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Nature Watch: "Salton Sea, Winter Birding Paradise"


Last updated 11/21/2023 at 1:25pm

As the triple-digit heat of summer fades to more comfortable temperatures, migrating birds will begin to arrive at nearby Salton Sea, transforming this great inland saltwater lake into a birding paradise.

Until spring, hundreds of thousands of migrating Canada geese, Ross's geese, sandhill cranes, white pelicans, ruddy ducks and a variety of shore birds will join a huge population of resident birds to provide photographers and nature lovers with an incredible show.

Less than an hour's drive from Borrego Springs, the Sonny Bono, Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge has been named by the National Audubon Society as one of the most important places for birds in the Western United States.

Located on the Pacific Flyway, this great inland sea provides home for wintering populations of many birds, including the snowy plover, brown pelicans and western grebes.

During the winter months, more than 200 species of birds find the wetlands surrounding the Salton Sea and the mild weather an ideal place to be until their return to the north.

This birding hot spot has a year-round population of over 400 species of birds.

And the refuge is not only about birds.

A variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish also call this area home.

Some of the most exciting winter species of birds include the geese and sandhill cranes. Fields can be filled with thousands of the feeding birds, who may suddenly take flight with a billowing sound like that of a jet plane taking off as the collective wingbeats fill the air.

Driving the desert roads in the area, the observant viewer may notice tiny burrowing owls standing outside of their underground shelters. More than 70 percent of the California population of these delightful little raptors are found here.

Many hawk species such as American Kestrel, harrier, Cooper's hawk, golden eagles, ferruginous and red-tailed hawks are common hunters here.

If you are lucky, you may see several of the tiny owls, known collectively as "a parliament" watching you as you watch them.

The Sonny Bono Refuge Visitor Center is located at 906 W. Sinclair Road, Calipatria, but a network or surrounding roads also allow access to other areas where birds can be found.

There are viewing platforms at several locations, giving visitors prime views over wetlands where many of the water birds gather.

At least one winter visit to the Salton Sea should be on everyone's bucket list.

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