Salton Sea, Imperial Valley, & Laguna Mts. - Feb 2008
 by Henry Detwiler

Four visits to this area in February produced a smorgasbord of great birds 
164 species--bird list is at the bottom of the page
Click on thumbnail pictures for full-sized photos. border  

Our first stop was usually Rio Bend RV Golf Course, where Vermilion Flycatchers and a wintering Tropical Kingbird awaited us. The resort sits on a bluff overlooking Fig Lagoon, so we'd scope the water for shovelers and other ducks. On the other side of I-8, Sunbeam Lake held a fine array of waterfowl, including these two tame (but wild) geese, who settled into morning bread feedings.

vermilion flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher

greater white-fronted goose
White-fronted Goose


 cackling goose
Cackling Goose

Half an hour uphill from Sunbeam Lake takes you to Jacumba, in the lower portion of the Laguna Mountains. And fifteen minutes beyond is Live Oak Springs with even more evergreen habitat. Here you'll find a lot of birds which rarely if ever make it down into the super-heated Imperial Valley. California Quail, Red-shouldered Hawk, Nuttall's & Acorn Woodpeckers, Oak Titmouse, California Thrasher, Tricolored Blackbird, California Towhee, Pine Siskin, and Cassin's Finches all put in an appearance during our visits there.
red-shouldered hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
white-winged dove
White-winged Dove - wintering (?) in Jacumba

tricolored blackbird
Tricolored Blackbirds -
A common sight in Jacumba this winter

gray flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher


Back down in the Imperial Valley we visited Cattle Call Park in Brawley, where we were happy to find Gray Flycatcher, Red-naped Sapsucker, Gila Woodpecker, Cactus Wren, Costa's Hummingbird, Abert's Towhee, and Vermilion Flycatcher.

At the corner of Davis & Shrimpf Roads we visited and explored a few of the bubbling mud pots, evidence of the extreme geothermal activity in the area.

mud pots
Mud Pots

burrowing owl
Burrowing Owl

The Imperial Valley is justifiably proud of its population of Burrowing Owls. In the late spring it's not uncommon to count over 100 of these cute birds in the course of a morning. During the winter they are somewhat harder to come by, so we were happy to see several peering out of their burrows and over berms.


The numerous fields, dirt edges, and drainage ditches around the Salton Sea and throughout the Imperial Valley provide a lot of habitat for mice, gophers, and other rodents. This large prey base is one reason for the large number of raptors, including these larger owls. Twice we found this Great Horned Owl roosting in an abandoned grain silo. Similarly, we found this Barn Owl twice in an abandoned ranch house.

 great horned owl
Great Horned Owl

barn owl
Barn Owl flying away

cinnamon teal
Cinnamon Teal

At the corner of Lack and Lindsey is a small freshwater pond that regularly hosts waders, waterfowl, gulls, and shorebirds. During all of February it played host to Cinnamon, Green-winged, and Blue-winged Teal. Then at the beginning of March, I heard that a Long-tailed Duck took up residence there.

On our last afternoon at the Sea, the winds were blowing fiercely. It whipped the water into a brownish foamy broth--not at all appealing. But it was entertaining to watch the Eared Grebes bobbing up and down on the never-ending waves.

eared grebe
Eared Grebes riding the surf!

gull flock
Red Hill Marina Gulls

Thousands of Northern Shovelers were in the Salton Sea at the end of Garst Road. In the bay around Red Hill Marina and on the Sea to the west were tens of thousands of Rind-billed and California Gulls, with lesser numbers of Herrings. Occasionally a harrier would drift by and shuffle them around.

In the refuge fields at Unit 1 we watched thousands of Snow and Ross's Geese; on one trip we were lucky to see a rare blue morph Ross's Goose. On another trip we had five Tundra Swans in a wet field and flushed an American Bittern in the cattail marshes. During the final trip to this great area the geese were joined by a good-sized flock of Sandhill Cranes. From the observation platform we looked out on a sea of birds: pelicans, ducks, terns, and shorebirds. The birding is always good--it just changes from day to day!

ross's goose
Ross's Goose

northern mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird at Rio Bend RV Park

Salton Sea, Imperial Valley, and Laguna Foothills - Bird List - Feb 2008
# Species
1 Pied-billed Grebe
2 Eared Grebe
3 Western Grebe
4 Clark's Grebe
5 American White Pelican
6 Brown Pelican
7 Double-crested Cormorant
8 American Bittern
9 Great Blue Heron
10 Great Egret
11 Snowy Egret
12 Cattle Egret
13 Green Heron
14 Black-crowned Night Heron
15 White-faced Ibis
16 Sandhill Crane
17 Greater White-fronted Goose
18 Snow Goose
19 Ross' s Goose
20 Canada Goose
21 Cackling Goose
22 Tundra Swan
23 Gadwall
24 American Wigeon
25 Mallard
26 Blue-winged Teal
27 Cinnamon Teal
28 Northern Shoveler
29 Northern Pintail
30 Green-winged Teal
31 Canvasback
32 Redhead
33 Ring-necked Duck
34 Greater Scaup
35 Lesser Scaup
36 Bufflehead
37 Common Goldeneye
38 Ruddy Duck
39 Osprey
40 White-tailed Kite
41 Northern Harrier
# Species
42 Sharp-shinned Hawk
43 Cooper's Hawk
44 Red-shouldered Hawk
45 Red-tailed Hawk
46 Ferruginous Hawk
47 American Kestrel
48 Merlin
49 Peregrine Falcon
50 Prairie Falcon
51 California Quail
52 Gambel's Quail
53 Sora
54 Common Moorhen
55 American Coot
56 Black-bellied Plover
57 Semipalmated Plover
58 Killdeer
59 Mountain Plover
60 Black-necked Stilt
61 American Avocet
62 Greater Yellowlegs
63 Lesser Yellowlegs
64 Willet
65 Spotted Sandpiper
66 Long-billed Curlew
67 Marbled Godwit
68 Western Sandpiper
69 Least Sandpiper
70 Long-billed Dowitcher
71 Wilson's Snipe
72 Turkey Vulture
73 Bonaparte's Gull
74 Heerman's Gull
75 Mew Gull
76 Ring-billed Gull
77 California Gull
78 Herring Gull
79 Yellow-footed Gull
80 Caspian Tern
81 Forster's Tern
82 Rock Pigeon
# Species
83 White-winged Dove
84 Mourning Dove
85 Inca Dove
86 Common Ground-Dove
87 Eurasian Collared Dove
88 Greater Roadrunner
89 Barn Owl
90 Great Horned Owl
91 Burrowing Owl
92 White-throated Swift
93 Anna's Hummingbird
94 Costa's Hummingbird
95 Belted Kingfisher
96 Acorn Woodpecker
97 Gila Woodpecker
98 Red-naped Sapsucker
99 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
100 Nuttall's Woodpecker
101 Northern Flicker
102 Gray Flycatcher
103 Black Phoebe
104 Say's Phoebe
105 Vermilion Flycatcher
106 Tropical Kingbird
107 Loggerhead Shrike
108 Stellar's Jay
109 Western Scrub Jay
110 American Crow
111 Common Raven
112 Wrentit
113 Horned Lark
114 Tree Swallow
115 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
116 Cliff Swallow
117 Barn Swallow
118 Mountain Chickadee
119 Oak Titmouse
120 Verdin
121 White-breasted Nuthatch
122 Cactus Wren
123 Rock Wren
# Species
124 House Wren
125 Marsh Wren
126 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
127 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
128 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
129 Western Bluebird
130 American Robin
131 Northern Mockingbird
132 California Thrasher
133 Crissal Thrasher
134 European Starling
135 American Pipit
136 Phainopepla
137 Orange-crowned Warbler
138 Yellow-rumped Warbler
139 Common Yellowthroat
140 Spotted Towhee
141 California Towhee
142 Abert's Towhee
143 Chipping Sparrow
144 Brewer's Sparrow
145 Vesper Sparrow
146 Lark Sparrow
147 Lark Bunting
148 Savannah Sparrow
149 Song Sparrow
150 Lincoln's Sparrow
151 White-crowned Sparrow
152 Dark-eyed Junco
153 Red-winged Blackbird
154 Tricolored Blackbird
155 Western Meadowlark
156 Yellow-headed Blackbird
157 Brewer's Blackbird
158 Great-tailed Grackle
159 Brown-headed Cowbird
160 Cassin's Finch
161 House Finch
162 Pine Siskin
163 Lesser Goldfinch
164 House Sparrow
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