Previously seen on Cleaning Up in SoSoCal:

California Gnatcatcher. NO Pacific Golden-Plover. Wandering Tattler. Clapper Rail, barely. Footlong turkey on honey oat. Bell’s Vireo.



After my departure from the Bell’s Vireo spot, it’s a brief trip through the San Diego suburbs and then a long haul through nothingness. It’s a good opportunity to ponder one’s place in the universe. And to snap some iPhone pics of the stuff one is passing.
Always nice to know you have 63 miles of anything to look forward to.
Stop the presses!
By and by, I arrive.

3:50 pm. Jacumba, CA. Targets: Tricolored Blackbird, Harris’s Hawk.

Yes, my next location is an entire town. Or rather, a small settlement, an outpost on the Mexican border. Jacumba, or “J-Town” as the locals call it, is small enough that the online bird reports don’t refer to specific locations within it; it’s just: Jacumba. In fact, it’s small enough to have an adorable community Facebook page. (My favorite post from the J-Town account: “The lake is filling up very slowly.”)

So I figure I’ll just show up and somehow know what to do.

For a hot minute, it feels like I may have made a mistake. I see doves, starlings… a few people milling around… and the big creepy fence that separates Us from Them:
It is *weird*. (Click to enlarge.)
But I just drive around slowly, hoping not to attract the attention of the locals, all of whom probably have rooms full of guns. Pretty soon a flock of blackbirds flies over the car and lands nearby. I stop in the middle of an intersection to check them out, and sure enough they’re Tricolored Blackbirds, giving their awkward rasping call. Cha-ching! Feeling the unwelcome gaze of a Jacumbian locked onto my car, I mosey along.

I still need that Harris’s Hawk though. This is a beautiful bird, unique in many ways among hawks, and one I’ve wanted to see for a very long time. It’s my last target of the day, but since I have no idea how to make it materialize in front of me, I think about taking off so I can fit in another stop before nightfall. Finally, as I’m about to head for the exits – you guessed it – the hawk shows up. I only get brief looks as it flies off, but I am happy. God bless you, J-Town.

At 4:45 I roll out, feeling my oats. I speed east and then north, past the town where I’ll be spending the night, to my Extra Bonus Birding Location of the Day.

5:40 pm. The Salton Sea.

It’s a weird wild place, with more steam-spewing industrial-type buildings than humans. I have faint hopes of stumbling on a Yellow-footed Gull here, which I soon abandon; I probably wouldn’t recognize the damn thing anyway. But the birding is good. Eared Grebes are everywhere. 
American Avocets are in lotsa places too.
And it’s a nice evening. As the sun sets, I start back toward… uh, civilization… and what do I happen upon? Why, it’s a pair of Lesser Nighthawks, dancing in the sky.

Oh. Snap. That’s a lifer, and that makes seven ABA-area lifers in one day. I feel as though floating in a sea of grace.

And just when I think the day’s done, I see this guy on the side of the road:
Burrowing Owl
Not a lifer, but an awesome, awesome bird. 
This just slays me. One of my favorite shots ever.
7:45 pm. Brawley, CA Best Western. Oblivion.


Let me assure my weary readers that there’s much less to say about Sunday. All that's left is to try my luck on two more species, scope out the fabled Anza-Borrego Desert a bit, and make my way home. Having had so many birdies on the way out, it hardly matters how I do on the back nine. (Yeah I just said that.)

I hit the road at 5:45.

6:50 am. Old Springs Road Open Space Preserve. Target: Le Conte’s Thrasher.

Yeah, right. I don’t even get out of the car here. It’s sort of gloomy and windy and there’s no sign of birds at all.

7:00 am. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor’s Center. Target: Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.

This is a really nice little spot. Cactus Wrens are singing, California Quail are strutting around, and sure enough, pretty soon I spot the first of several dashing little Black-tailed Gnatcatchers. This guy’s pretty cooperative.
Handsome devil.
After watching him and the other desert specialties for a bit, I pause to talk to two other birders who are milling around – a young guy from Indiana who’s seeing everything here for the first time, and an older guy from Washington state who spends his winters down here and knows the area. I ask him if he has a good spot for Le Conte’s Thrasher; he tells me Clark’s Dry Lake is as good a spot as any.

8:00 am. Clark’s Dry Lake.

From the middle of nowhere, you take a dirt road five miles to get to this place. This pic isn’t from the lake bed but it’s what pretty much the whole huge area feels like. (Click on the pic for a larger version.)
Unfortunately it’s really windy here, but it’s kinda funny to watch the Phainopeplas (which are plentiful) get buffeted by the wind.
Otherwise, not many birds. At one point I hear something like a thrasher’s song from deep down in the bushes, but there’s just no chance of getting a look at whatever’s in there. Anyway who could complain? I start the great journey north and west, making one more stop at the visitor’s center, now overrun by humans but still good for a nice look at a male Costa’s Hummingbird:
I leave at 10:05.

The long journey home has its nice birds, but the tenor of the trip has changed. I’m now moving not away from the swarms of humanity but toward them, and it being a fine spring Sunday, they are understandably out enjoying the parks and clogging the roads. At 11:30 I stop at Lake Skinner County Park in Riverside County, where I see a few things that are new for the trip, the nicest being my first Yellow Warbler of the year – a brilliant male singing from the trees along the lakeshore. And there are lots of barbecues and kids’ birthday parties and so forth all around. It’s sort of nice, in a coming-back-down-to-earth kind of way.

Traffic crawls through the insipid concrete landscape – this is the other side of the SoCal coin. I stop for some sugar and caffeine to lift my spirits; it works. As I finally near L.A., I decide to prolong the trip just a bit more, making a stop at my regular neighborhood birding spot. It, too, is overflowing with people, like I’ve never seen it before. But there are still a few birds about. I pick up one more species for the trip list, the squawking family of Acorn Woodpeckers that I never fail to see here. And I leave the park to the revelers.

3:50 pm. Home.

There you have it:

34 hours,

616 miles,

113 species.

Eight glorious lifers.

Plus, you know, lots of photos and memories and all that stuff. Are there better things to do with your time? Probably. But once in a while, you just gotta cut loose.

I submit that this is a damn fine way to do it.


04/05/2013 7:04am

Thank you for a great, entertaining narrative! I enjoyed all three posts in this series!

04/05/2013 10:25am

That's awesome! Thanks, Cathy!

Dean Chapman
04/07/2013 12:34am

Unbelievable, Josh. Especially liked the second shot of the burrowing owl. That's better than many field guides, and YOU DID IT! COOL!

Do you suppose there's a way to make a living doing this??


04/07/2013 12:34pm

Thanks Deano. Not sure about making a living. Certainly my photos aren't good enough to sell.... On the other hand it does seem like I SHOULD be getting paid for my general awesomeness. Society is so unjust.

04/08/2013 3:43pm

Dude, great trip. Love the gnatcatcher shot. I would expect Gambel's at the Anza visitor center, no?

04/08/2013 8:24pm

You know I woulda liked to see Gambel's for a change, but this male seemed to have the pale forehead of a CAQU. Judging by eBird, Anza seems to be in a little pocket of overlap for those two. Either way, we here at BFH always appreciate feedback from the nation's #7 birder!


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