No, not really, but that’s what it felt like.
The last week of December, my husband and I took a short vacation to Indian Wells, California. It was more in the nature of a non-work, off-computer break than a birding trip, but of course I did some research beforehand to see where the birds were.
One of the places I decided any self respecting birder should visit was the Salton Sea. I’d heard many good things about this place from other birders, and being so close we had to make a visit.
Formed in 1905 when an accidental break in a canal diverted water into the dry alkaline basin of the Imperial Valley, this saline lake covers more than 380 square miles. It’s more than 200 feet below sea level, and saltier than the Pacific Ocean. It was like nothing we’d experienced before.
What looks like a nice sandy beach is actually billions upon billions of tiny shells.
Piles and boulders of crusted salt also dotted the landscape, along with obligatory empty plastic bottles and soft drink cans.
The shell/salt beach was littered with thousands of thousands of dead fish, a long way up the shore from the water. Nothing was feeding on them, as they were completely dried out.
There were also a lot of these salt/slime pools dotted around.
We were the only people there. The atmosphere was very unnerving, especially since there was no noise. At all.
Freshwater estuaries along the northern edge held a few birds. Most of them flew long before I could get close enough to identify the smaller species, and none of them were making any sound.
White pelicans were predominant, but there were also (way too many) juvenile plumage gulls, that shall remain anonymous.
This cattle egret took me by surprise – it seemed impossible for there to be any food in this water although the deeper water was very grebey, but they never came close enough to identify.
There were a lot of Black-necked stilts walking along the salt shore, as well as a few other shorebirds that flew before I got close enough for good look. I did, however, manage to identify (TA DAA!!) a winter plumage shorebird without looking in my bird guide. Some of my readers will appreciate the significance of me recognizing American Golden Plovers out of breeding plumage…
A busy Say’s Phoebe was flycatching from atop one of the salt piles.
And everywhere we looked, distracting me from the birds, were the dead, dried out fish. We did find a sign explaining what they were, but no indication of why thousands (milllions?) of them were washed up on shore.
If you read the birding books there are lists of must-see places, and Salton Sea is on most of those lists. To be fair we didn’t drive down the west side, as after completing the east side, we kind of lost heart for more birding there. If anyone asks I can now say yes, I’ve been to the Salton Sea. I just hope I can say it without shuddering, and will quickly change the subject.