2023 Continental Expedition Begins

Finally, I’m on the road. I launched at about 3pm last Monday, driving through Ramona and Santa Ysabel, then dropping into the Borrego Valley down Montezuma Pass. It is one of my favorite routes east from San Diego. The route carries me past a fairly reliable location in the Henshaw Valley to find Tricolored Blackbirds in mixed flocks with Red-Wings and other blackbirds. 

I needed to begin working with my new Nikon Z9 mirrorless camera, so when I spotted a group of blackbirds bathing in a roadside vernal pool, I pulled off the road to spend a few minutes enjoying their company. The TriColors proved too shy of my camera, so I worked out on the Red-Wings and a bathing Raven. I didn’t spend very much time with these birds, but it was enough to test my settings in the camera and try out the focusing system. 

I discovered that I still have much to learn about getting the most from my new gear. I found the software that I use for my image processing work-flow mostly worked, except my database program (ThumbsPlus) wasn’t able to decipher the RAW images, and rendered a scramble of colored pixels. The Z9 uses several compression methods for its RAW files, so later I tried one of the other available styles today and found it fixed the problem. 

I can’t be sure that the weather will hold out, but the storms pounding the coast haven’t reached the desert here yet. After breakfast at Kendall’s Cafe in Borrego Springs, I drove up to the Anza-Borrego visitor center and continued testing out my equipment on the few birds that I found meandering through the grounds. I then drove over Yaqui Pass to Tamarisk Grove, where things got more interesting birdwise. There have been reports of Long-Eared Owls in the grove, but despite all my efforts, I did not find a single owl.

While the owl shortage was a disappointment, the songbird visits were much more interesting. There were no real unusual birds I found, but the lesser goldfinches, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, Black-Tailed Gnatcatchers, Orange-Crowned Warblers, and Hummingbirds were more than enough to satisfy my need for testing out my new camera.

Hermit Thrush - Catharus guttatus
It’s unlikely that this Hermit Thrush will stay here in the Anza-Borrego for the summer, but its ‘snowbird’ lifestyle loves its time here in winters.

There were two birds that I found especially pleasing to meet; a black throated gray warbler and a hermit thrush. I’ve yet to study the images I captured, but the potential is for some satisfying images in the bunch that I took.

I left Tamarisk Grove and drove to the Salton Sea, which is not far from Anza-Borrego, perhaps a half hour’s drive. One of my old regular stops is at Poe Road, but I got a rude surprise when I realized the site was now a major construction project. Despite the signs warning of the construction, I soldiered on and explored the old roadway that had been undisturbed for decades here. When I reached the end of the road, where a vehicle could no longer progress, my mood improved because there seemed to be new habitat I had not experienced here before. There has always been a ditch that drains the ag-fields to the south towards the sea at this location into a marshy wetland. The old wetland seems to have been cannibalized by the earth eating machines, and now the mouth of the drainage ditch seems to be supporting cattails and freshwater ponds further north. 

I don’t know how long this development has been going on, because I haven’t visited here in several years, choosing to explore southern Texas instead of my usual visits to the Salton Sea. Tomorrow I will try to stop by the visitor center on the other side of the sea, and I will ask about their view of what is going on here. (When I reached the visitor center, the staff that would have known were all working in the field. <sigh>)

At the end of this road at Poe Road, I observed a wealth of waterfowl and a smattering of shorebirds. Northern Shovelers proved skittish and nearly every one rose in flight, retreating from my approach. But the Ruddy Ducks seemed more tolerant of my presence and remained. American Avocets, Killdeer, Western Sandpipers, and Least Sandpipers forged in the mud flats around the freshwater ponds. In the marshes were singing Marsh Wrens, Common Yellow-Throats, Song Sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Say’s Phoebe, and a Northern Harrier on patrol.

The shoreline for the Salton Sea is still a considerable distance away from the end of the access road here, but I could see there were bird congregations directly out from my view over the swamp. I could not tell from my position what species were out there, but it was good to see some life forms still making use of this dwindling, yet still vast water source.

Near day’s end, I was approached by a young man from the construction company and asked to vacate the area. Despite Poe Road being a public road, they were claiming exclusive control. It didn’t sound right to me, but I complied, and found a different location to boondock for the night.

Because I took so many pictures at Anza-Borrego this day, I felt I’d had my quota for the day and I did not take any pictures at Poe road when I pulled in. I toured my usual haunts at the southern end of the Salton Sea, but overnight the weather turned, and rain dampened all the roadways, turning the dry dust into sticky mud. I was too late to meet geese or cranes here, so I refrained from more picture-taking and had breakfast in Niland at the Buckshot Cafe, with still more image editing to sort out. Two days later, while parked outside of Yuma, I finally completed the task of getting the yarn spun and sharing here on the website. With so many miles ahead, and so many yarns yet to spin, I hope I can get more efficient on future posts.

Click map markers to reveal further information