California Specialties Apr 15—23, 2006
Posted by Brad Schram
Although Salton City could be pictured in a dictionary to illustrate the phrase “Grand Illusion,” the morning light at the west shore of the Salton Sea caused shoreline migrants to glow as if self-lit. A quick scan of the shore close at hand produced breeding-plumaged Black-bellied, Semipalmated, and Snowy plovers; Long-billed Dowitchers; a few Willets and Whimbrels; and a small flock of Red Knots amongst the remaining Western and Least sandpipers. Lingering views through the spotting scope brought superlatives to mind, while our excited conversation dwelt on the glories of breeding-plumage shorebirds in the lovely morning light.
The Red Knots were especially singled out for comment, the flock containing birds in a variety of plumage stages as they progressed to full breeding attire. The few birds already in full alternate dress positively glowed. As we watched, groups of shorebirds, by species, got up and resumed their northward journey. Standing out from shore on a jetty as we were, with the sun at our backs, their movement up-coast could be appreciated. The light on the flying birds, as well as their subtle calls, produced a lyrical effect. Although none of the species involved were life birds for any of our group, we were transfixed by their beauty.
Birds were coming from the south in small numbers, landing amongst the remaining birds before us. Scanning through the flock produced a few breeding-plumaged Bonaparte’s Gulls amongst the Ring-bills. The Franklin’s Gull, a decidedly uncommon bird at the Salton Sea, appeared on the shoreline as if it had always been there. A more beautiful Franklin’s Gull has never existed?and the morning light accentuated each aspect of its unique markings. The bird posed long enough for all to get multiple scope views?although it was close enough that it could be fully appreciated with our binoculars. After a little while it resumed its journey, flying low up-shore behind us.
We, too, resumed our journey. Ahead we found Cassin’s and Plumbeous vireos, the latter an unexpected migrant on our route; a cooperative pair of Le Conte’s Thrashers; up-close Yellow-billed Magpies; eye-popping looks at White-headed Woodpecker; Allen’s Hummingbirds coastally and on Santa Cruz Island; fleeing Xantus’s Murrelets on the Santa Barbara Channel; and, of course, the Island Scrub Jay?along with Yellow-billed Magpie, one of California’s two true endemics. Leisurely scope views of Long-eared Owl, Crissal Thrasher, and Black-throated Sparrow in the Anza-Borrego Desert delighted us all. On recapping our trip, these birds, two Ruddy Ground Doves, a wintering Yellow-footed Gull, numerous Lawrence’s Goldfinches, Tri-colored Blackbirds, and two Mountain Quail crossing the road just ahead one crisp morning were mentioned as individual highlights. But, on reflection, all agreed that the birds on the shore at Salton City that morning?