Juvenile Western Bluebirds were fun to watch on this Thursday in late August while I visited Santa Rosa Mountain. I find these birds are at their most attractive as juveniles. Feathers are fresh, colors are crisp, and the birds are a little less shy. I found them downslope where the road crosses the Garnet Queen Creek and again near the top of the mountain at the springs.
While my destination is near the top of the mountain, I like to keep an eye out for birds along the road. Leaving the highway at an elevation of 4600’ the habitat is chaparral. I found gnatcatchers at 4675’, a mere 300 feet from the Palms to Pines Highway and California Thrashers at 5300’, a couple miles more up-slope.
The Garnet Queen Creek crossing at 6200’ marks the end of chaparral, transitioning to scrub-oak habitat and scattered pines. I always stop to look for birds at this location, where the creek is often dry, but the giant trees here betray the presence of reliable water below the surface. Western Bluebirds and White-Breasted Nuthatches concentrate under the shade of the canopy here, and Hutton’s and Warbling Vireos sometimes hang out with birds such as Dark-Eyed Juncos, and various flycatchers.
From the crossing the road begins a steep climb via a half dozen switch-backs. The entire 13 mile Santa Rosa Truck Trail is littered with rocky rutted sections that will punish normal passenger vehicles and some of these can present themselves, especially following flash flooding. Once this section is ascended, and the road reaches the ridgeline, the terrain turns to pine forested slopes. The climb is less steep on this section of the road, but the views to south Borrego Springs, west towards Anza and north to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley are amazing. At 7250’ the flowers and bees carpet the ground in several places and supply splashes of color. Even at the height of summer, when temperatures in the desert valleys below climb to 115°F, there is relief here. Though the road extends a couple miles further, I find the springs at 7400’ supplies most of my needs for communing with nature.
Subjects met on this expedition were Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, California Thrasher, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, Wilson’s Warbler, Merriam’s Chipmunk, Western Bluebird.