Pacific Flyway (click to enlarge)~

The Salton Sea near Anza Borrego Desert in Southern California is one of the crucial wetland stops on The Pacific Flyway for birds migrating between Alaska and Latin America.
6 million birds rest here every year. (Snow Geese, Glossy Ibis)
424 different bird species have been counted at The Salton Sea. (Snowy Egret)
San Diego County hosts more than 500 different bird species, more than any other location in the continental United States. (White Pelicans)
The Salton Sea sits 228 feet below sea level, its salinity percentage is greater than The Pacific Ocean, and it is California’s largest lake.


The sea has been steadily evaporating for the past fifteen years, and this evaporation is accelerating due to Southern California’s prolonged drought.
If the sea evaporates, 6 million migratory birds could be brutally affected. (American Avocet)

90% of California wetlands are already gone! (Black-Necked Stilt)
95% of the US population of Eared Grebes rely on The Salton Sea, as well as 90% of White Pelicans, 50% of ruddy ducks, and 40% of Clapper Rails. Several threatened and endangered species also shelter here. (Sand Hill Cranes)
Cheers to you from the millions of beautiful, but at-risk birds at The Salton Sea (Sand Hill Cranes)~

265 thoughts on “Pacific Flyway (click to enlarge)~

    1. The sound of the wings and squawks of thousands of birds simultaneously taking off is unforgettable. I would be focused on a subject and I would hear the noise, like multiple crying aircraft taking off, I would move my camera towards the noise and see so many thousands of birds taking off in unisom. It happens many times everyday. Truly thrilling!

  1. Is there any plan to preserve the lake? I hope they are working on it. Beautiful pictures of these birds. I can imagine you can go out there watch these different birds all day long.

    1. It is a two hour drive from The Holler to the sea, but it is an incredible place and no, there are no set plans to preserve the lake from evaporation which is a crime. SoCal is entering our fourth year of drought now, and these birds need the wetland, as do the mammals like raccoons and foxes.

  2. That is a completely different vision of the Salton Sea than I saw last year. I was probably in a different spot or maybe it wasn’t the season for the birds to be there, but everything looked so desolate. Beautiful pictures! I hope the powers that be can turn things around for this great resource. We certainly haven’t had the rain we need so far this winter.

    1. Yes, if you go to Salton City, it is like a surreal, post-acopolyptic, example of man’s planetary destruction. You have to drive a bit further south to Unit 1 & 2 of the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuges. Here wildlife looks like the opening scenes of ‘Out of Africa.’ Mammal tracks are everywhere, birds in the many thousands. There are raptors and snakes and lots of insects. It is fascinating. I am going to the eastern side soon which I am embarrassed to admit I have never done.

  3. Fabulous photos, Cindy! I used to take my students from my Biology for Non-Majors at the University of California Irvine to Anza Borrega every year on a field trip – tons of fun and lots of things to see. Many of them had living in CA there whole lives and had never seen a desert.

    1. Living in California and not visiting Anza is criminal. I identify much more with the desert than the ocean and I was born on the ocean. The desert is just the most amazing eco-system and the way it changes with the seasons is incredible. Your class must have loved you!

    1. Yes, the sea is still here, but it is rapidly diminishing. If the politicos don’t do something, the results could be devastating for wildlife. SoCal was supposed to get the El Nino rains this year, but they didn’t materialize for the southern part of the state, so the situation is increasingly severe. We have had three weeks of days in the mid- 80F.

  4. Extraordinary photographs – and how even more extraordinary to see it for real. Where I lived in Thames, New Zealand, the wading birds would fly from Siberia (and then go back!) Apparently it is one of the longest flights on the planet. Nothing like the scenes in your photos though.

    1. Bird migrations are simply astounding. There is a goose species that flies over Everest every year. It is wonderful to think of species moving from Siberia to New Zealand every year. The Holler hummingbirds travel around 2000 miles each year from SoCal across the Gulf of Mexico to Central America. These birds weigh about as much as a US nickel. They are tiny and amazing!

      1. You would very much like The Holler (where I live). We have them year round, and get around 50 all spring and summer. They should be coming back soon! I love them fiercely.

    1. I couldn’t give you a sense of the scope without posting a lot more photos. There were thousands of all sorts of different bird species including soooo many white pelican.

      1. I would LOVE to see such a sight!! One time I did see a migration of snow geese on the ground over near Rio Vista and it was quite something but I was driving and I couldn’t really stop to enjoy it. Thanks for sharing these! Post more please! Oh a panorama would be amazing! 🙂

      2. Yes, I have a bunch of panaromas, it was the only way to capture it, but there is only so much I should post. I parse it. I think you should segue down here. I’ll meet you at the wildlife refuges. I’m serious. This place needs your camera.

    1. Hitch exercised ‘poetic’ license. I had so much fun approaching the Sandhills. It was a walk, stop proposition. These birdies are 4 feet tall. Still I do admit to being intimidated by the wild ostrich in Africa. Those are really BIG birdies! 😉

    1. I don’t know. Originally the birds used the Colorado River, but the river was diverted for human use. I don’t know what they would use without The Salton Sea. Another crucial resting spot in California is Mono Lake and it is also steadily disappearing. Just looking at the lake levels in Southern California is eerie and spooky. You have piers going out over dust, and lake bed dried to a crisp.

  5. It’s so sad to hear about the sea evaporating because of the drought conditions. These are gorgeous birds, and your photographs are amazing. What beauty!! Did I use enough adjectives? LOL

  6. Cindy, your photos are always beautiful and sharp. I particularly admire these bird shots. You really do a great job of showing a sense of freedom. I’d love to take such great flying shots. 🙂

  7. Love these shore and water fowl photos! I have a friend who lived near Anza Borrego and used to bird there. We never made it there the one time we were in San Diego so I appreciate your gorgeous pics even more!

  8. Love your photos, Cindy. What an amazing experience it must be to see all these birds at once…the climate change causing these extreme weather patterns is truly worrisome. I hope for rains for this area before it’s too late.

    1. My hope is dwindling for rain this year. This is our fourth year of major drought. These birds in these numbers are just thrilling to see. I photographed some hawks but no ospreys this time darn it!

  9. Wow, thank you for my first view of the Salton Sea Cindy! My family recently inherited some land around there and we haven’t had the chance to visit it in person yet. So I’m quite excited to be seeing it through your eyes! I love the view of there being so many birds that they seem to blot out the sky. And the close-up of the Snowy Egret is my favorite! 🙂 ~Lynn

    1. Be sure and visit the two Sony Bono Nature Refuges. They are a birders paradise. The property could be interesting for you Lynn. It is like another world out there. The area around Salton City is getting some development further away from the shores. You need to explore beyond Salton City. I have yet to visit the eastern shore and I want to go soon!

      1. I sure plan to! We have 2 plots of land (one for me and one for my sister) upon which we can build a home – in an area marked for residences, and they’re very close (walking distance) to the sea and the Sony Bono Nature Refuges. Yay! 🙂

    1. We are so thoughtless aren’t we, with this incredible planet. It breaks my heart too. Mono Lake is in trouble too and it is another rest stop. I don’t have any answers because I don’t know.

  10. I have your pictures and commentary, Cindy. I have been out there and never realized the number Birds that rely on the Salton Sea. It has been a few years. Perhaps I need to go back again.

    1. Be sure to go south away from Salton City to Units 1 & 2 of the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Rescue Complex. If you go in March or April there will be nest activity. It is very much worth a visit. Salton City is worth a visit to see the affects of misguided environmental actions, but it is sad to see.

      1. Camping in Anza Borrego makes you brilliant, in my book. I have stayed so many times, but never camped. The night stars and solitude while camping must be overwhelmingly maginifient.

  11. It is very sad to see what drought and extreme weather patterns can do to the environment, birds and wild life, as there are many endangered species and lands affected from it all.

    1. The Salton Sea is so complex. It was created by human misadventure resulting accidentally from the draining of The Colorado River for human agriculture. The sea is full of agricultural chemicals. The birds and animals relocated to the sea when their natural Colorado River marshes were destroyed by human action. Now the sea is at risk of drying up, leaving the wildlife with little options. It is heartbreaking to see how we seem incapable of learning and correcting our behavior.

    1. These creatures are simply magnificent in these massive flocks! They move like one unified organism, all making simultaneous cries, along with the crescendo of thousands of beating wings. Glorious to witness, I agree with you!

  12. That’s amazing, Cindy! I was there with my parents once when I was very young. I remember lots of dead fish floating on the surface. I heard it was from getting caught in ski boat propellers. It was a ski trip and I was told I was too young to ski so I was crushed.

    Nice piece!

    1. Yes, many years ago, The Sea was built up to be a water skiing resort. Hotels were built, restaurants and bars. But the inadvertantly created, man-made sea, was a resevoir for chemical run off from the agricultural fields of the Imperial Valley. It soon became a brew too toxic for most fish and people. So now Salton City, the old resort town, is an eerie, post-apocalyptic appearing toxic area, where the shores consist of the ground up bones of thousands of dead fish. There are planned suburbs with lots and street names, that were never built. Some of the abandoned restaurants still have fixtures in them. You have to go south, to the marshes created by leaking agricultural water canals, to find this incredible abundance of thriving wildlife.

  13. Such beautiful birds. That’s so sad about the wetlands evaporating. To think that we’ve had so much rain that it has caused devastating floods in the UK and then there are other areas devastated by drought that would have benefited from all that rain.

    1. Yes, the chaotic extremes so indicative of global warming. Sometimes other people misunderstand and think global warming only means warming. It also means abnormal cooling and precipitation, just markedly abnormal climatic patterns. This is what we are wittnessing in Southern California. I have lived here for 59 years and I have never seen anything like this.

      1. There have been periods of marked climate change throughout history, such as a mini ice-age in the Renaissance and Mediterranean temperatures in the south of England in Roman times. Whether our world will bounce back from what’s happening now is a different matter, as we have to factor in many more pollutants caused by human activity.

  14. Those are terrific photos! I hope the drought ends soon, before the wetlands completely disappear. That would be horrible. Thanks for sharing, and for letting everyone know about the problem.

      1. The noise is the most amazing part. It starts with this cacaphony of a thousand birds lifting off and vocalizing, Then you hear the amplified murmur of thousands of wings gaining updraft similtaneously. I can’t describe the sound. It is too wondrerful.

  15. Thank you Cindy, not only are the photos stunning, but I was also equally impacted by the ecological message of the signifiigance of protecting wetlands – and the habitat for all of creatures. Great informative uplifting beautiful post! Peace, Harlon

  16. Wonderful scenes of all the birds at the wetland stopover. It is so important now to protect the remaining wetlands. My current quote has the lines of a poem that Ive always loved about letting the wild and wet live and be left. Seems it was disappearing a century or so ago.

    1. Yes, the initial damage that dried up the Colorado and created The Salton Sea happened around 1905-1907, paving the way for mass agriculture and development. We have 10% of our wetlands remaining in California and they are shrinking and evaporating quickly.

    1. When you consider that 90% of California’s wetlands were destroyed, and the remaining 10% are shrinking fast, then you have a potential environmental disaster that cannot be recovered from. Imagine the numbers of birds and wildlife that lost their lives along with the lost wetlands and you get a sense of how staggeringly stupid California’s environmental policies have been for the past 100 years.

  17. Beautiful photos, Cindy. My husband and I were talking about global climate change and how the world is impacted down to the tiniest living organisms. Is that the source of these recent epidemics? As the life-giving water changes, the bacteria changes, the insects, the flora, and the animals. It’s all intricately connected in this global dance of which we are part. We aren’t immune to it and we won’t escape it. I hope the Salton Sea survives long enough for us to figure this out 🙂 Thanks for sharing (and sorry for the mini-rant!).

    1. Yes, your comment is particularly apropos to The Salton Sea. As it evaporates, the salinity and chemical components increase creating a toxic brew. The sea was created in 1907 when The Colorado River was diverted for human use in a series of canals. A canal broke flooding the desert and creating The Salton Sea. Waterfowl used to shelter in the natural marshes and deltas of The Colorado River. These deltas were drained for human use, with some leakage creating the marshes around the perimeter of The Salton Sea. The sea itself is full of pesticides and herbicides from agricultural run off. So Salton Sea was created by human folly and it may well be destroyed by the same process, this time though the birds and animals may have no where else to go.

      1. This, since I was a kid, used to be all I knew of the sea. It of course is far more complicated and interesting. Driving around it makes a powerful impression, I know exactly what you mean.

  18. What an amazing place. But how sad that the wetlands are vanishing. Maybe that’s the Lord’s way of bringing some of his creatures home early before things get really bad. Hmm, didn’t mean that to sound as negative as it actually does.

    1. For a person who loves birds, watching these massive flocks take off is just thrilling. In terms of noise, spectacle and the sheer power of nature, it can’t be beat.
      Habitat issues all over our poor planet are very sad.

    1. Unfortunately, history has demonstrated that nature would be better off without us. This is a sad state of affairs because there are so many people who revere the natural world. We just don’t seem to be the ones making the decisions.

  19. I love to see the migrations overhead here in Omaha, and I’ve experienced some of the Sand Hill Cranes’ passage through central Nebraska, but I would sure love to take in an opportunity to be with so many species in such a rare meeting place. How fortunate you are, Cindy!

    1. I would love to visit Nebraska’s Sand Hills. It is second best to see the cranes here but still a big thrill. They are such magnificent, old world birds. I love to watch them take off and fly. You are correct, if you love birds, these Salton Sea Wildlife Refuges are hard to beat in terms of vast numbers and varieties of species.

  20. Another poetic journey. I am an avid bird watch. Water birds are some of my favorite. We live in Florida and I am fortunate enough to see a few whenever I go to a doctor’s appointment. And, sometimes, I’m even able to snap a photo! 🙂 Thanks again Cindy!

    1. Floridas birds mesmerize me. We will be there for our annual visit in April. I am particularly fascinated by the wild parrots. I am glad you get out to see the birds and snap some photos Nancy. Cheers to you~ <3

    1. I hope you do go, get prepared for the fact that much of the area around The Salton Sea looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland and don’t let this deter you. Head to the Sony Bono National Wildlife Refuges. You can stay in Borrego Springs and take day trips to the refuges in about an hours drive through gorgeous state desert scenery. They are nice places to stay and eat in Borrego Springs. We have been staying at La Casa de Zorro since I was a kid and love it. Carlees restaurant is a major treat. It doesn’t look like much, but the food is wonderful.

  21. So many wetlands ( originally known as swamps) are being drained, as well as evaporated due to the drought, and the habitat for all these amazing birds that rely on them is gradually being depleted. I hope the Salton Sea area is a dedicated wildlife sanctuary and it can be saved for the future of all those birds. It always amazes me to see the huge flocks of birds swirling around and they never appear to crash into each other.

    1. Certain areas of The Salton Sea are refuges for wild birds and animals, but the sea itself is not part of the state park and is not protected. There is talk of protection, but no action. It is discouraging and reflects the idiocy of California’s environmental policy.

  22. What gorgeous shots and what a powerful message about this endangered habitat. Our son told us about Salton Sea when he lived in California. I want to visit it on our next trip. It makes me think of the Dust Bowl era with the droughts in that part of the country.

    1. Be prepared for a rather shocking post-apocalyptic wasteland around much of the sea. Head to Units 1 & 2 of the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuges to see what I posted here and so much more. You can stay in Borrego Springs where there are several nice places. We love La Casa de Zorro. There are nice restaurants in Borrego Springs. Carlees Restaurant doesn’t look great, but trust me, the food is wonderful! Borrego Springs is about an hours drive from the refuges and the desert itself in Borrego is gorgeous and fascinating to explore, especially this time of year as the wild flowers bloom.

  23. Stunning once again Cindy! I’m not sure how many types are here but I do adore the seagulls and the flamingos are here from October through April. There are many others but I have really become stuck on the owls just across the river.

    Since I don’t have an email address for you, I am adding a few links here I thought you might enjoy. The second one in particular was sent by a very dear friend, former professor, in Sacramento.

    Bisous, Léa xx

    1. Spectacular Lea! The wild ones in winter are simply divine. I love the insomniac grizzly! The still shots were ethereal. Thank you so much for sending these to me my friend and be well!

      1. Cindy, I couldn’t wait for you to see them as you came into mind immediately. Like your photos, this allows us to get up close and personal with nature which I’m afraid few take the time to do. Perhaps if we did, we would take better care…

  24. Those birds are magnificent. Sad to think the Salton Sea could dry up entirely. Hasn’t el nino given you any relief? Droughts can last for centuries. It’s very scary to think that drought may have been what ended the Mayan empire, as they now theorize. San Diego has always seemed like a paradise, but not if you’ll be running out of water. It’s sobering to consider that 90% of California’s wetlands are gone.

    1. I agree with you Brenda and my son talks about the historically cyclical nature of extinctions on this planet. The Anasazi peoples may have been wiped out by drought too and others by disease and other processes. Oceans used to cover where I now live and ice ages obliterated everything. Still one can easily see in the California wetland’s debacle, the negative impact of human environmental policy and practice. We, as a species probably don’t want to be speeding the planetary processes towards our own extinction, or maybe we do, for temporary gain and gratification. Humans don’t seem to have a positive impact on this planet or the creatures living on it.

      1. If we just sat and brain stormed all the actions humans have taken that has damaged the planet and the creatures on it, we would probably see our species in a different way. But I don’t want to do this. It would be too depressing. I would definitely rather feed the birds. Hugs to you Brenda. <3

  25. Hi Cuz,
    Been absent for a while on a journey into the past…., long, long, long ago, tracing family history all the way back to 10th century Ireland. Was quite an interesting journey. Now I’ll have to go over there to walk in their footsteps.
    … The migratory flyways are magic, Cindy. I love to watch all of the species as they follow their inbred natural instincts this time of year. In your pics I noted geese (just a few), white pelicans, gulls, and just a whole lot more. Especially like the egrets and herons. Thanks for sharing with us. ….Hugs !

    1. Oh your search sounds fascinating. I do hope you will share what you have learned with an interested Barton! And yes, you must go to Ireland and trace your ancestors footsteps. It is so incredibly beautiful. I missed you and glad to hear you are well!

  26. Exquisite photos Cindy! So much motion and life in them. And I love pelicans– I don’t know why. They look so awkward once they settle onto the ground. thanks for another wonderful post…

  27. The Glossy Ibis, the Snow egret and the Snow Geese were among birds I rarely see in such numbers. I really enjoyed all the birds and pray for rain and this body of water, the Salton Sea, to stay moist for birds in their long distance flights. Your photos are outstanding and your message so poignant, Cindy.

  28. reminded me of winters when these birds visit India and rest on the wetlands, populate and then move on to their next destination… Great egrets, pelicans are an awe view to have.. Love this pictures, specially the solo egret.

  29. These pictures are amazing. Your post was also very informative. I just moved to California, so I will certainly need to keep my eyes out for this beautiful bird!

  30. Pingback: Pacific Flyway (click to enlarge)~ | penpowersong

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