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2019-10-10 Vendel Road, Salton Sea

My trip to Arizona finally was launched Thursday morning. I used the opportunity to visit some of my favorite bird destinations.

Wilson's Snipe - Gallinago delicata
Foraging in a flooded field late one afternoon at Unit 1 (Vendel Road), Salton Sea NWR in Imperial County California.

My first stop was Poe Road, but I was disappointed with the visit. On my drive from the highway to the shore I passed several acres of bulldozed and burned mesquite stumps where once there was viable habitat. The shoreline was devoid of any birds I could see, and the water level of the sea has dropped even further than my last visit. The shoreline is now almost a half a mile from where it used to be.

I then drove to Vendel Road, and Unit-1 of the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. The drive-in was uneventful until I reached the dog leg on the road a half-mile before the end, and I counted over 200 Sandhill Cranes grazing in the distance but I could not see what they were grazing on. It looked to me as if the fields were barren and had recently been plowed. I could see none of the usual fodder growing that’s usually available for geese and cranes.

Despite this, I drove to the end of the road, then parked and walked to the observation tower 100 yards further north. The field to the east of the secondary observation tower was flooded, though not much water was near the observation deck. Most of it was in the distance. I could see ducks, shorebirds and even 50 or so snow geese a half a mile away. While watching the birds in the distance I saw a flight of shorebirds flying into the near fields. I thought they were dowitchers, but as they dropped into the stubble of the flooded field I saw that these were Wilson’s Snipe, and decided it would be worthwhile to walk back to the van and fetch my camera gear.

I could hear sora and clapper rails calling from the nearby wetlands, but neither would make an appearance. Eventually, a few snipe approached close enough for reasonable photography, and I captured a few images.

There was a trail leading east from the platform area that used to have signage requesting people stay away, but there was no signage today, and I was able to take a long walk out towards the more populated area of the wetlands, where shorebirds ducks congregated. The Long-Billed Dowitchers were especially fun to watch, as they picked up en masse and sallied back and forth over the open water, giving me an opportunity to take plenty of group flight shots. The ducks I saw were mostly far away. There were Green-Winged Teal, Blue-Winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Gadwal, Mallard, and Northern Shovelers. The shorebirds I could identify were American Avocet, Black-Necked Stilt, Long-Billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Killdeer, Unnamed peeps, and Yellowlegs (heard only). Also seen or heard in this area were Northern Harrier, Snow Geese, Sandhill Cranes, Clapper Rail, Sora, Black Phoebe, Verdin, and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

I stayed late until it got dark and then spent the night in the RV parked at the end of Vendel Road. Waking to the sound of Clapper Rails and Sandhill Cranes was a treat. Another unexpected surprise first thing in the morning, was a Guy McCaskie sighting. He was scouting early for a tour he was leading later on in the day. He said he hadn’t seen any snow geese on his morning tour, but I told him about the ones I saw the previous afternoon. He told me he spotted a spoonbill flying over while scoping the fields where I’d been yesterday. That’s pretty special, but that’s the kind of stuff that Guy McCaskie finds.

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