Wednesday, 29 April, 2009 (continued from here):
We woke up and finished packing our stuff, then after a quick breakfast, hit the road, destination Big Morongo Canyon. This preserve, located in Morongo Valley, was listed in “California Hiking” as an excellent birdwatching destination, and it was right on our way to Palm Springs, so we were eager to see what it was all about.
A multi-lingual welcome
We found the preserve easily, parked in its ample lot, and started walking at 9:25. The entrance kiosk was incredibly informative, with checklist of birds by season, birds seen recently, ID tips, silhouettes, maps, and so on. After picking up a map we headed out on one of the boardwalk paths that dot the preserve.
Summer Tanager / Piranga rubra
A half-dozen House Finches squabbled noisily in a cluster of plam trees, and as we watched them, a flash of red! I knew that Vermilion Flycatchers were a target bird here, so I was hopeful that this was one. A bit of searching refound the bird, which turned out to be a Summer Tanager (LIFER!). Although not a VEFL, I’m not one to complain about any new bird!
A woman with rather a lot of bird-related hat pins approached and I asked her if she had any tips for first-time visitors. Turned out I asked the right person, as she was one of many volunteers who walk the trails here, helping folks identify birds and pointing them to rarities. As we talked, a Green Heron flew by, the first I’d seen in a couple of years. Just a few minutes in and I already had a year bird and a life bird – this was shaping up to be a productive walk!
After talking to the docent for a few minutes, we continued on our way. There are many paths to choose here, and they’re all very well-signed. Ours traced a hillside along a reedy area. We saw a Cooper’s Hawk land in its nest atop a nearby tree, stay for a few, and then leave again.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker leaving its nest
Emerging from a tree, we spied a Ladder-backed Woodpecker (LIFER!) coming out from its nest, the first of a bunch of woodpeckers we would see here. The Ladder-backed looks similar to the Nuttall’s Woodpecker, which we were to see a bit later.
A rusty mangled car seemed rather out of place, since as far as we could tell, there were no roads nearby. The car looked mid-50’s or so, though, so perhaps there was a road here at that time.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker / Picoides scalaris
We came to a clearing in the middle of a reedy patch, with ample benches and a large deck from which to observe the wildlife. A trio of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers flew to and fro, giving us great looks.
Blue Grosbeak / Passerina caerulea
A beautiful Blue Grosbeak, another year bird for me, posed on a snag for a moment before flying off, and a constant sound of chirping and tweeting told of many unseen birds in the underbrush. We stayed here for a little while, enjoying the sounds of so many animals all around us, then continued on our way.
Desert Spiny Lizard / Sceloporus magister
A colorful Desert Spiny Lizard ran out onto a rock and did a few pushups, then scampered off behind a stump.
Red-tailed Hawk / Buteo jamaicensis
As we strolled along another boardwalk path, we met some more birders. One elderly woman asked if we’d seen the baby owls. “No, but where are they?” we replied. She thought for a moment, and then said she would be happy to walk us to their nest, even though she’d been walking all morning.
Bell’s Vireo / Vireo bellii
Along the way she pointed out a Bell’s Vireo (LIFER!), an endangered bird, and perhaps a quarter mile down the path there it was, a big twiggy Long-eared Owl’s nest.
Long-eared Owl nest
She said there were three owlets, but we saw only two (not that I minded, especially as these were my first Long-eared Owls ever).
Long-eared Owlet / Asio otus
They were terribly cute, and peered at us with their wide yellow saucer-eyes, as if to ask “what are you doing in my wood?” We spent a fair while here, watching the owlets, and hoping to catch a glimpse of a parent, which we didn’t.
We continued looping around, again on a nice boardwalk path with ample benches to rest and/or observe. This eastern part of the park was quieter.
Western Tanager / Piranga ludoviciana
A colorful Western Tanager, one of many we’d seen, semi-posed. Although I’ve seen plenty of this bird, I never quite manage to get them in very good light, and they don’t hang around for long.
Away from the marshy reedy area and its attendant trees, the landscape was decidedly more desert’y (and warm). Although we were only perhaps 20 miles from Joshua Tree, it was hotter here, as we transitioned between the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. We soon came back to the entrance kiosk and another birder pointed out some Bewick’s Wrens nesting in the eaves.
Several folks had told us that Vermilion Flycatchers were easy to find at the city park adjacent to the preserve, so we headed over there to see if we could find any.
Western Bluebird w/a meal for its chicks
Western Bluebird chick peeking out from its nest
It was quite birdy in the park’s trees, a cacophony of voices. We enjoyed watching a Western Bluebird catch a bunch of insects and then deliver them to a youngster in its nest. There were also nesting European Starlings and House Sparrows and…
Vermillion Flycatcher / Pyrocephalus rubinus
… Vermilion Flycatchers (LIFER!). The male VEFL is very easy to see and identify, thanks to its flaming red head and breast, and we saw a good many of them flycatching from fence tops and twigs. We were stoked to have seen not one, but two crimson birds on this walk (the other being the Summer Tanager we saw when we started), as there aren’t very many red birds in the western US.
Cassin’s Kingbird / Tyrannus vociferans
A kingbird perched high on a tree, but it didn’t look right for the relatively common Western Kingbird. Some thumbing through our field guide showed it to be a Cassin’s Kingbird (LIFER!).
Nuttall’s Woodpecker / Picoides nuttallii
A *knock* *knock* and a flash of black and white led our eyes to a Nuttall’s Woodpecker (LIFER!). Similar to the Ladder-backed, the Nuttall’s has a much darker black “shroud” over its shoulders.
Hooded Oriole (female) / Icterus cucullatus
Several houses across the street from the park clearly belonged to birders judging by the dozens of various feeders strung along their front yard, so we took a gander and found a bird that took me some time to identify. I finally (and much later) figured it out – a female Hooded Oriole (LIFER!). Also near the feeders were American Goldfinches, a Wilson’s Warbler, more Western Tanagers, a Lesser Goldfinch, and an Anna’s Hummingbird.
Vermillion Flycatcher / Pyrocephalus rubinus
We returned to the park and saw yet more Vermilion Flycatchers, doing as flycatchers do – perching on a high point, then flying out to catch a few insects, then returning.
Somebody’s stringy nest clung precariously under a palm leaf, but we didn’t see anything come or go, so we’re not sure whose nest it was.
Vermillion Flycatcher / Pyrocephalus rubinus
Vermillion Flycatcher (female) / Pyrocephalus rubinus
Right as we were leaving, I saw a female Vermilion Flycatcher up in a tree. Although much less flashy than their male counterparts, they’re attractively colored and patterned.
Cooper’s Hawk on a nest raid
Lastly some commotion in a tree caught our eye, and we watched as a Cooper’s Hawk jumped from branch to branch, obviously looking for a nest to raid! We held our breath as it stuck its head into a nest in the crook of some branches, and were relieved to see it come back up empty-beaked (although the likely baby Cooper’s Hawks would be much less enthusiastic about this result!). Our bird appetite sated, we headed back to the car and continued on our way toward Palm Springs.
Big Morongo Canyon is definitely one of the best places I’ve birded. Although we did not see a tremendous variety of species, many were nesting, and many are hard or impossible to see in other regions. This is definitely a must-visit for any birder in the area, and I look forward to returning sometime!
Location: Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
Observation date: 4/29/09
Number of species: 28
+ Green Heron – Butorides virescens 1
Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii 2
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis 2
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura 3
* Long-eared Owl – Asio otus 2
Anna’s Hummingbird – Calypte anna 2
* Ladder-backed Woodpecker – Picoides scalaris 1
* Nuttall’s Woodpecker – Picoides nuttallii 1
Black Phoebe – Sayornis nigricans 2
* Vermilion Flycatcher – Pyrocephalus rubinus 5
* Cassin’s Kingbird – Tyrannus vociferans 1
* Bell’s Vireo – Vireo bellii 1
Mountain Chickadee – Poecile gambeli 2
+ Red-breasted Nuthatch – Sitta canadensis 1
+ Bewick’s Wren – Thryomanes bewickii 1
Western Bluebird – Sialia mexicana 4
European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris 3
+ Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas 1
Wilson’s Warbler – Wilsonia pusilla 1
* Summer Tanager – Piranga rubra 1
+ Western Tanager – Piranga ludoviciana 4
California Towhee – Pipilo crissalis 1
+ Blue Grosbeak – Passerina caerulea 1
* Hooded Oriole – Icterus cucullatus 1
House Finch – Carpodacus mexicanus 3
Lesser Goldfinch – Carduelis psaltria 1
American Goldfinch – Carduelis tristis 1
House Sparrow – Passer domesticus 5
* = life bird, + = year bird
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)
- Part I – Getting there, settling in
- Part II – Twentynine Palms Oasis
- Part III – Oasis of Mara, Noah Purifoy, Key’s View, Cap Rock
- Part IV – Lost Horse Mine
- Part V – Cholla Cactus Garden, Geology Tour Road
- Part VI – Split Rock, Hidden Valley
- Part VII – Barker Dam, Ocotillo Patch
- Part VIII – Mastodon Peak, Cholla Cactus Garden revisited
- Part IX – Big Morongo Canyon, AKA Birding Paradise <– You are here!
- Part X – Tahquitz Canyon
- Part XI – Living Desert, LA, and home