A Visit to the Salton Sea
With binoculars and camera in hand, I often take a drive south of my home in Rancho Mirage to one of the best places on the West Coast to bird-watch—the Salton Sea. Created in 1905, when the Colorado River broke through levies and flooded the Salton Basin (at 228 feet below sea level, one of the deepest “sinks” in the United States), the lake is the largest in California at more than 525 square miles. It was developed as a resort location in the ’40s and ’50s, but has since lost favor with vacationers, primarily because of its rapidly rising salinity and lack of local amenities.
But that doesn’t stop the thousands of nature enthusiasts who trek from around the world to see this stunning body of water and all the wildlife it attracts. Birds are a given, with a whopping 424 species identified. As part of the Pacific Flyway—one of the largest bird migration pathways in the world—there is an ever-changing roster of birds to be observed. Although there are millions of winged visitors who migrate through the area, there are plenty of birds that stay in the region year round. It’s not uncommon to see flocks of Snow Geese and Egrets (Snow, Great, and Cattle) that range in the multi-thousands. White pelicans abound. And you’ll almost always see an endangered Brown Pelican or two on any given visit. Although winter months offer the best variety, even in the depths of the summer heat, the sea is bounding with birds. The area is also home to a wide variety of animal life, from bats, shrews, wolves, foxes, and coyotes to the occasional bobcat and mountain lion.
One of my favorite places to visit is the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge at the south end of the lake. A visitors center offers detailed bird guides and maps to the many areas that are prime birding locations. As always, when venturing into the beautiful outdoors of Southern California, remember to bring water, to wear comfortable shoes and layered clothing, and to bring sunscreen and a hat—no matter what time of year. And enjoy your visit to one of the most beautiful and interesting places to see just a stone’s thrown from the Palm Springs Valley!