2020-05-28 Cattle Call Brawley

Vermilion Flycatcher - Pyrocephalus rubinus
Vermilion Flycatchers occasionally find their way into San Diego County, but are regular visitors here in the Imperial County desert.

After leaving Arivaca Wednesday morning I drove a rural route through Ajo and Gila Bend to Yuma where I spent the night. Thursday morning after having breakfast I launched the last leg of my return from my 2020 Texas Expedition. I crossed the Colorado River and was back on California soil, and already missing the people and places I’d seen during the past three months.

Counties in Southern California are larger than some states in the USA. San Diego and Imperial Counties comprise the entire southern border with Mexico. When I cross into Imperial County, I prefer a more northern route to avoid Interstate 8. Often I will pay a visit to the Salton Sea as I pass through this region, but today I wasn’t inclined to invest the time that such a visit would require. Cattle Call Park at the western edge of Brawley was better suited to my needs on this day.

This park hosts rodeo events for the region, but when rodeo events aren’t taking place, there are grass covered, tree shaded lawns bordering the New River where birds can be easily accessible. I found a shaded area in the south parking area to park the RV, loaded up my camera gear, then walked out to roll the dice and see what birds might be on the menu this day.

Gila Woodpecker - Melanerpes uropygialis
Gila Woodpeckers, so common in Arizona, are less likey to be seen in California, except in the Imperial Valley. I met them on my final push home from Texas in 2020 and passed through Brawley, California where I paid a visit to Cattle Call Park.

Just as I entered the grassy area, the irrigation sprinklers cycled on, one zone at a time, adding a measure of difficulty to my quest. I danced my way through the sprinklers, waiting for the circling jets of water to swing in a favorable direction and allow me to pass without drenching my gear. I maneuvered my way into a dry zone and worked the scene there until the irrigation cycle switched on the set of sprinklers where I stood, forcing me to seek another zone. I had to repeatedly adjust my position to avoid getting soaked. It seemed as if the birds were also exploiting the sprinklers and swooping in on areas the sprinklers had just finished. I suspect they knew from experience that insects and other invertebrates were stimulated and flushed from hiding by the water, giving them access to this food source.

Anyone who’s observed flycatchers knows they have favorite perches. From these places they often fly out to snag an insect, then return the same perch. This makes them an easier target for photography than other birds. I was able to exploit this knowledge to capture images of the male Vermilion Flycatcher here at the park. I caught only a few looks of his mate. I suspect she may have been tending eggs or young. The midday sun was very warm during my stay, and I noticed in many of my images, the subjects had a wide gape. There wasn’t much vocalizing in the neighborhood. These birds were just hot! Momma Vermilion Flycatcher may have been sheltering her brood from the harsh noontime heat.

Forty-five minutes later it was time for me to move on and complete my trip over the mountains. By mid-afternoon I was back home and all that remained for me was to tell the stories I’d stored up for the past several weeks I’d been on the road.

Thus endeth the journey!

(PS: This post completes the story of my 2020 Texas Expedition. It took me two and a half weeks to get caught up. Now I’m dreaming of another road-trip!)

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