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

July 2020
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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

2 Responses to “Sea and Sage at Salton Sea”

  1. L. D. Smith Says:
    Enjoy your blogs. I happened to be on the overlook at unit 1 the day before you were there and saw a Eurasian wigeon in the far pond to the North.
  2. Bob Says:
    Thanks LD! That is a great sighting of the Eurasian Wigeon. We used to get one or two of them wintering in the pond at Rock Hill Trail but not for a few years now. Will have to look a little more closely next time at Unit One!