Saturday, March 28, 2009


The last time we visited Anza Borrego, on one of our hikes I had seen a distant view of the Salton Sea but we never actually got to visit it. On this visit I was determined to rectify this. The Salton Sea is an extraordinary lake that was once an extension of the Gulf of California. It is fifteen miles wide and thirty-five miles long and most oddly of all, it is two hundred and twenty-seven feet below sea level. The lake has virtually no inflow sources and is being threatened by run-off from surrounding agricultural fields and municipal effluent. Also with the course of natural evaporation the lake is becoming increasingly saline, it is currently twenty-five percent more saline than the Pacific Ocean! The increased salinity is threatening the huge number of species that live in and from this huge body of water and there are efforts in place to try and stop this decline. At least fifty species of birds that are listed as threatened, endangered or of concern, rely on the Salton Sea for survival during their migration.

I was particularly keen to see what bird species were still around but I don't think I was expecting so many treats. We drove round to the North East corner and called in at the Visitor Centre. As always at these places the volunteers were very helpful and gave us several suggestions of good birding spots to visit. Before we set of again we sat on the beach to eat our lunch and watch the shore birds.

It is a very unusual place to be, next to this huge lake when you are in the middle of a desert. The water was teaming with bird life, I have never seen so many Eared Grebes in my entire life! I have always had a huge soft spot for Pelicans so I was delighted to see both Brown and White Pelicans sailing majestically about, on the water and in the air.

We then set off down to the Southern end of the lake to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. This is an amazing area where numerous bird species come to breed and feed. There was so much to look at, I didn't know where to look first.

But there was one more BIG treat in store for me and this was not one I was expecting at all. I was looking around at the endless array of water birds and watching all the terns wheeling and circling so gracefully when I saw a sandy brown, stocky little bird fly in front of me, low to the ground. I watched where it landed and trained my binoculars on it and.............

there he was! A Burrowing Owl! So perfectly camouflaged that when you looked with the naked eye it was virtually impossible to see. There were in fact three of them and we watched them for some time. Eventually my wonderful husband managed to see them with his camera and get this lovely shot. I was so thrilled, it was just a perfect day.

Here is my bird list for the day, and just to put into perspective how special it was, all the asterisked ones were new species for me.

Ring-billed Gull,
Bonapartes Gull,
Yellow-footed Gull*,
White Pelican,
Brown Pelican,
Black-necked Stilt,
Caspian Tern,
Great White Egret,
Cattle Egret,
Snowy Egret,
Great Blue Heron,
Green Heron,
Eared Grebe,
Horned Grebe,
Black-bellied Plover,
Canadian Snow Goose*,
American Coot,
American Avocet*,
Northern Shoveler,
American Widgeon,
Ruddy Duck,
Greater Yellowlegs,
Double-crested Cormorant,
Marbled Godwit,
White-faced Ibis*,
Turkey Vulture,
White-throated Swift,
Yellow-rumped Warbler,
Aberts Towhee*,
Burrowing Owl*,
Great-tailed Grackle*,
European Starling,
Hooded Oriole*,
House Finch,
Northern Mockingbird,
Black Phoebe.

Photo Credits - Dominick V


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic list of birds you saw...and the owl..Oh my gosh...and this was at the Sonny Bono Refuge? 'You got me babe'

Arija said...

What a great place and a wonderfully successful day for you. Owls are just super special.

Louise said...

What a bird list!

I just watched an ancient Disney movie with my daughter tonight. It was about the desert and had a little blurb on the Salton Sea. I'd never heard of it and was intrigued. So this very day I learn more on your blog. Very interesting with fantastic photos!

Doug Taron said...

Sounds like you are having a marvellous time. The photos are really good, as was the narrative. Perhaps you should try your hand at being a nature tour guide some time ;-)

Kathiesbirds said...

Your flower photos above are nice but this is the post I went searching for. What a wonderful place. I have GOT to visit here! So many cool birds! Congrats on seeing them all! I love stilts and avocets! I can't believe how far below sea level this is. Is the salinity similar to the Great Salt Lake?

Kathie Brown said...

LOL! Looks like I have been here before! (on this blogpost) We are checking into visiting here this week! Thanks for the reminder!