Salton Sea
30 Jan 2009
 by Henry Detwiler

A beautiful day of birding around the southeast portion of the Salton Sea with Joan & Dean and Bob.

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Joan, Dean, and Bob

I  met Joan and Dean, with their friend Bob, at the Calipatria Inn early Friday morning. Before we had driven more than a mile north we stopped at a burned over field with a couple dozen Mountain Plover searching for snacks in the charred grass.Then it was north to Niland, in search of the "exotic" Spotted Doves.We drove and walked through several neighborhoods, occasionally even playing the bird's calls.We located Common Ground-Dove, Inca Dove, Mourning Dove, scads of Eurasian Collared-Doves, and two lingering White-winged Doves--but no Spotted Doves.

Not far from the Calipatria State Prison we visited a Barn Owl's home, and Bob got a bird's eye view as it swooped over his head on the way out of the abandoned house. South of the prison we saw dozens of Savannah Sparrows, but missed the Sprague's Pipits. Moving west towards the Sea, we had fine looks at this Burrowing Owl standing at the doorstop of its burrow.

American White Pelicans

burrowing owl
Burrowing Owl

Farther on we stopped to visit the gurgling mud pots along Davis. Here, gases hiss through the oozing gray muck while sulfurous odors waft about. In Morton Bay we saw our first "herds" of waterfowl, and both American White and Brown Pelicans. Lunch was a fine Mexican meal at the Chinese Donut Shop in Calipatria..

Along the Sea wall (levee) we saw lots of Eared Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Great Egrets, and Double-crested Cormorants, but we missed the Surf Scoters that had been so obvious two weekends prior. In the pond at the corner of Lack and Lindsey we were treated to all three teal: Cinnamon, Green-winged, and Blue-winged.

Eared Grebes


Obsidian Butte was great with four Yellow-footed Gulls--an excellent number for the winter season. There were a mix of second-year and adult gulls.

Heermann's Gull
Heermann's Gull

Double-crested Cormorants

An immature Heermann's Gull was also a good find, since these birds have just started to breed here at the Sea within the past few years.


A short stop at the refuge headquarters turned up many White-crowned Sparrows and Gambel's Quail. At Red Hill Marina we spotted the best bird of the day, a third-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull. A European stray, it's become much more common along the east coast over the past decade.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (third winter)

Other good birds along the muddy shore of Red Hill included a Dunlin, scores of Marbled Godwits, Western Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers. We searched through the near-by large larids, but turned up only Herring Gulls.

Innature Ring-billed Gulls

ross geese
Ross's Geese east of Obsidian Butte

From here we headed back to Calipatria, and parted ways. It had been another great day of birding in this fabulously rich ecosystem!

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