We drove through Borrego Springs en route to the state park headquarters passing some of the famous metal sculptures by Ricardo Breceda.
We made it to the visitor center and stopped for some cold water and to ask about wildflowers and hawks. I had heard about the migration of Swainson's Hawks here and wanted to get the latest info. Conveniently the person we asked was Terry Hunefeld, a name I recognized when I read it on his name tag, but did not figure out till later. He was super friendly and helpful and gave us the scoop on wildflowers as well as the hawks. I realized he is also the local eBird reviewer, and he had emailed me about a Vermilion Flycatcher I reported on my last visit.
There are plenty of birds around the visitor center and we spent some time wandering around the area.
On our last trip out here I only saw one Cactus Wren, a brief sighting by a motel on the main drag, so I was very pleased to find a pair hanging out right by the visitor center this time.
From the visitor center we headed out to the spots Terry had shown us for wildflowers. Somehow we did not notice them on our way east, but on our return the flowers were blatantly obvious. Apparently I did not take photos of them because I was so distracted by all the white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars.
These juicy nuggets are everywhere out there, and are the main reason all the Swainson's Hawks stop over. We were excited to arrive at the Hawkwatch sight with hopes of seeing a view like this. Unfortunately the birds dropped down low as they arrived and we could barely see them as they flew in.
Finding a motel proved a huge challenge as it is apparently desert season as well as spring break. We finally found a place with ridiculously expensive rooms and took it. Oh well. The next morning I was eager to get up before sunrise and check out the Borrego Springs WTP settling ponds, as there were reports of Phainopeplas and Crissal Thrashers. Sunni opted to sleep in, and hopefully got some of our money's worth out of that hotel room.
I had some leftover pie and bad hotel room coffee, then drove out to the spot. Just as the sun was rising I heard a thrasher song and made my way towards it. Unfortunately the bird was strongly backlit and I still don't know if it was a Crissal or a California. Like they say, birding is hard.
I tried to make it around the shrub to see the bird not silhouetted, but it disappeared without singing again. At least there were piles of Phainopeplas making me wonder how the hell I had managed to miss this bird on previous desert trips. Also, it was beautiful.
When I got back to the car I found these tracks.
I went back to the hotel to cash in my free coffee card and pick up Sunni to head out for some hiking. We drove down to the Yaqui Well Trail near the Tamarisk Campground.
It was a nice short hike with Brewer's Sparrows being the most abundant bird. Lizards made a strong showing as well.
We stopped for lunch at the same place we had lunch on our last visit, Pablito's, and headed back out in the heat to hike by Pena Spring in the Culp Valley area. The higher elevation made for more bearable temperatures (upper 80's) combined with a pleasant breeze.
The spring should have been a third of a mile from the trailhead and we were a mile up this hill when we decided to turn around. It was an amazing view at least.
A couple of Black-throated Sparrows on the hike down were the only ones of my trip.
When we returned to the trail head we found another sign for the spring pointing in a different direction, so we tried that one too.
This California Thrasher was stuffing its bill with snacks along the trail. I hate heavy crops like this next one, but I love that it has two different critters in its bill:
In the end, we never found the spring. We tipped our sweaty hats to this Phainopepla and bid the desert farewell.
Good times!!!! More to come from southern CA!