necked Phalarope” - Part III

Obsidian Butte, as far as I could tell, was a slag heap piled up to maybe eighty feet in height, right up near the Sea. This was the area where Yellow-footed Gull had last been seen, so we were quite anxious to have a look around. Because the amount of water that actually drains into the Salton Sea is decreasing because of the sale of water rights to the city of San Diego, the water level has dropped in the last few years, in some places dramatically. This was a good example, as after driving for some time out as far as the road would go, we still had a bit of a hike to get to a good vantage point. Just before parking the car, we noticed a lone American Pipit perched on a rock. The last ones I’d seen were at Cape St. Mary’s. in Newfoundland, which made me think about the fact that I was about as far from there as I could be while still being in North America. We approached the water’s edge, scaring up what seemed like several hundred Brown Pelicans that were at rest. There were also quite a few Double-crested Cormorants in the area, and several Lesser Yellowlegs worked the tidal pools.

Among many Ring-billed Gulls, we spied a single Heerman’s Gull, and a bit further out from shore, several Eared Grebes enjoyed the sunshine. After a few more minutes scanning the area, it was evident that the target bird was elsewhere, so we made our way back to the car As we started to drive around to the other side of the Butte, we saw a car in the distance, with a number of birders nearby. A good sign. We made our way slowly over the rough road, and finally pulled in next to the other car. Sure enough, four Brits had done our work for us, and located the Yellow-footed Gull B :), which was in plain view maybe 70 feet away. We all got great looks at it, as it seemed in no great hurry. In fact, it clearly had a problem with one of its wings, but seemed otherwise ok. As we began to compare notes with these other birders, we spotted several Ruddy Turnstones near the gull. After a bit more time, we packed up, and began to drive toward Niland, where the plan was for us to look for some Doves. Before we got very far, we were treated to seeing several Burrowing Owls, sitting along the side of the road, and over a small pond, we spotted a group of Tree Swallows and a single Barn Swallow. Then just a bit further toward Niland, we pulled over a gazed at a field just filled with hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls, Long-billed Curlews, and White-faced Ibises. Really quite a site. I did get a picture, but it doesn’t do justice to the numbers and concentration of these birds. As we approached Niland, we saw the only Turkey Vulture we were to see for the day., circling on the thermals.

Niland is a small town in the northern part of the Imperial Valley, and we found the local grocery store, where they made us some sandwiches. Not going to win any prizes, but if you like yellow mustard, this is the place for you. Armed with our sandwiches, we began to walk around the mostly deserted streets of Niland, looking for doves. Several promising areas were unfortunately surrounded by dogs who were very interested in us, and their barking scared away most birds in the area. We did manage to see a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, but not much else. So after about a half hour, we returned to the car, and started to drive slowly around some of the streets not already visited. As we approached the “center of town”, where abandoned buildings that must have been built in the 1930s or so, with Doric Columns, no less, Henry exclaimed ,”Success!”, and pulled over. There to the left of us, in a fenced in yard, sit a mixed group of Inca Doves, and Common Ground-doves, totaling around five. Made us feel much better about our lunch-break in Niland.

After lunch, we headed back to the Salton Sea, and the first new bird seen were a few Northern Harrier. Passing a small pond on McDonald Street, we spot a few Northern Pintail, and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow. As we got to the end of McDonald St, we see what is becoming increasingly familiar; large numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds. In this case Northern Shovelers, and Green-winged Teal, American Avocets, Great and Snowy Egrets, American White Pelicans, and American Coot. But we also saw a group of 5 Black Skimmers, and flying overhead, a Black-crowned Night Heron. Oh wait a second. There were also about 20 Blue-winged Teal, and maybe 400 Ruddy Ducks. As we leave the area in the distance we spot a couple of snags, one with a Peregrine Falcon, and the other with a White-tailed Kite.

Our next stop is the Red Hill Marina. Marina is a bit of a misnomer. To get a boat out to the sea from here, you’d have to carry it about a quarter of a mile to get to the water. Oh well. Another spot with lots of birds all over the place. The gulls are primarily Ring-billed, with some California Gulls thrown in for good measure. Hundreds of Black-necked Stilt, White and Brown Pelicans, Northern Shovelers. A fairly large group of Western Grebes were steaming around, and on close inspection there were several Clark’s Grebes as well. Also quite a few Long-billed Dowitchers. As we were leaving the area, Henry pointed out a Rock Wren in just the type of rocky habitat you’d expect, reminiscent of some terrain back in South Dakota.
 

Mick Sway

Well-known member
I have only the vaguest idea of some of the species you saw, however it sounded like a brilliant trip.
Thanks for sharing.
Regards
Mick
 

Mick Sway

Well-known member
I have only the vaguest notion of some of the species you saw, however it sounded like a brilliant trip.
Thanks for sharing.
Regards
Mick
 

stephennj

Well-known member
Hey you got your Peregrine Falcon !!
Congrats and what a fine shot , I enjoyed your fine report , great to see you get such a wide variety of species. ...And also congrats on Greater Roadrunner ! one of my favorites.
steve
 

veagle

Well-known member
The Salton Sea – “From Anna’s Hummingbird to Red-Necked Phalarope” - Part IV

Our next stop was the Headquarters of the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge (don’t ask) where there is a Barn Owl which roosts in a palm tree. We saw plenty of pellets beneath the tree, but no sign of the owl. In the vicinity, though, were a half dozen Gambel’s Quail, and a number of Abert’s Towhees and White-crowned Sparrows. It was getting late in the day, so from here we headed down to Unit #1, another part of the same NWR. On the way there, we found several more Burrowing Owls, and another 20 Cattle Egrets. As we approached Unit #1, we pulled over to the side of the road, and scanned a large field, where we spotted nine Greater White-fronted Geese, three Sandhill Cranes, and in a neighboring pond, a single Canada Goose, the only one we saw for the day.

At the end of the road is an elevated observation deck, from which you can see the Sea in the distance. More importantly, just below the observation tower are some marshes, where we hoped to see Clapper Rail. We got half way up the deck, when we spotted not more than 15 feet away, two Sora and two Virginia Rails, in clear view, neither of which I had ever seen before. While we heard the Clapper Rail distinctly, I didn’t see it. While were were looking at the Rails, a couple of things were happening. First off in the distance heading our way, was a flock of maybe 150 Sandhill Cranes, making their distinct sounds. And secondly, every few minutes or so, we would see a couple hundred geese taking off from a field closer to the Sea, and flying to and landing in the field we had passed before. Before returning to our car, we spotted a third Peregrine Falcon for the day.

We backtracked maybe a half mile, getting closer to the geese. It was great studying them at close range with the scope, distinguishing between the Snow Geese, which made up the vast majority, and the Ross’s Geese, of which there were perhaps 100. In all the flock was estimated at about 4000. All of a sudden, they were spooked by something, and they all took off, making an incredible racket, and flew in circles for the next several minutes, before landing exactly where they began. An amazing spectacle. I will add some pictures when I get home tomorrow.

So we were now headed back to the vicinity of Calipatria, where we began. At one farmhouse, we spotted Brown-headed Cowbird, and Brewer’s Blackbird. Then we were driving into town when Henry all of a sudden pulls the car over. “What’s up?”, I said. We do a U-turn, and return to another ranch house, where high up in a tree, Henry had spotted a single female Vermilion Flycatcher, one of our first targets of the day, that had not been seen earlier. All I could say was, “you’re just showing off, Henry.”

By this time it was almost 6 pm, but we decided to take a quick drive to some cut alfalfa fields near the Calipatria State Prison, that were reputed to be good for Mountain Plover. The fields did look ideal, but no Plover to be seen. So by this time, the sun’s just going down, but we make one final stop before going back to town. The Calipatria Algae Farm (no joke) was a series of lined pools. In the pools were hundreds of Black-necked Stilt, ten Killdeer, and the last bird of the day, about 60 Red-necked Phalaropes. I had only seen one before, and not a good look, so this was a perfect way to end an epic day. We saw 109 species for the day. For the trip as a whole, I saw 120 species including 32 year birds, and 24 lifers. I will remember this day for a long, long time. The Salton Sea is a great place for birding, and Henry Detwiler was a wonderful guide and companion.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
I remember the dog problem in Niland last time I was at the Salton Sea. I was attempting to twitch a Harris Sparrow and a group of not particularly friendly dogs circled me. I eventually gave up and slowly backed myself to the car. Thankfully I had gotten the sparrow the day before. Just part of the adventure of Salton Sea Birding
 

veagle

Well-known member
I remember the dog problem in Niland last time I was at the Salton Sea. I was attempting to twitch a Harris Sparrow and a group of not particularly friendly dogs circled me. I eventually gave up and slowly backed myself to the car. Thankfully I had gotten the sparrow the day before. Just part of the adventure of Salton Sea Birding

Do you ever get to SD to bird? If so, let me know; I'd be happy to show you around.

Veagle
 

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