It has been a couple of months since I posted…..work 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.
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:
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!