San Diego and the Salton Sea

Speaker: Cliff Hence

The Salton Sea is California’s largest inland body of water and has become a prime birding spot in southern California, despite some very unusual conditions there. The ‘Sea’ is 235 feet below sea level and about 10 times as salty as the ocean. It was created in the 1905 when a 40-mile canal used to irrigate the area for agriculture flooded due to high rains. It’s estimated that 63 billion gallons of water a day poured into the dry waterbed of the Imperial Valley for about 18 months. This created the area that became known as the Salton Sea. It is also located right on the San Andreas Fault. The Sea has no outlet and is fed with runoff from area farms, which increases the salinity of the water. Surprisingly there are some species of fish that can survive in this environment. They provide a food source for over 400 species of birds that use the valley as a stopover or wintering spot. Thousands of White Pelicans, Cormorants, Snow and Ross’ geese, and various species of Ducks as well as Gamble’s Quail, Cattle Egret, White-faced Ibis, Roadrunner, Burrowing Owl and others visit the area each year. The area can be birded throughout the year, but because the temperatures easily can reach the 100’s in the warmer parts of the year, the cooler months are the prime time to visit the area.

The San Diego area is also a great birding area because of its proximity to the ocean. Despite prolific development of the area and a large naval base, there are still many natural areas that provide a large variety of avian diversity. Numerous gulls and terns including Gull-billed, Caspian, Elegant and Least Terns that can be seen as well as the occasional pelagic species in and around the city. There are also seals and Sea Lions basking on the rocks and promontories along the coast.

Cliff Hence is a retired photographer who has birded the Delaware Valley area for over 40 years. With his wife, and fellow birder Nancy, he has traveled throughout the country, including Alaska and Hawaii. They have also birded South and Central America and Europe. Cliff is a volunteer for the Fish and Wildlife Service and also leads bird and butterfly walks at the John Heinz NWR at Tinicum located near the Phila. Airport.





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