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:

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
American Coot
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Northern Flicker
Lewis' Woodpecker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phobe
Horned Lark
Common Raven
American Robin
American Pipit
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
House Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
Savannah Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Song Sparrow


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.