Salton Sea Birdwatching

Salton Sea Pelicans


From the issue Meet the Flockers

Just Add Salton

California's largest body of water is twice the size of Lake Tahoe, contains more salt than the Pacific, and sits in the Colorado Desert. The Salton Sea’s Mad Max landscape is a bird-watching mecca, especially during the mild winter months. At least 400 winged species have dropped a feather or two in these parts. This manmade lake's storied past includes greedy engineering gone wrong, a midcentury boom as a sport fishing haven, and even a stint as a favorite water-skiing destination of a teenaged Sonny Bono (trivia factoid!). Today the vacation homes are long gone, but the Salton Sea prevails as a Pacific Flyway hotspot. A surefire way to catch some action is by strolling the 2-mile (round-trip) Rock Hill Trail within the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. The path leaves right from the Visitors Center, and a volcanic upheaval on the trail makes a perfect perch for taking a gander at the birding bonanza: thousands of Canada, snow and Ross's geese honk and preen while squadrons of American white pelicans soar in formation, having ditched their Montana breeding grounds for the desert climate. Along the briny shoreline American avocets, western sandpipers, snowy plovers, marbled godwits, log-billed curlews, and black-necked stilts feast in the shallows. Salton's in season!

To reach the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR from Los Angeles, take Highway 10 east to the Salton Sea Byway on Highway 111. Head south for 50 miles to Sinclair Road and turn right. It's 6 miles to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR. The Rock Hill Trail begins next to the picnic area at the visitor's center. Dog-friendly!

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