Salton Sea Birds

March 16, 2019 at 6:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, , )

Burrowing Owl male

One of the great joys of living in California four years ago was discovering the burrowing owls at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge on the Salton Sea in Southern California’s Imperial Valley.

On my trip to view the wildflower bloom in the desert, I stopped by specifically to look for them. I was not disappointed.

The refuge puts out pipes along drainage ditches to make it easy for them to hang around and raise babies. Oh, wouldn’t I love to see the babies!

I found five pairs of owls, and every pair had one owl that was larger than the other. I thought it was a female, since most owl species have females larger than the males. However, in at least one instance, the larger bird turned out to be the male. I know this because he heard something that startled him, and he flew a few feet from the burrow and called out to the “intruder.”

Burrowing owl calling

You can see the pellets which they throw up when they are done with the important digestion of the little rodents and other critters, which they devour whole. I have some owl pellets from long-eared owls that have cool little rodent skulls in them.

Listening to its mate in the burrow

Fortunately, the burrows are close enough to the road to view comfortably, but mostly separated from thoughtless people who would be tempted to wander too close. All the burrows I found are marked with distinctive yellow signs, but I looked hard for “wild” burrows without success.

A sign off Hwy 111 on the east side of the Salton Sea directs drivers to the visitor center, which has a hiking trail and a feeding station surrounded by trees and shrubbery.

Abert’s towhee

I was happy to find the Abert’s towhee, which I rarely see.

Common ground doves

The adorable common ground doves were also patrons of the birdseed.

You can see how much smaller it is compared to the mourning dove.

The Eurasian collared dove was also present, but no Inca doves that I saw.

Gambel’s quail male

There was a covey of Gambel’s quail, which tend to be skittish.


A couple of bunnies found the seeds delectable as well, and their skirmishes tended to scatter the birds.

The refuge borders several geothermal plants that have some mudpots, which are not really safe for people to wander in. You can see them in my 2014 blog post about the Salton Sea.

I was staying ahead of a rainstorm headed from the east, and the overcast light helped with the bird photos. I was happy to be in my “old stomping grounds” from my previous visits to the area, and made sure to stop at the Date Palm Oasis store for a date shake and a purchase of some organic medjool dates. Then it was a stay in a funky little motel while it rained the night away. The next morning held a little surprise. Stay tuned.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

Feel free to reblog or share


Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

Join my Facebook Page

Contact:  cindy at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: