September 2 – After a quick stop to pick up supplies for lunch we left the town of Brawley and made our way north along the east side of the Salton Sea. We stopped along the lake at Ramer Lake briefly with high hopes of finding the rather elusive Crissal Thrasher. The bird
gods were smiling on us and we found a single Crissal Thrasher perched atop a dead tree, offering up scope views for all! This was my first sighting of this species in California and I’ve done over half a dozen trips to the area. Other species noted at Ramer Lake included Black-crowned Night-Heron, Green Heron, Cattle Egret, Verdin, Gambel’s Quail, Yellow-headed Blackbird and Western Grebe. A quick stop at Schrimpf Rd produced a Western Meadowlark, and a single Burrowing Owl for the day list. As we drove north along the east side of the sea we spotted a single Osprey sitting atop a telephone pole and we saw our first Coyote of the tour.
Our travels took us through Palm Desert and Indian Wells; very nice neighborhoods indeed. We then began ascending the Pines to Palms Hwy into the San Jacinto Mountains. Our first stop, at the Ramona Trailhead, produced our first Western Bluebirds, as well as Mountain Chickadees, White-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches, and a couple of Oak Titmice. Next up, at Hurkey Creek Park we, and everyone else in southern California it seemed, spent the next few hours exploring the pine forest. This being the beginning of
the labor day weekend, made for rather busy campgrounds and parks. The birding was good here nonetheless and we added Steller’s Jay, Black-headed Grosbeak, American Robin, Hairy Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee and a fleeting pair of Phainopeplas. Acorn Woodpeckers were quite active here as well. We had a picnic lunch before making our way towards Idyllwild where we did a little birding around the School of Arts. Birds seen here included ‘Oregon’ race Dark-eyed Juncos, a Lesser Goldfinch, Cassin’s Vireo, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Spotted Towhees and Mountain Chickadees. We then began our descent of the mountains via a very twisty Hwy 243 to the San Bernardino Valley below. The drive to Twentynine Palms was quite pleasant and we saw our first bizarred Joshua Trees along the way. We had dinner at the Rib Co. in Twentynine Palms this evening, which is always a treat.
September 3 -Even before we left our hotel this morning Mary had spotted a MacGillivray’s Warbler near the parking lot and Kathy E. got it see it as well. Our first official birding stop was at the Mara Oasis Visitor’s Center where we walked through the original grove of 29 palms. A few migrants were about, including a Yellow-breasted Chat,
Yellow Warbler and a couple of Willow Flycatchers. We had exquisite views of a Greater Roadrunner here as it perched in a tree beside the path in the morning sun. Other species tallied here included Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and a Cactus Wren. After a short look in the visitor’s center we made our way into Joshua Tree National Park where we enjoyed the stunning scenery. As we traveled through the park we saw a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes perched atop Joshua Trees, and just as we pulled into the parking lot of the Barker Dam Trail Head,
Canyon Wren. Joshua Tree NP. Sep 3, 2016. Chris Charlesworth
a Le Conte’s Thrasher made a very brief appearance. The walk to the dam was quite enjoyable and we had great views of a Canyon Wren along the way. There was no water to be found at the dam this year so birds were few and far between, other than our first Western Wood-Pewee and a couple of California Scrub-Jays.
We picked up lunch and took it to Covington Park in Morongo Valley where the 4H club was having a big to-do. Luckily the birds didn’t seem to mind the commotion and we had great views of a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers, as well as numbers of Lazuli Buntings, Lesser Goldfinches, a Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Bluebirds and an immature male Cooper’s Hawk. We strolled over to the Big Morongo Preserve, finding a couple of Western Kingbirds along the
way. Lazuli Buntings were quite numerous here, though all were in their rather drab fall plumage. We found two lovely male Summer Tanagers here, a species that has a very
restricted breeding range in California. Bushtits also made their first appearance for the group, though it was short and sweet. At feeders near the entrance of the preserve we watched for a half hour or so as four species of hummingbirds came in to feed; Allen’s, Anna’s, Costa’s and Black-chinned. Also coming in to feed were California Towhees, Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches and at the water dish were Hooded and Bullock’s orioles and California Scrub-Jay. Not a bad way to finish our birding. We then made the drive through the desert to the rather windy town of Mojave.
September 4 – Mojave is a very windy place and this morning was no exception. As luck would have it the winds were light enough at Jawbone Canyon, our first destination for the day, that we were able to find our target species without too much trouble. As we walked
through the desert we quickly located our first Bell’s Sparrows. All of the birds we saw today appeared to be of the ‘Canescens‘ race which is the expected race in this area. Soon thereafter our second target species appeared, a Le Conte’s Thrasher, the palest of North America’s thrasher species. The bird sat right up on top of a creosote bush, but by the time I raised up my camera and clicked it had jumped into the air. Trees around the rangers station were quite active with birds and we saw Yellow and Orange-crowned warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee, California Quail, Black-throated Sparrows and a good number of Bell’s Sparrows. After a good hard search I was finally rewarded with the sighting of a roosting Great Horned Owl here as well. A Loggerhead Shrike showed very nicely at this location as well. Farther up the canyon we found singles of Blue-gray
Gnatcatcher and Rock Wren, the latter of which was a first for the tour.
We picked up lunch in California City and took it with us to the Silver Saddle Resort, a posh resort and spa located in the middle of the Mojave Desert, where irrigated lawns and man-made ponds attract a nice variety of birds. As we entered the resort we saw about 30 Horned Larks on the driving range, a nice welcome party indeed. We parked the van and
signed in at the front desk before walking the premises. Flycatchers were common and there were Say’s and Black phoebes, Western Wood-Pewee and Willow Flycatchers everywhere. A Belted Kingfisher was seen several times around the pond and we also saw an immature Great Blue Heron stalking prey. A bit of a surprise was an immature Black Tern that was flying around the pond repeatedly. Not a species I had expected out in the middle of the desert. As we ate our lunch I spotted a group of Chukar at
the edge of the resort and we watched the group of about 10 birds scurry about before disappearing into the desert. A few warblers were noted including Yellow, Orange-crowned, Nashville, a Black-throated Gray Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. A few raptors seen at the resort this afternoon included singles of Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk and Turkey Vulture. Along the shores of the man-made ponds we saw a couple of Spotted Sandpipers. To top off what had already been a pretty darn good afternoon I spotted a second Great Horned Owl roosting, this time in a pine tree. The bird appeared quite pale, suggestive of desert races of this species. We returned to our hotel and had a little r & r before heading out for dinner.
September 5 – Nimali spotted several Yellow-headed Blackbirds as we loaded up the van at our hotel in Mojave this morning, the first notable sighting of the day. We drove south along Hwy 14, pausing at Apollo Park in Lancaster where we added several geese to the trip list including Snow, Ross’s and Greater White-fronted geese. Not a bad way to start off the morning. We picked up lunch and made our way up into the San Gabriel Mountains. A plume of smoke atop the mountains announced there was a forest fire burning up there, and luckily it didn’t hamper with our plans to explore this wonderful mountain range. Our
first stop was at the Chilao Visitor’s Center where the birding was very good. At the visitor’s center the feeders and water dish attracted quite a nice selection of birds including Oak Titmouse, California Scrub-Jay, Lesser Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, Band-tailed Pigeon, Acorn Woodpecker and the star attraction, a pair of White-headed Woodpeckers. We also had numerous White-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches here, as well as Mountain Chickadees, a Black-throated Gray Warbler, Western Bluebirds and a male Anna’s Hummingbird. In addition to the birds there were several California Ground Squirrels, as well as Western Gray Squirrels and Cliff Chipmunks, the latter of which was a first for this tour. We stopped along the Angeles Crest Hwy to look for Northern Pygmy-Owl and were rewarded almost immediately with
one that came in to investigate my imitation. No sooner than the owl had landed did a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers arrive and harass the bird. We eventually had excellent scope views of the tiny owl as it called from a fir tree nearby.
We had lunch at Buckhorn Campground amonst the shade of towering conifers. Birding here was fantastic as well and we were inundated with warblers; Black-throated Gray, Yellow-rumped, Townsend’s, Orange-crowned, Wilson’s, Yellow and a lovely MacGillivray’s warbler all showed off nicely. We added our first Brown Creeper of the trip here, as well as the first Red Crossbill,
and great views of Green-tailed Towhee. Mary pointed out a small group of Vaux’s Swifts sailing overhead against the blue sky, and as we were about to leave, a female White-headed Woodpecker landed on a post right next to the van and began to sip water from a faucet!
At the Cloudburst Summit, the peak of elevation at over 7000 feet, we had a short stop and added Clark’s Nutcracker to the trip list as well as more White-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches and Mountain Chickadees. To finish off the birding we paused at Charlton Flats and here we added yet another bird to the trip list, this time in the form of Bewick’s Wren. Other species noted included Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Anna’s Hummingbird and California Scrub-Jay. We left the mountains and weaved our way through the network of freeways to the town
of Carpinteria, which is situated along the coast and will be our home base for the next three nights.
Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours