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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

California, 2024 (1 Viewer)

4 May 2024

I had not planned to do any birding today. It was raining – unusual here in May – and I needed to get ready for a trip to southern California. But yesterday there was an ebird post reporting a Mute Swan in a little lake in the middle of a mobile home park in Scott’s Valley. The post had several very good photos of the bird, and it was clearly a swan, but not a Mute Swan. Just what kind of a swan it was, was less clear. The two possibilities were Tunda Swan and less likely, if a wild bird, Trumpeter Swan. The two can be very hard to distinguish. Tundras are said to have a slightly concave culmen while the culmen of Trumpeters is said to be straighter. The feathers of the forehead are said to meet the top of the bill in a gentle curve in Tundras, but in a sharp point in Trumpeters. The eyes, on Tundras, if you believe, are separated almost completely by feathering from the black skin around the bill, but Trumpeters have the black skin broadly connecting to the eye. Tundras, it is claimed, usually have a yellow spot on the bill; Trumpeters almost never have such a spot. The photos posted showed a bird with a straight culmen (+ Trumpeter), curved forehead feathering (+ Tundra), broad connection of eye to bill (+ Trumpeter) and a small, faint, diffuse yellow spot on the bill (+ Tundra, maybe). Voice is said to be the most reliable distinguishing trait, but there was no recording with the post. I went down to see for myself. The bird was easily found and more tame than I would expect for a wild bird. Seeing it live, I learned nothing about its appearance that I had not seen in the photos, except that the base of the neck sometimes seemed completely submerged under the water as the bird was swimming with its head up, which has been claimed as a Trumpeter trait. Then it called, a loud tinny toot, the voice of a Trumpeter Swan. Some discussion on the local birders listserver led me to learn that it is a bird that was bought by the owners and released at the site years ago. I probably shouldn’t count it, but I did get some nice photos.

No new birds today, the total is still 279.
 

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Cinco de Mayo

When I was young I was taught that there were three kinds of desert in California: the Great Basin Desert, dominated by sagebrush and found in a strip east of the Sierra Nevada mountains; the Mojave Desert, characterized by Joshua trees and found east of the high southern California mountains; and the Colorado Desert (usually recognized now as a low elevation manifestation of the Sonoran Desert) in low lands near the Colorado River. Really, though, there is a fourth desert in California, which we might call the San Joaquin Desert, found in the southwestern part of the San Joaquin Valley. There is a large area there that gets less than 10 inches (25 cm) of rain per year. Much of it looks like much of the Great Basin Desert, though the dominant shrubs are saltbush rather than sagebrush. The diversity of plants and animals is probably as low as in any other of California’s deserts. It is there that I began my trip to southern California.

The drive down, on a Sunday morning, was really rather pleasant. That is something I have rarely said about driving from northern to southern California. Traffic was light and there were no construction delays. I came down US 101 to Paso Robles, then east on CA 46 and south on CA 33 to Taft. After extensive rain the previous day, the vegetation looked its best and there were fog and clouds enough to be picturesque without slowing the journey. (I was very happy to see the rain; it meant a cold front moved across the state and temperatures should be below normal for at least a few days – very welcome in the desert in May.) Why come to Taft? Among the few birds in the desert there is LeConte’s Thrasher. It does occur in other deserts too, but it is easiest to find here. Another of the birds there is Bell’s Sparrow. I have that on my year list already, but the species is much more common and easily seen in this area and I hoped to see many more. There was also a decent chance of finding Lesser Nighthawks, a species that is not always easy to locate.

I don’t know how land ownership breaks down in this area, but there is an extensive oil industry and lots of dirt roads that fan out from CA 33 to service the pumpjacks or for other reasons. Most of these have no signs indicating that trespassing is restricted. About 6 miles north of Taft I turned off onto a likely looking road and quickly spotted LeConte’s Thrashers and Bell’s Sparrows. After two years of good to excessive rainfall the ground was covered with dense grass, already dried up. I do not really know how this may have affected the populations of these birds, but they seemed to be doing okay for now. Later I stopped at a few more sites and found two more of the thrashers and several more of the sparrows. Checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S172330069, https://ebird.org/checklist/S172330334, https://ebird.org/checklist/S172330577.

Nighthawks have been reported over the desert in the area, but driving around town I found where the output of the local water treatment plant was used to irrigate some hay fields. It seemed to me that if I were a nighthawk this would make a much more attractive foraging site than any desert. I can’t say what happened in the evening over the deserts, but I did see two Lesser Nighthawks over the irrigated fields.

In Taft I stayed at the Holland Inn and Suites. Don’t ask me where they got the name; this area looks about as little like Holland as imaginable. For $80, including all taxes and fees, the room was clean, large and well furnished. The matrass was very firm. The tv was big, the channel selection was basic. Small microwave and refrigerator; no clothes iron, ironing board, or hair drier.

Two new species today, Lesser Nighthawk and LeConte’s Thrasher, and I am up to 281.
 

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6 May 2024

I drove today to Primm, Nevada, with stops at Afton Canyon and Zzyzx. Afton Canyon is a site in the Mojave Desert about 23 miles (37 km) southwest of Baker. Here the Mojave River (calling this a river is perhaps dubious), which mostly runs underground, is pushed up by the local geology and there is a trickle of water on the surface, the size of a small creek, much of the time. There are some small, scattered willows and some dense clumps of acacias and other shrubs. It can be a good place for birds associated with these habitats, such as Lucy’s Warbler, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Bell’s Vireo, and Verdin, and less restricted desert species. At this time of year it may also attract migrants passing through. Unfortunately I hit it during the midday slows. I did managed to bump into a pair of Vedin, a pair of Gambel’s Quails, and a few Phainopeplas and Mourning Doves. I am not sure if a female Scott’s Oriole was breeding here – it does not seem like the right habitat – or not. I could say the same about Green Herons, Killdeer, and Northern Rough Winged Swallows. Birds that were surely migrants included Western Tanagers, Wilson’s Warblers, and a Greater Yellowlegs. eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S172740113.

Zzyzx is a little closer to Baker. The name was made-up by a promoter who built a spa at the site in the 1940s. Now it is the location of the Desert Studies Center, associated with the California State University system. There is limited public access, but that does include a trail around a permanent pond. The pond and the surrounding vegetation attract a variety of vagrants. Today that included a Red-breasted Merganser and some Spotted Sandpipers.

I stopped in Baker for a root-beer float, decided that I was still tired, and went on to my hotel for the next few nights. That was Buffalo Bill’s Resort and Casino in Primm, Nevada. Primm is right on the California/Nevada border and the closest accommodation for exploring the Mojave National Reserve, which is in California. The cost is $81/night including “resort fees”. That does get me a large, clean, nicely furnished room, a big tv with a good channel selection, the usual bathroom amenities, a too soft matrass, and spotty wifi. It does not get you a refrigerator, microwave, or even coffee. I guess they do not want you to eat in your room. Which is unfortunate: the restaurant selection in Primm is grim. Primm is not really a town. It is three casinos and a few fast food places. Two of the casinos are closed. There are several eateries here at Buffalo Bill’s, but only a noodle place and a Dennys are actually open. I went to the Dennys – this is one of the national diner chain, located in the casino. For $20 I had salmon, broccoli, red potatoes, and cheesecake. It was all completely average.

Three new birds today: Gambel’s Quail, Verdin, and Scott’s Oriole, bringing the total to 284.
 

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7 May 2024

It was into the Mojave National Preserve today. There are two species there that are hard or impossible to find elsewhere in California, Gilded Flicker and Bendire’s Thrasher. Both may be found in the Joshua tree woodlands in vicinity of Cima, but the best place for the flicker is on Cima Road and that was closed. I decided to head to the area and look for locations that might be promising. Morningstar Mine Road is on the route from Primm to Cima. It climbs in elevation and once I got into a good growth of Joshua trees I stopped and went for a walk. In 34 minutes I saw exactly one bird, a Wilson’s Warbler. Many birds migrate across the desert and may plop down almost anywhere, and the Wilson’s was one of these. One of the nice things about birding in the desert in migration is that you sometimes can see and photograph birds low down in open vegetation that are hiding in the tops of trees in dense vegetation the rest of the year. You probably do not have to look at this list to know what is on it: https://ebird.org/checklist/S172930361.

A few miles further along and I tried again. I started down a little wash and was serenaded by Northern Mockingbirds. It may come as a surprise to people familiar with Mockers in the wet eastern states that they are also common desert birds. I was starting to think that neither of my target birds was particularly associated with washes when a Gilded Flicker flew across in front of me and headed on into the Joshua trees. It was just a brief look, but it was certainly a flicker, it had yellow in the wings and tail, and it had a brown crown. That was enough for me to make the identification, but I wanted to try to get a photo and headed off in the direction it had gone. Some Black-throated Sparrows popped up. They are one of my favorites, but they would have to wait for my full attention. I did see lots more. A little further on and a couple of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers appeared. They are not so common as the sparrows; I diverted a bit to see if I could get a picture. Then a lovely male Scott’s Oriole caught my attention. And then a song, a way a way, but I was pretty sure it was a Bendire’s Thrasher. I began to feel like I could be a child in a fairy tale, chasing one pretty thing after another until I got completely lost in the woods. It would actually be hard to get lost in these woods; I could always see the hill below which I had parked my car. Eventually I did get a decent look at the Bedire’s Thrasher, mottled breast, short bill, yellow eye, and all. Working my way back toward the area where the flicker had disappeared, a Black-headed Grosbeak flew over, another migrant. Then there was another Wilson’s Warbler. I heard a Cactus Wren grumbling, and eventually saw two them. I wandered around, looking and listening and taking some photos of plants, but I did not find the Gilded Flicker again. Heading back to the car I went up the wash, and encountered more Wilson’s Warblers, an Empid that might have been a Hammond’s Flycatcher, and a White-crowned Sparrow. I saw the later only from the back and wished I had seen its front as it might have been a subspecies that we do not see on the coast. A more interesting eBird list than the last is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S172931074.

With my two most wanted birds already logged, I went for two more in a different habitat. The two were Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay and Juniper Titmouse and the habitat to look for them is pinyon pine/juniper woodland. That could be found at the Midhills Campground, up on top of a ridge at a significantly higher elevation. As I approached the campground I noticed a nice bit of the habitat off to the left of the road. I stopped in the middle of the road and even bare-eyed from about 100m quickly saw a sillouette any birder from California knows: a scrub jay. At this location it had to be Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay. I found a wide spot to park the car and headed off with binocular and camera in hand. I managed better looks, but only poor photos The migrants in that little bit of woodland turned out to be great, including Wilson’s, Townsend’s, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Gray, and MacGillivray’s Warblers, a Warbling Vireo, a Black-headed Grosbeak, and a Western Tanager. Maybe the MacGillivray’s Warbler was on its way to Rancho del Oso. I went on to the almost empty campground and picked a table to eat my lunch. I could hardly get a bite in without a new little gray bird coming by. Since I was looking for a little gray bird, I had to check them all. Most were Empids. They included about three Dusky Flycatchers, a couple Western Flycatchers, a Hammond’s Flycatcher, and at least two or three that remained unidentified. Lunch finished, I walked around the campground. I found several more species, including first-of-the-year Western Wood-Pewees, but no Juniper Titmouse. Another fun list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S172931579.

I wanted to find out about road and trail conditions for the preserve, so I drove to the Visitor Center at Hole-in-the-Wall. It was closed and would be for the rest of my visit. I felt less annoyed about that when, driving back, a Crissal Thrasher flew over the road. Great long bill, it could not be a Bendire’s; dark brown back, it could not be a Leconte’s. Further west one might have to consider California Thrasher and further east one might have to think about Curve-billed Thrasher, but here it had to be a Crissal. I stopped and found there were two chasing each other around. I managed some poor photographs.

Back at the casino, I went to the Denny’s again. Service was so slow I left without ordering. I drove to a Taco Bell. You had to order from a machine and pay by credit card. I left without ordering. I ended up at Carl’s Junior. If you are not familiar with the chain, think of McDonald’s, but pretentious. You do not want to know what I ate, but at least it came fairly quickly, from a human, and one could pay cash.

Ten new birds today! They were Gilded Flicker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, Dusky Flycatcher, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Bendire’s Thrasher, Crissal Thrasher, Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrow, and MacGillivray’s Warbler. The total is now 294.
 

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8 May 2024

I still wanted to get some information about road and trail conditions in the Preserve, so I headed toward the main visitor center in Kelso. On the way I stopped at the Baker Sewage Ponds. If there is water in the desert, birds are not picky about where it comes from. There were a variety of water birds there. One was a new year bird: Wilson’s Phalarope. Most were males, but there were a few of the brighter females. It was very windy and only a few passerines showed themselves. eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S173091795.

At Kelso the visitor center was closed. They think it might reopen sometime in 2025. Seems like they could put in a trailer or something in the meantime. I went on to the Granite Mountains. These are beautiful. Much of them is part of the University of California Natural Reserve System and closed to the public. I walked a short distance up Cottonwood Basin, one of the open areas, and saw a transect where someone had set out insect traps. I assume that was a researcher from the UC Reserve. It was less windy here, in the protected basin, but there was still not a lot of bird activity. I saw a small flock of White-crowned Sparrows and they were one of the dark-lored subspecies that I do not often see. A male Costa’s Hummingbird – a new species that I am a bit surprised not to have seen earlier - shone purple. I did not keep a list.

The road that I most wanted information about was the New York Mountains Road. The New York Mountains have, by all reports, some nice pinyon-juniper woodland and a population of Juniper Titmice. There have also been reports of Pinyon Jays there, and that would be a real bonus. This is a nomadic species that has been in decline, and I would have liked to take the opportunity to look for them. But not enough to get stuck many miles from anywhere on a bad road. Both ends of New York Mountains Road intersect with good gravel roads, so I decided to drive those roads, see what I could of NYMR, and maybe try it the next day if all looked well. All did look well, but I decided to give the New York Mountains a skip between the one end of the road and the other. I was driving along through some scattered junipers, when I saw a jay fly into the top of one of them. It had a short tail – not a scrub jay. Stopping and looking with the binocular confirmed it was a Pinyon Jay. Getting out of the car and giving a brief pursuit confirmed that there were four or five of them and that they were not going to let me get anywhere near close enough for a decent photo. I might have tried an unknown road for the jay and the titmouse, but not for the titmouse alone.

On the way back to the casino there was a spectacular display of wildflowers on Ivenpah road. The orange flowers of desert mallow were everywhere, joined in places with bright yellow desert marigold and white and pink morning glory.

Three new species on this windy day: Wilson’s Phalarope, Costa’s Hummingbird, and Pinyon Jay. I am up to 297 species for the year.
 

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9 May 2024

I went back to Midhills Campground again this morning. What a difference from two days ago. It was cold and windy and the migrants that had been here were almost all gone. I did, however, find a Juniper Titmouse. The last report of one had it near campsite #21. I parked nearby, gave it a fairly quick look since it was one of only two occupied campsites, and decided that the denser woodland behind the campsites looked more promising. After banging around there for about a half hour I came back to the campsites. The bird was about 10m from my car. Only a brief look and no pictures, but I have it on the list. The other thing of some note is that between the road in to the campground and the campground itself I saw eight Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays – in the last two years no one else has reported more than two. My ebird list can be found here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S173131651.

I wanted an early day, to catch-up on my photo finishing and reports, but I did stop again at the site where I found the Gilded Flicker on 7 May. As at Midhills, it was a much quieter time. At least it was much quieter bird-wise – the wind was a bit noisy. I did get another good look at a Bendire’s Thrasher. The short eBird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S173132208.

The Juniper Titmouse was the only new species; I am up to 298.
 

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10 May 2024

Some thoughts about visiting the Mojave National Preserve. It is a beautiful place and has some excellent birding – depending, as anywhere, on the weather. I am quite glad I went. Many of the roads on the Preserve are dirt or gravel. Those I drove were all fine for an ordinary car, but if you mind dust or a bit of washboard, it would be a problem. If you can manage it, camping is probably your best bet for accommodation. Hotels are distant and, in my experience, not that great. I stayed at Buffalo Bill’s for four days and never had my room cleaned. Dining choices are minimal. Things might be better at the casino on weekends, when they are probably more busy and open things up more. At the Preserve, the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center would be open weekends too.

Today I drove to Joshua Tree, the town not the park. On the way I made a short stop at a good looking desert wash that was full of Phainopeplas – probably the highest density of them I have ever seen. This was on CA 247 about 5.2 miles (8.3 km) north of its junction with CA 62. My real goal was Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in Morongo Valley. This is a large oasis with a creek lined by cottonwoods and willows, mesquite surrounding that. It is rather astonishing that it was saved from development. Instead it has miles of trails going through natural vegetation and a well-supplied feeding station that attracts a great variety of birds. There were several species I hoped to find there, but I would have come even if there were not; it is just a fun place to bird.

In the parking lot, almost before I was out of the car, a vivid male Vermillion Flycatcher looked me over. A good start. I went down the Marsh Trail. This went by the Nature Education Center where the bird feeders are. Along the way Yellow Warblers were singing almost continually. Like those further north, they mostly kept to the tops of the trees and were hard to see. Several other birds were also species I see commonly much nearer my home, including Bewick’s and House Wrens, Bushtit, California Towhee, California Thrasher, Lesser Goldfinch, House Finch, and Bullock’s and Hooded Orioles. And here there were California Scrub-Jays, not the Woodhouse’s I saw at Midhills. At the feeders the Anna’s Hummingbirds I see daily at home were the most numerous hummer, but there were also Costa’s and Black-chinned. Both oriole species came in to the nectar and fruit feeders, as did both Western and Summer Tanagers. I am sure they have here the same dove species I see at home, but the one that came into the feeder was not one of those, it was a White-winged Dove. A woodpecker came repeatedly to the feeders. I think it was mostly a Nuttal’s Woodpecker, but Nuttal’s and Ladder-backed hybridize here and it, and others I saw later, seemed to show some features of both species. A Yellow Warbler came down out of the trees to bath in a little fountain. Walking the rest of the Marsh Trail (or as much as was open) I added Bell’s Vireo and Brown-crested Flycatcher to my year list. Not a bird I will count, but a local celebrity, was a hybrid between a Blue Grosbeak and either a Lazuli or an Indigo Bunting that has been seen here for eight years now. And even if I did see one back early in January, the Greater Roadrunner that dashed across the trail was as gladdening a sighting as any other bird today.

My hotel for this night and the next is the High Desert Motel in Joshua Tree, about 16 miles (25 km) from Big Morongo. The cost is $109 per night, including all taxes and fees. It is an older building, but the room has been recently renovated and is clean, well furnished, has a comfortable bed, small refrigerator, microwave, and all the usual bathroom stuff. The tv is small and situated so that it faces the bed; if you are in the bed with the very bright bed light on, the reflection makes it hard to see what is on the screen. There is a good channel selection. The internet connection is very good. The room comes with an actual metal key, which is not a problem itself, but the door lock does not lock automatically and you have to remember to lock it manually. For those who might enjoy it on a hot desert day, there is a small pool. There is a fair amount of noise from the highway.

I ate dinner at Sam’s Indian restaurant, almost next door to the motel. A small green salad was really rather large and rather good; the fish curry was good. About $28 for both.

Five new birds today: White-winged Dove, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, and Summer Tanager. I have topped the 300 mark with 303 species for the year.
 

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Congratulations on getting 3/4s of the way to your goal with a full summer, fall and a bit of winter left in the year! I don't recall reading about any pelagic trips yet (I may have missed, I'll have to go back if so) so hopefully there are still some big hauls available. I'll be very interested to see how your project progresses. I lived in California before I became a bird watcher - pitty!
 
Big Morongo is mostly open, but the trails connecting one side of the creek with the other are still out so you cannot do a loop, you have to go up and back on each side. The birds seem unaffected and it is still one of my favorite places to bird.

My only pelagic so far was a whale watching trip from Monterey. I am booked for one (a real birding one) out of San Diego in about a week, and I will do at least one in northern California in the fall. These should bring in several species, but I still think it will be a challenge to make 400. Come back for a visit if you can, the birding resources keep getting better.
 
11 May 2024

I went back to Big Morongo again today. Just because. I walked up the Marsh Trail, Mesquite Trail, and Canyon Trail as far as its junction with the West Canyon Trail. I spent a lot of time at the feeders, trying to get better photos. Success was limited, but I did finally get an ok picture of a Yellow Warbler. I added a few new species from yesterday, but no new species for the year. The list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S174156734.

eBird list for yesterday: https://ebird.org/checklist/S174155418.

Dinner was at Castaneda’s Mexican Restaurant, a chicken chimichanga plate for $16. It was good.

Still at 303 species.
 

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12 May 2024

To the sea, to the sea, down to the salty sea in ships. Actually to the hypersaline Salton Sea in a Honda hybrid. The Salton Sea and the area surrounding its southern end have several birds that are hard to find elsewhere in California. Today my goal was to get down there, hit some locations that I knew, and see what I could. I would take stock in the evening and the next day search out any remaining regional specialties. I made it to Unit 1 of the Sonny Bono - Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge by a couple minutes after 8:00 AM. And yes, that is Sonny of the Sonny and Cher singing duo, who was later elected to Congress representing this area. In Unit 1 there is access to an observation tower and a pond you can walk around. I stuck to the tower, which gave me a view over the pond and over marshes filled with cattails and reeds. There was nothing there to add to my year list, but it was nice to see a Burrowing Owl on one of the dikes. I would see several more driving around the area. At least there is one part of the state where they still can be found with some ease. My eBird list for the tower is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S174394721.

One of the few places you can actually get to the shore of the sea in this area is at the corner of Lack Road and Grubel Road. Such nice birds can be found here that it makes you wonder about what is along the rest of the shoreline that nobody ever sees. Looking to the north I found Black-necked Stilts, Red Knots, Snowy Plovers, Killdeer, a Willet, a Black-belled Plover, and lots of Eared Grebes. Decorating some dead branches sticking up from the water were a group of Neotropic Cormorants, giving me my first year bird for the day. Turning to the west and I saw many of the same and, of all things, two Ruddy Turnstones. I looked for these unsuccessfully up and down the central California coast and here they were, bright against the white shore. Some Gull-billed Terns flew by, giving me a third new year bird. A surprise was a dark-hooded gull flying by. My first thought was that it was a Laughing Gull, but I had some doubts and gull experts at birdforum have set me straight that it was a Franklin’s Gull. The eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S174396061.

My next stop was at the headquarters of the SBSSNWR. There are some trees and a little fountain at the headquarters and these bring in some birds. Today these included some migrants, Warbling Vireos, a Myrtle form Yellow-rumped Warbler, and, they seem to be everywhere, a Wilson’s Warbler. I was happier to see two breeders, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Abert’s Towhee, that I could put down on my year list. An eBird list is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S174396886.

South of the town of Niland is a small farm where they grow algae in controlled pools. The last time I was here the pools were all full of water and of phalaropes and over them were hundreds of Black Terns. Today most of the pools were empty, there were no terns, but there were some Red-necked Phalaropes, giving me another bird for the year.

A couple more stops in Brawley looking for Gila Woodpecker were unproductive.

My hotel was the America’s Best Value Inn Westmoreland. Large, clean, comfortable room with a good bed, refirgerator, microwave, and all the normal bathroom stuff. Small tv with a good channel selection. $97 per night gets you that and a poor breakfast.

I got six new species today: Neotropic Cormorant, Ruddy Turnstone, Red-necked Phalarope, Gull-billed Tern, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, and Abert’s Towhee. They bring the total to 309.
 

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13 May 2024

After reviewing my still-desired birds and recent eBird records, it seemed the best place to start today would be in Niland, at the west end of 4th Street. Some properties there must have had good water supplies for a long time; there were large trees, lots of green, and ditches with flowing water. There were lots of doves: White-winged, Mourning, Eurasian Collared, and, new for me this year, little cuties, Inca Doves. There was a nice mixture of residents and migrants. One of the species I hoped to find was Bronzed Cowbird. I saw what was maybe one high in a tree, too distant to be sure about things like eye color, which is one of its distinguishing features. I took some pictures and hoped they might show more than I could see live. There is a checklist here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S174597130.

I then spent about two hours driving some of the roads between Niland and the Salton Sea. Two birds I was looking for were Black Tern and Stilt Sandpiper. Searching the roads mentioned in eBird reports, I finally found the Black Terns, lots of them, on a large impoundment. They were teases, flying along toward me just like they were going to come in for a close-up, then suddenly diving, leaving me with a distant blurry photo. The Stilt Sandpipers proved more elusive. I went to ponds where they had been reported, but I could find none. There was one more place. Rock Hill Trail leaves from the headquarters of the SBSSNWR and goes out to a rocky hill that once overlooked the sea. The sea has receded, but there are still some marshes and a pond that attracts many birds. Recently scores of Stilt Sandpipers had been reported at the pond. The trail is flat and not long, but by the time I decided I should try it the day was getting hot. I drank-up, strapped on my water bottle, and trudged away. The walk out goes through some large mesquite and other shrubs, and found among them were a few of the migrants currently common: Western Tanager, Warbling Vireo, and, of course, Wilson’s Warbler. There were also some of the local breeders: Abert’s Towhee, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin, Gambel’s Quail, and White-winged Dove. Out at the pond the waterbirds were delightful. Over 100 American White Pelicans were the most of them I have seen in some time. Both Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes bobbed about. The Stilt Sandpipers were still there, looking sharp. Walking back to the headquarters there was one last bonus, a little dove with red wings and a short tail flew by: a Common Ground Dove. The full list may be found here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S174598159.

After some lunch I headed to the Riverview Cemetery in Brawley. The temperature was now about 100⁰F (38⁰C) and I was not expecting much, but this is a site for Gila Woodpecker and I thought I might as well give it a try. Perhaps the woodpeckers were sitting out the heat in their cavities; I found none. The rest of the bird world was surprisingly active. There were two families of Vermillion Flycatchers with fledglings being fed. Sprinklers were on and Great-tailed Grackles and Brown-headed and Bronzed Cowbirds were investigating the puddles. The heat must have slowed me down – the rotating sprinklers caught me a couple times. It was the migrants that surprised me most. There were at least 7 Yellow Warblers, 3 Wilson’s Warblers, 2 MacGillivray’s Warblers, a Townsend’s Warbler, an Orange-crowned Warber, 5 Warbling Vireos, and a Western Wood-Pewee, all quite actively foraging. I guess a bird with a long way to fly needs to put on fat no matter what. Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S174602854.

Later, after it had cooled a bit, I checked Cattle Call Park for Gila Woodpeckers, but again failed to find them. Going over my photos, the bird at Niland was a Bronzed Cowbird.

It was five new species today: Inca Dove, Common Ground Dove, Stilt Sandpiper, Black Tern, and Bronzed Cowbird. The total stands at 314.
 

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14 May 2024

There was one more place in the region where I had previously seen Gila Woodpecker, the Evergreen Cemetery in El Centro. It was a little out of the way of my journey today westward into the San Diego mountains, but I made the diversion. It was just as wet as the Riverview Cemetery had been yesterday, but early in the morning it was much cooler. I avoided the sprinklers and waded through the puddles, closely watched by a plethora of Great-tailed Grackles, Eurasian Starlings, and White-winged Doves. A Gila Woodpecker made itself known fairly quickly. I chased it around for a while, but obtained only moderately good views of it. I got somewhat better looks at a pair of Common Ground Doves, and that was nice. There were only a few migrants, but one was, as we should all be expecting by now, a Wilson’s Warbler. eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S174605860.

It was on to Jacumba. Jacumba (aka Jacumba Hot Springs) is a tiny town in the mountains east of San Diego that sits right on the border with Mexico. I went there for one species: Harris Hawk. A pair of them has been roosting here for years. Today they seemed to have been elsewhere; at least they did not reveal themselves to me. I will try again early on another morning, which is when most people seem to see them. I took a walk around a small town park with a small pond. The only waterbird present was a Spotted Sandpiper, but there were some migrants in the surrounding trees, including, yes, Wilson’s Warblers. Excitement came in the form of a little, solidly brown bird with a finch-type bill and no wingbars: a female Indigo Bunting. Generally there are Lazuli Buntings in the western US and Indigo Buntings in the east, but there are many scattered records of Indigos in the west in the breeding season. There seem to be more in southern California than in the northern part of the state, but it was not a species I have been counting on. My eBird checklist may be located at this address: https://ebird.org/checklist/S174606348.

I checked in to the Back Country Inn in Boulevard, about six miles from Jacumba. This is a small motel in an older building. Rooms have been updated and are clean. My room had a king size bed and was nicely furnished with a large table and desk chair, as well as a refrigerator, microwave, and most of the rest of what you would expect, but no coffee. The bathroom was small, with no counter space. It had a very loud vent fan. The bed was so soft I was very uncomfortable in it – I slept poorly and woke up in the middle of the night with a cramp in my leg.

This is another isolated area with limited food options. There are a few places that make sandwiches, but the only place within many miles for a sit-down meal seems to be an Indian casino. Dinner for me was crackers and cheese, some grapes, and a self-made root beer float In the motel room.

Two new species today, Gila Woodpecker and Indigo Bunting, and the total is now 316.
 
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15 May 2024

One advantage of casinos is that they are open 24/7. I stopped in early to grab an apple fritter and a banana for breakfast and headed on to Kitchen Creek Road. This is a little further from my motel than Jacumba, in the opposite direction. Its biggest attraction bird-wise is Gray Vireo. It is one of the few reliable places in California for the species. It also has a good chance to produce some other species not yet on my year list, including Mountain Quail, Common Poorwill, and Black-chinned Sparrow. On my way up the road the first birds I saw were three Mountain Quail in the road. At my first stop, the first sounds I heard were the accelerating chips of a Black-chinned Sparrow. It was a good start. I spent most of the rest of the morning going up and down the road, looking and listening, but failed to turn up a Gray Vireo. There were lots of other birds, including more of the quail and sparrow, and it was nice to be out of the desert heat, but there were no more additions to the year list.

I went back to the motel and convinced them to change my room to one with a firmer mattrass. They were good about that, but the new room had two queen sized beds and no table or work chair. I took a nap and when I awoke used the laptop on a bed, sitting in an easy chair. I tried the casino for dinner – it was okay – then headed back up Kitchen Creek Road. Again I went slowly up the road, and again I failed to find a Gray Vireo. I waited for dusk at the top of the road, then started down again. At the second stop, about 4.3 miles from the bottom end, I heard Common Poorwills calling. These are cousins of the Whip-poor-wills of story and song, but with a simpler call, as their onomatopoeic name suggests. They are also the answer to the bird trivia question “What is the only bird known to hibernate?” I saw two more on the road on the way down.

Three new birds today: Mountain Quail, Common Poorwill, and Black-chinned Sparrow, and I have crept up to 319 birds for the year.
 

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16 May 2024

I went to Jacumba early today to look for the Harris’s Hawks. Jacumba, I learned, should be known for its high densities of three creatures: House Sparrows, California Scrub-Jays, and barking dogs. The dogs made the birding rather uncomfortable, but at least they were all behind fences. In addition to the sparrows and jays there were a good variety of other birds. The town has many trees, on one side is a large pasture field with grass, on another a bit of semi-desert, and then there is the pond, and all these attract different species. A fun moment had Bullock’s, Hooded, and Scott’s Orioles all in the same garden. It took me about two hours, but I did finally find a Harris’s Hawk in the northeastern-most tree in the town. The full list of species may be seen here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S175215393.

Then it was back to Kitchen Creek Road. I saw mostly the same birds as the previous day, with a few interesting additions. I finally found a Gray Vireo about 4.4 miles up the road. No good looks, but singing its song. Not much to say about it. Just a bit down the road I heard a series of rapid “chucks”, and thought “That sounds like a Chukar”. I was recording with Merlin Sound ID at the time and looked down at my phone and it said “Chukar”. I wish I could add Chukar to my list, but as far as I can tell it has never been seen anywhere near Kitchen Creek Road. I don’t think I can add it with the evidence as it stands, but if I can get the quite poor recording cleaned up enough to confirm it I shall. In any case, that stretch of road from about 4.3 – 4.4 miles up Kitchen Creek Road is fast becoming one of my favorite spots; between the previous night and this day it produced Common Poorwill, Gray Vireo, Mountain Quail, Black-chinned Sparrow, and, maybe, Chukar. I am really glad I saw the Harris’s Hawk at Jacumba. If not the third surprise on Kitchen Creek Road would be driving me crazy. I was driving down the lower part of the road when a bird swooped up, did a quick turn, and vanished again. In about two seconds time I saw chestnut and black wings and a tail with a white base and broad black band. I am about 90% sure it was a Harris’s Hawk. I can’t think what else it might have been, but with such a short look I am just not 100% sure. The eBird checklist is at this address: https://ebird.org/checklist/S175216519.

We will call it two new species today, Harris’s Hawk and Gray Vireo, and put the total at 321.
 

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17 May 2024

I went to the coast this morning and landed at the Bird and Butterfly Garden in the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park. There is a garden designed to attract both birds and butterflies, but today it was mostly birds that were to be seen. Two of the bird species were new. Yellow-breasted Chat was one that I should have encountered at Morongo Valley and perhaps elsewhere, but kept missing. Here there were several giving their loud harsh song, one of which I got a pretty good look at. The other species was a surprise. Swinhoe’s White-eye is an introduced species that had not reached this far south last time I was here. At least two were here now. I vaguely knew that the species was expanding in southern California, so perhaps I should have expected it. An eBird checklist is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S175618766.

After wandering around a bit trying to remember the way, my next stop was at the Imperial Beach Sports Park. Here, in some small trees in a narrow strip between the parking lot and some sports fields, currently with some construction work going on almost underneath them, is a small nesting colony of Yellow-crowned Night Herons. One of them came down, posed on the grass, picked up a stick, and went back up into a tree. Another gave a squawk and flew out of another tree and off in the direction of a nearby slough. I said thank you and headed off to the slough myself.

The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve protects much of that slough and the surrounding marshlands. There is an adjacent naval air facility that can make it rather loud at times, but today it was quiet. I took a short walk on the McCoy Trail. A few of the Yellow-crowned Night Herons flew by, as did one of the Ospreys from a nest also at the Sports Park. (I know we are not supposed to post photos of nests on the identification forum. It is not clear to me if that applies here too, but I will post a photo of the Osprey nest anyway – I don’t think its location is any kind of secret or that it is likely to be disturbed.) A Ridgway’s Rail cackled and showed itself. This species seems much more likely to come out of the pickleweed and give goods views here than it does around the San Francisco Bay. It was a nice little walk; no new species but I am always happy to see Ospreys and rails. The full list of birds is here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S175621953.

After some lunch I went to the Imperial Beach Pier. This goes out about 400 m into the ocean. Several Forster’s Terns were foraging along the inner portion and some squadrons of Elegant Terns screeched by, but better for me were two Royal Terns that crossed over the pier, heading north. A few late Surf Scoters and some Rock Pigeons were the only other birds.

My hotel was the Motel 6 San Diego CA South Bay, $105 per night with all fees and taxes. The room is a bit odd. It is large, but about a third of it is completely empty. Room for three people to do their yoga routines or perhaps to have a string quartet come in and play you lullabies. (I suppose if you could afford such a thing you would probably be staying in a different hotel.) I would have said it was clean, but I was surprised how much dirt washed off my feet when I took a shower. The bed has a good mattress. There is a work desk and chair, and a refrigerator and microwave. No coffee and no hair supplies. Medium sized tv with a good channel selection – for those who might be interested in such things, at the moment (writing Sunday morning) there are at least four different Premier League matches on. No laundry facilities, but there was a nice laundry-mat a block away.

Dinner was a fish burrito plate and chile relleno from El Patron Taco Shop. It was good and enough to last me two dinners. $15, if I remember correctly.

Four new birds to put on the list: Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Royal Tern, Swinhoe’s White-eye, and Yellow-breasted Chat, upping the count to 325.
 

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18 May 2024

Today I did a pelagic trip sponsored by Buena Vista Audubon Society out on the waters off San Diego. We visited 9 Mile Bank, the San Diego Trough, 30 Mile Bank, the Corner, and points in between and to and from. Or so they said; I could not tell you where they are on a chart. The boat was the Legacy, which was quite large for such a trip. There were about 60 birders and plenty of room. It was generally well organized, though there were fewer spotters than such trips usually have. The waters were calm and the skies mostly with a high overcast. Winds were light, but enough to get the shearwaters up off the water a bit. We were out for about 10 hours. It was a good trip, I would not say a great trip. We saw all the species I think one would expect at such a time and place, but no more. One hopes that of the many various things that are possible, if not likely, that at least one or two might be found, but it was not so. Unless one thinks, as really I usually do, that they are all good birds, there were no good birds. Paul Lehman, the chief (and very good) spotter compiled a list of everything seen offshore and it may be found here: The Birding Lists Digest. I did actually see all of those except the jaeger, hummingbird, and warbler. New birds for my year were Scripps's Murrelet, Cassin's Auklet, Least Tern, Pink-footed Shearwater, and Ashy and Black Storm-Petrels. Of those, only the shearwater came in close and often enough to the boat to allow for really good views. Frankly, the trip ended up being too long. I am not sure we saw any new species after about noon. Mid-afternoon they were stopping the boat for Boneparte’s Gulls and a Pacific Loon – those are not what I came looking for. You cannot, of course predict such things, but that is how it played out. One bonus, for which there was no charge, was that herons and egrets at the marina were very tame, offering excellent photo opportunities.

We did see a bunch of Blue Whales, and that was very cool.

Talking to some locals on board, it seems likely the bird I thought could be a Chukar on the 16th was really a Mountain Quail. One of them played a recording of a Mountain Quail call that sounded very like what I heard.

Seven new species today, as listed above, bring the total to 332.
 

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19 May 2024

I took a bit of a break from birding today and only made a short trip to a nearby site. That was Chula Vista Bayfront Park. A little marsh and mudflat next to Marina Way held the birds for which I was searching. First to show was a Reddish Egret. At first, with poor light and its neck feathers held smooth, I was not sure if it was a Reddish Egret or the other bird I was looking for, a Little Blue Heron. It gave a Snowy Egret a little chase and that settled it; this bird was much larger than the Snowy, a Little Blue would be similar in size. As it moved around more the light became better, the posture changed, and it began foraging with the very active style of a Reddish Egret. A few minutes more and a Little Blue Heron arrived. It was a bird molting from its white immature plumage to its gray adult plumage. I was hoping the two would come close together, but it was not to be. The Reddish Egret soon left. All of the birds I saw there are recorded here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S175985653.

Two new birds today, Reddish Egret and Little Blue Heron, and I am up to 334 for the year.
 

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