Kelly and I saw a modest list of birds in Death Valley National
Park this past week. The weather was warm and sunny, but
not extremely hot. We were a bit early for the spring flowers.
Generally arid conditions made the birding slow, but with
occasional surprises. Highlights include the Greater
Roadrunner, which posed near the picnic table at the
interpretive center in Furnace Creek. We were also surprised
to see Lewis' Woodpecker in such numbers in the date
grove near the ranch because in Northern California the
preferred habitat is more often open oak forest. Verdin,
a small desert bird, was seen anywhere where desert scrub
was present. Stove Pipe Wells has an apparently stable colony
of Great-tailed Grackles which sang loudly among
the shade trees. They were found only at this one location.
It's interesting to note, that while we had a checklist
of birds, it has not been updated since 1982 and many species'
status have changed noticeably in that time. Birds encountered
in the park were:
This morning, as I walked down to my carport, a Hermit
Thrush appeared from within the bushes and paused on
the fence for a moment. As well, above in the trees, several
Yellow-rumped Warblers could be heard. I also should
mention that yesterday afternoon, a short walk along the
levy trail at Charleston Slough produced some interesting
birds including 17 Black Skimmers in their traditional
spot and many hundreds of waterfowl. Among the expected
species there were perhaps 20 Redheads.
After our field trip to Joseph D. Grant County Park a few
of us decided to visit Lake Cunningham in search of the
Lesser Black-backed Gull. Within a minute of arriving
at the small island along the trail leading to the right
from the parking area, we found the bird standing on a white
pipe. It remained there the entire time we watched it, and
while it was hardly necessary, we used the telescope to
get very detailed looks at it. It is roughly as dark as
an adult Western Gull, of which there were many to
compare with, but it is the size of a California Gull.
The eye is very pale yellow/white and the bill is more obviously
hooked. The head and face have a more fierce expression
and the legs are very clearly yellow. This is, I believe
the sixth year the bird has come to winter here. We also
had very close looks at a Eared Grebe, Double-crested
Cormorant, White Pelican, Green Heron,
Canada Goose, Killdeer, the afforementioned
Gulls and Yellow-rumped Warbler.