Southwest Birders
Read about our adventures and thoughts on birding in Arizona, California, and other locales. Check back weekly for updates!

August 2012
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Yuma West & East Wetlands
Filed under: Arizona
Posted by: Henry @ 5:06 pm

Suzanne and I visited the Yuma East Wetlands on Saturday morning (25 Aug 12) morning for an hour.  This location does not have yet have the more mature habitats associated with the West Wetlands, but with its ponds and extensive marsh, it’s far better for water-loving birds.  We saw our first BELTED KINGFISHER and YELLOW WARBLER for the season, and found many of the regulars, including LEAST BITTERN and BELL’S VIREO.  The next day I had our first NORTHERN FLICKER of the season.

First-year Yellow Warbler, East Westlands, Aug 25

Last Sunday (18 Aug) we spent about two hours at the West Wetlands.  It was only about 90 degrees, but humid.  We had a good morning, with a nice mix of migrants and residents, and wound up with 43 species total.  A few birds were even singing, like one the CRISSAL THRASHERS.

The best bird was a male NORTHERN PARULA that Suzanne spotted at the northwest end of the pond below the hummingbird garden. 

Northern Parula, Yuma West Wetlands, Aug 18


Crissal Thrasher family, Yuma West Wetlands, Aug 18

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Salton Sea Morning
Filed under: California
Posted by: Henry @ 8:31 pm

Greetings Friends,

Thomas picked me up at the ungodly hour of 4:15 a.m. and we sped off to our first stop at Ramer Lake.  Thousands of glimmering egrets, herons, cormorants, and ibis were milling about and flying off form their evening roost to the flooded fields in the Imperial Valley.  At this spot Thomas also got photos of the first of his targets, a pair of Western Grebes.  North of Finney Lake he snapped away at White-faced Ibis as it sloshed through a flooded alfalfa field, and on Ramer Lake itself he bagged a Clark’s Grebe.  I found a Lesser Nighthawk perched on one of the big Athel Tamarisks in the parking area, and we both took several portrait shots.

(click on thumbnails for larger photos)
White-faced Ibis, Heermann’s Gull, Osprey

From there it was off to the Sea.  As we drove down to the end of Bowles Road Thomas picked out and photograhed his first Burrowing Owl–sitting at the end of an irrigation pipe.  A beautiful array of birds awaited our arrival: California Gulls, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Long-billed Dowitchers, Marbled Godwits, American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, and many more.  Black, Gull-billed, and Caspian Terns were everywhere, and we managed some pretty good flight shots. Farther north along the Sea Levee were hordes of Brown and American White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, and a steady supply of Yellow-footed Gulls.  Thomas also tagged a Heermann’s Gull and a few Eared Grebes.  The congregation of gulls, waders, and pelicans was truly impressive. 

Brown Pelicans, Wilson’s Phalarope

At the headquarters we scored with the roosting Barn Owl, and then along Schrimpf Road Thomas spotted a flying Wood Stork!  A couple of Common Terns scattered in with the Caspian and Forster’s Terns were a nice find.  A bit farther north we drove to the end of McDonald Road and Thomas locked onto a pair of Snowy Plovers, his final trophy for the day!  It was heating up quickly, so we drove up to Niland for some sandwiches & drinks, and then headed back to Yuma.  Five hours of target birding had turned up 75 species by 11:00 a.m.–a great introduction to the Imperial Valley for my Staten Island friend.

Good birding!

Black Terns

American Avocet

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August in Yuma
Filed under: Arizona
Posted by: Henry @ 2:01 pm

Greetings Birders!

It’s August and it’s hot here in Yuma, Arizona.  No doubt when the birds leave home and head south, they have no idea what they’re heading into.  Suzanne and I spent thirty minutes at the West Wetlands this morning and noted a “new” COOPER’S HAWK flying by; we saw him later dining on a MOURNING DOVE.  Aside from the hawk, it was mostly residents–lots of VERDINS, ABERT’S TOWHEES, WHITE-WINGED DOVES, GILA & LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKERS, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS, and a young BLUE GROSBEAK.  Along the Salinity Canal were two returning SPOTTED SANDPIPERS and thirteen BURROWING OWLS.  Back at home we had two additional “winter” visitors coming to our tiny pond, a WESTERN TANAGER and our first ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER of the season. 

Stay cool out there!

Burrowing Owl Juveniles

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Alamo River Wetlands Project
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 4:11 pm

Hi all,

As I read the paper this morning, in dawned on me that there might be a number of folks wondereing just what birds DID we see at the new wetlands project!! I spent an evening this past February, walking and enjoying the site. The next morning Leon Lesicka spearheaded a huge endeavor to plant native vegetation in the ponds. Numerous bus loads of students from several local schools had lots of fun playing in the mud! Me too!

Alamo River Wetlands Project

The following was my original post to inlandcountybirds and following that is my eBird report from that little evening walk.

Spent a good part of my weekend at a NEW wetlands site in the Imperial Valley and I invite all to come and visit! This newly created pond and wetlands system along the Alamo River is the third project of the Alamo / New River Wetland Projects. Located approximately three miles east of Brawley, the project is on the east bank of the Alamo River, one mile west of Hwy 115 at the end of O Brien Road. It is known locally as the Shank Road Wetlands because of its location near Shank Road and because it is the first of several projects that will occur along the Alamo River. Access to the site is from Hwy 115 on O Brien Road which is .5 miles south of Shank Road or 1.25 miles north of the intersection of Hwy 78.

Saturday morning I was one of approximately 300 volunteers, moslty students from local schools (I think there were six or more school busses!) to assist in planting bullrushes for the project. Similar to the Imperial and Brawley sites of the New River Wetlands Project, water will flow through progressive ponds divided by barriers of vegetation to send cleaner water on to the Salton Sea.

I have created a new site on eBird for the location and encourage all to please enter your observations on that same marker. This is a great opportunity for all of us to contribute to the bird database from the start of the project!

Alamo River Wetlands Project–Shank Rd., Imperial, US-CA
Feb 10, 2012 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.5 mile(s)
Comments:     This newly created pond and wetlands system along the Alamo River is the third project of the Alamo / New River Wetland Projects. Located approximately three miles east of Brawley, the project is on the east bank of the Alamo River, one mile west of Hwy 115 at the end of O Brien Road. It is known locally as the Shank Road Wetlands because of its location near Shank Road and because it is the first of several projects that will occur along the Alamo River. Access to the site is from Hwy 115 on O Brien Road which is .5 miles south of Shank Road or 1.25 miles north of the intersection of Hwy 78. A lone Coyote and several Rio Grande Leopard Frog were some of the other creatures noted on my first visit.
24 species

Cinnamon Teal  21
Northern Shoveler  4
Ruddy Duck  14
Eared Grebe  2
Great Egret  1
Snowy Egret  1
White-faced Ibis  60
Turkey Vulture  3
American Coot  64
Killdeer  2
Mountain Plover  8     Flyover
Black-necked Stilt  3
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Least Sandpiper  18
Mourning Dove  13
Greater Roadrunner  1
Black Phoebe  2
Say’s Phoebe  4
Loggerhead Shrike  1
Common Raven  2     In tree tops on Shank Road
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  6
Tree Swallow  100
American Robin  1
Red-winged Blackbird  60

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

See ya at the sea…………..

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Mesquite Lake.
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 8:28 pm

Hi all,

There is an area located in just about the geographic center of Imperial Valley called the Mesquite Lake Basin. Never seen Mesquite Lake?! Well it has not been a lake since the very early 1900’s so I have never seen it either but the birding can be great there! I made a birding pass through there just before sunset yesterday.

But first I need to add access information for anyone contemplating birding here this coming weekend. CATTLE CALL PARK in Brawley is currently closed due to flooding by the New River. I subscribe to a service of the USGS that sends out alerts for waterways in which water levels are above or below certain parameters that you select. This is the alert that I received yesterday!

Streamflow of 1360 cfs is outside of subscriber thresholds of 430 and 700 at 2012-08-02 06:30:00 PDT
10255550 00060 NEW R NR WESTMORLAND CA

That is high water!

And now back to Mesquite Lake. Getting there was half of the fun. I left the office in SW El Centro and stopped at a small drain canal that was a river two days ago. The drain runs south across East Heil Avenue between Dogwood Road and Industry Way. I walked it for a ways looking for dragonflies. Rambur’s Forktail, Spot-winged Glider and Common Green Darner were present but also present was a pair of Burrowing Owls with at least one young. Their den was just barely above the high water mark! Here are pictures of a parent on a fence post and the young on a ….Dodge? The young have a brown head and creamy white breast.

Adult Burrowing OwlJuvenile Burrowing Owl

The area called Mesquite Lake is just south of Brawley. It is roughly bounded by Brawley on the north, the railroad tracks on the west, Ralph Road and Highway 111 near Worthington Road on the south and McConnell Road on the east. It is known as the Mesquite Lake block or basin. Block because it is basically surrounded by earthquake fault lines and is sinking faster than the rest of the Imperial Valley. Basin because it was one of the last areas to be drained and brought into agriculture but the salinity is too high to be farmed easily. There are several fish farms and waterfowl hunting areas here and it is one of the favored wintering locations for about 500 plus Sandhill Crane every winter. The basin is quite obvious as you drop into it from the south or the west.

This is some of the habitat along the bluff of the faultline at Doogwood Road just south of Harris Road. Very good loacation to find Abert’s Towhee and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher!

Mesquite Tree habitat

The Rose Canal meanders along with the western edge of this faultine and shows evidence of that in this picture of a canal gate. I have pictures of the date on this gate someplace but seem to recall the date was about 1939.

Rose Canal

Here is a very handy link for maps of the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) canals, drains and the Colorado River.

Following is my eBird report.

Mesquite Lake Basin, Imperial, US-CA
Aug 1, 2012 6:45 PM - 7:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
2.0 mile(s)

Comments:     Temperature about 95 w/ very high humidity w/ no wind. Pulled off of Dogwood Road onto the south bank of Rose Canal, just south of Harris Road, and headed west. Birded the mesquite trees there on foot for about 20 minutes then drove the canal to where it crosses Keystone Road. Signs of very heavy water runoff from the monsoon storm two days previous with standing water amidst the mesquite trees. West bank of the Rose north from Harris Road was closed due to flooding. East bank open and good. ABout 15 Spot-winged Glider dragonflies while walking the mesquite trees.
14 species

Mallard  5
Gambel’s Quail  7
Cattle Egret  15
White-faced Ibis  60
American Kestrel  1
Black-necked Stilt  1
Mourning Dove  45
Burrowing Owl  1
Lesser Nighthawk  1
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Black Phoebe  1
Verdin  1
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher  1
Abert’s Towhee  3

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

See ya at the sea…………….

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Weather Channel?
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 5:23 pm

Hi all,

With all the rain the past few weeks I feel a bit like the Weather Channel. We just had our second serious monsoon type summer storm here in the Imperial Valley and it was a real doozie! This information should be most useful for visiting birders and explorers intending to visit our desert playground this coming weekend as far as road conditions and into the near future for desert greenery and wildlife conditions.

First, a few facts taken from the front page of our local Imperial Valley Press.

Estimated rainfall Monday

1.4 to 2 inches fell in one hour near Plaster City
4 inches 10 miles NW of Plaster City
3.5 to 4 inches NW of Westmorland
2.5 to 3.5 inches S of Ocotillo to the border
2 to 3 inches SE of Glamis :-)
1.5 to 2.5 inches around Holtville
.75 to 2 inches around El Centro
.75 to 2 inches around Imperial
1 inch in Ocotillo

That translated into some serious flash floods and road closures throughout the county. One Highway Patrol report that I saw simply stated “road is gone - stopping traffic.”

I was in the 2″ part of the El Centro portion and was reminded of Forrest Gump’s statement that sometimes it even seemed to fall up. Kayaking would have been possible on many streets in the valley that night. Rain is such a unique event here in the desert that it seems to bring out the smiles on every person you meet at a doorway as they come rushing in. The biggest smiles were probably mine though.

Most of the roads to birding sites should be accessible by next weekend with certain precautions. Do not get off to the sides or shoulders on the dirt roads and don’t go down it if you do not see vehicle tracks of someone else successfully going down it before you! Many of the dirt roads near the Salton Sea are very alkaline and can be very slick just from heavy humidity the night before. Davis Road from the Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area is exceptionally prone to that. The Finney and Ramer Lake Units should just be avoided for at least another week as the goop gets really bad there. Birding the seawall in both directions from the intersection of Lack and Lindsey Roads would offer the best birding on this shore ot the Salton Sea. Yellow-footed Gull should be easily seen along that stretch. The west end of Bowles Road might not yet be accessible by next weekend but if it is you will want to go there.

An adventurous group of birders from the Anza Borrego Foundation, under the fearless leadership of the “Dorks looking for Storks” made a trip to the Salton Sea on Tuesday morning. Their trip started out with a detour as they made it all the way from Borrego Springs to Ocotillo Wells and ran into the Hwy 78 closure so had to backtrack to the Borrego Salton Seaway. They did pretty well for only being able to get to a few places and they did get to see their Wood Stork by getting their feet muddy and walking the last bit from Garst Road at the Alamo River to view Morton Bay.

I followed the Doppler radar very closely during the storm and am very excited about the amount of rainfall in the deserts north and east of the Algodones Dunes. Sure wish I could get out there for a night trek in the dunes. I would wager there are still some pretty good size lakes still standing in the pockets even today. Two major storms in as many weeks have run some serious water up against those dunes to be trapped in the “pockets” and I expect there to be some great birding and nature study out there this fall. Storms like this in the desert bring out Red-spotted Toads in mass quantities as they seem to appear out of nowhere. This one was photographed in the Algodones Dunes during a major summmer thunderstorm on August 26 , 2010.

Red-spotted Toad

Well, that’s my rambling for the week. See ya at the sea………………..


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