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

May 2020
« Sep    
Leonids and Mudpots
Filed under: California
Posted by: Bob @ 4:20 pm

Hi all,

Friday night Nov 16th, I camped out on Obsidian Butte on the shore of the Salton Sea. Was hoping to see a great Leonid meteor shower. Bust. Saw maybe 20 all night long. Two were pretty nice and most of the others were so fast you were left wondering if you really saw that! The majority of them happened between three and five am. Temperature was nice but a breeze about midnight had me wraping up a bit. Most interesting event all night was the bird activity! White geese (Ross’ and Snow Geese) were moving around all night and it sounded like a good number of them might have sat down on the sea but I do not ever recall them sitting on the sea before. The geothermal plants are pretty loud so a lot of sounds were missed but when a flock of about 40 American White Pelicans came streaming over about 50 feet above from behind me it startled me pretty good! Lying flat on your back and suddenly there are these huge white ghosts over your head to go with the ghostly sound.

I set up my camera on a tripod and caught no meteors but did catch an aircrafts blinking red light trailing off to the north.

To fill the time waiting for meteors I began playing with the camera by running around in front of it with a little red LED headlamp. Writing my name in lights turned out pretty good! Yes, the image is flipped…still have to learn to write my name backwards!

Just before sunrise I drove out to the Morton Bay Mudpots near Mullet Island. I was able to get some pretty interesting videos of the mudpots and have posted them on YouTube. The following links will open my YouTube channel or my Google Maps page with directions for the mudpots in a new window.

Map page link.

Video page link.

I can not empasize enough that you need to stay on the proven track of the vehicles who have gone before you. Getting off even a little bit can take a big chunk of time out of your day…and your wallet!! The first picture below is where someone spent a good part of their day digging just by getting a little off the track. The second picture is the perfect example of no track at all…that vehicle has been burried to the axles there for over a week!!!

A little off the track will get you stuck.

No track at all will get you burried for good!

Old waterfowl hunting blind used while the Salton Sea still covered this area.

Would you drive here?


Small gryphon about two feet tall.

Larger gryphons that are no longer active.


Some areas you do not even walk in!

Critters live here too.

Tiny ones!

Double-crested Cormorants on Mullet Island

The Salton Sink has filled up and dried up countless times throughout history. It was a completely full freshwater lake some 400 or so years ago. The Colorado River delta has always diverted back and forth between the Gulf of California and the Salton Sink and it was on the verge of coming back to the Salton Sink when we gave it a convenient path and the flood of 1905 took advantage of it. Very soon after the population of Mullet fish in the Salton Sea were enough to have an operating fish cannery on this island and that is where the name Mullet Island comes from. The sea just as quickly became too saline to support freshwater Mullet or the cannery so it closed. A fellow named Captain Davis bought the buildings and made a restaurant and bar on the island and it was called Hell’s Kitchen. The foundations of those building are still standing on the right side of the island in the picture below. There is a postcard in the Postcard History Series book “THE SALTON SEA” by Karl Anderson. That postcard, pictured on page 67, shows these same mudpots, from this same vantage point, with the buildings still standing in the 1920’s!! The postcard on page 59 is a picture of Hell’s Kitchen in that book.

So these mudpots have been here for a long time and are not “new” volcanic activity.

Mullet Island

The freshwater of Morton Bay flows into the Salton Sea near Mullet Island and that channel is the reason you can drive no farther north along this portion of the Salton Sea. It also forms great shorebird habitat!

Morton Bay outflow

Great shorebird habitat. The Chocolate Mountains are about 15 miles to the north.

A smaller set of lone mudpots about 1/4 mile north of the main patch.

I spent several hours kicking around out there and then headed east into the agland in search of Mountain Plover. Found none though. There was a report of a Red-throated Loon, VERY rare to be in our area, on Young Reservoir south of Calipatria at Albright and Kershaw Roads so I made a stop there. Sure enough it was still there and I was able to get this documentation photo of it swimming with a Western Grebe.

Red-throated Loon, left and Western Grebe, right

Looking NE to the north end of the Algodones Dunes.

Savannah Sparrow near the East Highline Canal

Vesper Sparrow near the East Highline Canal

On the way home to Brawley I made a pass through the Alamo River Wetlands Shank Road site where there were about 50 American White Pelican and as many Double-crested Cormorants. Very few damsels and dragons still about this late in the season but there were still a few Roseate Skimmer, Familiar Bluet and Rambur’s Forktail.

A map and directions are at this link. Shank Road Wetlands

American White Pelicans at Shank Road Wetlands.

Familiar Bluet damslefly

Last stop before home in Brawley was Alamorio Store, on Hwy 78 at the Alamo River curve, a few miles east of Brawley. It is a small and popular country store beer bar which offers a fantastic rib-eye steak dinner special with all of the trimmings every Monday night at 6pm. Part of the deal is you have to grill your own steak! The grill is plenty LARGE enough though.

See ya at the sea………..

Imperial Valley–general area, Imperial, US-CA
Nov 17, 2012 6:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Protocol: Traveling
115.0 mile(s)
58 species (+2 other taxa)

Snow/Ross’s Goose  300
Mallard  20
Cinnamon Teal  4
Northern Shoveler  100
Green-winged Teal  50
Redhead  2
Red-throated Loon  1     Young Reservoir
Pied-billed Grebe  4
Eared Grebe  100
Western Grebe  15
Double-crested Cormorant  1000
American White Pelican  100
Great Blue Heron  20
Great Egret  50
Snowy Egret  10
Cattle Egret  1000
Black-crowned Night-Heron  6
White-faced Ibis  2000
Turkey Vulture  4
Northern Harrier  6
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  10
American Coot  500
Killdeer  30
Black-necked Stilt  10
American Avocet  5
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Long-billed Curlew  2
Western Sandpiper  100
Least Sandpiper  100
Long-billed Dowitcher  50
Ring-billed Gull  1000
Herring Gull  5
Caspian Tern  8
Rock Pigeon  200
Eurasian Collared-Dove  45
Mourning Dove  50
Common Ground-Dove  2
Greater Roadrunner  1
Burrowing Owl  15
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
American Kestrel  25
Black Phoebe  15
Say’s Phoebe  10
Loggerhead Shrike  1
swallow sp.  10
Marsh Wren  2
European Starling  30
American Pipit  6
Yellow-rumped Warbler  100
Abert’s Towhee  2
Vesper Sparrow  3
Savannah Sparrow  75
Song Sparrow  1
White-crowned Sparrow  200
Red-winged Blackbird  3000
Western Meadowlark  30
Great-tailed Grackle  50

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

4 Responses to “Leonids and Mudpots”

  1. Nancy Kern Says:
    Hey Bob! Too bad your meteor sightings were a bust! But glad to hear of your account of our fine feathered friends who go BOO! in the dark. Thanks for the historical information about Mullet Island - that was good stuff. Still planning on riding out to those mudpots on my bike when I am next in the Valley. Cheers! Nancy
  2. Bob Says:
    Thanks Nancy!
  3. Aaron Smith Says:
    The black truck is Craigs…Doh! Don’t know what he was thinking. He did have a 5 mile walk back to Red Hill though. They were able to pull it out the next weekend. Where did you come up with the name Morton Bay? I spend lots of time in the bay and never heard it call that. For the last 10 years in the bay we have had 3 Roseate spoon bills every year, last year we only had 2 come back. Had a great time reading your post….Thanks!!!
  4. Bob Says:
    Hi Aaron. Thanks for the thanks! I don’t know what Craig was thinking either but I know I have gotten myself into DOH! situations too. Wondered about the Morton Bay name myself and talked about it with more detail in my post on 11-10-2012 called “Salton Sea Mudpots”. The spoonbills get reported quite often by visiting birders as well. It has been about five years or more since we had confirmed Roseate Spoonbill in Imperial County but they can show up. Our eyes sometimes tell us what our brain expects to see and there are Lesser Flamingo that frequent that part of the Salton Sea and get reported as spoonbills. Introduced, escaped, origin unknown.. but not naturally occurring for sure. They have been here for decades at least and there used to be many more. About 15 years ago they were down to just four Lesser and three Chilean. As you observed they are now down to just two Lesser Flamingo! Maybe I will run into at Morton Bay sometime. Thanks!