March 27, 2017

Photo Essay: Birding Anza-Borrego During the Superbloom

I knew there would be wildflowers during this year's "superbloom" in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

I'd been there before this time of year. I'd seen flowers there before.

But each wildflower season is different at Anza-Borrego, so I knew whatever I saw this year wouldn't be the same as what I'd seen previous years.

As I came into town via the Montezuma Grade, I couldn't remember whether I'd ever seen it with such an explosion of color.

Then again, it had been a few years since I'd been to Borrego Springs. I couldn't even remember if the Montezuma Grade was the way I'd come down into the park before.

But one of the differences with the landscape in this area—which is California's largest state park—is how green everything is this year.

There's plenty of water in the pond at the Club Circle Golf Course—which means there are also plenty of birds (including a nice and plump Sora rail / Porzana carolina, which is normally quite secretive and elusive).

I stood under a palm tree for a long time, arms outstretched up over my head, trying to capture a male red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) with my lens.

Although it's one of the most abundant and least endangered birds in pretty much all of North America, it's also one that you might not expect to see in the desert, since it prefers soggier areas.

But if there was any question whether or not we were in the desert on our bird walk (part of the annual Borrego Springs Desert Birding Festival, from the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association), it took just one glance down pretty much anywhere to be reminded by the abundance of desert lilies (Hesperocallis undulate).

We were also treated to the perching behavior of Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna), which are common in these parts but unique to the Pacific Coast in terms of U.S. distribution.

If you catch them just right in the sunlight, you can see the fancy, jewel-toned males with their iridescent green chests and bright, reddish-pink throats...

...though they were actually named by French ornithologist René Primevère Lesson after Anne d'Essling, courtier to the last empress of the French monarchy, Eugénie de Montijo.

Less spectacular were the greenish Lesser goldfinches (Spinus psaltria)...

...and some of the more common songbirds of the desert, like a male house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) and a (non-breeding, I believe) male house sparrow (Passer domesticus).

But, for me, the real triumph of our birding excursion was to see a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) in its nest, high up in the crown of leaf scars, presumably with some owlets underneath and out of sight.

I hadn't planned on birding while I was in Borrego Springs for the wildflowers, but I was fortunate enough to have been invited to join a group of birders on their search—and nimble enough to squeeze it into my already too-short itinerary out in the desert.

I can't believe I hadn't birded Anza-Borrego before!

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Hellhole Canyon, Anza-Borrego
Photo Essay: Wilson Peak Via Pinyon Ridge
Photo Essay: The Wildflowers of Anza-Borrego
Photo Essay: The Creatures That Conquered the Desert
Photo Essay: Bristlecone Pine Cabins at the Deserted Mexican Mine

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