Black Skimmers & Caspian Terns


Salton Sea & Imperial Valley
4 Sep 2006
by Henry Detwiler

Mickey and I braved the 109-degree heat & humidity to hunt down some fine Imperial Valley birds.
species--bird list is at the bottom of the page
Click on thumbnail pictures for full-sized photos.   

We left Yuma at 5:30am and started our birding in the Imperial Valley just as the sun peeked over the horizon.  A flooded field of Bermuda Grass highlighted why so many birders make the pilmigrage to the Salton Sea area.  It was teeming with 100's of White-faced Ibis, egrets, Willets, Black-necked Stilts, yellowlegs, dowitchers, Wilson's Phalaropes, and other birds.

Tree & Bank Swallows at Finney

Black-necked Stilt & Wilson's Phalarope

At Finney Lake we found both Western and Clark's Grebes, and found almost all the small dead snags emerging from the water covered with swallows--mostly Tree, but a sprinkling of Bank and Cliff Swallows, too.

Our first stop at the Salton Sea itself was Obsidian Butte.  The east side of this peninsula was as birdy as I've ever seen it, with terns, pelicans, gulls, and cormorants.


Brown Pelicans at Obsidian Butte

Yellow-footed Gull

Here we found Mickey's life Yellow-footed Gull--lots of them, in fact.  The Yellow-footed Gulls rear their young in the Gulf of California, and then fly up to the Salton Sea for a post-breeding vacation.  During the late summer you can find hundreds here--but come the winter there are only a few left on the entire sea.  While the east side of Obsidian Butte was great, the west side was fantastic!  Hundreds each of Caspian Terns, Black Skimmers, and Brown Pelicans shared the islands and surrounding waters with other terns, gulls, and shorebirds.

Yellow-footed Gulls & Brown Pelicans

When startled, the Black Skimmers and Caspian Terns would lift off the islands and wheel around a couple of times before landing again, rearranging themselves in the viewing arena.

Caspian Terns

Black, Forster's, & Common Terns
and Brown Pelicans, of course!

This turned out to be an excellent spot to examine an assortment of terns in a variety of plumages:  Black, Forster's, and Common.  Offshore from here there had been several sightings of jaegers earlier in the day--but we missed them.

Following the sea wall to the south, we came upon this falcon surveying the shoreline for lunch.  It stayed put long enough for me to take this digiscoped shot with my Sony DSC W7, hand-held up to the eyepiece of my Swarovski 65mm spotting scope.  A nearby field held several hundred Laughing and Bonaparte's Gulls.

Peregrine Falcon

Black Tern

Black Tern

The irrigated fields in the Imperial Valley are not all alike by any means.  Many have their own unique species, depending on the height of the water, type of crop, and available food sources.  A couple of fields seemed to attract good numbers of Black Terns, while others had none.  Similarly, we found a flock of Black-bellied Plovers in one field, and saw them nowhere else.

Ruff, Imperial Valley

In a field close to Hoober Road & Hwy 115, we met Guy McCaskie and Gjon Hazard.  They pointed out some Baird's Sandpipers, and then we moved together to another flock of shorebirds in a different part of the field.  Here I found this colorful Ruff, which was our rarest bird of the day.  After looking over a few more watery fields, Mickey and I called it quits--driven out by the heat and humidity.  But it had been an amazing day, filled with the spectacle of 1000s of beautiful birds!


Salton Sea & Imperial Valley, 4 Sep 2006
# Species
1 Pied-billed Grebe
2 Western Grebe
3 Clark's Grebe
4 American White Pelican
5 Brown Pelican
6 Double-crested Cormorant
7 Great Blue Heron
8 Great Egret
9 Snowy Egret
10 Cattle Egret
11 Green Heron
12 Black-crowned Night Heron
13 White-faced Ibis
14 Mallard
15 Cinnamon Teal
16 Northern Shoveler
17 Northern Pintail
18 Green-winged Teal
19 Ruddy Duck
20 Northern Harrier
21 Red-tailed Hawk
22 American Kestrel
23 Peregrine Falcon
24 Gambel's Quail
25 Common Moorhen
26 American Coot
27 Black-bellied Plover
28 Snowy Plover
29 Killdeer
30 Black-necked Stilt
31 American Avocet
32 Greater Yellowlegs
33 Lesser Yellowlegs
34 Willet
35 Spotted Sandpiper
36 Whimbrel
37 Long-billed Curlew
38 Marbled Godwit
39 Western Sandpiper
40 Least Sandpiper
41 Baird's Sandpiper
42 Ruff
43 Long-billed Dowitcher
44 Wilson's Phalarope
45 Red-necked Phalarope
46 Turkey Vulture
47 Laughing Gull
# Species
48 Bonaparte's Gull
49 Ring-billed Gull
50 California Gull
51 Yellow-footed Gull
52 Caspian Tern
53 Common Tern
54 Forster's Tern
55 Black Tern
56 Black Skimmer
57 White-winged Dove
58 Mourning Dove
59 Inca Dove
60 Common Ground-Dove
61 Eurasian Collared Dove
62 Greater Roadrunner
63 Burrowing Owl
64 Lesser Nighthawk
65 Anna's Hummingbird
66 Rufous Hummingbird
67 Belted Kingfisher
68 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
69 Willow Flycatcher
70 Black Phoebe
71 Ash-throated Flycatcher
72 Western Kingbird
73 Loggerhead Shrike
74 Tree Swallow
75 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
76 Bank Swallow
77 Cliff Swallow
78 Barn Swallow
79 Verdin
80 Northern Mockingbird
81 Common Yellowthroat
82 Orange-crowned Warbler
83 Wilson's Warbler
84 Nashville Warbler
85 Abert's Towhee
86 Lark Sparrow
87 Savannah Sparrow
88 Red-winged Blackbird
89 Western Meadowlark
90 Yellow-headed Blackbird
91 Great-tailed Grackle
92 Brown-headed Cowbird
93 House Finch
94 House Sparrow

Photos Henry Detwiler