Saturday, July 4, 2009

YBC: Day Four

Last Thursday, on the YBC, we took the hottest (literally and figuratively) trip of the entire week. Like the trip out to Santa Cruz Island, it required a ridiculously early start time. The headlights of our vans burrowed through the dark mountains as we sped east toward the sea. The sun eventually rose, and through the smudgy van windows we spotted Burrowing Owls, Western Meadowlarks, and others.

By the time we finally reached our first destination, the Wister Unit, we were eager to jump out of the vans and begin to search for birds. Around the parking lot we found Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, White-winged Doves, Inca Doves, and Verdins. The most exciting bird here was a Bronzed Cowbird, a state bird for me.

The Salton Sea is also a rich area for dragonflies. Unfortunately, we had limited time and I spent most of my time birding rather than looking for dragonflies. Some of the species I noted in passing included Blue Dasher, Common Green Darner, Red Saddlebags (lifer), and Flame Skimmer. I paused to photograph this diminutive fellow and later identified it as a Rambur's Forktail (Ischnura ramburii.)

We worked our way along the southern edge of the sea, birding the entire way. The most exciting bird was a Wood Stork that flew over Davis Road, but unfortunately it kept flying and didn't land. Our next couple stops, the end of Schrimpf Road and Red Hill, produced many new species, including Snowy Plover, Cinnamon Teal, Laughing Gull, Yellow-footed Gull (a very exciting species for those who hadn't visited the sea before), and others.

The headquarters of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is always worth a stop. The desert scrub around the visitor's center is a good place to find Common Ground-Dove, Verdin, and Gambel's Quail. We easily found all these. I managed to creep many people out with my very accurate imitation of the guy at the visitor center who once offered to show me the resident Barn Owl that roosts in one of the palms next to the visitor's center. I asked, "YA WANNA SEE A BAHN-AWEL?" and led the rest of the participants to the base of the owl's tree.

After a quick stop at Obsidian Butte that yielded nothing save chunks of obsidian, we headed south to check Fig Lagoon and Sunbeam Lake before starting back for San Diego. Unfortunately, a monstrous fire blocked the road to Fig Lagoon, so we had to turn around. It looked like a controlled fire to burn a field that had gotten out of hand.

Fortunately, no inferno prevented us from visiting Sunbeam Lake. A Greater White-fronted Goose and a Cackling Goose have been living with the domestic geese here for a couple years, and we easily spotted them upon exiting the vans. There was little else to be had there, save a single Common Moorhen and some swallows, so we hit the road and made the long, hot drive back to San Diego.

I suppose I'm a glutton for punishment with respect to unsuccessful owling. Several of the other campers had heard of our wild but mostly unfruitful owling escapade of the previous night and wanted to look for owls too. So, we looked for Western Screech-Owls down in the wash again, this time prudently taking the nice trail down to the trees. We almost heard them again, but not quite. The Common Poorwills and Barn Owls were still easy to find, and we also saw the first and only Great Horned Owl of the trip. I also managed to almost completely destroy my big toe by scraping it against an unseen speed bump. It scraped a nice chunk of skin and flesh away, leaving a oval raw patch of flesh on the tip of my toe. Ouch. We ended up staying out even later, and I didn't hit the sack until around one in the morning.

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