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Birding the Salton Sea
Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge and Salton Sea State Recreation Area
Imperial and Riverside Counties, California
Birding Around Las Vegas, Favorite Places Far Away

Salton Sea
Salton Sea

With a list of over 400 species, the Salton Sea is an amazing place to bird. The Salton Sea is a big place, but I like to bird two main areas: Salton Sea State Recreation Area in the northeast, and Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge on the southeast and south. Also in southern areas are farm fields and drainage ditches with tremendous birding opportunities. The area provides open water, shorelines, marshes, farm fields, and upland desert habitats, all of which combine to support a diverse assemblage of species in a relatively small area. The Salton Sea does, however, stink, and you have to just get over it and enjoy the birds.

I try to visit during winter when temperatures are cooler, but interesting species are present all year. Link to Area Map.

Birding the Salton Sea

Salton Sea State Recreation Area.

Located on the northeast corner of the Salton Sea, the Salton Sea State Recreation Area is located on the northeast side of the Salton Sea. The marina behind the visitor center can provide good birding. The spit that protects the marina has shaded picnic tables that are nice for birding over the water, and marshes along the shoreline south of the marina provide habitat for wading birds and other waterbirds. The cactus garden behind the entrance station has trees, palms, and a pool of water (for pupfish) that attract upland birds.

Birding the Salton Sea

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

Located on the southeast corner of the Salton Sea, the National Wildlife Refuge includes several habitat types with birds specific to each. Refuge Headquarters has mesquite thickets with water and seed feeders, making it the best place to see ground-doves, quail, and other seed-eating species. The shoreline includes mud flats with wading birds and seawalls with divers. Specially designed and protected islands provide habitat for Least Turns.

Refuge Unit One, located at the south tip of the sea, provides freshwater marshes where ducks, geese, and shorebirds can be abundant. Always watch for Burrowing Owls when in these areas.

Birding the Salton Sea

Red Bluff Marina.

Red Bluff Marina and campground is an odd place partially left in the dust of history. Originally, the campground was located on a highpoint of land out in the Salton Sea and the marina provided boat launch facilities. As water levels dropped, the area was left high and dry. Even so, the campground trees provide some of the only tall trees in the region, and shallow marshes along the access road can be good for ducks and waders. The edge of the Salton Sea can be accessed from dirt roads southwest of the campground.

Birding the Salton Sea

Farm Fields.

The south and southeast sides of the Salton Sea are a huge farming area: The Imperial Valley. Burrowing Owls seem to love the Imperial Valley, and many other species of birds call it home during the benign months of the years. Birding these areas involves driving rural roads and stopping where birds are seen or where they might be hiding. Be sure to scan parks and other open areas in towns.

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 140107

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