Common Terns - Imperial Ponds


Brawley Ponds - Oct 2001

New River Wetlands Project
As we continue to monitor these two experimental ponds, we'll be updating the bird list and adding links to this page.

102+ species since 2001 (partial list follows at end page)

Click on thumbnail pictures for full-sized shots.
October 2001
by Bob Miller

The New River has long been considered one of the most polluted waterways in the United States. Originating in Mexico, and flowing through the Imperial Valley, it winds its way north about 67 river miles from the border to the Salton Sea. The river carries agricultural runoff, sewage, and industrial runoff from both sides of the border. Most of the sewage and industrial runoff is treated. Proposed regulations will set total maximum daily loads (TMDL) of silt and nutrients that are allowable in agricultural runoff and in the rivers. Nutrient loads flowing in from the river are thought to be a major contributor to the worsening health of the Salton Sea ecosystem.

Leon Lesicka, of Desert Wildlife Unlimited, currently heads The Citizen’s Congressional Task Force on the New River, which was formed in 1997 with the help of Congressman Duncan Hunter, to improve the quality of the river water and wildlife habitat. Working with the Imperial Irrigation District and Bureau of Reclamation, along with numerous other agencies, they have brought the pilot project well into its second year. Initial construction began in late Spring of 2000 and vegetation was planted by mid summer.

The New River is mostly bordered by non-native invasive species such as tamarisk and phragmites, and provides little value to wildlife. This new project is already adding tremendous habitat for wildlife as well as doing a remarkable job of cleaning the waters of the river through the use of nature itself. The initial pilot project consists of two sites. The Imperial site is 68 acres and 1.5 miles long. The Brawley site is 7 acres in size. The Imperial site receives its water from the Rice Drain and is entirely agricultural runoff. The Brawley site pumps water directly from the New River. The water first flows into the large settling ponds to settle out the heavier silts and from there flows into a series of smaller ponds planted with native bulrushes and sedges. The vegetation and ponds are laid out so the water must wind its way in a zigzag pattern the length of the site. Initial testing of water in and out of the systems has shown a decrease of as much as 97% in total suspended solids and an increase of up to 83% in dissolved oxygen. If proven successful, the wetlands will be expanded to cover most of the river bottom areas of the New and Alamo rivers with about 37 new sites being considered already.

Henry Detwiler and I are conducting the avian and wildlife surveys for the project. We began our surveys in March of this year, doing five visits to each site, per quarter. To date we have recorded just over 100 species and confirmed successful nesting of about 15, with numerous probable breeders. The large settling ponds attract grebes, herons, cormorants, terns, shorebirds, waterfowl and pelicans. The bulrushes and sedges are maturing rapidly. American Bittern has been recorded at the Brawly site and Least Bittern at both sites. The Brawley site has a power line passing nearby and a date grove on top of the hill which attracts kingfishers, kingbirds, accipiters and the like. The Imperial site has little in the way of trees but the few pockets of mesquite along the hillside can be loaded with warblers, sparrows, towhee, etc.  Marsh Wren and Common Yellowthroat pretty much own the bulrushes with Orange-crowned Warblers coming in big numbers during the fall.  Large flocks of blackbirds, ibis and egrets abound. Although they have not been using the wetlands directly, Prairie and Peregrine Falcon have been seen near the Imperial site recently.  The fields just to the South of Wienert Road hold some of the highest concentrations of wintering Mountain Plover in the Imperial Valley.

These sites will prove to be a regular stop on any birding trip to the Salton Sea. Dragonflies.  Nine species and counting!


Damselfly - Imperial Ponds


Yellow-headed Blackbird
Imperial Ponds

Horseback Riding - Brawley Ponds

Killdeer Chick - Brawley Ponds

Breeding Damselflies - Imperial Ponds

Brown Pelican - Imperial Ponds    


The Imperial site is located west of Forester Road and on the south bank of the New River. Coming from San Diego, go north on Forester Road from I-8. You will go past Worthington Road and turn west on Wienert Road, which only goes west. At about two miles a large deep drain canal will join you on the left--this is the Rice Drain and it supplies the project. A little further on the Rice Drain passes under Wienert and heads northwest. Turn right on the first bank, there is a small sign hanging from a chain that says “Granite”.  Follow the drain down into the site.

To reach the Brawley site from the Imperial site, take Wienert back to Forester and go north. Turn east on Keystone Road, which only goes to the right. Keystone runs into Hwy 86, where you will turn left (go north) toward Brawley.  Turn left (west) on Legion Road, which is the first signal light a mile south of Brawley. Follow Legion Road to the end of the pavement and continue along the chain link fence on your left. You will pass through an open gate and will come to an orange painted standpipe. The road down into the wetlands is immediately on your right. You can get to an overlook of the site if you continue to the date grove.

Wetlands Project Bird List
1 common loon
2 pied-billed grebe
3 eared grebe
4 western grebe
5 brown pelican
6 double-crested cormorant
7 American bittern
8 least bittern
9 great blue heron
10 great egret
11 snowy egret
12 cattle egret
13 green heron
14 black-crowned night heron
15 white-faced ibis
16 turkey vulture
17 American wigeon
18 wood duck
19 mallard
20 cinnamon teal
21 northern shoveler
22 redhead
23 green-winged teal
24 lesser scaup
25 ruddy duck 
26 northern harrier
27 Cooper's hawk
28 osprey
29 sharp-shinned hawk
30 red-shouldered hawk
31 Swainson's hawk
32 red-tailed hawk
33 American kestrel
34 ring-necked pheasant
35 Gambel's quail
36 sora
37 common moorhen
38 American coot
39 killdeer
40 black-necked stilt
41 American avocet
42 greater yellowlegs
43 spotted sandpiper
44 long-billed curlew
45 western sandpiper
46 least sandpiper
47 dunlin
48 long-billed dowitcher
49 common snipe
50 ring-billed gull 
52 Forster's tern
53 Caspian tern
54 common tern
55 black tern
56 rock dove
57 white-winged dove
58 mourning dove
59 common ground-dove
60 greater roadrunner
61 lesser nighthawk
62 Anna's hummingbird
63 belted kingfisher
64 gila woodpecker
65 ladder-backed woodpecker
66 northern flicker
67 willow flycatcher
68 black phoebe
69 Say's phoebe
70 western kingbird
71 loggerhead shrike
72 common raven
73 tree swallow
74 no. rough-winged swallow
75 cliff swallow
76 barn swallow
77 verdin
78 cactus wren
79 rock wren
80 marsh wren
81 blue-gray gnatcatcher
82 northern mockingbird
83 European starling
84 American pipit
85 orange-crowned warbler
86 yellow-rumped warbler
87 common yellowthroat
88 Wilson's warbler
89 western tanager
90 Abert's towhee
91 spotted towhee
92 Brewer's sparrow
93 savannah sparrow
94 song sparrow
95 Lincoln's sparrow
96 white-crowned sparrow
97 red-winged blackbirds
98 western meadowlark
99 yellow-headed blackbird
100 great-tailed grackle
101 brown-headed cowbird
102 house finch


Photos © Henry D. Detwiler & Bob Miller