RRAS Field Trip to Salton Sea & Cibola NWR

Posted by David Bradford Field Trip Reports, News 0
Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owl photo by Scott Page

Salton Sea – Cibola NWR, Nov. 11-13, 2017

Photo by Charles Stegner
Photos by Charles Stegner









For photos by Scott Page, go here:  https://goo.gl/photos/y6ro9dtFaYoUSTyj7

For photos by Jennifer Dudek, go here:  https://flic.kr/s/aHskMc6n3E

For photos by Jimmy Alexander, go here:  https://jathegreek.smugmug.com/New-Stuff/Salton-Sea-11-2016/i-kqzX4ZD

On a sunny Friday in November, nine Red Rockers headed for the Salton Sea in California. In route, we stopped for a break in Kelso in Mojave National Preserve. Here, we watched a feeding red-naped sapsucker at close range chasing away tarantula hawks that were competing with it for tree sap. Our first major stop was Salton Sea State Recreation Area visitor center that includes a beach loaded with dead tilapia and barnacle shells, and a lagoon. We got our first look at the abundance of bird life at the Sea, including brown and white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, eared grebes, black-necked stilts, gulls, and a red-breasted merganser. Our next stop was Salt Creek Beach at the mouth of Salt Creek. Here we got good views and photos of an adult yellow-footed gull, a species rare at the Sea this time of year. We saw a total of five gull species here (ring-billed, California, herring, Bonaparte’s, and yellow-footed). We next went to the “rustic” former resort village of Bombay Beach. A highlight here was nine sanderlings. We then went to a freshwater area, the Wister Unit of Imperial Wildlife Area, where we saw hundreds of snow geese on the ground, along with other birds such as Caspian tern, and the sora and Virgina rail we heard.

We then went on to what was arguably the most unique experience of the trip – the hotel. It would be a long list if we recounted the many shortcomings of our accommodations, dinner, and meager continental breakfast. On the up side, it was so bad, it became comical, and we survived. We’ll just call it a surprise cultural experience in an exotic setting. It had a highlight, though, in the form of 60+ cattle egrets roosting on a nearby building.

Next morning we headed for Calipatria State Prison, finding numerous burrowing owls and other birds in the surrounding agricultural fields. Unfortunately, the gate guard would not let us on the property to view the birds in the pond next to the parking lot, but I think we gave him a good laugh. (We failed to figure out there was a road on the other side outside the fence.) Next we went to the Spirulina algae farm, which was loaded with black-necked stilts, ring-billed gulls, American avocets, 59 red-necked phalaropes, and others.

Next we followed a flock of large birds to a field being irrigated, where we were able to watch hundreds of birds, chiefly long-billed curlews, ring-billed gulls, white-faced ibis, cattle egrets, and western meadowlarks. Next we went to a somewhat freshwater bay on the Salton Sea (end of Garst Rd.), where we were treated to an American Bittern, western and Clark’s grebes, and a Ridgeway’s rail. Next stop was the visitor center for the Sony Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. Here we got good views and photos of a great horned owl roosting in a palm tree, and learned that it had apparently killed the former tenant barn owl, whose carcass was nearby. From here we made many stops on the edge of the Sea from Obsidian Butte along the sea wall to Young Road. The abundance of birds in these areas is always impressive, including various species of gulls, pelicans, shorebirds, and ducks, with highlights including common ground dove, peregrine falcon, northern pintail, and Wilson’s snipe, We returned to the hotel to find our rooms uncleaned, and we chose to dine in Brawley. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to dessert at a Foster’s Freeze and the famous donut/burrito place across the street.

On Sunday, we ate our fruitless continental breakfast and headed for a freshwater lake, Ramer Lake. Here we saw many waterbirds associated with either fresh or salt water. Highlights included marsh wren, green heron, numerous western and Clark’s grebes, black-crowned night heron, orange-crowned warbler, neotropic cormorant, and great views of a female merlin.

After this we headed for about an hour or so to Cibola National Wildlife Area, Arizona, and surrounding agricultural fields. Before getting to the refuge, we encountered about 90 sandhill cranes, several waterfowl species in a small pond, and most of us got good views (and photos) of an immature zone-tailed hawk. At the refuge we took the Goose Auto Loop and got good views of sharp-shinned hawk, sandhill cranes, greater white-fronted geese, yellow-headed blackbirds, mule deer, and a coyote. From here we headed back to Vegas via Searchlight. During the trip, we observed at total of 101 bird species (see following list).

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Gadwall (Anas strepera)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera)

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)

Redhead (Aythya americana)

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii)

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)

Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

Clark’s Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii)

Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus)

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Ridgway’s Rail (Rallus obsoletus)

Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola)

Sora (Porzana carolina)

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)

American Coot (Fulica americana)

Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)

Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)

Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus/scolopaceus)

Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)

Willet (Tringa semipalmata)

Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

Yellow-footed Gull (Larus livens)

California Gull (Larus californicus)

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)

Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina)

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis)

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)

Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)

Common Raven (Corvus corax)

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)

Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens)

Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)

Abert’s Towhee (Melozone aberti)

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)


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