Thursday, September 20, 2012

Salton Birdscapes

From left to right: Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope. The sandpipers would frequently fight over a desired piece of mudflat, while the phalarope would referee.

When discussing birding the Salton Sea with nonlocal birders, a common response is wide eyes, a slack jaw, and incoherent jabber about bird-related jealousy. This routine typically winds up with "I've been meaning to go there for years now" or "I would kill 6 infant children with a hammer for the opportunity to bird the Salton Sea".

The fact is that you don't need to be a high-ranking power-birder, or murderer, to get access to the sea. It's right there, waiting to be birded. But with (generally) retreating water levels and ongoing salinity increases, its unclear how long it will remain the hotspot that it is. What are you waiting for?

Aside from the quality of birds there and high vagrant potential, the sheer numbers of birds there is a spectacle in and of itself, which I guess will serve as a loose theme for today's photos.

American White Pelicans. Lots of them. Photographed at the west end of Bowles Road.

Yellow-footed Gulls and Snowy Egrets. Interestingly, the bird on the right is much smaller-billed in comparison to the others...I'm not sure what to make of that. South end of the Salton Sea.

Tens of thousands of birds. West end of Bowles Road.

Staggering numbers...the mind reels. Bowles Road.

A Stilt Sandpiper shuns its comparatively abundant dowitcher bretheren. The Salton Sea is the best place on the Pacific Flyway (at least, in the Lower 48) to find this species in numbers. Bowles Road.

The sea is saturated with Black-necked Stilts. Wister Unit of Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR.

American White Pelicans and Snowy Egrets. West end of Young Road.

This is a classic Imperial Valley scene. White-faced Ibis, alfalfa fields, geothermal power plant, bleak martian landscape in the distance.

This Black Tern formation looked like they were trying to tell me something. Stay positive? Photographed from the north end of Garst Road.

Black Terns and assorted shorebirds litter the mudflats. North end of Garst Road.

A big group of Gull-billed Terns. Look carefully and you may be able to pick out some Stilt Sandpipers in with the dowitchers. In fact, you are not allowed to look away from this photo until you do. West end of Bowles Road.

Not a good picture, but the cormorant on the right is a Neotropic Cormorant, one of 2 that I oogled  and ogled that day. This olivaceous shag is a very rare bird in California, but the Imperial Valley is a great place to look for them. South end of the Salton Sea.


  1. Holy fuck that is a lot of birds. Mad mad jealous, though I think I would only be willing to slice & dice about four infant children for a trip there right now. Is it still scorching hot there?

    1. Yes. So birdy. There used to be quite a few spots that looked like this, but now they are either inaccessible or a little less birdy.

      It was scorching when I was there last, but its probably beginning to cool off now.

  2. Yes, I slew my babies and headed over finally this September. Isn't it nice when infanticide and birding can come together, and with such spectacle!?

    That Black Tern formation is pretty phenomenal, very Luftwaffe of them.

    I've got to go back for the Gull-billed Terns, and if there are still Stilt Sandpipers with them, well, that'd be might fine. Now that you're in Oakland, the Sea is a much longer drive for you. How are you coping?

    1. There is a small chance some vagrant might drag me back their this winter, but we will see how it goes. Fall migration will keep away my post-salton blues for a while.

      The Gull-billeds will be leaving this month, but Stilt Sands will be there through next spring. Bowles has been consistently very good for them this year, although last time I saw a bunch around Morton Bay as well.

  3. I'd love to go there but I don't think I could pay the price :-)