Thursday, April 21, 2005

21st April - Off to the desert

First stop this morning was the Mission Dam area. As the Father Junipero Serra Trail didn’t open until 8.00am I decided to pay an early visit to Kumeyaay Lake at the top end. This was a lovely little spot and good for birds too. Highlight was a Least Bittern seen briefly in flight.

The lakeside trees were full of birds including my first Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak and House Wren, all of which were subsequently found quite commonly. A couple of Downy Woodpeckers showed well but an Empidonax flycatcher (a notoriously hard genus) was not so co-operative. The lack of a distinct eye-ring ruled out the most likely candidates but unfortunately it didn’t give itself up.

The Father Junipero Serra Trail was a great place with loads of birds. My first Western Kingbirds, Lesser Goldfinches and Wrentits were found, although plenty more of each of these were found later. Other species included Phainopepla, Yellow-breasted Chat, Lazuli Bunting and a Hutton’s Vireo.

Mission Dam itself held 3 new species of warbler. Wilson’s Warbler proved common elsewhere but I only ended up seeing a handful of Nashville Warblers and one more Black-throated Gray Warbler. All 3 species were spectacular in their own way, but the last rates as one of my favourite birds of the trip.

A quick stop at Santee Lakes before heading off to the Anza-Borrego desert provided a few interesting birds including the first of several American Kestrels. A few Wood Ducks were present and there was a large colony of Cliff Swallows on the road bridge. Then a Wild Turkey was seen at Banner on the way to the desert, followed by a Greater Roadrunner, the first of 6 seen over a 5-day period.

Arriving in the desert, first stop was Tamarisk Grove. Here typical desert species included Verdin, White-winged Dove and Black-throated Sparrow. Single Wilson’s, Nashville and MacGillivray’s Warblers (the latter the only one seen all holiday) were probably migrants. A walk to Yaqui Well was abandoned on account of the fact that I hadn’t bothered to put on walking boots and we hadn’t got enough water for a 2 mile desert hike. Instead we drove there and found more Wilson’s Warblers and my first California Quails.

Arriving at Borrego Springs we found a couple of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers by the visitor centre and once we’d obtained the necessary provisions made our way to the campsite for the night. We’d not been camping together before (I’d hardly been camping at all) and putting the tent up nearly resulted in us signing up for a marriage counselling course! However the deed was done with some difficulty and a lot of brow-wiping, despite avian distractions such as a Say’s Phoebe.