December 2020 Fades…

Into 2021

The sun sets….

The moon rises…



The last day of the year shines down on the Preserve…

And in Ohio…

And in London…


And finally fades on the Preserve…


And an evening video chat with Texas ends our last day of 2020… Happy New Year to us all!
May 2021 bring us kindness, healing, and togetherness!

I’m Dreaming of a…

Nope, not a White Christmas…

We live in the Colorado Desert, part of the Sonoran Desert extending southeast from California to northern Mexico. The Colorado Desert is the lowest, hottest, most arid region of the Sonoran Desert. Wishing for snow is non-negotiable unless hell freezes over. By definition, a desert receives less than 6 inches of rain per year. The desert in Southern California barely receives 4 inches per year. 😳

So, taking liberties with Irving Berlin’s bestselling “White Christmas” song, please bear with my desert adaptation set to the tune of his iconic holiday classic:

I’m dreaming of some rain on Christmas,

So that flowers bloom and grow.

And later in the Spring,

The blossoms shall bring,

Colors delightful to show…

I’m dreaming of some rain on Christmas,

With every week that passes by.

May the mountains be snowy and white,

And melt down to make the desert bright.


And then… what to my wondering eyes did appear?
A sudden rush of dark clouds, And 8 raindrops right here!

Ah, every raindrop has 15 minutes of fame, to paraphrase Andy Warhol… Not long after Jeff and I did our happy dance, the sky’s canvas brightened into a muted sunset.


Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Whatever you prefer… I realize I say Merry Christmas but I really mean Happy Solstice that we celebrate. Somehow this whole year had been a winter solstice hanging over our heads. But, for now, let’s be children again and look forward to bright surprises dropped down the chimney or brought by Hanukkah fairies or shared on Zoom calls with our families.

Lots of Love to All, and to All a Goodnight!

When Jupiter Aligns With Saturn

A Special Solstice

Jeff and I drive to Joshua Tree NP to watch the sunset and observe the “great conjunction” aka, the closest alignment of Jupiter and Saturn since July 16, 1623, a little more than a decade after Galileo first used a telescope to discover Jupiter’s 4 largest moons. Unfortunately, because of the planets’ position to the sun, this great conjunction was virtually impossible to see. So that takes us back to March 4, 1226, when Genghis Hahn was still roaming Asia, as the last time the planets were this close and as visible. (scientificamerican.com)

What makes this event even more special is the fact that is taking place on the Winter Solstice of 2020.

We enter the NP from the west entrance around 4:00 and are surprised that the rangers are just ushering all cars through. Jeff heads to Keys View overlooking the San Andreas Fault and Thousand Palms Oasis where we live right now. (We packed sushi, olives, cheese, a baguette, and nuts to eat when we arrive, but snacked on them on the drive up to the high desert.) Apparently lots of other people decided to choose this spot too.


We find a makeshift parking spot and ascend the walkway…


We hear a beautiful voice singing “Oh, Holy Night” and then “Ave Maria”…

So special and such a clear, angelic voice… Wow!


I start taking pictures of the setting sun…

And the Salton Sea…

And the moon…


A shared heavenly experience… And a shooting star! While Jeff was looking at Mars through his binoculars, I saw a shooting star approach the two planets, visible with the naked eye. A collective, “Ahhh” erupted…


That’s the Coachella Valley below and the lights are from Palm Springs. The road riding into the sunset is Interstate 10.

And here’s a view of Palm Desert and some of the other desert communities…


It gets darker…


And finally, it’s dark enough that I can capture the 2 planets with my iPhone… look closely…


The next rendezvous, according to scientificamerican.com, where Jupiter and Saturn are separated by just six arc minutes will arrive on March 15, 2080.

Revisiting Amboy Crater

Hiking Into a Volcano…

Jeff and I first visited Amboy Crater, located on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, in July during the triple digit heat of summer. Today we return for a proper hike into the cone itself to explore the caldera and hike to the rim.

Courtesy of desertusa.com

This National Natural Landmark, an anomaly of black rock rising in the earth-toned desert, is formed of ash and cinders. It is 250 feet high and 1,500 feet in diameter. The crater is situated in one of the youngest volcanic fields in the United States. It is located in the Barstow-Bristol trough, an elongated tectonic depression running west-northwest, which approximately straddles the boundary between the Mojave Desert and Sonoran Desert tectonic blocks.

To get there from where we live in the Coachella Valley, we take Thousand Palms Canyon Road north to Dillon Road and head east on Highway 62 toward Twenty Nine Palms past Joshua Tree. We turn north (left) on Godwin Road and east (right) on Amboy Road. Amboy Crater is about 45 miles from Twenty Nine Palms. We cross Bristol Lake, once a prehistoric sea, now a dry lake mined for the calcium chloride used to de-ice roadways in colder climates. (desertusa.com)

The volcanic field was created by at least 4 distinct periods of eruptions, resulting in a coaxial nested group of cinder cones. (I understand this to mean that the group of nested cinder cones share the same center or axis.) The most recent eruption of Amboy Crater was about 10,000 years ago. The lava flows consist of basalt rich in minerals of magnesium, iron, and calcium. If you look closer, you might observe minute green-colored olivine crystals. The red color indicates the presence of ferric iron, the result of steam on heated rock. (from kiosk in parking area)


The trail to the crater is only 1.1 miles from the parking lot/day use area. This well-marked trail leads to the west of the cinder cone, taking you to a wide opening where an explosive eruption breached the crater wall. From here you can descend into the caldera and/or climb to the top. Round trip, the trail is about 3+ miles, depending upon how many trails you descend and ascend within the cone before returning to your car.

The trail leads you through sand and lava fields:

Up close and personal, the crater is less intimidating. (I know it looks like there is a trail here leading to the rim. Trust me, this is not the way up…)

The trail wraps around the back to the right and then starts to head up. Here the uphill is steep and uneven but fortunately this part is a rather short climb.

Once you climb up, you are inside the crater.

Four trails lead up to the ridge.

Naturally, Jeff and I choose an “iffy” and steep trail to the top. These pictures are deceiving in that the trail looks well-established and an easy climb… NOT in my humble opinion. I am scared to look down. I am scared to lose my footing. I am just plain scared. I end up crawling my way to the top, latching on to any secure rock I can find.

Whew! I hug the ground when I safely make it to the rim! Then I stand up. And look back down.

More views from the ridge…

Here we descend into the caldera again on the most friendly trail.

I pause and look back up to the top…

And down again…

Almost there!

One last curve…

And we are in the caldera. I look back one last time…

And we descend onto the trail leading back to the parking area.

We walk back toward our car and turn around for a last close-up and personal look at Amboy Crater.

Looking ahead again, a train runs parallel to Route 66.


Amboy Crater is so worth the “off the beaten path” drive! There is no shade or civilization at all as you travel through the desert. The feeling of solitude is intense, but welcoming, if you know what I mean. But if you need to feel connected again, head to the town of Amboy before returning back to Twenty Nine Palms. Look for the giant neon sign on Route 66 that advertises Roy’s Motel and Cafe.

roadtrippers.com, courtesy of Sanna Boman Coates

The exact population of Amboy, originally founded in the 1850s by salt miners, is less than 10. It was the first stop in a series of railroad stations constructed across the Mojave Desert in the late 1800s. In 1938 Roy’s Motel, named after Roy Crowl, opened as a rest stop for travelers, the only respite from the desert heat for miles and miles around. With the rise of automobiles, Roy’s Motel included a gas and service station. At it’s heyday, the town of Amboy, owned by Herman “Buster” Burris, had a population of 700. Buster eventually sold the town and moved away. Albert Okura, a businessman, Historic Route 66 activist, and philanthropist purchased the town of Amboy in 2005. (roadtrippers.com)

According to desertusa.com, Amboy is a time capsule of 1950s Americana. After Albert Okura purchased the town for $425,000, he has slowly been restoring it. Roy’s is open for gas and there’s a little store where you can buy water and a postcard and use the restroom. On November 16, 2019 the iconic neon lights of the Roy’s Cafe & Motel sign were lit after 20 years of darkness, lighting up the roadway again for travelers on Route 66. In the future there are plans to restore the 20-room hotel and 6 bungalows.

“There is an old cemetery, a church and a post office nearby — all closed now — but the grave markers remind us of the history and the residents who used to live there.” (desertusa.com)

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Within the Sand to Snow National Monument*

Nestled among the Little San Bernardino Mountains, this desert oasis is one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian (stream) habitats in California. The Preserve is an internationally-recognized birding site. It includes 2 desert vegetation zones: the Mojave and the Sonoran. The lush vegetation of Big Morongo Canyon stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding desert slopes. A high water table in the canyon has made possible the growth of tall trees in a desert climate. (bigmorongo.org)

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is located in the Morongo Valley, a community between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.

bigmorongo.org

The Preserve entrance is located off of State Hwy 62 on East Drive. Adjacent to the parking area is an information kiosk. On the ceiling are pictures of the various birds you may see inside the Preserve painted in their actual colors, as if you were looking up into the air and seeing the bird fly over. On the ground floor, beneath each flying bird, you’ll discover each bird’s own unique shadow. This shadow is how the ground animals recognize which predator lurks in the skies above. (bigmorongo.org)

bigmorongo.org

All trails begin at the Info Kiosk.

Trails range from 3 tenths of a mile to an 11-mile round trip hike. Elevations on the Preserve range from 600 feet on the canyon floor to over 3,000 feet at the ridge tops. The Morongo fault running through the canyon causes water draining from the surrounding mountains to form the creek and marsh habitat. (bigmorongo.org)

This color-coded map sets the trails apart and also offers a one-way COVID-19 compliant loop to follow:

We take the Marsh Trail to the Mesquite Trail where we pick up the Marsh Trail again and complete the Desert Willow Trail. And then we complete the entire loop of the Marsh Trail. We will return another time to “take the high road”of the West Canyon Trail, Canyon Trail (maybe), and Yucca Ridge Trail.


Here are pictures from our hike:

The Marsh Trail meanders over and along a stream under Fremont cottonwood trees, red willow, and white alder. This wetland area supports the 2nd highest density of breeding birds known in the U.S.. (bigmorongo.org)

left to right: willow, cottonwood, alder (I think?)

The Mesquite Trail continues along the stream through a marsh habitat…

snow-capped San Gorgonio Mountain rises in the background

… then briefly travels along the base of the Yucca Ridge…


A large outcropping of ancient gneiss rock, along this trail, is the result of the Morongo Valley Fault.

A post-war Ford, supposedly pushed off a cliff above, and pummeled by a large gneiss rock… (timingtower.com)

More views of the Yucca Ridge…


Boardwalks along the trails are environmentally appropriate. Composed of 60% recycled plastic milk containers and 40% sawdust, they last longer than wood. (bigmorongo.org)


An airy canopy of twisted limbs and branches…

This mistletoe is a perennial parasite that invades the bark of some desert trees and shrubs
where it takes in water and nutrients to survive…

“Spikerush” growing along the trails can grow to 7 feet high. When the stems can no longer support themselves, they tip over forming a dense ground cover providing small animals a home and protection from predators. (bigmorongo.org)


The Desert Willow Trail is a dirt trail wandering through open fields and honey mesquite thickets that drop down into a desert wash.


More mistletoe… Notice how green it is.

On Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve the mistletoe is red and found clinging to mesquite bushes.

The non-sticky berries ripen in winter and are a feast for birds.
Mistletoe fruit becomes sticky in the birds’ digestive tracks, allowing the seeds to stick to the bark of the host plant and germinate.

Even dead trees add color and ambiance to the desert habitat…


Mojave yucca

Fourwing saltbush
…a closer look

Cool views…

Yep, more mistletoe…

And now we are back where we started, outside the Visitor Kiosk, as we retrace our steps and complete the Marsh Trail, a 6-foot wide boardwalk trail accessible to everyone who is other-abled. There are 3 decks for relaxing along the .65 mile trail.

California fan palm, washingtonia filifera
Old cottonwood leaves still clinging to the branches paint the tree in fall colors.
The “all accessible” Marsh Trail with boardwalk and bench…
The view from the Jess Sherwood Memorial Deck…
A California fan palm takes root…

*Sand to Snow National Monument

Established by President Obama on February 12, 2016, the Sand to Snow Monument stretches from the sands of the Sonoran Desert to the top of San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California. With an area of 154,000 acres, Sand to Snow ranges from 1,000 feet to 11,000 feet in elevation. It protects a wildlife corridor connecting the San Bernardino National Forest/San Gorgonio Wilderness area, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Bighorn Mountain Wilderness area. (desertusa.com)

courtesy of desertusa.com…

Oceanside, CA

O’side

It’s been a very hot summer and we miss the cool ocean weather of Port Orford, Oregon where we usually stay in the summer. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we decide to stay in the Coachella Valley as CNLM graciously provides us this opportunity. Jeff’s yearning for the ocean, however, prompts our day trip to Oceanside, CA.

wikirealty.com

Located just 35 miles north of San Diego and 83 miles south of Los Angeles, O’side is less than 3 hours away from the Coachella Valley Preserve…

google maps

… and is just south of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 25, 1942 in honor of World War I Major General Joseph H. Pendleton.

visitoceanside.org
camp-pendleton.tricameral.mil

This land was inhabited by the indigenous Luiseño or Payomkawichum people before the first European explorers arrived in 1769. Today’s city of Oceanside sits on the mouth of the San Luis Rey River on the locality that the Luiseño called Tacayme. Father Junipero Serra’s missionaries founded San Luis Rey de Francis Mission on the Luiseño Indian village site called Keith. Farming and cattle grazing changed the landscape of this area in the early 1800s. Like all of California, this area was under Spanish until 1821. Then it was under Mexican rule until 1848 when the United States took control.

Completed in 1883, the California Southern Railroad, a branch of the Santa Fe, linked the cities of San Diego and San Bernardino. The railroad and World War II brought tourism and Camp Pendleton to this sleepy little town and turned it into the modern city of today. (en.m wikipedia.org)


Today, Oceanside is a thriving coastal community that provides all of the convenience of a modern city without the disadvantages. Located just 35 miles north of San Diego and 83 miles south of Los Angeles, Oceanside offers a unique combination of outstanding coastal location, well-priced available land and multiple resources. California’s main highway, Interstate 5, runs through Oceanside, as does Highway 78, which provides southeast access to Interstate 15. Highway 76, which runs northeast, also provides access to Interstate 15. With the Los Angeles area to the north and the San Diego/Tijuana area to the south, Oceanside enjoys proximity to all major Southern California destinations, while at the same time maintaining its coastal beauty and autonomy.

City of Oceanside, California website, ci.oceanside.ca.us

And here we are!


The Pier is an Oceanside historical landmark, first constructed shortly after the city incorporated in 1888. Since then, there have been 6 different pier structures built, the present version completed in 1987. The 1,942 foot wooden pier is “the perfect location to take a leisurely stroll, go fishing, watch surfers, or grab a bite to eat at the charming restaurant located at the very end.” (visitoceanside.org)


A fun day and a great road trip destination… However, we were surprised at the number of visitors who had no masks available 😷.

Where There’s Smoke…

There’s Fire!

This is what the skies over the Coachella Valley Preserve looked like Saturday, August 1st, in the late afternoon.

Dubbed the Apple Fire, dry conditions and triple digit temperatures became the ideal conditions for a small vegetation fire to burn out of control. The fire began Friday, July 31st, in the late afternoon. It doubled in size from 1,900 acres on Saturday morning to 4,125 acres by 3 p.m. and by 11:00 p.m. 12,000 acres, or more than 18 square miles, were on fire with 0% containment. (ktla.com)

ktla.com

google maps, Apple Fire

The cause at this time was still undetermined. An ignition spark from a car, a trailer dragging a chain, and arson were all being investigated. Later I read that witnesses called 911 on Friday afternoon to report seeing a man lighting 3 fires in the area.

Here are some pictures from news footage I gathered online:

courtesy of Terry Pierson

CBS News

CBS News

KESQ News, Channel 3

KESQ News, Channel 3

According to an article published in the Desert Sun, a Palm Springs newspaper, the Apple Fire started as at least 2 small fires shortly after 5 p.m. Friday in a community known as  Cherry Valley, a few miles from Beaumont, CA.

Here are some more pictures taken outside of the RV…


Sunday, August 2nd…

I took these pictures in the early afternoon as we headed toward Ramon Road from Thousand Palms Canyon Road.

And from the online news later in the day, I learned the fire continued to grow, scorching some 20,000 acres so far and forcing 7,800 people to evacuate. It is only 5% contained as of today.

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CNN, Alta Spells


Monday, August 3rd…

A news update from Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire Departments reported that 26,000 acres have burned so far. The official cause of the Apple Fire is determined to be a malfunctioning vehicle shooting out “hot objects” from its tailpipe. (CBSN, Los Angeles)


Wednesday, August 5th…

As Jeff and I returned from a day trip to Green Valley Lake outside of Big Bear, we cut over from CA-247 and took Pioneertown Road back to CA-62.

We noticed an intermittent scattering of parked fire vehicles and hiking fire persons along the route. As we descended from Yucca Valley into the Morongo Valley we were met with murky skies…


Friday, August 7th…

As we drove toward Palm Springs on Ramon Road, we could still see clouds of smoke from the Apple Fire.


Friday, August 14th…

With 90% of the Apple Fire now contained, the command of the fire has been transferred from Cal Fire to a local team led by Incident Commander Matt Ahearn of the San Bernardino National Forest. Suppression repair efforts will continue for several weeks. Rehabilitation includes mopping up along the fire line and repairing impacts on the landscape.

Fortunately no one died as a result of this fire, but 4 people were injured and 4 structures were damaged. (fire.ca.gov)


On August 16th lightning ignited a new fire in the San Francisco Bay Area, named the CSU Lightning Complex Fire, CSU being the geographical code  used by Cal Fire to designate the Santa Cruz Unit.

google maps


The very next day, August 17th, another fire started burning out of control near Sacramento, CA. The Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit (LNU) fire was also the result of lightning.

google maps


Then, on Saturday morning, September 5th, a pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party sparked a fire at the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa.

Here’s an example of such a device:

cnn.com

And here’s a map of where the fire is burning:

google maps

You’re right for noticing that the area looks familiar. It is not far from the Apple Fire from the beginning of  August…


On Sunday, September 6th, we noticed a dark cloud billowing from the Little San Bernardino Mountains over Joshua Tree National Park. Smoke clouds… On Monday the air was gray and dingy and smelled like a campfire.


Tuesday, September 8th, Jeff and I pulled tamarisk seedlings from the stream. I took some pictures of the sky. The mountains had disappeared.


To date, California is burning up!

google maps

The overcast skies and smell of smoke surrounding us on the Coachella Valley Preserve is nothing compared to the orange skies in San Francisco and the terrorizing drives evacuating residents are documenting as they flee from fire zones!

Green Valley Lake

A Perfect Place for a Picnic…

Green Valley Lake is about 15 miles from Big Bear Lake.

google maps
google maps

Small, picturesque, and uncrowded this secluded “Hidden Gem” of a town in the San Bernardino Mountains is the “best kept secret on the mountain.” Nearly 4 miles away from State Highway 18, this resort community sits at an elevation of 7000 feet surrounded by a National Forest.

The town of Green Valley Lake offers clean air, blue skies, serenity, and the calm beauty of a quiet forested community. The 9-acre lake is stocked for fishing. Boats can be rented and a swimming area is also available. The small downtown area hosts a market, 2 restaurants, a post office, a bait and tackle shop, and a community church. A public campground with 40 spaces is available as well as cabins and summer homes to rent. Three times a year (Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend, and Thanksgiving weekend) artists and musicians open up their homes and studios to visitors for the Artisan Tour. (green-valley-lake.com)

Population statistics gathered online varied from 203-300, but according to 2020 data on unitedstateszipcodes.org, 410 people live within this almost 8 square mile area. Only 14% of all households are occupied, leaving 84% vacant for seasonal recreational/occasional use and the rest for sale.


To escape the intense heat of the Coachella Valley, we pack a picnic and head for the hills…


After lunch we drive through town and circle the lake.


We head back to CA-18 and Big Bear Blvd. via Green Valley Lake Road. Our stomachs and curiosity satiated, we take the time to enjoy the view we missed before.

The blue splatter beneath the hills in the distance is Lake Arrowhead…

I zoom-in on my iPhone…

Lake Arrowhead is located in the town with the same name, about 15 miles from Green Valley Lake. Nicknamed “The Alps of Southern California,” Lake Arrowhead is a tourist resort consisting of almost 18 square miles. Six private communities provide the only access to the lake. (lakearrowhead.com and en.m.wikipedia.com)


As I walk away and return to our car, I discover this cool pine tree in front of me…


Back on CA-18, we pass by Snow Valley Mountain Resort…


Crystal blue skies, evergreen trees, massive rocks, and mountain tops entertain us along the descent into Big Bear.

There’s Big Bear Lake down below…


Sometimes we stop at a pullout to smell the pines, feel the fresh air, and enjoy the scenery.

The view from the car through a dirty windshield is not too shabby either…

We are definitely not in the desert anymore!


Ah, we arrive back at Big Bear Lake…

In contrast to Green Valley Lake, Big Bear is a bustling alpine community of of 21,000 full-time residents. The fresh water lake is 7 miles long and about 1/2 mile wide. Fishing, water sports, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are popular recreational activities in spring, summer, and fall. Summer temps average 80 degrees during the day and 45 degrees at night. Winter brings about 100 inches of snowfall with temperatures in the low 40s during the day and mid 20s at night, and offers the best skiing and snowboarding experiences in Southern California. (bigbear.com)


All of a sudden we get confused. We continue to follow Big Bear Blvd/CA-18 but it does not look familiar with the way we drove in… (?) We end up on CA-38. Fortunately it intersects with 18 and takes us back to 247/Old Woman Spring Road toward 62. Ahhhh…


Back on CA-18 heading down the hills toward CA-247, Old Woman Spring Road…


Instead of taking CA-247 to CA-62 in the Yucca Valley, we decide to take Pioneertown Road to 62.

We notice an intermittent scattering of parked fire vehicles and hiking fire persons along the route. The Apple Fire is not far away…


As we descend from Yucca Valley into the Morongo Valley we are greeted with yellow skies and realize just how close we actually are to the Apple Fire!


From fresh air, cooler temps, and blue skies… to smoky breaths, triple digit temps, and yellow skies… What a difference a day trip with altitude makes!

All My Critters… Part 3

Great and Small on the Preserve

the american white pelican

Sometimes, but not always in a V-formation, a flock of black wings appears overhead in winter. Then suddenly, as they turn, white wings flash through the sunlight.

These wings belong to the American White Pelican, one of the largest birds in North America. These pelicans rarely winter inland, however the Salton Sea* (in Southern California) is an exception. They often travel and forage in large flocks. They soar gracefully on broad, stable, black and white wings, high in the sky between thermals of warm air. (allaboutbirds.org)   *The Salton Sea is about 50 miles southeast of the Coachella Valley Preserve.

en.m.wikipedia.org

According to an April 26, 2019 article published online at nbcpalmsprings.com, many bird species, once abundant around the Salton Sea, are rapidly leaving. As the water increasingly evaporates, salinity increases and kills off the fish  upon which the seabirds thrive. The most pronounced desertion involves the American White Pelican, whose numbers reached about 20,000 in 2008, but, at the time this article was written, have dwindled dramatically to below 100.

The story of the Salton Sea, could be appropriately titled, “From Paradise to Purgatory”. What’s strange about this accidental tale of how an inland sea became the largest lake in California, is the fact that it is located in the middle of the Colorado Desert, the hottest portion of the Sonoran Desert. In 1905 the  Colorado River swelled, breached its levees, and flooded a portion of the desert valley known as the Salton Sink. For 2 years the water continued flowing in, creating a 15 x 35 mile lake dubbed the Salton Sea. Shorebirds flocked here, fish thrived, real estate developers built homes, hotels, yacht clubs… creating a tourist mecca along its shores. By the 1970s, however, what was too good to be true began rapidly falling apart. With no drainage outlet, 5 inches or less of annual rainfall, and runoff flowing in from nearby farms, the Salton Sea became polluted with pesticides and saltier than the Pacific Ocean. Periodic flooding pushed the toxic water further ashore. Depleted oxygen in the Sea killed fish, dragging their rotting bodies onto the beaches once lined with sunbathers, to shrivel in the hot sun. The sand became coated with layers of fragmented fish skeletons. (slate.com)

allthatisinteresting.com

atlasobscura.com

americansouthwest.net

atlasobscura.com

atlasobscura.com

(Check out my post Seeing is Believing to learn more about our visit to the Salton Sea in 2018.)

But let’s get back to the American White Pelican…

allaboutbirds.org, courtesy of Gordon Dimmig, MacCaulay Library

The American White Pelican dips its pouched bill to scoop up fish, then raises its head to drain out water and swallow its prey, unlike the brown pelican that dives upon its  meal from above. These pelicans also forage cooperatively. Groups of birds dip their bills and flap their wings, driving fish toward shore corralling them for synchronized bill-dipping feasts.

Females lay 2 eggs but only 1 chick usually survives. Another strange but true fact of nature reveals that one chick will harass or kill the other, a behavior known as siblicide.

Predators of the American White Pelican include coyotes, ravens, and great-horned owls.  (allaboutbirds.org)

Finally, one last fact about this large, graceful bird that majestically soars through the air: During mating season a yellow plate, called a nuptial tubercle, forms on the upper bill of breeding adults. This fibrous plate falls off after the birds have mated and the female lays her eggs. (nhpbs.org)

allaboutbirds.org


Mallards

Ducks have returned to Simone Pond since the restoration project has begun!

The Mallard is the ancestor of nearly all domestic duck breeds. The male has the dark green iridescent head and bright yellow bill. Females and juveniles, however, have orange and brown bills and their body feathers are a mottled brown. (allaboutbirds.org)

allaboutbirds.org

These large ducks with rounded heads and wide, flat bills can live in any wetland area, and may even hang out around your pool in the summer.

They are “dabbling ducks”, which means they feed in the water by tipping forward as opposed to diving.

Generally monogamous, mallards pair off in the autumn and court throughout winter. Only the female incubates the eggs, cares for the ducklings, and makes the familiar quacking sound of a duck. The male produces a quiet rasping sound. (allaboutbirds.org)

Another “Cool Fact“ from allaboutbirds.org…

Like other ducks, mallards shed all of their flight feathers during the summer molting season. They are flightless, vulnerable, and secretive during these 3-4 weeks as their body feathers slough into a concealing “eclipse” plumage that can camouflage their appearance.

commons.wikimedia.org

This spring, 10 ducklings with their Mama paid us a visit at Simone Pond. (A very good sign that the waters are healthier after eradicating the invasive fish.)

courtesy of Ginny Short, CNLM Preserve Biologist/Preserve Manager

courtesy of Mary McKay, Preserve Docent

courtesy of Mary McKay, Preserve Docent

courtesy of Mary McKay, Preserve Docent

Unfortunately this “paddling” of 10 ducklings kept dwindling almost daily, until only 2 survived. Ah, the cycle of life… We suspect our great-horned owls, barn owls, and red-tailed hawks may have scooped them up.


GreaT-horned owl

The palm grove around Simone Pond, known as McCallum Grove, is a favorite nesting place for this thick-bodied gray-brown owl with a reddish-brown face and 2 prominent feathered tufts on its head that look like horns, but are not.  (allaboutbirds.org)

audubon.org, courtesy of Christopher Schwarz

The Great-Horned Owl is the most perfect embodiment of what I picture when I think of the phrase, “the wise old owl”. Its piercing yellow eyes stare right through me as if this bird can read the story of my soul, my most intimate and raw thoughts.

One of the most common owls of North America, the Great-Horned is equally “at home” in deserts, wetlands, forests, backyards, cities, and almost any other semi-open habitat between the Arctic and the Tropics. (allaboutbirds.org)

On Easter morning, Mary (docent) and Frank (bird hike guide) visited the Pond with our Preserve Manager, Ginny, to assist her in setting crayfish traps. Mary found this “Easter Basket” of 3 Great-Horned fledglings up in the palm tree fronds and sent me these pics…

Last spring 3 owlets or nestlings were born in McCallum Grove and we watched their furry faces peak out of the nest, Mama Owl sitting nearby, of course.

Owls, like other modern birds, do not have teeth for chewing so they eat their prey whole and later regurgitate pellets of undigested material. (nwf.org)

Here’s a close up of one of these owl pellets…

And here’s the palm tree in McCallum Grove under which all these owl pellets were found…

Owls feed mostly on small mammals and other birds, but did you know that they are one of the only animals that will include skunks in their diet? They also have some unique adaptations that earn them their reputation as birds of prey. For example, their sense of hearing is so acute that they can detect a mouse stepping on a twig 75 feet (23 meters) away. And their eyes are so large in proportion to their head that they cannot move their eyes back and forth like humans, having to turn their heads up to 270 degrees (a 3/4 turn) to look in different directions. (nwf.org)


Long-Eared owl

These long and slender owls with tall ear tufts, orange faces, and yellow eyes roost in the palm trees along the boardwalk over the oasis on the Preserve. They appear in winter and are a special treat to look for and observe.

windowtowildlife.com, courtesy of Jim Edlhuber

This past spring our bird gurus spotted a pair of juveniles which was a special thrill.

And from Jeff’s pics…

Below are pictures of these same 2 owlets watching Jeff and me pull and trim rushes along the boardwalk. They just stared at us with their piercing yellow eyes, their heads following us as we moved to and fro. What an incredible experience to be in their presence for such a long time!


Barn owl

allaboutbirds.org/Darren Clark

Barn owls live all over the lower 48 United States, parts of southern Canada, and in much of the rest of the world… basically in any open habitat with an abundance of small nocturnal mammals to eat. In the desert this includes rats, mice, bats, and rabbits. (Fortunately, the round-tailed ground squirrels and white-tailed antelope squirrels are diurnal mammals and are relatively safe from the clutches of hungry barn owls.) Besides possessing excellent low-light vision, barn owls have an amazing ability to track and locate their prey by sounds alone. (allaboutbirds.org)

My first introduction to the barn owl on the Coachella Valley Preserve was out at Simone Pond. Jeff and I were newly vetted Preserve Hosts in the fall of 2018. We took a personally guided hike with Harlan who shared his vast knowledge of the Colorado desert… it’s flowers and shrubs, birds and reptiles and mammals, and of course the geology of the oasis created by the San Andreas Fault. We hiked the mile to Simone Pond and stopped briefly under the shade of palm trees in an area of the grove known as “The Citadel”, when suddenly large white wings sailed overhead and I felt something hit me lightly and splatter down the front of my t-shirt. Owl poop! A shit show! My baptism to the desert!

Barn owls are not particular in choosing where to place their nests… holes in trees, cliff ledges, cliff crevices, caves, burrows in river banks, and many different human structures, including barn lofts, church steeples, houses, haystacks, and even drive-in movie screens… or even in your own backyard in a homemade nest box. On the Preserve, we see them nesting on the ledges of the palm skirts.

The female prepares the nest by collecting her regurgitated pellets. She shreds them with her feet and molds them into a cup shape. About a month before laying eggs, her monogamous partner begins to bring hunted prey to the nest to both nourish Mama Owl and store for later when the babies hatch. (allaboutbirds.org)

I  could not find a suitable picture of a barn owl’s nest in its natural habitat. Apparently the popularity of attracting barn owls on one’s property has led to the abundance of homemade nest boxes. The one below at least gives you an idea of what the contents of the nest look like with the shredded pellets, the Mama, the owlets, and the yummy anticipation of a meal.

freedomok.net, courtesy of arkive.org and Christophe Perelle

Last spring (2019) we discovered 2 baby owls along the boardwalk oasis who had fallen out of their nest. Ginny rescued them and took them to the Coachella Valley Wild Bird Center, another non-profit organization, for the care and rehabilitation of injured, orphaned, or sick birds who will eventually be released back into their habitats. We just say, “Ginny took them to Linda.” … as in Linda York, the Executive Director.

This spring no one fell out of their nest. Here are some photos of the newest juvenile barn owl on the Preserve:

The wind kept blowing the palm leaves in front of the owl, so I just kept clicking pics…