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03 - 12 November 2001

by Mike Tanis

Gabi and I flew on an evening US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Las Vegas.  The flight was nearly full, likely the result of merging two pre-Sept 11 flights (our flight number and time had been changed by the airline).  Airport check-in and security only took a few minutes longer than in the past.  I'm not sure if it was too comforting that things seemed so "normal." We had chosen a Las Vegas flight because at the time of our purchase (in August) we got a much better fare to LV than San Diego.  Rental car costs were also somewhat lower out of LV.  We arrived at the Alamo desk at around 11pm (LV time, for us now 2am) to find a line of about 30 customers waiting for cars.  We finally walked out of the Alamo office at about midnight with keys to our not-thoroughly-cleaned Chevy Malibu (10 days, final cost $244 with an "Entertainment Book" discount).  Stayed at Wellesley Inn on Flamingo Rd in LV ($49, reserved one day earlier via internet).

Saturday Nov 3

We got a late start and spent most of the day driving to San Diego.  We made an hour-long stop for birding at Lake Hodges south of Escondido CA.  Eventually I got a short glimpse of California gnatcatcher after about 45 minutes.  Other birds there were Osprey, Northern harrier, California towhee, Spotted towhee, and Chipping sparrow.  We stayed at the Buena Vista B&B in La Jolla which had nice views, close access to the LaJolla oceanfront, friendly hosts, hummingbird feeder, comfortable room, jacuzzi, and swimming pool ($110 per night).  It was rather gloomy and cool for the three days in San Diego, so we made use of the jacuzzi each night.

Sunday Nov 4

Local birder John Walters had offered to join us for a morning of birding, so we arranged a meeting and went to San Elijo Lagoon.  Highlights there were better views of California gnatcatcher, Merlin, California thrasher, Nuttall's woodpecker, Bushtit, Wrentit (h), (Large-billed) Savannah sparrow, many many (Audubon's) Yellow-rumped warblers, White and Brown pelicans, Western scrub-jay, and Lesser goldfinch.  Remember that highlights for me are viewed from an East Coast birder's perspective!  Many thanks to John for an enjoyable morning and helpful advice.  Anna's and Costa's hummingbirds were seen at the B&B feeder in the morning.  In the afternoon we drove downtown for a walk around the San Diego waterfront.

Monday Nov 5

This was our day to visit the San Diego Zoo, which is definitely a great zoo.  The enclosures were smaller than I expected, but maybe I had images of the related San Diego Wild Animal Park (which we did not visit) in my imagination.  Anyway, I suppose smaller enclosures mean the animals are closer to the visitors.  I was glad I took my binoculars along to the zoo, because the many aviaries provide an interesting simulated foreign birding experience.  Sure, the avifauna of various regions are juxtaposed a bit randomly, the "forests" are alarmingly populated with birds (but who's going to complain about that!), and, of course, nothing is countable.  But it is still a lot of fun.  Most visitors who pass through the aviaries probably see less than 1/5 of the birds because they really don't take the time to look around.  I found our limited time at the zoo passing much too quickly whenever we entered another aviary.

Tuesday Nov 6

Because our hot breakfast was not an option at an early hour, we left the house early and drove down to the ocean at La Jolla and went for a walk along the rocky beach.  It was cool and foggy but still a very beautiful morning to be outside.  There were plenty of birds and seals along the shore.  Highlights were Whimbrel, Rock sandpiper, Black turnstone, Brandt's cormorant, Surf scoters, Pacific loon, and Say's phoebe.

After breakfast, we drove north to Torrey Pines SP, one of my favorite places for walking in the San Diego area.  There we spent 1 1/2 hours wandering the trails to points overlooking the ocean.  For quite a while, we enjoyed watching a peregrine perched on a dead snag close to Razor Point.  Other highlights for us were Ravens, Surf scoters and Western grebes in the ocean, and a jaeger (probably Parasitic) which was chasing a gull.

From Torrey Pines we drove to Borrego Springs, enjoying the beautiful drive over the mountains through Julian.  Because of limited time, we didn't stop for any birding along the way.  Cuyamaca Lake, just south of Julian, looked like a good spot to try some birding (parking $6).  In Borrego Springs we stayed three nights there at The Palms at Indian Head ($89), which has only 10 rooms and is managed more like a B&B (although did not serve any breakfast this time of year).  It has a lovely property with lots of palms and a beautiful pool area.  The restaurant is also very nice as they have a number of tables outdoors on the patio by the pool.

The first night there, I went for an evening walk around the property and enjoyed an eye-level view of a very tolerant Great horned owl from 25 feet away.  This owl had a whitish face and pale overall coloring--is this the race B.v.  subarcticus?  There were also lots of Western bluebirds, Yellow-rumped warblers, Cedar waxwings, a few Common ground-doves, and Northern flickers feeding in and around the palms of the hotel every day (and bats at night).

Wednesday Nov 7

We woke up with the sunrise (lovely through the front window of our room), nibbled a snack, and set off on the premier hike of the Anza-Borrego SP, the 1.5 mile walk to the palm oasis of Borrego Palm Canyon.  The early morning light and cool temperatures made for a most enjoyable trip.  There were no other visitors that early, so we had the canyon to ourselves.  We failed to see the Bighorn sheep, but the highlight bird-wise was a male Scott's oriole at the palm oasis.  Also seen were Black-throated sparrow, Black-tailed gnatcatcher, numerous Costa's hummingbirds, and a Crissal thrasher.

For the afternoon we headed over to the Salton Sea.  At the bizarre "ghost development" of Salton City, we looked for the Yellow-footed gull which we failed to find.  There were many other shorebirds and gulls around, though.  Since we had received so many messages from BIRDCHAT folks saying that we wouldn't fail to find Burrowing owls on the irrigation ditches in the agricultural lands south of the Salton Sea, we eagerly made our way through the area, scanning dike and ditch.  We stopped at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR VC for advice.  After a couple of hours of searching mile after mile of roads, still no owls were seen, even in the areas suggested by the NWR staff!  Highlights near the Salton Sea were lots of Eared grebes, White pelicans, Snow geese, Canvasback, Long-billed curlew, Greater roadrunner, and Verdin.  I can't believe that I neglected to check the Snow geese for Ross's geese.  White geese for Easterners are virtually always Snow geese.  We retreated for the evening to Borrego Springs, a bit disappointed about the owls, although we were blessed with a spectacular desert sunset.

Thursday, Nov 8

After enjoying another sunrise from our room, we headed for breakfast at Kendall's Cafe, which makes great omelettes and some of the worst decaf coffee in southern California.  From there we went to the the Tamarisk Grove Campground (also in Anza-Borrego SP), where we spent the morning walking the Yaqui Well and Cactus Loop trails.  Bird highlights here were Loggerhead shrike, Phainopepla, Verdin, and Oak titmouse.  In the afternoon we made the drive back to the south end of the Salton Sea in another attempt for the Burrowing owls; another couple of hours of searching met with the same lack of success.  Can anyone provide an obvious explanation why we didn't find any owls?  We were there around mid-day both days (1-3:30pm, sunset was around 5pm), and it was warm (85-90 degrees).  Also, there was quite of bit of hay cutting and bailing in progress.  Maybe all the owls were out in the hayfields chasing insects?

Friday, Nov 9

We drove from Borrego Springs to LA via Palm Springs.  But first I wanted a quick stop to at least make a token attempt for LeConte's thrasher near the Clark Dry Lake just east of Borrego Springs.  This was recommended as the best spot in the area to try for the thrasher, although I was warned by more than one person that the odds were very poor outside of breeding (singing) season.  We drove our rental car down the dirt road to where it forks, although for the best chance at thrasher, it was recommended to go all the way to the rock crusher, a large piece of yellow machinery already visible from where we parked.  I walked nearly to the edge of the Dry Lake, maybe 3/4 mile, without hearing a single sound, and turned to head back to the car.  Almost immediately I heard a soft "weep." Before long, I spotted a pair of LeConte's thrashers doing their best to elude my view.  Eventu ally I enjoyed some pretty good looks as they hopped through the thin brush and ran along the ground.

From there we continued on to the Palm Springs area for breakfast and a brief look at the town.  Around noon we left Palm Springs, drove through the wind farm of San Gorgonio Pass, and up into the mountains behind Palm Springs on SR 243.  We spent half an hour birding and walking at lovely Fulmor Lake but otherwise had little time for birding.  Highlights there were Mountain chickadee, Stellar's jay, Acorn woodpecker, and long eye-level looks at a cooperative Red-breasted sapsucker.  Also here we saw the first American robins of the trip--what an unexpected pleasure to take a trip where you can find 100 other species before Am.  robin!

We continued on to the LA Hollywood area where we spent the remainder of our nights at Elaine's Hollywood B&B ($60).  We didn't look for Spotted dove in LA; in fact, we did no birding at all, only sightseeing.  On the final day we returned to Las Vegas for an evening of mostly looking at the new casinos, returning the rental car, and preparing for our red-eye back to Philadelphia.


H = Lake Hodges
E = San Elijo Lagoon
L = LaJolla coast, Torrey Pines State Park
B = Borrego springs area
S = Salton Sea area
I = Idyllwild area of San Bernardino National Forest

..L...  Pacific loon
..L.S.  Pied-billed grebe
....S.  Eared grebe
..L...  Western grebe
.EL.S.  Brown pelican
.E..S.  White pelican
.EL.S.  Double-crested cormorant
..L...  Brandt's cormorant
HEL.S.  Great blue heron
.E..S.  Great egret
.E..S.  Snowy egret
....S.  Cattle egret
....S.  White-faced ibis
....S.  Snow goose
.E....  Green-winged teal
.EL.S.  Mallard
.E..S.  Northern pintail
.E..S.  Northern shoveler
.E..S.  Gadwall
.E....  American wigeon
....S.  Canvasback
....S.  Lesser scaup
..L...  Surf scoter
....S.  Bufflehead
....S.  Ruddy duck
....S.  Turkey vulture
HEL.SI  Osprey
HEL.S.  Northern harrier
.E..S.  Cooper's hawk
HELBSI  Red-tailed hawk
.ELBS.  American kestrel
.E....  Merlin
.EL...  Peregrine falcon
....S.  Sora (h)
.EL.S.  American coot
..L.S.  Black-bellied plover
..L...  Semipalmated plover
....S.  Killdeer
.E..S.  Black-necked stilt
.E..S.  American avocet
.E..S.  Greater yellowlegs
.EL.S.  Willet
..L...  Spotted sandpiper
..L...  Whimbrel
....S.  Long-billed curlew
..L...  Ruddy turnstone
..L...  Black turnstone
..L...  Surfbird
..L...  Sanderling
.EL...  Western sandpiper
....S.  Least sandpiper
....S.  Long-billed dowitcher
..L...  Parasitic jaeger
....S.  Bonaparte's gull
.EL...  Heermann's gull
....S.  Ring-billed gull
.EL.S.  Herring gull
....S.  Caspian tern
.E....  Royal tern
.E..S.  Forster's tern
......  Rock dove (common in cities)
HELBS.  Mourning dove
...B..  Common ground-dove
....S.  Greater roadrunner
...B..  Great horned owl
.E....  White-throated swift
.ELBSI  Anna's hummingbird
..LB..  Costa's hummingbird
.E...I  Belted kingfisher
.....I  Acorn woodpecker
.....I  Red-breasted sapsucker
.E....  Nuttall's woodpecker
...BS.  Northern flicker
HELBSI  Black phoebe
..LBS.  Say's phoebe
....S.  Horned lark
......  Tree swallow (from highway)
.EL...  Western scrub-jay
.....I  Steller's jay
HELBSI  American crow
..LBSI  Common raven
.....I  Mountain chickadee
...B.I  Oak titmouse
...BS.  Verdin
.....I  White-breasted nuthatch
...B..  Cactus wren
...B..  Rock wren
...B..  Canyon wren
.EL...  Bewick's wren
.EL...  House wren
.E..S.  Marsh wren
HE....  Ruby-crowned kinglet
...B..  Black-tailed gnatcatcher
HE....  California gnatcatcher
...B..  Western bluebird
.....I  American robin
.E....  Wrentit
HELBSI  Northern mockingbird
...B..  LeConte's thrasher
...B..  Crissal thrasher
.E....  California thrasher
....S.  American pipit
...B..  Cedar waxwing
...B..  Phainopepla
...BS.  Loggerhead shrike
HELBSI  European starling
HELBSI  Yellow-rumped warbler
H..B..  Spotted towhee
HELB..  California towhee
...B..  Black-throated sparrow
HE..S.  Savannah sparrow
...B..  Song sparrow
H.....  Chipping sparrow
HELBSI  White-crowned sparrow
....S.  Red-winged blackbird
....S.  Western meadowlark
....S.  Brewer's blackbird (also downtown SD)
....S.  Great-tailed grackle
....S.  Brown-headed cowbird
...B..  Scott's oriole
HEL...  House finch
.E....  Lesser goldfinch
..LBS.  House sparrow

Mike and Gabi Tanis
Wayne PA