Mornings at the Salton Sea are the best.
The crew and I get up at first light. Spike and Bridget jump out the door of the BLT to relieve themselves while I put the coffee on. One thing I like about our camp here is I can let the crew go off-leash. No matter where they wander, I can keep an eye on them. Having to walk them on a leash first thing in the morning, required at developed campgrounds, gets tiresome.
I fix my cup of coffee, don a light jacket, and go outside to watch the show!
Bridget and Spike curl up in the dog bed or on the blanket next to my chair. We have front row seats for the bird show. Funny how rare it is to see anyone else up and outside in the early morning. No matter where we camp, it seems that people sleep during the best part of each day.
People! We aren’t nocturnal animals!
If we were, we’d have better night vision, like owls and opossums. Why stay awake for hours after dark and then sleep when the sun shines her glory on another beautiful morning? I don’t get it.
The show starts with acrobatics and much caterwauling.
Maybe that should be birderwauling? Gulls screech, pelicans dive, even the plovers careen in arcs in synchronized Top Gun formation. So much goes on, my head turns as if I’m watching a tennis ball at Wimbledon.
Salton Sea camping is a funky experience.
It’s not only the smell and the dry fish skeletons on the beach. On the back side of our campsite, across a field, semis roar on Highway 111. Beyond the highway are railroad tracks. Rarely do ten minutes go by without a freight train rumbling by, some with 130 cars or more.
Whereas I’m quickly annoyed by quieter human noise — a generator, a radio, too frequent laughter — I enjoy the sound of the trains all day and even when I wake and hear them during the night.
Trains go by us on the front and the back of our campsite!
A line of black birds (coots? grebes?), moving so fast I can’t identify them, fly from the north end of the sea to the south end, in a perfect line, equally spaced, like the boxcars roaring behind us. Several of these bird trains pass by, never stopping. At first I think they’re resuming southerly migration after resting at the north end of the sea. Now I know they will pass by again in an hour or so, going back to where they came.
One group of about thirty birds flies on stage in V-formation.
Then the V of birds closes to form a perfect ribbon, no one losing his equal spacing with the bird in front or the bird in back. The maneuver is performed with a level of precision that reminds me of the Rockettes I saw on the stage of Radio City Music Hall many years ago.
The white pelicans love to be in a group.
They fly together, fish together, and float together like drifting white sailboats. This morning I count more than forty together. Up at the north end, hundreds congregate. Only a few of the white pelicans float alone — loners? outcasts?
While the white pelicans love company, the brown pelicans fly alone.
I don’t know if it’s because there are fewer brown pelicans or if they are loners by nature. The browns don’t associate with the whites much. All the birds — white pelicans, brown pelicans, ring-billed gulls, American coots, plovers, grebes, American avocets, bitterns, and others — live peacefully and get along harmoniously, except for a snowy white egret who walks alone and likes to push the plovers around. What’s his problem?
The plovers like to stay near shore in small groups of four or five, like a family.
The gulls are social like the white pelicans, but in a different way.
Often the gulls swirl, helter-skelter, in a group. Sometimes they fish together. The white pelicans are mostly silent; the gulls have more to say. I see gulls flying in pairs, but not with recognizable organization, and they soon abandon each other. One gull arrives on the scene, swings down close to a gull standing at water’s edge, and in that instant convinces that gull to join him in the sky. When I roll out the BLT’s blue awning in the afternoons, a curious gull or two cross the beach to fly by and check it out.
Then there are the grey herons.
Three herons stand like statues about 50 yards apart, seemingly guarding his own personal territory. Each heron stays on his “property” all day and I assume all night. At one point the heron to the south flies up to the heron in front of our campsite. The nerve!
Our heron meets him in the air!
A broad swoop and both herons are over our campsite — magnificent wing spans, necks stretched straight — what a sight! One circular chase and the intruder returns to his own stretch of shoreline. All day, every day that the crew and I are here, the herons stay anchored to their own little piece of real estate.
Like a play reflects human experience, the birds in the early morning show of the Salton Sea remind me of many different kinds of people. Hmm . . .If I were one of the shore birds, which one would I be?
What kind of bird are you?