Desert Days

I loved every moment of our Arizona adventures, but as we headed home my thoughts began to refocus on some other spectacular mountains – the Sierra Nevada. I was jonesing to head north, but needed to spend a few more days in the desert. Don’t get me wrong, I love the desert and in Southern California we are lucky to be located in close proximity to the Mojave Desert (my personal fave), the Colorado Desert, and the Sonoran Desert. I am fascinated with the impressive array of adaptations that have evolved in desert plants and animals, but as temperatures increase and days lengthen, my adaptive strategy is to migrate north!

Earlier in the year, on the heels of the San Diego Bird Festival, I spent some days exploring Anza-Borrego State Park. It was a stark contrast to last year’s “superbloom”, but with blooms comes many people and I found it quite nice to explore the desert without the crowds. It rained the first night I arrived, so I awoke to that characteristic smell of Creosote after a desert rain, and headed out to explore. I hiked Yaqui Well and wandered around the Tamarisk Grove Campground. The usual desert suspects were out and about – Black-throated Sparrows, Costa’s Hummingbirds, Verdin, Phainopepla, and Orange-crowned Warblers, but I was most excited to spot a roosting Long-eared Owl.

Verdin on an Ocotillo
Costa’s Hummingbird
Orange-crowned Warbler on Chuparosa
Long-eared Owl

While there, I also hiked through Hellhole Canyon to the Fan Palm Oasis and Maidenhair Fern laced waterfall. The cooler temperatures had the birds noisily flitting around through late afternoon. The Cactus Wrens were quiet feisty and flocks of Black-throated Sparrows busily foraged on the ground. Phainopeplas called back and forth, and a Loggerhead Shrike chased a small mammal through a shrub across the trail, right in front of me. Further along the trail, a different Loggerhead Shrike posed quite nicely and I was content to finally get a decent shot, seeing as this is the Year of the Loggerhead Shrike! I followed the song of a Canyon Wren, through a canyon of all places, and was pleased when popped out as I climbed over boulders to get to the waterfall.

Loggerhead Shrike 
Canyon Wren
Phainopepla

More recently, I headed to Yucca Valley to scout out the Burns Piñon Ridge Reserve, hike the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve, and explore for wildflowers and birds. Land of Joshua Trees – those unusual “tree-like” monocots with tufts of spiky leaves branching skyward and tall white flames of creamy blossoms. Joshua trees are characteristic of the high desert, and are restricted to 2500′-5000′. Their occurrence marks the southern boundary of the Mojave Desert on the slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Joshua Tree, Yucca brevifolia

I’d like to say more about Joshua Trees (especially their fascinating pollination ecology) and the beautiful desert wildflowers, but this is about all I can muster as I sit in the midst of warbler migration. Ha! So much to catch up on. So, for now, I’ll just leave off with a few of my favorite photos from my Joshua Tree NP, Yucca Valley, and Big Morongo Canyon adventures.

American Kestrel food drop, note lizard in mouth of perched bird
GrubHub at its best
Cactus Wren
Singing Scott’s Oriole at Black Rock Campground
Always a favorite. Apricot mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua 
Lawrence’s Goldfinch

3 thoughts on “Desert Days

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    1. Thank you!! Me too! I had an amazing encounter with a juvenile last year…I need to post those pictures soon. I was looking up in the canopy for a warbler, only to look down and see him posted on a woodpile not 10’ in front of me. I had to back up to get a good photo!

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