Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Birds to know in San Diego: Anza-Borrego Desert

We continue our monthly series of common San Diego birds by heading east over the mountains to the Anza-Borrego Desert.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center.
Most desert birds are adapted to thrive in dry, hot conditions where other birds would suffer. Thus, except during spring migration--or in irrigated residential landscapes, most birds found in San Diego's desert are different than elsewhere in the county.

Here is my birding site guide to Mesquite Bosque and Borrego Springs WTP. Here is my birding site guide to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center.

Phainopepla
Phainopepla. Mission Trails Park, San Diego, California. May 10, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Phainopepla
The male is sleek and glossy black with a red eye, bold white wing patches visible in flight, and a perky crest. How cool is that! The female is grayer, without the wing patches, but otherwise similar. They give a soft imitable whistled "whit" call. They feed on mistletoe berries and flycatch for insects and are quite common and widespread across the desert, especially in winter. They may breed March-May in the desert and then move westward into grassy canyons with sycamore and oak and more mistletoe. Here they may breed a second time before returning to the desert for the fall and winter. Similar San Diego birds: None in desert habitats. Steller's Jay in mountain forests.


Costa's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird on Ocotillo. Tamarisk Grove, Anza-Borrego Desert, California. January 26, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Costa's Hummingbird
This is the expected desert hummingbird, though Anna's also occur--especially in residential areas with non-native flowering plants. The male's purple gorget covers the entire head and the throat spurs droop well away from the body (Pete Dunne calls it a "'Fu Manchu' mustache"). The brilliantly jewelled-colored throats of hummingbirds are created by refraction; the actual throat feathers are black, as can be seen above when the angle is not right. Females of all hummingbirds are rather similar green above and white below and hard to tell to species. Similar San Diego birds: Anna's Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird.


Verdin
Verdin. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.


Verdin
These small gray desert birds behave like chickadees, though they have larger heads and shorter tails. Only older birds have yellow faces. They move actively through thorny desert scrub. They are quite talkative, with a wide range of loud, high-pitched calls and whistles. This is probably the signature bird of the Anza-Borrego Desert--it is a common resident that is not found in other San Diego County habitats. Similar San Diego birds: None in the desert, but Bushtit, Oak Titmouse.


Black-throated Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Black-throated Sparrow
This handsomely-patterned desert sparrow is very striking. It prefers gravelly slopes with sparse bushes. In San Diego County that is primarily the ocotillo and cholla and barrel cacti at the mountain edges surrounding Borrgeo Springs. It is more often found on the ground than in bushes (except singing males in spring). They often run away on the ground rather than fly. Similar San Diego birds: Black-chinned Sparrow, Bell's Sparrow. Somewhat similarly-patterned to residential House Sparrows.


Cactus Wren
Cactus Wren. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Cactus Wren
This aptly-named large wren makes its home right among the spines of cacti and other shrubs of the desert Southwest. You may find them in thick patches of cholla cacti in the Anza- Borrego Desert and in thick prickly pear and cholla in coastal sage scrub habitats nearer the coast. They build football-shaped nests of cactus spines with side entry holes and occupy them year long, not just when nesting. The unique mechanical rolling "chug-chug-chug..." song has made it incongruously into many TV and movie soundtracks in places where Cactus Wrens never occur. Similar San Diego birds: Bewick's Wren, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Sage Thrasher.


White-winged Dove
White-winged Dove. Borrego Springs, California. April 27, 2014. Greg Gillson.
White-winged Dove
These are rather large and obvious desert pigeons, found especially in mesquite and palo verde trees. Locally, these doves are habituated to oases and residential Borrego Springs. Large numbers are found a Vallecito County Park and also the grapefruit orchards north of Borrego Springs. The white wing bars are very obvious in flight, different from all other pigeons in North America. Similar San Diego birds: Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon, domestic pigeon.


Greater Roadrunner
Greater Roadrunner. Mission Trails Park, San Diego, California. May 10, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Greater Roadrunner
Though most people think of this rather large bird as a desert specialist, it is found in open areas with scattered bushes throughout San Diego county except in urban areas and highest mountains. In addition to true desert, one can find this bird in coastal sage scrub and other chaparral. Nevertheless, it is frequently seen in the Anza-Borrego Desert. And, yes, it frequently runs beside or across the road.  Similar San Diego birds: None. Similar to female Ring-necked Pheasant, but pheasant is no longer found in the county except as occasional escaped cage birds.


Loggerhead Shrike
Loggerhead Shrike. Borrego Springs, California. March 22, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Loggerhead Shrike
This songbird behaves like a miniature hawk, preying upon large insects, small birds, lizards, and rodents. You can find them in open country where they frequently perch on the tips of saplings, bushes, fence posts, and telephone lines. These birds are typical residents of the Mesquite Bosque of the Anza-Borrego Desert (see site guide). Similar San Diego birds: Northern Mockingbird, American Kestrel.


Birds to know in San Diego: introduction

Next: Birds to know in San Diego: Oceanside Pier