I was awoken from my slumber by the chirpy calls of a Verdin. County bird, I thought as I groped for my watch. Six-thirty! Uh-oh, we overslept a few minutes. Turns out I forgot to set the alarm. I wiggled my way out of my cozy sleeping bag, shook my dad awake, and crawled through the tiny tent flap. It was a beautiful sunny morning, calm and crisp. A short distance away, on the glassy surface of the Salton Sea, flocks of American White Pelicans glowed in the sunlight.
I roused John by hurling clods of dirt at his tent, and we began breaking camp. It took only a few minutes to tear down the tents and stuff away the sleeping bags. John and I sprinted over the beach. The most obvious birds were the pelicans.
Other birds were present in large numbers: Eared Grebes, gulls of several flavors, and others. We found the third-cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull right where we left it at the southern end of the campground. It was accompanied by a Herring Gull, some California Gulls, and a Glaucous-winged Gull (another new county bird!)
We bade goodbye to our campground and headed north along the edge of the sea. We took a brief spin through the Salton Sea State Recreation Area Headquarters, where we found this first-cycle Thayer’s Gull (a rather dark individual.)
John spotted a very odd gull perched on a post in the marina. It had a strongly bi-colored bill like a Glaucous Gull, but the body and wingtips were dirty grayish brown, more like a Glaucous-winged Gull. John and I eventually came to the conclusion that it was a Glaucous x Glaucous-winged hybrid, an aberrant Glaucous-winged Gull, or something entirely different.
We decided to leave the Salton Sea entirely and stop at the San Jacinto Valley on the way home. John Garrett had guaranteed we would see Mountain Bluebirds around the Salton Sea, but he was wrong. We didn’t see a single Mountain Bluebird anywhere around the Sea all weekend. I knew of a small flock wintering at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, conveniently just off the freeway on the way home. We spotted three (!) Ferruginous Hawks circling over a field soon after exiting the freeway. We ended up seeing at least a dozen in just a couple hours of birding the San Jacinto Valley.
As we were cruising down Davis Road through some nice fields, I spotted a sky-blue bird perched on a telephone wire right along the road. “Mountain Bluebird!” I shouted joyfully. There was actually a small flock of them. Lovely birds, and another new one for my life list (Mountain Bluebird was a rather embarrassingly absent from my list prior to the trip.)
The San Jacinto Wildlife Area has a very enjoyable auto loop through some nice freshwater ponds and marshes. We were pressed for time, but the loop produced some great birds for us: Blue-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, Prairie Falcon, and Yellow Warbler. There were thousands of other ducks present. The only other marginally-decent photo I obtained here was of a Loggerhead Shrike stationed on a bush beside the road.
It was now nearly midday, and we needed to be home by mid-afternoon. We made a brief stop at Lake Perris to search for Glaucous Gull, which John Garrett direly needs for his life list. We had no luck finding it, but did get a few new species for the trip: Common Merganser, Ring-necked Duck, and Forster’s Tern.
All of us were saddened to pull into the driveway back at home. It was an amazing trip. I personally saw three life birds (Mountain Plover, Chestnut-collared Longspur, and Mountain Bluebird) and a bunch of new species for the state and Riverside and Imperial Counties. I look forward to visited the Salton Sea again in the future!