Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pelicans ~ Salton Sea ~ California

The Salton Sea is one of the world’s largest inland seas and at 69m (227 ft) below sea level is also one of the lowest places on earth.  35 miles long and 15 miles wide, the Salton is located just south of Palm Springs on Hwy 111 and considered one of the world’s most vital avian habitats so that sounds to me, like a great place to take my camera.

A view of the Salton Sea with the rocky shoreline
The Salton Sea, California
History of the sea goes back zillions of years but it became a barren dry bed until a temporary diversion of the Colorado River caused flooding and began filling it in 1905. They began finding breeding colonies of several birds and the rest is history.  The water comes in through 3 rivers which all contain levels of salt but water evaporates leaving behind the salt, which with such high levels now does cause problems.  For more on that, click here.

The egret is seen fishing along the water's edge.
An egret on the Salton Sea, CA
We are here to see the birds and there are plenty of birds to see, some of them slightly different from those we are familiar with, others are very different.  I love to see birds as long as they keep their distance and not get too close to me and I think they feel the same way.  A great zoom lens is going to be my favorite accessory today!

The yellow footed gulls are only found in this area and Gulf of Mexico.
Yellow footed gulls on Salton Sea, CA
We’ve visited the Salton Sea State Park in the past and had seen many gulls but it wasn’t until I began reading my info that I realized that these gulls are not the same as our Western gulls back home but are a yellow footed gull and this is the only area in the U.S. where you will find them.  Now that makes them special.  These gulls, with a population of 60,000 are slightly larger than the Western gull with a wing span up to 140-160cm (55”-63”) and I’m sure we saw most of them here today. 
The egret rests on the rock at the point in the state park.
A Snowy Egret overlooks the fish in Salton Sea.
The Snowy Egret can usually be found at the Salton Sea and we often see one in our RV park when he stops to visit the pond.  They get a green neon patch on their face and the long plume on their back for breeding season and it was due to the plumes that the Snowy Egret almost became extinct.  In the days previous to the late nineteenth century, the plumes were used for ladies hats and this had to be stopped to save these beautiful birds.
We can see four herons sitting in the trees
Four Great Blue Herons at Salton Sea State Park, CA
The Great Blue Heron can usually be seen any season of the year and they nest here in the springtime.  They are the largest of the herons of North America with a wingspan up to 2m (6.6’) and stand almost as tall as a 6’ person.  They can live in saltwater and fresh water, open coasts, marshes, riverbanks and even backyard fish ponds and we’ve seen that happen while visiting friends in Lake Arrowhead, CA.

White sand along the beach and snowcapped mountains for background.
Snowcapped mountains surround the Salton Sea, CA
I had read that pelicans are among the thousands of birds that flock to the Salton Sea so I am anxious to see some of them on our adventure of the day.  We had seen both brown and white pelicans on our travels on the Texas waterfront a few years ago and have seen a few white ones as they’d passed through Kamloops, BC but I was hoping to see a lot more of them today.

The white pelicans are gathered together at the waters edge
Flock of White Pelicans at the Salton Sea, CA
I was not disappointed in my pelican search!  What was a white mass of birds way down on a secluded part of the beach turned out to be a flock of Great White Pelicans.  I stayed far enough off the water’s edge behind some shrubs so as not to disturb them as I made my way down there, found myself a good hiding spot and took 160 photos within minutes. To say I was excited would be an understatement! 
Most of the pelicans are watching the flying ones at the end of the line.
White pelicans with all eyes right!
Up to 80% of the White pelican population has been seen on the Salton Sea.  These pelicans are the second largest bird, (the largest is the California Candor) and have a wing span of 240-300 cm (95”-120”), now that is a huge bird.  I was thankful to have a good zoom lens which meant I could stay quite a long way away from these beauties.

A pelican is arriving near the flock of pelicans gathered on the beach.
Pelican coming in for a landing on the Salton Sea, CA
The pelicans look all white but they have the black tips on the wings which show when they fly, and I was able to get some in flight in those 160 photos, loving that zoom lens. (:  I sure don’t want to be anywhere near flying birds, let alone really big ones, but they seemed oblivious to me, and were staying on the water’s edge on this windy day. 

colors brighten in breeding season
The beaks are getting brighter
The white pelicans bill, eyes and feet all turn a brighter orange color during breeding time then those colors fade out afterwards.  They also have a ‘horn’ on their upperbill that will fall off after they breed and lay their eggs. There are differences in the colors of these pelican’s bills in the photos, some are brighter than others as breeding time is coming. 

These pelicans have nice white feathers to show off
Feathers on these pelicans are bright white
Their feathers are a beautiful bright white at this time of year but that will change a bit after breeding time and the breast feathers become a bit yellowed.  That doesn’t happen till May or June so I am disappointed we won’t be here to see the babies that will come from this flock.  They'll be all grown up before we see them next year.

White pelicans at their winter home on the Salton Sea, CA
White Pelicans on the beach of the Salton Sea, CA
I had a difficult time choosing only a few photos to share of all that I had taken but those White Pelicans do all look alike.  I only hope I was able to show what an incredible sight this actually was, one I shall not forget.  Blue sky, sunshine and pelicans! What a wonderful way to spend some time at the beach!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Coachella Valley Preserve ~ 1000 Palm Canyon ~ California

The dictionary definition of oasis as “fertile or green spot in the desert, made so by the presence of water”.  This doesn’t come close to what it is really like for our visit today!  The Mojave desert offers a few oases in the Coachella Valley and we have visited a couple of them but this one several times. We think they are a very special place to share so come along with us to visit some of the Coachella Valley Preserve.
The tall trees of the oasis at the Visitor Center
Coachella Valley Preserve, Palm Springs, CA
The Coachella Valley Preserve covers some 13,000 acres in the Thousand Palms Canyon and it was dedicated in 1986. We first stop at the Palm Cabin, the visitor center which is an old log cabin and has several interesting displays to view, we drop off a donation and pick up a map with the intention of hiking more trails one day. They also have a washroom at this location.
We have a sandy path to follow to the oasis.
The oasis is seen in the distance
We enjoy the easy access to this oasis and parking as well as the free visit, everyone likes a deal like that. There are a few trails to choose from but we head to McCallum Grove.  Always take your own drinking water and good walking shoes are best.  They have picnic tables near the Visitor Center if you’re inclined to stay awhile to enjoy the oasis.
We are able to cross over the water on the wooden walks
Wooden walkway crosses the water at the oasis
Changes to protect the natural habitat have happened over the past years that we have visited the oasis which includes some of the wooden walkways that go over the boggy sections when you leave the Visitor Center.  Cattail and salt grass are found in the streams and seeps like this one.

The tall trees of the oasis
Fan Palm trees in the oasis
Desert Fan Palm trees are common for the oases in this desert and here is where you will find one of the largest groves of Date Fan Palms in the state.  They will grow to 15 metres (50’) tall and as the old leaves drop over the trunk, they appear to be a skirt, great homes for little critters. In late summer the palm fruits are eaten by birds and mammals such as the coyote, fox and woodrats in the area.
The fringe-toed lizard scurries across the sand
The fringe-toed lizard of the Coachella Valley Preserve
The Coachella Valley Preserve is home to many rare plants and animals that would be found nowhere else on earth.  Fortunately, some like the fringe-toed lizard, a little guy who grows to 5-7” long, are being protected in this area.  There are a total of 108 animal species that inhabit the preserve.

The smoke tree branches reach out
The  Smoke Tree of the Mojave
The Smoke tree is so named because it looks like a puff of smoke from a distance.  It will grow as tall as 6 metres (18’) and is found in the Mojave and Sonoran desert.  This one covers a large area as it rambles over the sand.  Another native plant is the Honey Mesquite which grows even larger. Cattle spinach is also found in the desert and is a high value food source for cattle and native browsers.
We cross the desert to get to the McCallum Pond at the Grove
The McCallum Grove in Coachella Valley Preserve
We follow McCallum Trail, the sandy trail to McCallum Pond on a beautiful sunny day to see this special place once again. The area is kept quite natural with fallen fronds laying about but they also do a lot of work to keep it clean and safe to visit with the main objective, undoubtedly, to protect the natural habitat. 
This cluster of trees offers shade in McCallum Grove
Huge fan palms in the oasis
The size of the trees is so deceiving from the distance.  Then you get in among them and find them to be monstrous; you can see how big they are compared to our young grandson.  This shaded area is cleared with benches for resting and just enjoying the wonder around us but this visit was a quick stop here as our grandson was having fun and wanted to see more.

the scene is peaceful as we enjoy the pond
McCallum Pond in Coachella Valley Preserve
The Mission Creek branch of the San Andreas Fault runs nearby and is the source for the water we see when we cross the Fault line to the McCallum Pond.  The Fault creates an underground dam that forces water to surface as springs, and that is what you will see here at the oasis.  I wasn’t sure what the San Andreas Fault would look like on our first visit but we do not see a big crack in the ground here, we see water.

This coot is the only one we see on our visit today
The coot enjoys the quiet of the pond 
There are also some benches here that one can rest on while enjoying the peaceful pond.  We can usually spot a bird or duck enjoying the water, too.  The pond has several nooks and crannies to see with a different view of the pond from all of them.
the pond shows reflections of the towering trees
McCallum Pond at McCallum Grove
No matter the age, most would be able to walk into the McCallum Pond. I would not recommend anything with wheels like strollers as the sand would be difficult. This hike is not a challenging one other than the distance being about 3 km (2 mi) roundtrip. We have taken many of our family and friends in, young and older. We met an 85 yr old hiker with some of her senior friends on our last visit so if you’re in the area, go and enjoy the oases at the Coachella Valley Preserve, click here to learn more.


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