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All roads are paved, except for the dikes at Johnson's Landing
Approximate Length: 14 miles
Approximate Birding Time: 2.25 hours
Traffic: Practically non-existent at the birding spots; light along South Marina Drive
Facilities: None along the route (the restrooms at Johnson's Landing have been closed).
Directions: From Borrego Springs, follow S-22 east to highway 86, and cross over the highway into Salton City. Follow the main road as it curves to the left and turns into Marina Drive. For the first stop, turn right on Sea View (about three miles from the highway) where there's a sign for Salton City RV Park. At the "T" at Salton Bay turn right, and then left at the next "T" which is Crystal Avenue. Turn left on Crystal Court and begin birding here.
While the south end of the Salton Sea is by far the most productive (and popular) place for birders, Salton City is an easy place to pick up some of the area specialties if you happen to be in the Borrego Springs area, as it's a straight shot east from there. The place is usually stuffed with birds any time of year, but winter is of course more bearable heat-wise. Then again, your best chance at Yellow-footed Gull is during the warmer months, particularly August and September! The gulls can theoretically be found anywhere along this route, but Crystal Court seems to be a good spot for the Yellowfoots, as well as Bonaparte's, California, and Ring-billed Gulls, and Caspian and Black Terns in large numbers, and on rare occasions Gull-billed Tern and Black Skimmer. In winter, the Yellowfoots are replaced by Herring Gulls with the occasional Mew, Thayer's, or Glaucous-winged. Shorebirds like this inlet as well: Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets are common year-round, and Western and Least Sandpipers, both dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, and occasionally Wilson's Phalaropes, Dunlin, and Red Knots show up during migration or in winter. (Summertime shorebirds, with the exception of stilts, avocets, Killdeer, and Snowy Plovers, are considered notable sightings.) At the end of the road check the Sea for Eared Grebes and pelicans of both flavors, Ruddy Ducks, and Double-crested Cormorants, and the shoreline for herons. This is a good spot for wintering ducks as well; Northern Shovelers seem to be most numerous, but out in the open water you might spot Common Goldeneye, which is rather rare. Keep an eye and ear out for land birds in the neighborhood as well: Greater Roadrunner, Northern Mockingbird, Western Kingbird (summer), Verdin, and Great-tailed Grackle like this area. Watch for Eurasian Collared Doves amongst the Mournings. Back at the RV park, check the blackbirds carefully; although I've not encountered them during this project, Bronzed Cowbirds have been found here.
The inlet at Crystal Court
View at the end of Salton Bay Drive
Retrace your route back to Marina Drive and turn right. Go another half mile (approximately) to Sea Port Avenue, where you'll see a sign for Martin Flora Park. Turn right here, but take the road all the way to the end first (I believe this is locally known as "Pelican Island"). The little cove on the right can be dead, but often has many birds, including Yellow-footed and Laughing Gulls in season. Rarities can show up here as well, and sometimes Blue-winged Teal seem to be outnumbering Cinnamons here. This can be another good spot to get reasonably close-up looks at shorebirds from your car as well. On the way out you can check the shoreline and water between you and Johnson's Landing, as the lighting is good from this angle (one winter a Lesser Black-backed Gull showed up here in the throng). You can also make a quick stop at Martin Flora Park (if it's open), driving down to the end of the lot (but don't attempt to drive on the actual shoreline!) Walk out into the muck and you'll see what they mean...
Cove between Sea Port and Johnson's Landing
Heed the signs at Martin Flora Park!
Get back onto Marina Drive, turn right again, and then right on the entrance road to Johnson's Landing. Listen for Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds in the flowers of the little motel there at the entrance! The two dikes off to the right are worth checking for Large-billed Savannah Sparrows in winter. There's often a Snowy Plover among the shorebirds just before the dikes as well, and in summer look for Gull-billed Terns among the Caspians and Forster's. This is also a good spot for rarities; an Inca Dove showed up at the restrooms once, we found a dead Parasitic Jaeger here on another occasion (others have found live ones...), and one year I had a Blue-footed Booby here, so anything's possible!
Dike at Johnson's Landing
Optional hike: West Shore Nature Trail + (the trail can be soft or slick in spots) When you leave the area, turn right at your first opportunity and follow the road all the way down to its terminus at Palm Spring RV Park, where you can take their nature trail as an optional hike (donation requested). This easy 30-minute loop hike is a good chance to pick up a few desert songbirds such as Bewick's Wren, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin, and Say's Phoebe year-round, and Ash-throated Flycatcher in summer. During migration watch for swallows of various sorts, and migrants in the tamarisks. Crowds of water birds line the sea, but they can be distant; there are periodic benches where you can sit and try to pick out things through the heat waves! On the loop back check the feeders for Mourning Doves year round and sparrows (especially White-crowned) in winter. A drive around the little golf course is definitely worthwhile, as often Greater Roadrunners will be poking around the greens like giant robins, and Horned Larks, American Pipits (winter), and Western Meadowlarks often hang out here as well. In summer Red-winged Blackbirds can go through in droves.
West Shores Nature Trail
Habitat along the trail
Side trail to the feeders
Personal Checklist ●=small numbers █ = large numbers (10+)
Please keep in mind that these lists are NOT comprehensive, and that some months may have had poor overall coverage. Species in red are irruptive, out-of-place, or vagrant species and should not be expected. For more info see Birds of the Salton Sea by Patten, McCaskie, and Unitt.
|American White Pelican||█||●||█||█||█||█||█||█||█|
|Great Blue Heron||█||█||●||●||●||●||█||█||█||█||█|
|Black-crowned Night Heron||●|
|Greater White-fronted Goose||█|
|Lesser Black-backed Gull||●|
|Eurasian Collared Dove||█||●||●||●||●|
|Northern Rough-winged Swallow||●||●||●|
|"Large-billed" Savannah Sparrow||●||●||●|
*Summertime sightings of any loon are notable!
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