By Nick Freeman

Swainson's Hawk | Photo by Mary Freeman

Swainson's Hawk | Photo by Mary Freeman

The March 19-20, 2016 field trip to Anza-Borrego State Park did not disappoint. As with the last few years, our guide was the amiable Kurt Leuschner, professor of natural resources at College of the Desert in Palm Desert. At our first stop at Tamarisk Grove, we were able to pick out two Peninsular Bighorn ewes with their lambs high on the hill across the road; as well as a much closer, more unexpected (for this site) and truly stunning and aptly named Vermilion Flycatcher. Small, iridescent Costa’s Hummingbirds with extended gorgets and white “ears”, were also seen zipping around. Right across the street at (poorly named) Yaqui Wells, we found no ground moisture, but lots of mistletoe and attendant Phainopeplas on ironwood and smoke trees. These and Verdin were both with us in many spots throughout the weekend. But driving out of the well we happened across one of the most docile and beautiful of snakes in North America – a Rosy Boa! It was quite a ham, posing for many photos and tolerating the gentle touching of the curious and the fanatic. Okay, maybe I’m waxing anthropomorphic a bit, but I personally could have headed home right then and there, chalking the trip up as an unbridled success.

Up canyon near Scissors Crossing, we heard and saw an unexpected Bell’s Vireo, which has become difficult to see in this area. Heading further up the hill towards Julian, we crossed elevations still in high bloom, unlike the desert flatlands, which had passed their prime. Yellow brittlebush, white sage, various blue and white ceonothuses, deep yellow flannel bush, some blue lupine, and eventually white apple blossoms were very evident along the road. We stopped in at the Nature Store in Julian, to check the feeders for the numerous Pine Siskins and Anna’s Hummingbirds (and checked out the wares within), and as we were leaving, Kurt spotted one, and then two, Golden Eagles circling high above! Quite unexpected for us, and for the store-owners!

We had our picnic lunches on the porch and grounds of a nearby house of a friend of Kurt’s. We were treated to looks at an active Barn Owl nest box with a number of eggs! While toodling around looking for Turkeys (which the group sadly never found), about half the group got glimpses of a bobcat crossing a small meadow! At our next stop near Lake Henshaw, we were able to see a distant Bald Eagle on the ridgeline, by an historic nest site.

Next, we headed directly down the hill to check in on the afternoon goings on at the hawk watch site on Borrego Springs Rd., NE of Borrego Springs. This site has been monitored by Hal Cohen and others for 14 years, and this year has been a banner year for Swainson’s Hawks, with almost 9,000 showing over this Spring migration! There were probably 200 hawks foraging for white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars in the fields to the east and west, with more dropping in until dusk (and later?)! This left us with plenty to talk about at dinner in town.

Next morning, we all headed straight away to the hawk watch, and watched the hundreds of hawks as they lifted off and headed north after their morning snack. We headed to the Sewage Pond, where we found – not the expected Crissal Thrasher – but an unexpected Sage Thrasher in a boxthorn bush and an oddly placed California Thrasher singing from the highest creosote! Next, we headed over to Clark Dry Lake to try to relocate reported LeConte’s Thrasher’s, and found – more Sage Thrashers, as well as Loggerhead Shrikes! Old Springs Road finally produced a pair of expected LeConte’s Thrashers! At this point, it was getting pretty warm, so a visit to the malt shop in town seemed in order to wrap up a truly excellent weekend!

PDF May/June 2016 Western Tanager Vol. 82 No. 5 (2,855KB)