Monday, 19 January 2009

Salton Sea, California 16 Jan 09

I started off just after dawn at another site for Sprague’s Pipit, this time a bit closer to 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). This time I was in luck. The grass in the east side of the field is quite long, but this thins out and in this shorter grass I managed to get views of at least 3 Sprague’s Pipit (see my article on finding these birds HERE).

After finishing at the field I headed off to Red Hill Boat Launch. There were lots of waders roosting in the bay on the right long Garst Road, mainly American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and Ring-billed Gulls. The wires on the side of the road had lots of Barn and Tree Swallows and the area of mud and sand at the end of Garst Road had lots of waders and ducks, but unfortunately, lots of hunters too.

I headed off to the boat launch and stop at a couple of sites along the eastern and western side. Yellow-footed Gull was the best bird I saw here. There was an adult mooching around with a bunch of cormorants, plus a bird which could have been a first-winter, with white head and underparts, but it didn’t move around much, so I couldn’t get much more on it. Lots of Brown and White Pelicans on the water here too.

Next stop was the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Headquaters (what a mouthful!). This was the first place where I’d seen Snow Geese in any large numbers (about 5000), but they were feeding in rather distant fields, not close enough to pick out any Ross’s Geese in them. When the got up and flew around I could pick out two blue-phase birds, one an adult, the other a juvenile. The area around the visitors centre was good for a number of birds; Gambell’s Quail, Verdin and Abert’s Towhee were all seen around this area. Obsidian Butte was the next stop. There had been Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-footed Gull reported at this site recently, but the number of gulls was quite low and only Glaucous-winged and Herring Gulls could be seen.

Next I thought I’d look for Mountain Plovers in the burned fields dotted around south-east Salton Sea. The first burned field I found was at the junction of West Rutherford and Brandt. This field had a small flock of 33 Mountain Plovers in, but the best flock I found was a flock of ~200 birds just south of the junction of Kalin Rd and Sinclair Rd.

I finished the day at Unit 1, which was full of birds! The rarest bird was a male Eurasian Wigeon, feeding on the ponds between the observation tower and the Salton Sea. Other birds seen from the observation tower were Northern Harrier, White-tailed Kite, White-faced Ibis and Yuma Clapper Rail (heard).There were about 150 Sandhill Cranes feeding in the fields along the approach road, along with about another 5000 Snow Geese. Many of these birds were close enough to examine closely and I could make out quite a lot of Ross’s Geese in them. The wader pools to the west of the approach road were particularly good. Lots of Long-billed Dowitchers, Least Sands, Semi-p Sand, and this was the only place I saw Stilt Sandpipers (about 20 in total). A good end to a memorable day.

Male Gambell's Quail

Female Gambell's Quail (left) and Burrowing Owl (right) with pellets.

Part of a Snow and Ross's Goose flock (left) and 1st-winter Ring-billed Gull (right)

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