Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Salton Sea: Birding A Post-Nature Dystopia

I finally got to visit the place where this classic line was uttered..."No Matt, that's a fucking catbird." Last month I made my first winter visit to the Salton Sea in many years, the last time being when I had notoriously dipped on the Bean Goose for three (3) consecutive days. Luckily there was no such painful dipping to be endured, but then again there were no rare birds to dip on...which is why you are about to get slammed with a series of nonbird photos.

Caution is warranted at Barnacle's; nude swimming alone is not warranted.

Victory at last: SCAR and Dipper Dan celebrate seeing a large flock of Cedar Waxwings. Multitudes of Bombycillids inspire much posturing in nerds. Shortly after this photo was taken, SCAR and DD began trespassing into various yards with reckless abandon, bragging about waxwing observations and trying to pick fights with locals. Can there be such a thing as too many waxwings?

Paul E. Lehman courageously leads the charge of his nerd platoon. They were looking at a Varied Thrush, which is the rarest bird we had at the Salton Sea that weekend.

Some people go to the Salton Sea to crush birds; other people go to the Salton Sea to crush dead fish.

There seems to be a disturbing amount of art popping up along the southeastern shore of the Salton Sea. That looks like an old heron nest that has been redecorated. What does it all mean? And why does looking at it give me so many feelings?

Oh, but what is the bird directly in front of the art? It is a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a sort of rare bird (we saw 4 that day). This image is profound, and larophiles and art critics alike are already saying that it will change everything. We may be on our way to birding a post-nature dystopia, but goddammit it's going to look fucking meaningful.

For the Christmas Count, Dipper Dan and I were assigned the Imperial Irrigation District wetlands in Niland. We were specifically supposed to find Least Bitterns, which we utterly failed to do. It was embarrassing, but we birded the shit out of those ponds. There was no shortage of Yuma Ridgway's Rails though, and this one was not afraid to feed just a few feet from the car.

Hella confiding...Ridgway's can be quite brave compared to many of their cousins, perhaps in part due to their size.  Back when I was not #7, I used to wonder about how I would tell Clapper and Virginia Rails apart. It seemed like it might be difficult (give me a break, I wasn't born #7).  Plumage characters aside, Clapper/Ridgway's/King Rails are all enormous in comparison; these big rails are closer to coots in size than Virginia Rails.

We had a few Vermilion Flycatchers on Pound Road, at one of the duck clubs. As with the past several winters, there wasn't much around in terms of rarities, but we did ok...American Redstarts, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-footed and Thayer's Gulls, and Horned Grebe were all decent birds. The water level of the sea looked as low and sad as's still good birding, but it's not what it used to be. Bummer.

We made a quick stop in San Dimas on the way down, to try to find the wintering Tango Bravo Kilo India. I'm still working on getting a decent White-throated Sparrow shot...I have a long way to go. This brightly-marked bird was at Horsethief Canyon Park; we also heard the Thick-billed Kingbird here, calling from the suburbs west of the park.


  1. Hopefully none of PEL's troops were gunned down by enemy fire, and all received Congressional Medals of Honor for their valiant and brave actions.

  2. I think Dipper Dan and I have the same pants. Also, I hate art.