Desert, Sea and Mountains Birding Class

Friday, March 23, 2018 - 6:45am to Sunday, March 25, 2018 - 4:00pm

This class has reached capacity. If you would like to be put on a waiting list, please call 760-767-0446. Thank you!

March 23-25, 2018
$140 / $110 ABF Member Price

Instructors: Bob Theriault and Mark Jorgensen

Our three-day birding class will visit a variety of ecosystems: Borrego Valley, Salton Sea and the desert mountains. The class is intended for birders of all levels and abilities. The full agenda is below, subject to change based on weather, road conditions, or bird sightings.

Difficulty: Moderate walking, sometimes on uneven ground, walking up viewing platform stairs, a short slope, soft sand, or mildly rocky surface.

Vehicles: All birding areas will be accessible by 2WD vehicles.

Preparation: Bring a lunch, water, hat, sun screen, hiking shoes, and binoculars. A spotting scope will sometimes be useful, especially on Saturday and Sunday. Bird field guides and apps can be most helpful, as well. Drivers should fuel up, and carpooling will be encouraged.


Friday, March 23
Borrego Springs and Surrounding Desert
6:45 AM / Meet at Christmas Circle

Meet and greet, followed by a quick check on binoculars to make sure everyone is in perfect focus with a five minute tutorial on getting them just perfect for your eyes.

We plan to visit the following locations:

Normally a good spot for desert thrashers and neo-tropic migrants – this spot often has a surprise species show up! In the valley, we will also look for Swainson’s Hawks.

20 minutes south of Borrego Springs along San Felipe Wash / The grove is a good migratory stopover haven, and the spring migration will be in motion with warblers (Black-throated Gray, Wilson’s and Nashville) expected at this time, as well as Rufous and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, and Warbling Vireos. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers have nested here the last few years, and hopefully the Long-eared Owls will return to nest for a second straight year as well.

Found up and downstream from Scissors Crossing, 4-6 miles west of Tamarisk Grove, includes excellent desert riparian habitat / We will undoubtedly hear, if not see, the federally & state listed endangered Least Bell’s Vireo in this segment, along with a host of resident and migrant species. Possible new sightings for the day will include Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, California Thrasher, Bewick’s and House Wrens, Western Bluebird, California Scrub Jay, California and Spotted Towhee, Townsend’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Black-headed Grosbeak. This will be a good place for us to find a shady cottonwood tree for a working lunch break.

These locations are private, but we will seek permission to make a stop at the location in San Diego County to view the Inca Dove, a recent colonizer to California from Arizona. Naturally, a host of other birds are attracted to these lush environs.

Saturday, March 24
A Day at the Salton Sea
6:00 AM / Meet at Christmas Circle

It is appropriate to visit the Salton Sea now, because this famous birding mecca is on the decline due to water restrictions, and probably will never return to its glory days. Nonetheless, many birds are still there to be seen, including many species of water-loving birds such as grebes, ducks, pelicans, rails, plovers, stilts, godwits, willets, dowitchers, curlews, whimbrels, sandpipers, gulls and terns.

We plan to visit the following locations:

This portion of the trip includes Unit 1 (there is a viewing platform, and a chance to see Snow Geese, before the large flocks have departed for the north) and the Headquarters Area (which also has a viewing platform, from which we may see Black Skimmers). A walk of around the headquarters complex gives us a great chance to see Abert’s Towhee (this species does not occur in Borrego) and Gambel’s Quail (hard to find in Borrego).

These roads afford us great opportunities to see Burrowing Owls, a Peregrine Falcon, Ospreys, Long-billed Curlews, Whimbrels, several swallow species, Ring-necked Pheasants, and of course, resident birds and any number of migrants passing through! Also, the Salton Sea is the only location in the United States where one can expect to see a Yellow-footed Gull, and this species first appeared here as a post-breeding visitor from the Gulf of California in August of 1965. At first present only in summer, it may now be seen in all seasons.

If time allows, we will visit other areas, such as the Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area and Ramer Lake.

Sunday, March 25
Montane Birding
6:00 AM, Meet at Christmas Circle

Few areas of Cuyamaca Ranch State Park and its surroundings escaped the destruction of the Cedar Fire of 2003, but a some were spared. We will visit examples of both recovering burned and unburned areas. Habitats that we plan to visit include pine-oak woodlands, mountain meadow, lake, and chaparral, and we expect to see a number of species, including water fowl, hawks, woodpeckers, flycatchers, chickadees, warblers, sparrows and finches.

We plan to visit the following locations:

This reservoir is stocked with fish and is a popular recreational area. Numerous species of ducks such as Mallard, Northern Pintail, Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck and Northern Shoveler should be here, along with Canada Goose. A pair of Bald Eagles nest in the nearby hills, and they visit the lake.

A number of montane species are found here, but in recent years it has been known to host the Williamson’s Sapsucker, an interesting woodpecker in which the two sexes have a completely different appearance.

Wild Turkey, Western Wood-Pewee, Stellar’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pigmy Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, and Western Bluebird all live here, along with other higher elevation birds. A walk into nearby chaparral should yield California Thrashers, Spotted Towhees, and even Mountain Quail if we are lucky.