SALTON SEA Success!!

It has been a couple of months since I posted… took priority. However, the opportunity to experience the very unusual “invasion” of Blue-footed Boobies in California this Fall swept me away to San Diego this past weekend. These birds rarely stray north into the Lower 48, but the sight of them as far up the California coast as Point Reyes (SF) continues to send shock waves throughout the birding world.

My birding guide from August’s Arizona adventure (Brian Gibbons) drove from Tucson to San Diego and chauffeured me around San Diego and Imperial counties to search for the boobies at the Salton Sea, as well as other potential lifers for me. The Salton Sea is a birder’s mecca if not anything else. Formed in 1935 by the combination of below sea level terrain and an overflowing Colorado River, it is a ridiculously special migrant trap for thirsty avians. Two juvenile boobies proved a relatively simple find…planted on “Obsidian Butte” like ornaments on a Christmas tree.

Blue-footed Boobies (Salton Sea, Calif.)

Blue-footed Boobies (Salton Sea, Calif.)

The Salton Sea is famous among ornithologists for another very special bird…the Yellow-footed Gull. It can be found in North America ONLY in the Salton Sea! Its population is declining and we spent hours searching for one after ticking the boobies. Despite recent E-Bird reports (electronic media via Cornell) and the coordinated efforts of a father-son duo from Boston….who clearly place birds above baseball..we struck out on our first afternoon.

At sunset, with no more birds to log nor a dinner/sleep plan, we drove up to a parked pick-up truck with a SWbirds California license plate. Its occupant didn’t profile “birdwatcher” but this Stetson-topped, cowboy-looking guy happened to be surveying the field full of Sandhill Cranes with his very impre$$ive binoculars. Not only did he recommend a wonderful fairly local place to spend the night (there aren’t any towns near the Salton Sea), he delivered a precise location to likely find the ONE adult Yellow-footed Gull in the area! Our dawn arrival the next morning produced this heart-pumping sight:

Yellow-footed Gull (Salton Sea, Calif.)

Yellow-footed Gull (Salton Sea, Calif.)

The rest of the weekend was hardly a let-down as we pulled one mega-rare Red-throated Pipit from a Tijuana River Valley sod farm full of American Pipits! In addition, we scooped up the Tri-colored Blackbird and the recently “countable” African native – Nutmeg Mannikin, to bring my ABA area lifetime count to 685. We spent the entire final day searching in vain for the Mountain Quail and Bell’s Sparrow. 700 is in view!

About George C. Wood

A birder since age ten, but not necessarily an avid "lister", I am closing in on 700 (*800!) species seen in North America.....hoping to capture each sighting with my camera.
This entry was posted in Quest for 700 (*800!). Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to SALTON SEA Success!!

  1. Deborah Glass says:

    Congrats George! What a productive and fun trip. Love how you got your tip! Meant to happen.

  2. Tom Mason says:

    Interesting trip, George. Great job finding the Red-throated Pipit! Keep it up.

  3. Dorothy Weisbord says:

    Love name “blue footed boobie’ terrific photos.

  4. Jeffrey Dingle says:

    Closing in on 700 Egroeg!!


    Sent from myPhone

  5. milesxx says:

    You are in trouble for not even calling us!! Grrrr…..

  6. ANNE WOOD says:

    I am beginning to be afraid that if you get to 700 you will have nothing to do in life and then you might just curl up and DIE!!!

  7. Mark Horton says:

    George –

    I canąt believe you were looking for a Mountain Quail!

    Megan and I had that for dinner on Saturday night ­ boy, was it good! Had I known, I would have sent you a photo… Rats! Next time!

    Keep on keepiną on!


    Mark Horton, FAIA MARK HORTON / ARCHITECTURE 135 South Park San Francisco, CA 94107 415 543-3347  x11 415 543-1440 (F) 415 269-4270 (M)

    From: birdtalesblog Reply-To: birdtalesblog Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2013 16:13:08 +0000 To: Subject: [New post] SALTON SEA Success!!

    George C. Wood posted: “It has been a couple of months since I posted… took priority. However, the opportunity to experience the very unusual “invasion” of Blue-footed Boobies in California this Fall swept me away to San Diego this past weekend. These birds rarely stray “

  8. Gub says:

    Well done, George. We await the Mountain Quail and Bell’s Sparrow!

  9. missy1 says:

    i thought that old Jacque would be interested in it.

  10. missy1 says:

    Hi George,

    Great Blog! The comment below was supposed to go to my sister, so disregard it. It was so nice seeing you when you were in Nashville. Please feel free to visit anytime. Kevin is in Missouri today playing in a golf tournament, I hope he does well. Congrats on your latest birding find. Thanks for posting!

    Missy Myers

  11. Wendy says:

    25 years ago, I thought you were mad to be chasing birds, but now I see why…thanks for opening my eyes to some very beautiful little creatures!

  12. Ziesing, Peter R says:

    Really impressive George! What a trip – keep it up – best, PRZ

  13. Page Wood says:

    The Salton Sea is one of the strangest places I’ve ever been- no towns, no place to eat or stay. We did find an abandoned motel with a pier behind it, but no water- it was just caked dried-up mud out to the horizon! Abandoned cars had sunk into mud, then dried hard, surrounded by fish skeletons. I think it smelled terrible, too…

  14. jjshaws says:

    Need to add the Yellow-footed Gull to your card collection — congrats on # 685! XOXO

  15. Ched Bradley says:

    Some people think I’m a birder, but I’m a bird photographer and there are important differences. My madness is a bit more sane than yours (a purely subjective judgement, of course). A friend gave me “A Supremely Bad Idea” this summer, and now I understand your diagnosis better. [We met at the HS Alum event in May with McIlwain.] Best to you, George.

  16. David Simpson says:

    George — wonderful prose and awesome birding

    However if you come to CA again sans a visit to sf………


  17. Joe Cox says:

    You da man!

    Sent from my iPad


  18. Jim Buck says:

    Wonderful traveling and sight-seeing I’m getting to, all from the comforts of my desk. (And yes, I too am enjoying learning more about birds — about how varied and intricate the species are — from your blog.) Thanks, Woody!

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