Saturday, 4 January 2014

Southern California - update three

New Year's Day, always a decent day to get things started. I made a conscious effort to record the first 10 species of the year, as I'd seen this idea on Facebook with people from all around the world contributing and quite interesting to see what's common where. So from Brawley in southern California here goes, in this order - 1. House Sparrow 2. Yellow-rumped Warbler 3. White-crowned Sparrow 4. Mourning Dove 5. Great-tailed Grackle 6. Northern Flicker 7. Northern Flicker 8. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 9. Northern Mockingbird 10. Abert's Towhee.
male Gambel's Quail, Sonny Bono NWR 1st Jan 2014
Once these had been seen, Cattle Call Park further delivered with a Gila Woodpecker, Costa's Hummingbirds and Verdins. And then it was up to the Salton Sea, one of the most bizarre places I've been too - a highly saline environment, way below sea level with random mineral smelting plants scattered across the otherwise arable landscape. Not the first time I'd been here as I've got foggy memories of a scorchingly hot, intolerable day there with my Dad back in the early 1990s. Today though, we started at the Sonny Bono NWR and checked out the area by the visitor centre - loads of Snow Geese and a few Ross's Geese in the fields and common birds of the area such as Common Ground Dove and Gambel's Quails by the feeders.
Common Ground Dove, Sonny Bono NWR 1st Jan 2014

Snow Geese, Sonny Bono NWR 1st Jan 2014
Despite the whole area looking like it's been obliterated post nuclear bomb style, one thing you can't take away from the place is the stack full of birds it holds. Hundreds of thousands, seriously, probably millions. Black-necked Grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, Ring-billed Gulls, Shovelers, American Coots, Buffleheads, Ruddy Ducks all dominate as well as loads of waders like Dunlins, Least Sands, Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets all filled the shoreline at Obsidian Butte.
Greater Roadrunner, near Salton Sea 1st Jan 2014
Nearby, a drive about the area eventually produced views of a Greater Roadrunner doing what its name suggests, while some obliging Burrowing Owls and flocks of Savannah Sparrows were decent value.
Burrowing Owl, near Salton Sea 1st Jan 2014
As I've mentioned previously, I was at the Salton Sea previously in August. However, given that I was in my early teens and my gull identification probably wasn't what it is these days (though Yellow-footed Gull is ticked off for that trip and I do remember seeing big gulls with yellow legs!), I wanted to try and see Yellow-footed Gull on this visit. No easy task in January, and I was told this in no uncertain terms by some dick of a birder in the car park at Sonny Bono. However, there were literally thousands of gulls spread across the shore and they were coming and going continually; what was handy though was that there aren't loads of large gulls and where they are, they congregate together. And the largest congregations were in the pre-roost at Redhill Marina where, amongst the couple of hundred American Herrings and single Western, I located an adult Yellow-footed Gull. Result... and though rather distant, its dark mantle, large size and long yellow legs were really obvious. This rather nicely rounded off a bird filled day, and I really haven't gone into the detail the area deserves, but to see huge numbers of birds is always a highlight. Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds and Loggerhead Shrikes add some landbird backbone to the massive wader and waterfowl numbers too.

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