Borrego Springs, CA

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A "wild" Sunday on the refuge.

Well, it was time once again to do the salinity tests and the bird survey of Shoveler Pond.  The predicted fog did not materialize, so I headed out around 9:30.  As I passed the VIS on the way to Frozen Point, I noticed that it wasn't open.  Mark, a local volunteer, was supposed to be on duty today, but didn't show up.  I almost felt a little guilty about ignoring the VIS to do my survey....almost. 

Because of three days of rain, the journey through the mud to the first salinity test was a pretty sucking experience.  :)  I haven't lost a rubber boot yet, but I came close this morning.  Just as I was about to step up on the cement water flow regulator, a black-crowned night heron took off from the inside of the spillway.  That made my heart skip a beat.  I'm sure I startled him as much as he did me.

After finishing up at that location, I headed about three miles back to the launch location.  That part of the drive is through a sea of marsh grasses.  There are only a couple of trees, and they are located next to the gravel road. 

Sitting in one of those trees was a juvenile (one year old) Peregrine Falcon!  I quickly came to a stop and grabbed my camera.  It's not often you get to see a Peregrine sitting still.  I was able to only get off two quick shots before this youngster was on his way.  Peregrine falcons are considered the fastest birds and their flight can reach speeds of 70 mph when they are in a stoop.  They normally fly high looking for birds to eat.  When they see prey, they fold their wings and drop (stoop) out of the sky to catch their prey on the wing.  Their common name used to be duck hawk.  I know this falcon is one year old because of two things.  First, he/she is brown in color.  By this time next year, he/she will be slate gray and black.  Also, the streaking on it's breast is vertical.  Adult Peregrines have horizontal streaking.  I think Peregrine Falcons may still be on the endangered species list, but they have made a remarkable recovery thanks to the outlawing of DDT and from the hacking of young birds hatched in captivity.  Naturally, these falcons nest on cliff faces, but have adapted to nesting on tall urban buildings.  Many larger cities have web-cams focused on breading pairs nesting on their skyscrapers.  In cities, they help keep the pigeon population under control.  I bet you didn't think you were going to get an ornithology lesson today, did you? 

I was feeling pretty good by the time I reached the next test site.  As I dropped the salinity probe into the water, I glanced down the bayou and was thrilled to see a river otter's head staring at me.  In a few seconds, it dropped below the surface and was gone.  I generally take three samples at each stop and average the scores.  As I finished the second sample, the otter surfaced further down the bayou and then proceeded to swim toward me.  It came to within twenty feet of where I was standing before it rolled sleekly over and disappeared.  I'm happy to see the return of the otters after the devastation of Ike.

Testing done, I headed to Shoveler Pond for the bird survey.  This two and a half mile survey usually takes me about two hours to do, and today was no exception. 

There were a nice variety of birds today, and because of the warmer temperatures and sunny skies...

this fellow came out to sunbathe.  All that tan color on him is due to his wallowing in the mud during cold temperatures.  I think this is probably the same gator I took a picture of a few weeks ago.  He seems to hang out just before you get to the marsh board walk.

I was also happy to see this much smaller alligator enjoying the pond.  This one was only about three feet long as compared to the larger eight foot mud encrusted alligator.

So, as usual, the testing and surveying made my day.  I hope to survey some other areas of the refuge tomorrow since the great weather is supposed to continue.

Thanks for stopping by....talk to you later,  Judy


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  2. Hi Judith, Interesting blog, thanks for sharing. Incidentally, the falcon you photographed on the dead tree (above) is a Merlin (Falco columbarius), probably a female, but not a Peregrine Falcon. Best regards, NPW.