Southwest Birders
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July 2020
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Salton Sea and Imperial Valley
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 2:45 pm

Hi all,

On Monday 29 October, I spent the day birding, exploring and photographing the Salton Sea and Imperial Valley with Jennifer and Crissy. Jennifer is a birder and Crissy is a photographer so we had a grand time doing both. We recorded 73 species of birds for the day and visited a wide variety of locations.

Our first destination at sunrise was the New River delta at the west end of Bowles Road. This has become one of the best shorebird locations on this end of the Salton Sea and typically there are mass quantities right at your feet. There was a Peregrine Falcon actively hunting when we arrived so most of the birds were bunched in tight groups and distant. The Pregrine and several Northern Harriers did a bit of arial combat a few times which was fun to see.

Bowles Road
Looking north from Bowles Road

Bowles Road
Looking west from Bowles Road at Great Blue Heron nests

We then made our way over to Unit One of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge (SBSSNWR :-) on the north end of Vendel Road. Several thousand white geese (a mix of Snow and Ross’s Geese) have arrived and MANY more will be arriving daily. There were also a few Sandhill Cranes flying over as we arrived. While we were at the view towers a crop duster arrived at the fields a few miles to the southwest and the geese filled the sky.

From there we headed for the Salton Sea and the seawall at Lack and Lindsey Roads. This spot has been in the Rare Bird Alerts consistantly for years. We were in luck as an adult YELLOW-FOOTED GULL was feeding on barnicles right at the base of the seawall. Yellow-footed Gull is the most sought after species of bird here at the Salton Sea because it occurs nowhere else in North America north of Mexico. They are abundant in the late summer and early fall but by winter most have returned to their breeding grounds on the Gulf of California and there may only be one or two individuals on the Salton Sea in the winter. Yup, we were in for a day full of luck!

Yellow-footed Gull
Yellow-footed Gull

Brown Pelicans were gliding past. Western and Eared Grebes and Ruddy Ducks were on the sea. Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitcher, Ring-billed Gull and American White Pelican were some of the other birds present. Rather strange how many folks thought it was the appropriate place to dispose of old tires while the Salton Sea was still lapping up against the seawall……

Brown Pelican

Lack and Lindsey on the seawall

Herring Gull and Great Blue Heron

We then followed the seawall onto Obsidian Butte where we had grand views of the Salton Sea.

American White Pelicans

Looking NW to the Santa Rosa’s and San Jacinto above Palm Springs

Looking north to the Chocolate Mountains

Looking NE to Rock Hill, Red Hill and the Chocolate Mountains

After a visit to the SBSSNWR visitor center at Gentry and Sinclair Roads we made our way to Niland for sandwiches at United Food Center which were great as always. Our trip veered off into the sureal from there as we headed east  for Slab City and Salvation Mountain. Do not recall the dates but I heard there is an event planned very soon for a large gathering to do some restoration work on Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain.

Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain

Lincoln’ized 1967 Corvair

Customized Dodge Van
Dodge Happy Van

The Guard Shack
Leaving Slab City “Reality Ahead”

We then headed west and went through the Imperial Irrigation Dsitricts Managed Marsh where we had several Forster’s Tern and a pair of White-tailed Kite above us and a Sora and Clapper Rail called out from the marsh. On westward we visited the old adobe dry ice plant at Davis and Pound Roads. They ran pipes down into the mudpots to collect C02. That is what gives the mudpots their “boil” not boiling water, and it is also what dry ice is made of! After they quite making ice it became a health spa and RV resort with bath houses for bathing in the mineral waters. You can see the individual spas. Over twenty years ago a sinkhole opened up and swallowed half of the main bath house pump room. I have always wondered how deep that hole is!?

Adobe Dry Ice Plant

Bath House

Bath House

Bath House Sinkhole

Westward again we ventured out onto the exposed floor of the Salton Sea to the newly exposed Morton Bay Mudpots. These bubbling, gurgling fumaroles and “gryphons” are VERY active to say the least and in a few spots are downright violent! We had a MERLIN and several SAGE SPARROW in the saltbush saltflats and California Tiger Beetles racing, and mating across the saltflats. Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies enjoy the area as well.

California Tiger Beetles
California Tiger Beetle (Cicindela californica)

Variegated Meadowhawk
Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Morton Bay Mudpots
Morton Bay Mudpots and gryphons

Morton Bay Mudpots
Morton Bay Mudpots

Morton Bay Mudpots
Morton Bay Mudpots

I have created a map and will be posting much more detailed information about the Morton Bay Mudpots this week. A high clearance vehicle….. at the very minimum…. is required to get out there and precautions are required as getting off the beaten path can be life threatening to you or your vehicle! I have several videos of the mudpots up on my YouTube channel. New Salton Sea Mudpots 07 and 08 were taken on this day and they may be viewed by clicking on THIS LINK.

Morton Bay Mudpots
Morton Bay Mudpots

Although it did not seem to take so long our day was running out of daylight so we headed back south for Westmorland. We made a little detour to visit a Burrowing Owl (large dark potato on two sticks) who was too dark to photograph in the morning and was now bathed in the soft light of sunset. Jennifer and I happily went over our bird list for the day while Crissy happily enjoyed getting photographs of the owl and the sunset.

Burrowing Owl

See ya at the sea…………………..

eBird report for the day

Imperial Valley–general area, Imperial, US-CA
Oct 29, 2012 6:09 AM - 6:09 PM
Protocol: Traveling
104.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Submitted from  BirdLog for Android v1.6
With Jennifer and Crissy. Westmorland, west end of Bowles Road, Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR (SBSSNWR) Unit One on Vendel Road, Lack Road to Obsidian Butte, SBSSNWR HQ, Niland and United Food Center, Salvation Mountain and “The Range”, Imperial Irrigation District (IID) Managed Marsh, Adobe Dry Ice and Spa at Davis and Pound Roads, Morton Bay Mud Pots.
79 species

Snow Goose  500     Unit One SBSSNWR
Ross’s Goose  20     Unit One SBSSNWR
Northern Shoveler  3000
Green-winged Teal  30
Ruddy Duck  100
Gambel’s Quail  2
Pied-billed Grebe  10
Eared Grebe  50
Western Grebe  20
Double-crested Cormorant  3000
American White Pelican  100
Brown Pelican  100
Least Bittern  1
Great Blue Heron  60
Great Egret  100
Snowy Egret  30
Cattle Egret  12
Green Heron  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  3
White-faced Ibis  3000
White-tailed Kite  2
Northern Harrier  20
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Cooper’s Hawk  3
Red-tailed Hawk  20
Clapper Rail  1     IID Managed Marsh
Sora  1     IID Managed Marsh
Common Gallinule  6
American Coot  1000
Sandhill Crane  15     Unit One SBSSNWR
Black-bellied Plover  50
Semipalmated Plover  2
Killdeer  20
Black-necked Stilt  20
American Avocet  100
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  10
Willet  12
Long-billed Curlew  1
Marbled Godwit  50
Western Sandpiper  50
Least Sandpiper  100
Stilt Sandpiper  25     west end Bowles Road
Long-billed Dowitcher  50
Laughing Gull  2
Ring-billed Gull  1000
Yellow-footed Gull  1     Lack and Lindsey Roads
California Gull  20
Herring Gull  20
Caspian Tern  10
Forster’s Tern  10
Rock Pigeon  20
Eurasian Collared-Dove  20
Mourning Dove  50
Common Ground-Dove  5
Barn Owl  1     SBSSNWR HQ
Burrowing Owl  4
Belted Kingfisher  2
American Kestrel  40
Merlin  1     Moerton Bay
Peregrine Falcon  2     West end of Bowles Road and Pound Road east of Davis Road
Black Phoebe  15
Say’s Phoebe  5
Loggerhead Shrike  3
Barn Swallow  8
Marsh Wren  2
Northern Mockingbird  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  100
Abert’s Towhee  4
Sage Sparrow  2     Morton Bay near mud pots
Savannah Sparrow  30
White-crowned Sparrow  10
Red-winged Blackbird  500
Western Meadowlark  30
Brewer’s Blackbird  30
Great-tailed Grackle  100
House Finch  4
House Sparrow  5

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

One Response to “Salton Sea and Imperial Valley”

  1. Jennifer Tucker Says:
    Hey Bob! We enjoyed the blog very much. No additions or corrections. The photos make me want to return later when more birds are there. Today I was able to see thousands of Sandhill cranes at the Pixley Wildlife Preserve. They wait until dusk to come to roost, so they make this dramatic, and very noisy, entrance with the rosy sky behind them. Very cool! Thanks for the link. We’ll keep track of you now. Jennifer