Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Hal Cohen Lecture on Birds of Salton Sea


Last updated 1/9/2019 at 3:16pm

Starting off like 1,000-page novelist James Michener did in his early works, naturalist-biologist-environmentalist Hal Cohen (The Hawk Guy) opened his one-hour lecture on birds of the Salton Sea with Geology 101 – the breakup of Pangea 175 million years ago.

It looked to be a longer evening than advertised.

But the brief and informative historical summary was well worth the time spent listening to inside a standing room only meeting room of bird enthusiasts at the ABDNHA library on Dec. 28.

The Salton Sea is here because of the geology, says Cohen, specifically the plate tectonics that created it. The Pacific plate is sliding under and north of the Continental plate, divided by the San Andreas Fault zone running north-south just east of the Salton Sea and up past San Francisco.

The interconnected fault zones, including our nearby San Jacinto, is cause for thousands of minor, mostly unfelt earthquakes every day in the region.

From ancient seas to more recent inflows of salt-laden freshwater due to dissolved Colorado River sediments and subsequent evaporation, the Salton Sea has been an important habitat for both migratory and resident birds for millennia.

The birds are dependent on the local food chain, starting with phytoplankton, then up to barnacle plankton and zooplankton, pile worms, and finally fish.

The managed wetlands of the Salton Sea are, according to Cohen, the enduring legacy of former pop star and congressman Sonny Bono.

But the Sea is both shrinking in size and getting ever more salty as evaporation dominates the shallow sea. State efforts are now underway to mitigate the ensuing environmental effects; one of the dangers to Salton Sea life is a rise in salinity above an as yet undefined concentration that will be unsustainable for aquatic life, and also the birds that depend on the food supply chain.

During a field trip scheduled for the next day, Cohen promised the attending group the sighting and identification of at least 30 bird species, from a total North American population of about 600 separate species. His slide show revealed those expected to be sighted on the trip, from snow geese to red-winged blackbirds.

It’s all connected, from Pangea to the current bird population of the Salton Sea.

But only Hal Cohen can make such a wonderfully informative connection.

You might be interested in: