Warner Springs, Anza Borrego, Salton Sea, and Anza Borrego

Thursday night we drove out east into the mountains for banding and an early weekend of birding.

Anne, PJ and I drove out and met Lisa camping out at the Oak Grove. In the morning, we went over to the headwaters of the San Luis Rey River, so far upstream that the water was underground. Here are some poor photos from the morning of banding with Melanie (need to remember to take more photos of banding).

After banding, PJ, Anne and I drove out to Julian. We knew the desert was already blazing, so after a pie-stop, we stayed high in the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve where montane birds and migrants were everywhere. The Band-tailed Pigeons were a highlight, as was the aerial performance of a Hermit Warbler.

Always a neat ID challenge, this empid silently caught flies around us and then flew away.

Hard to believe we were an hour from Anza Borrego with these wildflowers…

That night, after the heat died, we drifted into Yaqui Wells to camp. Aside from a small party way up the wash, we had the place to ourselves. I slept out on the sand under the full moon that night. Normally, sleeping in such conditions, I wake up every couple hours to have a look around before rolling over and sleeping again. Friday night was no different. I hoped that the moon’s light would help bring out the migrants, or at least the owls, but alas it was totally quiet from dusk to dawn. Despite the warm night temperature (around 65°F) the snakes and scorpions kept quiet as well. We at least managed to find some cool cockroaches and tarantulas on a brief night walk before bed.

In the morning we heard some of our old friends, like this cute Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, singing away in a mesquite grove in the wash. I nearly forgot how awesome mesquite can be.

We shot over to Salton before it got too hot (impossible) where we enjoyed watching some neat shorebirds and gulls that we’re still arguing over.

This African Collared-Dove was paired up at a desert oasis. I report these to eBird, in case they ever blow up like Eurasians did. Eurasian Collared, Mourning and Common Ground-Doves were also present.

Last stop: Old Springs Open Space Preserve east of Borrego Springs. We wanted to make one last attempt at the Le Conte’s Thrasher which had evaded us in the past. The thermometer in the car said 39°C, so we agreed to each walk our separate ways out into the desert for no more than an hour. Zig-zagging over the sand, determined not to dip yet again, I finally caught a glimpse of a light gray shape in the top of a creosote bush! I raised my bins and saw… a ground squirrel!

Zig-zagging again, scrutinizing silhouettes and light shapes on saltbush, and finally I noticed a shape passing low, running across the sand with dark tail pointed sharply up behind it! And my camera battery quit.

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