Sunnylands is for the Birds—and Birdwatchers!
My fellow blogger Diana Dodge and I are both huge fans of Sunnylands—the amazing Rancho Mirage residence (and now conference center) of the late Walter and Leonore Annneberg—and the newly opened Sunnylands Visitor Center and Gardens. So it was no surprise that, without knowing it, we booked on the same day a very special bird-watching tour that takes a group of seven participants onto the historic estate’s grounds. This popular once-a-week event occurs on Thursday mornings, and be forewarned, advance tickets are a must.
Led by Sunnylands’ education and environmental program’s director Michaeleen Gallagher, along with local birding expert Maureen McCarty, our merry band of birders were golf-carted through a secret gate onto the grounds. Within minutes we were gazing upon one of the most popular—and pretty—sights on the property, a Vermilion Flycatcher, flitting around the Annenberg’s nine-hole golf course. We saw several of these gorgeously bright red creatures, along with Black and Say’s Phoebes, Kestrels, Red-Shouldered and Red-Tailed Hawks, hummingbirds, seagulls, a variety of water foul, and the occasional raven. With their eagle eyes and keen ears at scoping out our fine-feathered friends, Michaeleen and Maureen proved to us that they’d more than deservedly earned their expert stripes, reminding us that since Sunnylands is located on one of the largest bird flyways in the world, avian visitors will change season to season.
Sunnylands also conducts free bird-watching and garden walks in the public gardens of the Sunnylands Center (which is always free to visitors) on select Thursdays and Fridays, with no reservation needed. But bird and plant walks are just the beginning. Aside from guided tours of the 25,000-square-foot midcentury masterpiece main Annenberg home (tickets are highly sought-after, so this, too, you must plan ahead), there are all kinds of other events at Sunnylands. The third Sunday of each month is Family Day, with free activities for all ages. The Nightlife Series is designed for young professionals, and offers a variety of topic discussions and wine-, beer-, and spirit-tastings. Lectures and music events are peppered throughout the season. And the Center’s exhibition space offers a glimpse into the Annenberg’s rich collection of collectables. Presently, a selection of their gilt serving pieces are on view, and starting in mid-January, the couple’s stunning collection of Chinese cloisonné enamels will be exhibited.
Check the website for all the details, and don’t miss one of the most interesting and exciting places to see and be seen in the entire Palm Springs Valley. And keep your eye out for those exquisitely hued Vermilion Flycatchers!