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

January 2013
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Prairie Ghosts in Imperial Valley
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 6:28 pm

Hi all,

More pictures of this can be viewed on my flickR swbirder photo stream here

Video of these same individuals feeding can be viewed on my YouTube channel here

Mountain Plover, aka Prairie Ghosts, are one of the most sought after species here in the Imperial Valley. Over 5,000, a significant portion of their 20,000 or so world poulation, spend the winter here.

Mountain Plover. Two! See why they are called Prairie Ghosts!

They are very particular in habitat choices and these few photos illistrate one of those preferences. Mountain Plover (MOPL) nest on the high plains of North America and winter in open areas like ours. They prefer to run on the ground looking for insects. Mostly spiders in this particular field. The size of the substrate, ie dirt clods in this case, determines their prefered feeding habitat. If it is too hard to move or run on then they will avoid an area that has the same food supply!

The field on the left had several hundred MOPL while the field on the right had zero!

If you were small and ran on the ground you would choose this side.

Not this side!

They also have a preference for freshly burned Bermuda grass fields. Perhaps they enjoy their crickets well done! So this should give you a good idea what kind of fields you are searching for in you search for Imperial Valley’s Prairie Ghosts.

See ya at the sea………………………….

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Birding with Viviane and Dave
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 7:54 pm

Hi all,

Many more photos from this day can be see on my flickr page at this link.

I picked up Viviane and Dave at Brawley Inn at 6:30am and we hustled out to Dogwood Road, just north of Keystone Road, for a special event. The first “cloud” was crossing over Dogwood Road as we arrived and it just got crazier from there.

That low dark ”cloud” is all ducks! Holly Sugar in the distance. (Now Spreckles Sugar)

I first noticed this event about a week earlier. What looked like large flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds were actually ALL DUCKS!! There are well over 2,000 ducks in this picture alone and there were at least six or seven waves, some larger, that came over. They are moslty Northern Pintail with Northern Shoveler and American Wigeon mixed in. No doubt there are a few other species in there as well.

The ducks all start moving about 15 minutes before sunrise. 721 Sandhill Cranes came across going the opposite direction right at sunrise! Several thousands of Ring-billed Gull start to come up from the Keystone site and several thousands of White-faced Ibis come up from just SE of Harris and Dogwood at sunrise too. Mass quantities is an understatement! This event will probably unfold about the same every morning till about mid February.

If you would like to enjoy this spectacular event, you need to arrive at least 15 minutes before sunrise. Park WELL OFF the pavement, on the west side of Dogwood Road, 1/4 mile north of Keystone Road. (Dogwood Road is very busy.)

On the way back into Brawley we saw dirt clods moving across a barren field. Mountain Plover, aka Prairie Ghosts, are one of the most sought after species here in the Imperial Valley. Over 5,000, a significant portion of their 20,000 or so world poulation, spend the winter here.

Mountain Plover (L) and Killdeer (R)

Residential Brawley turned up quite a few surprises this day. Dave spotted a large raptor in the big eucalyptus trees a block north of Main Street so we went around to the corner of Hawthorne Park near North 2nd ST and E ST where we had fine views of this immature Cooper’s Hawk. There was also a signing Cactus Wren and a Verdin nearby.

Immature Cooper’s Hawk.

Every light standard at Meserve Park on K ST has a plastic Great Horned Owl on top of it and it just scares heck out of the Rock Pigeons…NOT.

Rock Pigeons have a strong fear of plastic Great Horned Owls….

Near South 3rd and J ST we had 26 White-winged Dove with many Eurasian Collared-Dove. WWDO nest here in the spring but typically all leave so they were considered extremely rare in the Imperial Valley in the winter. Ask any dove hunter who wonders why they all disappear one week before September first every year. For the past few winters it has become common to find one or two but 26!? Could be they are expanding their winter range and they are already year round residents in Borrego Springs.

Eurasian Collared-Dove and White-winged Dove.

Viviane and Dave exploring Brawley.

We then made our way up to the Salton Sea via Westmorland. This immature Red-tailed Hawk was most cooperative on Lack Road near the New River.

Immature Red-tailed Hawk.

The hawk flew a bit ahead of us and landed in the same tree with the Loggerhead Shrike pictured below. Loggerhead Shrike is known as the “Butcher Bird” because they will capture their prey, small birds, lizards and insects, and impale them on a mesquite thorn, notch in a limb or barbed wire fence and come back to finish their meal later!

Loggerhead Shrike.

At the west end of West Bowles Road we had lots of shorebirds and there were several Snowy Plover there. This Marbled Godwit was resting along the seawall at Lack and Lindsey Roads.

Marbled Godwit.

Six birds six species: (L) to (R) Long-billed Dowitcher, Willet, Black-necked Stilt, Western Sandpiper, American Coot and Semipalmated Plover at bottom.

The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge (SBSSNWR) visitor center was especially birdy this day. Lots of Gambel’s Quail, Abert’s Towhee, Common Ground-Dove and White-crowned Sparrows. Large numbers of Snow Geese were in the adjacent field at the view tower with a few Ross’s Geese in the mix. This group tends to have a higher number of Snow Goose and the group that hangs out at Unit One on Vendel Road tends to have a higher number of Ross’s Goose. The Barn Owl was not in it’s typical palm tree roost but the refuge volunteers who keep the office open on winter weekends (THANK YOU VERY MUCH) pointed out a Great Horned Owl in another palm, much to the delight of numerous visitors that morning!

Snow Geese with one dark morph in lower right corner and (5) Ross’s Geese top left.

Garst Road north from Sinclair Road. The first half mile on the west side of the road is one of the best places in the valley for visiting birders to view Burrowing Owls. They are just far enough from the road that they do not flush and you can actually get better views of them by remaining IN your vehicle. My high count for that 1/2 mile stretch is 24!! I have never gone by that spot and not seen at least one bird.

Burrowing Owl…s. Look closely!

This dark morph Red-tailed Hawk has been wintering just south of Calipatria for fiive or six years now.

Dark morph Red-tailed Hawk.

As we headed back to Brawley, we birded along the west side of the Alamo River, from Ruegger Road over to Hwy 111. This is part of the Imperial Wildlife Area that I cover for the Salton Sea Christmas Bird Count. We were able to find three Sage Sparrow that I could not turn up on the CBC! We also had Phainopepla and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher here.

Female Phainopepla.

Here is my eBird report for the day:

Imperial Valley–general area, Imperial, US-CA
Jan 13, 2013 6:30 AM - 3:00 PM
Protocol: Traveling
66.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Brawley Inn at 6:30am with Viviane and Dave. Dogwood and Keystone, residential Brawley, Westmorland, Lack Road, Wiley Reservoir, Bowles Road, seawall, Young Road Lack Road, across Obsidian, Sonny bono Salton Sea NWR visitor center (SBSSNWR VC) , Garst Road, Sinclair Road, English Road, Sperry and Eddins Roads, west side of Imperial Wildlife area Alamo River, Brawley.
82 species

Snow Goose  2000     SBSSNWR VC
Ross’s Goose  8     SBSSNWR VC
Canada Goose  11     Field SW of intersection Lack and Lindsey Roads.
American Wigeon  200
Northern Shoveler  500
Northern Pintail  10000     Dogwood and Keystone Roads. ~300 Northern Shoveler. ~200 American Widgeon. Forming “clouds” similar in appearance to large flights of Red-winged Blackbird. Birds appear to be feeding at night on waste grain on south side of grain warehouse at Carey Road and the railroads tracks. Just before sunrise they come up in huge waves and land in the duck club NE of Dogwood and Keystone Roads and the Sandhill Cranes come up from the duck club and move to the grain warehouse starting at sunrise.
Green-winged Teal  40     Bowles Road
Bufflehead  2     Seawall and Young Road with Ruddy Ducks.
Ruddy Duck  200
Gambel’s Quail  10
Eared Grebe  40
Western Grebe  10
Double-crested Cormorant  50
American White Pelican  50     Duck club NE Dogwood and Keystone.
Great Blue Heron  45
Great Egret  40
Snowy Egret  20
Cattle Egret  300
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
White-faced Ibis  8000     Most roosting SE of Dogwood and Harris.
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  1
Northern Harrier  6
Cooper’s Hawk  1     Brawley
Red-tailed Hawk  10
Common Gallinule  1
American Coot  500
Sandhill Crane  721     500 roosted NE Dogwood and Keystone. 221 apparently roosted SE of McConnell and Keystone.
Black-bellied Plover  200
Snowy Plover  8     Bowles Road
Semipalmated Plover  5     Several location along seawall.
Killdeer  20
Mountain Plover  225     E side of Dogwood between Shartz and Carey.
Black-necked Stilt  20
American Avocet  20
Greater Yellowlegs  5
Willet  5
Long-billed Curlew  600
Marbled Godwit  15
Western Sandpiper  10
Least Sandpiper  20
Long-billed Dowitcher  50
Ring-billed Gull  10000
California Gull  20
Caspian Tern  1
Rock Pigeon  100
Eurasian Collared-Dove  50
White-winged Dove  26     South 3rd Street between I and J Streets, Brawley.
Mourning Dove  20
Common Ground-Dove  10
Greater Roadrunner  5
Great Horned Owl  1     SBSSNWR VC
Burrowing Owl  20
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Belted Kingfisher  2
Northern Flicker  1
American Kestrel  40
Black Phoebe  10
Say’s Phoebe  20
Loggerhead Shrike  2
Common Raven  4     Between Brawley and Westmorland
Horned Lark  100
Verdin  5
Cactus Wren  3     Residential Brawley.
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher  1
Northern Mockingbird  4
European Starling  100
American Pipit  100
Phainopepla  1     Melin and Mac Fadden Roads.
Orange-crowned Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  40
Abert’s Towhee  5
Lark Sparrow  1     Bowles Road
Sage Sparrow  3     Mac Fadden Road.
Savannah Sparrow  20
White-crowned Sparrow  40
Red-winged Blackbird  500
Western Meadowlark  30
Brewer’s Blackbird  10
Great-tailed Grackle  50
House Finch  10
House Sparrow  15

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

See ya at the sea……………………………

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Yuma & Imperial Counties - Raptors & Mergansers
Filed under: California, Arizona
Posted by: Henry @ 12:55 pm

Al, Brock, Dave, and I did a raptor count south of Yuma on Saturday the 12th. It was pretty chilly for Yuma, but the birds didn’t seem to mind!  We covered some fields east of San Luis, the fields sw of County 19th Street & Ave B, and many of the fields se of County 19th Street & Ave 2E.

Ferruginous Hawk, south of Yuma, AZ, 12 Jan 2013

The Northern Harrier numbers have increased dramatically since our two previous counts.  We were also happy to see 3 dark-phase Ferruginous Hawks, which tied the number from 28 Dec 2012.

During 3.5 hours we identified the following:
Red-tailed Hawk: 96
Ferruginous Hawk:  58
American Kestrel: 11
Northern Harrier: 46
Peregrine Falcon: 2

Then, on Sunday the 13th, Ed Kandl and I stopped over at Cocopah RV Park and counted a flock of 22 Hooded Mergansers.  Some of the males put on a great show, rising partially out of the water, making a fast “clattering” call, and fully displaying their crests, competing with each other for the attentions of the many females in their midst.

Other birds in the pond with the mergansers were:  1 Canvasback, 2 Blue-winged Teal, 6 Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and Pied-billed Grebes.

We drove on to the Imperial Valley after that.  Our main focus was the new geothermal bubbling mud pots south of Mullet Island, but we also scored with four species of falcons, including this fine Merlin.

Good birding!

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Borrego Springs - Montezuma Grade to Font’s Point
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 6:22 pm

Hi all,

Saturday morning, Jan 5, I headed out early with my Jeep stuffed full of furniture to take up to by best friend and favorite Raven Lunatic Chick Kathie S. who is wintering in Fallbrook. I was feeling under the weather and concerned it might be flu coming on so headed back home shortly after dropping off the furniture.

Rather than taking S-2 back to Hwy 78 I went through Ranchita and dropped off of Montezuma Grade into Borrego Springs.

Borrego Springs, Font’s Point and the Santa Rosa Mountains from Montezuma Grade.

Borrego Mountain, Salton Sea, Imperial Valley, Algodones Dunes and the Chocolate Mountains.

Pulled into the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center for a quick stop and ran into just about every person I know in Borrego! Visited and birded for a bit and then, still a bit queezy, I headed away from the crowds.

Font’s Point from the roof of the Anza-Borrego DSP visitor center.

Picked up a bite to eat at Jilberto’s in downtown Borrego Springs and sat at the entrance to Old Springs Open Space Preserve (OSP) for awhile to enjoy it. Feeling a bit beter I spent about an hour walking .75 miles through the dunes. Had a pair of LeConte’s Thrasher, several Sage Sparrow and House Finches in the dunes. This stunt pilot was practicing while I ate luch.


Aerial acrobatics.

LeConte’s Thrasher habitat at Old Springs OSP. Coyote Mountain at center to the north.

LeConte’s Thrasher habitat at Old Springs OSP. Font’s Point at center to the east.

Sage Sparrow.

LeConte’s Thrasher.

LeConte’s Thrasher.

LeConte’s Thrasher warming it’s back.

Font’s Point.

This is a zoom of the previous picture and you can see about eight people near the cliff top!

Then headed out Borrego Salton Seaway and made a quick stop at the Pegleg Smith Monument.

Monument to Pegleg Smith.

Then slipped into 4×4 and drove south up Inspiration Wash to where it tops out and drops into the Borrego Badlands.

Borrego Aster in Inspiration Wash.

Then back to pavement and slipped into 4×4 once again to head up Font’s Wash to Font’s Point. Font’s Point is one of the “must see” places in Southern California. It is named after Father Pedro Font who was chaplain of Juan Batista de Anza’s expedition in 1775-76. There were about 40 or more folks already there along the cliff to catch a gorgeous sunset.

Font’s Point.

Old Springs OSP and Borrego Springs Airport from Font’s Point. ABDSP vicitor center at foot of distant mountains.

Font’s Point. Borrego Badlands below. Borrego Mountain and Fish Creek Mountains beyond.

Font’s Point. Borrego Badlands below. Borrego Mountain and Fish Creek Mountains beyond.

As I drove the way back down Font’s Wash there was a Kit Fox in the wash and not quite enough light to get pictures of it. I squeeked a bit and it came straight to me but about 100 feet out a vehicle came down the wash and it slipped off into the desert.

Spot in middle of road is a Kit Fox seen on the way out.

More pictures from the day, with map locations, can be seen at my flickr page by clicking the following link.

Made it home about an hour after sunset feeling much better!

See ya at the sea………………………

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New Years Day Pelagic
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 6:36 pm

Hi all,

Western Gulls in our wake.

This year was my eighth annual New Years Day tradition of birding by boat, with San Diego Field Ornithologists, off the coast of San Diego. It was the 30th annual trip!

We left out of Point Loma Sportfishing, aboard the Grande, at about 7:30am and returned at 2pm. Below is my GPS track for the day. We first headed southwest and then turned north up the ridge of Ninemile Bank. Then we headed straight at La Jolla till it was time to turn back.

GPS track.

We had Red-throated Loon, Bufflehead and Western Grebe as we pulled away and Surf Scoter were common on the bay.

Male Surf Scoter.

I once heard that this bait barge is the longest running bait outfit in the states. I do know that they have been operating from this same spot for over 50 years. The Navy will be putting in a new fueling dock in this area and the bait docks are to be relocated farther in to San Diego Bay by 2014. ALL pelagic birding trips swing close to these bait docks and often turn up some great birds. Not sure if that is in our future though.

Everingham Bros. San Diego Bait Barge.

Black Turnstone (L) and Brandt’s Cormorant (R) on the bait barge.

There were huge flocks of Western Grebe outside the bay and we were soon seeing huge numbers of Cassin’s Auklet and good numbers of Black-vented Shearwater. A lone Short-tailed Shearwater zooming past caused a stir but then finding three together, sitting on the water, and allowing the boat to cirlce closely THREE times was truly special!

Short-tailed Shearwater

As we neared La Jolla we began to see many dolphins ahead. Sorting out what they were requires experience and I do not have enough of it out there to sort out most of the look alikes. This small pod of Risso’s Dolphins stood out as they are quite unique! They seldom come into a boat to ride under the bow but many of the Bottle-nosed Dolphins came in and gave us a great show. You just lean up against the rail, look straight down, and they are racing along only a few feet below you.

Risso’s dolphin.

Risso’s dolphins.

Two masted sailing ship with Islas Coronados on the horizon to the south.

Mass quantities of Western Grebes!

Western Gull, Western Grebes and sailboat.

Mass quantities of sailboats on San Diego Bay.

More and larger photos of the day, with picture locations mapped, will open in a new page on my flickr photostream at the following link.

Birds seen on the day were:

Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Northern Fulmar
Short-tailed Shearwater
Black-vented Shearwater
Brandt’s Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Sharp-shinned Hawk
American Coot
Spotted Sandpiper

Black Turnstone
Red Phalarope

Bonaparte’s Gull
Heermann’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Western Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Royal Tern
Pomarine Jaeger
Parasitic Jaeger
Common Murre
Cassin’s Auklet
Rhinoceros Auklet
Rock Pigeon
American Crow

Also seen were Common, Bottle-nosed and Risso’s Dolphin, a small Blue Shark and a distant unidentified whale.

See ya at the sea………………

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New Year’s in Yuma County
Filed under: General, Arizona
Posted by: Henry @ 9:53 pm

Greetings Birders,

Meandered about Yuma County from sunup to sundown on New Year’s Day, and wound up with 95 species.  The complete list is below.

Yuma County Sunrise, 1 Jan 2013

Started off with a gorgeous sunrise at the Yuma West Wetlands. The usuals were all present, and a Common Merganser flying along the river was a treat.

At Cocopah RV Resort 22 Hooded Mergansers swimming in one of the golf course ponds was a sight to see.  A Herring Gull at the sewage treatment pond was the first “rare” bird of the year.

Hooded Merganser, 1 Jan 2013

South of Co 19th Street I put in 1.5 hours counting raptors, and saw the following:
- Red-tailed Hawk: 51
- Ferruginous Hawk:  37
- American Kestrel: 6
- Northern Harrier: 13
In addition, I re-located 4 Mountain Plover in the same field as Al and I saw on Saturday.

Mountain Plover, 1 Jan 2013

The Wellton area was quiet in the “heat” of the day except for the sleeping Barn Owl at Green Acres RV Resort.

In the cottonwood stand at Quigley was a male Red-naped Sapsucker, and a couple miles east of there a single Le Conte’s Thasher popped up when I called to him. 

8 Sandhill Cranes were on Co 2nd Street close to 50th Ave, and a mile beyond that I had a Swamp Sparrow at Growler Pond.  This was an especially nice surprise, since the pond is drying out and the only ducks were Green-winged Teal.

The final new birds for the year were at Coyote Wash, across the interstate from Wellton.  The White-fronted Goose found by Paul Lehman several years ago continues in the company of domestic brethren, a Canada Goose, Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, and hordes of coots.

Happy New Year & Good birding!

Yuma County - Jan 1, 2013
1 Pied-billed Grebe
2 Double-crested Cormorant
3 Great Blue Heron
4 Great Egret
5 Snowy Egret
6 Cattle Egret
7 Green Heron
8 Black-crowned Night Heron
9 Sandhill Crane
10 Greater White-fronted Goose
11 Canada Goose
12 Gadwall
13 American Wigeon
14 Blue-winged Teal
15 Cinnamon Teal
16 Northern Shoveler
17 Green-winged Teal
18 Ring-necked Duck
19 Common Merganser
20 Ruddy Duck
21 Osprey
22 Northern Harrier
23 Cooper’s Hawk
24 Red-tailed Hawk
25 Ferruginous Hawk
26 American Kestrel
27 Merlin
28 Gambel’s Quail
29 Sora
30 Common Moorhen
31 American Coot
32 Killdeer
33 Mountain Plover
34 Black-necked Stilt
35 Greater Yellowlegs
36 Spotted Sandpiper
37 Long-billed Curlew
38 Least Sandpiper
39 Long-billed Dowitcher
40 Turkey Vulture
41 Ring-billed Gull
42 Herring Gull
43 Rock Pigeon
44 Mourning Dove
45 Inca Dove
46 Eurasian Collared Dove
47 Greater Roadrunner
48 Barn Owl
49 White-throated Swift
50 Anna’s Hummingbird
51 Costa’s Hummingbird
52 Belted Kingfisher
53 Gila Woodpecker
54 Red-naped Sapsucker
55 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
56 Northern Flicker
57 Black Phoebe
58 Say’s Phoebe
59 Vermilion Flycatcher
60 Loggerhead Shrike
61 Common Raven
62 Horned Lark
63 Tree Swallow
64 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
65 Verdin
66 Cactus Wren
67 House Wren
68 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
69 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
70 American Robin
71 Northern Mockingbird
72 Crissal Thrasher
73 Leconte’s Thrasher
74 European Starling
75 American Pipit
76 Cedar Waxwing
77 Phainopepla
78 Orange-crowned Warbler
79 Yellow-rumped Warbler
80 Common Yellowthroat
81 Abert’s Towhee
82 Chipping Sparrow
83 Vesper Sparrow
84 Savannah Sparrow
85 Song Sparrow
86 Lincoln’s Sparrow
87 Swamp Sparrow
88 White-crowned Sparrow
89 Red-winged Blackbird
90 Western Meadowlark
91 Brewer’s Blackbird
92 Great-tailed Grackle
93 Brown-headed Cowbird
94 House Finch
95 Lesser Goldfinch

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