Saturday, 17 January 2009

Finding Sprague's Pipits at Salton Sea, CA

Sprague's Pipit has been found increasingly in the Salton Sea region

After spending a whole afternoon failing to see Sprague's Pipit and then finding them the next morning, I thought I'd write a note about how to find them. Sprague's Pipits occur in dry fallow fields in the agricultural areas on the south side of Salton Sea. I saw them near Calipatria State Prison, on the south side of East Peterson Road, about quarter of a mile east of the prison. From Wiest (which runs north-south, just east of the prison) I took Peterson road west. When the bushes that line the road stop and there is a single tree to the north of it, park safely to the side of the road and check the field on the south side of the road (you need to cross the drainage ditch by going over the sluice).
The field the birds were in (at least 3 of them) was quite different from the fallow field I'd tried the night before. It had lots of small furrows running down it with narrow 'ridges' of higher ground which were slightly more overgrown than the lower areas flanking them. The furrows were very small furrows, not deep ones, but just deep enough to make it a bit awkward to walk on. The field appeared to have plenty of weeds and native grasses growing in it. The most easterly part of the field had a lot of long grass (about 1 foot high) which contained lots of Savannah Sparrows, but the pipits preferred the more open area on the west side of the field. When flushed, the birds would frequently fly to the overgrown ridges. The key in seeing them on the ground is to watch where the birds land, then move round with the sun behind you and walk slowly towards the point where the bird landed. Scan the ground about 30 metres in front of you and look for the birds creeping around in the furrows. The Sprague's Pipits that I saw seemed to prefer to walk away from me rather than fly and I obtained quite good views of the birds because of this.
One note: I spent a total of about 6 hours in total walking around fields near the prison and was never bothered by prison staff or farm workers.

Sprague's Pipit habitat

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