Salton Sea SRA, CA - July 2015

T and I spent the weekend in Cathedral City near Palm Springs at a friend's birthday party so before heading back to LA we decided to visit the Salton Sea. Both of us had been before but in November (see blog posts from 2010 and 2012) and I wondered what differences we would see in the summer - mainly what birds would be there.

Both times I had been there before I had driven from LA over Mount St. Jacinto to the sea which is at least a 4-hour drive one-way so I'd only been to the most easily accessible part of the sea (mainly the State Recreation Area headquarters and Bombay Beach on the east side of the sea).

This time, since we were already out there, my plan was to drive to the southernmost point of the sea to check out the National Wildlife Refuge near Calipatria. At that point you're only about 40 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Then we could drive back up on the west side of the sea closer to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Here's where it is:

There were two interrelated elements I didn't take into account when devising my plan: the heat and the flies. These were our ultimate downfall.

As we drove south on 111 on the east side of the sea we decided to stop at the SRA headquarters to snap some photos and when we opened the car doors about 50 flies (that is not an exaggeration) rushed into the car and onto us, ravenous for some moisture (which was abundant on our immediately sweaty skin!).

We snapped a few photos in this area but every time you stopped moving the flies would swarm, making it pretty difficult for T to get any photos (since he was shooting on film with manual focus and prime lenses). The birds were shorebirds that I regularly see near the beaches in LA - Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, Black-crowned Night Heron, Snowy Egret and Great Egret - but set against the still sea, with the hills beyond, there was something different about them.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Once we'd had all the flies we could take we jumped back into the car, drove fast with the windows down to attempt to rid the car of flies and continued driving south towards the bottom of the sea.

We stopped at Bombay Beach to see how it had changed, if at all, with the drought. This area is always a bit eerie because it used to be a resort and was abandoned, so remnants of it remain, encrusted with salt and partially submerged in the water. As with the rest of the sea, rotting fish carcases dot the shore.

Here, we saw some Black-neck Stilts along with some birds I'd never seen at the sea before - American Avocet.

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

I also don't think I've seen such recently dead fish at the sea. Some still retained their colors.

And a new lizard sighting for me as well - Mojave Zebra-tailed lizard

Mojave Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides ssp. rhodostictus)

Mojave Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides ssp. rhodostictus)
Here are a couple of the photos T took on film:

At this point we were very hot and sweaty and sick of swatting flies but I pushed on south to see what the next turn-off would be. At least then we'd get a tiny bit farther south than I'd been before. The next area is the Wister Waterfowl Management Area, but either it was closed or we missed the turnoff. We couldn't find the road to turn down.

Also, even though we were still quite a bit north of the border, there was a border check point for northbound traffic. We decided it was time to start the 3-hour drive back to LA.

I still want to come back sometime and visit the southernmost part of the sea, but I'll do it in the winter without the flies and the sweat and the stench (well, it always does smell a bit, even in the winter . . .).

Let's hope something is done to prevent the complete drying up of the sea which is expected to happen in the next few years, possibly resulting in somewhat toxic dust problems and the destruction of habitats important for migrating bird populations. See more here in this episode of Tom explores LA.

For more of my photos from the Salton Sea check out my Flickr set.