My previous post was about the amazing wildflowers. Now I retell the same story of the same day, but this time with birds as the protagonist.
We arrived just before dawn. I decided to check out Old Springs Road Open Space Preserve--a place where I had seen wildflowers in the past. It also happens to be one of the only places in the county with Le Conte's Thrashers--a robin-sized secretive ground bird of barren sand dunes and widely scattered bushes.
|A carpeting of wildflowers on the dune sands at Old Springs Road OSP, Borrego Springs, California.|
|Sage Thrasher is always a nice consolation prize when you don't find the Le Conte's Thrasher.|
One of our goals for this trip was to see part of the annual Swainson's Hawk migration as they gather to feed on the sphinx moth caterpillars which were, in turn, feeding on the wildflowers. These primarily grasshopper-eating hawks migrate thousands of miles from the wintering grounds on the Pampas of Argentina to the native prairie grasslands of the western North America where they breed. I'm beginning to understand the movement through this area a bit better now, I think. For 6-7 weeks from late February to mid April, a few to a hundred or more hawks arrive in the Borrego Springs date farms each evening to roost. They feed on caterpillars in the fields of wildflowers at dawn, then gather in a huge swirling mob ("kettle") in the thermals before leaving the valley to continue their migration. [I wrote about this migration 2 years ago, here.] Well, the flowers had only been out a week. I guess that wasn't enough time for the caterpillars to hatch out and start eating. So, no caterpillars meant no hawks feeding on the ground in the morning. In a week or two it should be better.
Marlene and I stopped by one of the hawkwatch sites (mounds) on the side of the road where volunteers and interested birders gathered to yack about birds and watch for the Swainson's Hawks to lift off. I hoped to find birds roosting or feeding on the ground to photograph at closer range. I was told of a nearby road to walk down and try.
|Hawk watchers scan for Swainson's Hawks.|
|Distant specks are Swainson's Hawks grabbing a thermal to help them soar away on their northward migration.|
|A pair of California Quail|
|Greater Roadrunner crossing the road|
|X marks the spot--roadrunner tracks! Weird toes of the cuckoo family,|
Well, wouldn't you know it. On the busiest tourist day of the year, a few locals decided to go to a public area and set up target practice. Bad enough. But the buzzing throb of ricocheting bullets overhead were enough to make me give up after a few minutes. I did manage to hear a Sora rail calling from the tall wet grass in the pond. I managed one picture:
|Green, but flowerless desert near Borrego Springs waste treatment ponds.|
After breakfast, and closing fast on noon, it was quite warm. With all the traffic and visitors we went to a location we knew wouldn't be crowded. We drove through the private country club called the Roadrunner Club. For the most part, we drove through the area slowly, using the car as a mobile photography blind.
This mobile home park and golf course is green with mature trees and landscaping and has many well-stocked bird feeders. We stopped at the entrance gate and I finally got a photo of two Inca Doves. Again, like the thrashers, the Anza-Borrego Desert is the western outpost for this species. I've visited the Roadrunner Club multiple times over the past 3 years and this was only the second time I've spotted this rare recent resident species.
Okay, more details. The official name is Roadrunner Golf & Country Club. Half is the mobile home park, and half is stick built homes on a more newly developed parcel (fewer trees and many sandy empty lots). Then this private residential area merges into an RV Park--The Springs at Borrego RV Resort. The golf course winds through them all with several ponds. Some of the homes are vacation rentals.
Notice I keep saying "private"? It is possible that the bird watching public could be turned away. So far this hasn't happened. The gates have always been opened and the "for sale" and "for rent" signs intimate that the public is expected to have some access. So view access as a precious and revocable privilege if you ever decide to visit. Drive slowly and be friendly and courteous to residents and staff.
So, now that I have that out of the way...
|Inca Dove. My first photo ever of this species.|
|Inca Dove. Note the scaled upper parts and long tail.|
|Sparrow-sized Common Ground Doves. Note the short tails.|
A pair of Wood Ducks has been present here for almost two years now. They are very rare in the Borrego Valley generally, though regular only 15 miles to the west up in the mountain lakes.
Rare here, Wood Ducks swimming below a Mallard. A documentation photo.
(That's what you call it when it doesn't turn out very well, but you show it anyway.)
The song of the White-winged Dove is uncannily similar to that of the Barred Owl--an owl of SW swamps and northern forests. The song of both is a loud cooing "Who cooks for you?" It amuses me when I hear that Barred Owl-like call coming from the dry desert washes. It is a delightful surprise to the expectations of my brain to hear this incongruous sound.
My final bird photo is that of the Verdin. It is a gray chickadee-like desert bird with a yellow head, and loud cheerful chirping call. In fact, it is probably the signature bird of the Anza-Borrego Desert. It is common in the desert, and strictly found only in the deserts of the American Southwest.