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

February 2013
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Birds: A Gazillion?
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 5:57 pm

Hi all,

Crazy busy birding time of the year and I will have lots of great stuff to post…when I can! This little bit just could not wait though. While headed home from the Salton Sea on Brandt Road I ran across a scene that would cause concern for the Hitchcock fans among us.

Tens of thousands of birds were congregated in a Bermuda grass field being irrigated. I spent several hours watching this amazing pectacle! Mostly Ring-billed Gulls. Also in the mix are Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, White-faced Ibis, Cattle Egret, Long-billed Curlew and Northern Harrier. Prairie Falcon and Red-tailed Hawk were in the area but not seen in the video. There was another field being irrigated half a mile away that held the same if not more birds plus there were many at the nearby cattle feedyard!.My estimate was about 100,000 Ring-billed Gulls within a mile of where I sat!! The raptors were there to catch birds to eat and they were the reason for all of the birds erupting into the air and swirling around. The term for the blackbirds swirling around is murmuration and that display is most often seen overseas in European Starlings.

This video is long I know but it mezmerized me for over two hours and you only get 48 minutes of it!! Click on the following link.   

See ya at the sea………..or on the ocean if you will be attending the San Diego Bird Festival next weekend!


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Bird Festivals Coming Up!
Filed under: California, Arizona
Posted by: Bob @ 11:47 am

Hi all,

It is birding festival time again and two of the best in the southwest are coming up fast! I will be leading multiple trips for each of these festivals.

The San Diego Bird Festival is one of the largest and most popular in the west and it also attracts all of the major optics vendors so this is a great opportunity to get your hands and face on a lot of optics to see what best suits you and or your budget!!

The Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival takes place in Cottonwood Arizona, at the Deadhorse Ranch State Park, about halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff. It is a smaller festival and one of my favorites!

Clicking on the title of the festival will open the webpage for that festival in a new window.

2013 San Diego Bird Festival
February 28-March 3

John Fitzpatrick and Bill Thompson will be the main speakers in 2013. They will also be co-leading bird trips and conducting workshops.

John Fitzpatrick is the director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. His current research focuses on the ecology, conservation biology, and population genetics of the endangered Florida Scrub Jay. His book, Florida Scrub Jay: Demography of a Cooperative-breeding Bird earned him a William Brewster Award, the highest research award given by the American Ornithologists’ Union.

Bill Thompson is the editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest. He is the author of many books including The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America. He leads birding trips across North America and has birded in more than 25 countries.

Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival
April 25-28, 2013

Cottonwood, Arizona
Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Keynote speaker will be
David Mizejewski

We are proud to bring David to the Verde River Valley for this special occasion. Join us for an evening of entertainment, delicious desserts and the opportunity to learn how you can make your backyard space a place to relax and enjoy the birds. David Mizejewski is a lifelong naturalist, animal lover and self-professed “nature geek.” As National Wildlife Federation’s Media Spokesperson and Naturalist, Dave focuses on teaching the American public how to help wildlife and connect with nature in their own backyard. He was host and co-producer of the Animal Planet’s TV series “Backyard Habitat”, and has made appearances on gardening TV and radio shows including NBC’s “The Today Show” and the “Martha Stewart Show”.

Dave is author of Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife and NWF’s Wildlife and Weather newsletter. He uses his knowledge and enthusiasm to get people excited about protecting wildlife and connecting with nature.

See ya at the sea………..or one of the festivals!

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Algodones Dunes Fog
Filed under: California, Algodones Dunes
Posted by: Bob @ 5:13 pm

Hi all,

Saturday Jan 26. Jan Wilson and Dick Norton met me in dense fog at my house before sunrise and we headed out to the Algodones Dunes in search of LeConte’s Thrasher and adventure. The fog was heavy all the way out and stayed that way till late in the morning and to me that is about as awesome as you can get in the dunes!! They had never been deep in the dunes before so when the fog started to lift and several hundred feet tall dunes appeared out of the mist nearby they were surprised.

We heard LeConte’s Thrasher calling and found where they had been digging for insects but did not get on the first one. Deeper into the pocket we got our first looks at a pair with one of them racing across the dunes in the fog.

Watching LeConte’s Thrasher in the fog in the dunes!

We went southeast from Glamis and Hwy 78 onto Wash Road for several miles and then turned south into the dunes. It had rained a steady winter rain for most of the night and day before so everything was soaked and there is great potential for spring flowers this year. You must have a flag at least eight feet above the ground and purchase a permit to drive into the dunes.

The wash into a deep pocket.

On our way back out of the pocket we were able to get a good count of three pairs of LeConte’s Thrasher and I showed them a nest from previous years. I had not loaded my waypoints properly in my GPS so it would not display my thousand plus dune waypoints. It felt pretty good to be able to recognize individual trees and walk right straight to the nest!

Jan in the forest…in the dunes!

LeConte’s Thrasher.

Still researching this brightly colored little one but it looks to be in the Trombiculid family of mites. It was about the size of a pencil eraser and we saw two of them this day. It was always on the move and tough to photograph so when it stopped for a minute I got a few good shots. Looking at the pictures I realized it had stopped moving because it was EATING a smaller insect!

Red Velvet Mite?

We then went over the dunes and dropped into the Garden of Eden which is one of the densest pockets out there. I once had a Western Scrub-Jay in this pocket and on this day we had a very unusual number of TEN Green-tailed Towhee! The pocket was very muddy. One of the plants had a seed that swelled with the rain and was extremely sticky. We had a heck of a time getting them off then realised they came off easily when they dried and were not much larger than a grain of sand. Many sparrows were bathing in the rain puddles.

Immature White-crowned Sparow that had bathed in a rain puddle.

The Garden of Eden pocket. Forest or jungle?

We moved out of the Garden of Eden and went to explore another pocket that I have been wondering about but had never been into. Turns out it is not an easy one to get to and so has very little traffic. We found evidence of a resident Bobcat in there and Dick caught sight of something crossing ahead of us that might have been it!

Not a double image but two Loggerhead Shrikes.

A dune overtaking a palo verde tree in the pockets.

The following three pictures were taken by Jan. I wanted to show them a dune cricket so we hiked up a dune and I excavated what I thought was a dune cricket burrow. Turned out to be larvae possibly of darkling beetles. Still researching this one too!

Darkling beetle larvae?

Yours truly at home in the dunes.

I hear it too but can’t find it!

More pics from the day on flickr HERE

See ya at the sea………………………………………………..

eBird report for the day:

Algodones Dunes 09 Garden of Eden, Imperial, US-CA
Jan 26, 2013 7:00 AM - 2:23 PM
Protocol: Traveling
7.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Submitted from  BirdLog for Android v1.6
25 species

Northern Harrier  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Mourning Dove  70
Great Horned Owl  1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  3
Say’s Phoebe  4
Ash-throated Flycatcher  2
Loggerhead Shrike  5
Common Raven  2     2 together
Verdin  5
Rock Wren  2
House Wren  8
Cactus Wren  4
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher  6
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Le Conte’s Thrasher  6
Green-tailed Towhee  10
Brewer’s Sparrow  40
Sage Sparrow  7
Song Sparrow  2
Lincoln’s Sparrow  5
White-crowned Sparrow  70
House Finch  20
Lesser Goldfinch  28

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Sea and Sage at Salton Sea
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 7:20 pm

Hi all,

Video of the mass quantities of waterfowl, Mountain Plover feeding, and the mudpots can be viewed on my YouTube channel at this link.

Many more photographs from this day can be viewed on my Flickr page HERE.

A map to the mudpots can be seen on Google Maps at this link.

Spent the weekend of Jan 19 and 20 exploring the Salton Sea and Imperial Valley with Sea and Sage Audubon Society from Orange County, CA. We met up at Brawley Inn bright and early and went straight to Unit One of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge (SBSSNWR) where we were treated to a spectacular sunrise and mass quantities of birds.


White geese and cranse
Sandhill Cranes, Snow and Ross’s Geese with American Avocet in the foreground.

An immature swan was reported at Unit One a week prior as a possible Tundra Swan which is the expected species to occur here at the Salton Sea. Turns out I was guilty of seeing what I expected to see and not what was really there. Immature swans are notoriuosly difficult to identify and we did not take the time to study this bird closely. Lesson learned!! It has now been determined that this bird is most likely an immature Trumpeter Swan which may well be the first record for Imperial County!!

Immature Trumpeter Swan, white geese and Northern Shovelers.

We then moved to the viewing platforms at the end of Vendel Road and saw three hooded Mergansers in the canal. While on the platform we were treated to a spectacular display as many white geese took flight from the field and landed very close in the pond at our feet! This was a great opportunity to study the differences between Ross’s and Snow Geese.

Viewing platform at SBSSNWR Unit One.

Mass quantities of white geese!

Geese at our feet.

Several Ross’s with a Snow Goose.

We then made our way through the ag lands to the seawall along the Salton Sea. Along the way we had a Ferruginous Hawk flyby and several Burrowing Owls. This individual thought it was a bit too much attention and made a dive into it’s artificial den!

Burroing Owl diving for cover.

Along the seawall we found this Merlin which was our third species of falcon for the day. We only needed Prairie Falcon for the sweep!


We had lunch at the SBSSNWR visitor center where we picked up many more birds like Great Horned Owl, Gambel’s Quail, Abert’s Towhee and Verdin. From there we crammed our carpools even tighter so that all were cozy in high clearance vehicles and took the track out to the mudpots near Mullet Island beyond Morton Bay and the Alamo River delta. Long strings of apparently new arrival American White Pelican and Brown Pelican were a treat as they had been scarce on the Salton Sea for most of the month.

Morton Bay mudpots.

American White Pelican.

We ended our day in search of Sprague’s Pipit, the mouse in the grass, and were treated to fine looks at one of three individuals as the sun set on day one!

Sprague’s Pipiit viewers in an ocean of grass.


We left out very early again and this time we took in a special sunrise near Dogwood and Keystone Roads. A very interesting phenomenon that occurs on winter mornings here is when the cold temperatures create a mirage and things on the horizon appear to stretch out and levitate. This picture is looking due south at the Sierra de los Cucupah mountains, south of the Mexican border below Mexicali, as they appear to stretch out into large cliffs. The Cargo Muchacho Mountains and Black Mountain to our east even appeared to seperate and levetate!

Sierra de los Cucupah in Baja California, Mexico.

The truly special phenomenon of the morning was watching tens of thousands of waterfowl, mostly Northern Pintail, streaming up from the ground and passing over ours heads as “clouds” of birds for most of an hour. Seven hundred plus Sandhill Cranes coming over in the opposite direction at the same time made for a magical moment!!

Mass quantities of Northern Pintail ducks.

Our next stop was a field with several hundred Mountain Plover and Horned Larks at Schartz and Dogwood Roads.

Mountain Plover viewers.

As we made our way back to the Salton Sea we all had great looks at this Prairie Falcon for a falcon sweep of the four expected species! This was along Brandt Road north of Eddins Road.

Prairie Falcon.

Our last stop for the day was back at the SBSSNWR visitor center where we made the hike out Rock Hill Trail in search of Yellow-footed Gull. We did not find our gull but did add Common Goldeneye to our trip list and had a great ending for the trip!

Rock Hill Trail.

Below is our trip list of 112 species for the weekend. Thanks Bruce!

See ya at the sea……………………………………………..

1 Snow Goose
2 Ross’s Goose
3 Canada Goose
4 Trumpeter Swan
5 Gadwall
6 American Wigeon
7 Mallard
8 Northern Shoveler
9 Northern Pintail
10 Green-winged Teal
11 Lesser Scaup
12 Bufflehead
13 Common Goldeneye
14 Hooded Merganser
15 Red-breasted Merganser
16 Ruddy Duck
17 Gambel’s Quail
18 Pied-billed Grebe
19 Eared Grebe
20 Western Grebe
21 American White Pelican
22 Brown Pelican
23 Double-crested Cormorant
24 Great Blue Heron
25 Great Egret
26 Snowy Egret
27 Cattle Egret
28 Green Heron
29 Black-crowned Night-Heron
30 White-faced Ibis
31 Osprey
32 White-tailed Kite
33 Northern Harrier
34 Cooper’s Hawk
35 Red-tailed Hawk
36 Ferruginous Hawk
37 American Kestrel
38 Merlin
39 Prairie Falcon
40 Peregrine Falcon
41 Yuma Clapper Rail
42 Sora
43 American Coot
44 Sandhill Crane
45 Black-bellied Plover
46 Snowy Plover
47 Semipalmated Plover
48 Mountain Plover
49 Killdeer
50 Black-necked Stilt
51 American Avocet
52 Greater Yellowlegs
53 Lesser Yellowlegs
54 Willet
55 Spotted Sandpiper
56 Long-billed Curlew
57 Marbled Godwit
58 Western Sandpiper
59 Least Sandpiper
60 Stilt Sandpiper
61 Long-billed Dowitcher
62 Wilson’s Snipe
63 Ring-Billed Gull
64 California Gull
65 Herring Gull
66 Caspian Tern
67 Rock Pigeon
68 Eurasian Collared-Dove
69 White-winged Dove
70 Mourning Dove
71 Inca Dove
72 Common Ground-Dove
73 Greater Roadrunner
74 Great Horned Owl
75 Burrowing Owl
76 Anna’s Hummingbird
77 Costa’s Hummingbird
78 Gila Woodpecker
79 Northern (red-shafted) Flicker
80 Black Phoebe
81 Say’s Phoebe
82 Loggerhead Shrike
83 Common Raven
84 Horned Lark
85 Tree Swallow
86 Verdin
87 Marsh Wren
88 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
89 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
90 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
91 American Robin
92 European Starling
93 American Pipit
94 Sprague’s Pipit
95 Phainopepla
96 Orange-crowned Warbler
97 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)
98 Common Yellowthroat
99 Abert’s Towhee
100 Vesper Sparrow
101 Lark Sparrow
102 Sage Sparrow
103 Savannah Sparrow
104 Song Sparrow
105 White-crowned Sparrow
106 Red-winged Blackbird
107 Western Meadowlark
108 Brewer’s Blackbird
109 Great-tailed Grackle
110 Brown-headed Cowbird
111 House Finch
112 House Sparrow
 Note: possible Gilded Flicker, or hybrid at Cattle Call Park on 20-JAN-13