Salton Sea Birds


Today Kongo embarked upon a trip around the Salton Sea to look for birds and anything else that might be there.  It’s migration season and the monkey wasn’t disappointed.  It turns out that the Salton Sea is a major layover on the Pacific Flyway for annual bird migrations and has the most diverse bird population on the West Coast with over 400 identified species throughout the year.

The Salton Sea is actually a lake but a very salty one as there is no outflow of water.  It’s 25% saltier than the Pacific Ocean but less salty than the Great Salt Lake in Utah.  In the image above thousands of snow geese cluster near the edge of a large mud flat that used to be under water.  The size of the lake ebbs and flows depending upon rain and the rivers that flow into the basin and this has been a dry, dry year.  The Salton Sea formed in 1905 when the Colorado River flooded and flowed into the basin.

Snow geese.
Snow geese.
A group of yellow-footed gulls rest on a spit of land near the shore. The Salton Sea is the only place to find these birds in the United States
A large group of white pelicans near the north end of Salton Sea. The area is home to more than 25% of all the white pelicans in the United States
A couple of herons hunting for lunch
A couple of herons hunting for lunch

_MG_0089The lake has a rich aroma.  That’s being monkey nice for saying that it smells.  It doesn’t actually stink but it certainly does have a distinctive whiff.  It’s caused by the millions of dead and desiccated fish that line the shores of the sea, sometimes 30 to 50 yards away from the water.  There’s also a lot of agriculture in the area with all the ripe fertilizer smells that accompany a rich farming area.  And there’s the salty water itself.  Interesting place.

Now there are people who live around the lake.  Not many for sure but there are a few hardy souls here.   Back in the 1950s it was booked as a major tourist mecca (more on the mecca in a moment) and the area is still dotted with old weathered signs touting waterfront lots for sale.  Except that the waterfront isn’t there anymore.  The lake keeps shrinking and eventually it will go away.  Geologists estimate that in that past thousand years or so that the Salton Sea has formed and disappeared several times.  The dams on the Colorado River will keep that from happening again.

As promised, there is a Mecca on the lake.  As in Mecca, California and after briefly visiting Bombay Bach (shown in the following three images) and a place called North Shore it’s easy to see why the name Mecca works.  Mecca has a couple of gas stations, some places to eat, and a drugstore that was actually open.  This is indeed a Mecca compared to the little towns of North Shore and Bombay Bay a bit farther south.  Kongo had two tacos from a nice little taquería inside the Mercado Market (which is kind of funny since Mercado means market in Spanish so Kongo actually ate in a taco shop in Market Market) while he pumped some gas.  (No credit cards accepted).

One of the nice streets in Bombay Beach. Aptly named.
Former beach front property in Bombay Beach
The town of North Shore seems to be rapidly going south as evidenced by those abandoned and collapsing buildings in the center of town.

It’s actually a nice drive around the sea.  The eastern side has several areas where you can pull over and walk along the beach and hunt for birds.  The western side of the lake is a farther from the highway and you have to turn off in places like Desert Shores or Salton Sea City to get to the water.  By the time he got to that side of the water Kongo was homeward bound.  He had hot dogs to grill before dark and had to get moving.

A great place to start a tour of the Salton Sea is at the Sonny “I got you, babe” Bono National Wildlife Preserve that has a mile long nature trail that takes you out to a rocky overlook of the lake.  Along the way you can see quail, egrets, avocets, and snow geese in the right season.  The preserve is in the town of Calipatria about 40 miles north of El Centro.  There are nice areas to picnic and the mile trail is an easy walk.

The nature trail at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Preserve takes you to the top of this rocky outcrop overlooking the Salton Sea.
These snow geese (and the occasional Canadian Goose…they are the darker birds in mid frame) take advantage of the generous seeding program sponsored by the Wildlife Preserve to feed the migrating birds. It’s like a hotel with free breakfast included!

To get around the lake, see some birds, and take some pictures is a full day trip out of San Diego.  The monkey often sees the sea from his airplane seat on the approach to San Diego.  He knows that when he crosses the Salton Sea that he will lose his internet connection in about five minutes and has to shut down his computer and get ready to text Mrs. Kongo to leave the cell phone lot and meet him at Terminal 2.  Today Kongo logged 380 miles on his car with the top down so he got a bit of a sun glow that he will use to show off to his colleagues when he gets back to the Polar Vortex land, Philadelphia, tomorrow evening.

Travel safe.  Have fun.


9 thoughts on “Salton Sea Birds

  1. Wow! You sure had a better day birding than we did about a decade ago, but I think we saw the western and southern shores. We had visited after touring Anza Borrego. It certainly has its own unique vibe. What beautiful snow geese! And good luck in Polar Vortex 2 – my hubby is up there surviving it too.

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