A studio for bird study

Tag: desert

Beatnik Birding: A True Desert Denizen, the Le Conte’s Thrasher

by Bryce W. Robinson

Le Conte's Thrasher- Toxostoma lecontei

Le Conte’s Thrasher- Toxostoma lecontei

The genus Toxostoma is comprised of some of my favorite birds. At the top of these species is the Le Conte’s Thrasher. I love this bird in part because it is rather difficult to find. I’ve spent a great deal of time in the Sonoran Desert, frequenting the sandy creosote scrub that is this birds habitat. Still, I’ve only seen a handful of this desert specialist, and each time has been memorable.

Recently, I found two birds outside of Palm Springs, CA, one of which was singing atop a creosote. I had never heard the song of the Le Conte’s. It is the same wonderful wandering warble of other Toxostoma species, yet it seems a bit more delicate.

The Le Conte's Thrasher signature habit, running along the sand as if it were a Roadrunner.

The Le Conte’s Thrasher signature habit, running along the sand as if it were a Roadrunner.

One of the reasons I am so fascinated by this bird is its habit to run across the sand between Creosote shrubs as it forages for food. It seems to prefer running rather than flying. I can’t help but think of the Greater Roadrunner every time I see this behavior.

Le Conte's Thrasher- Toxostoma lecontei

Le Conte’s Thrasher- Toxostoma lecontei

I find it incredible that this bird is only twenty miles from another southern California Toxostoma species. The California Thrasher is much like the Le Conte’s in appearance, but it frequents the chaparral hills of southern California. This pair of Le Conte’s Thrashers I found are on the western edge of the desert in the extremely arid white sand hills amidst Palm Springs iconic wind mill farms. Its proximity to the California Thrasher’s range is incredible, as the species is very different in habits and habitat. These two species are prime examples of evolution, adaptability, and the affects of environmental pressures.



Beatnik Birding: The Southern California Desert

by Bryce W. Robinson

Burrowing Owl- Athene cunicularia

Burrowing Owl- Athene cunicularia

I’ve made a stop in the California Sonoran to conduct nesting bird surveys for a bit. This will be the end to the southwest tour of the beatnik birder. The roads I have travelled and the places I have seen… These times will be remembered.

My time here is brief, but long enough to once again experience the nesting season of the Sonoran. I’ve already had some amazing experiences with nesting birds, and found some of the most delicate lifeforms I’ll ever encounter.

The photo I share today is of a dedicated Burrowing Owl on the south end of the Salton Sea, standing watch over his tiny kingdom. He was so serious, I’ll have you understand. He took no notice of my vehicle as I encroached on his business. He was about a higher task, to ensure his legacy. He did not bother with me, for which I was fortunate. Soon I was too close for my lens to focus, so I stopped with my intrusion. It was a blessing to encounter such a stubborn owl, so I did not take anything for granted. After taking my fill of photographs, I simply watched.

I could have watched, and filmed, and taken notes, and drawn, and continued to pore into the world of this owl. But I left him to his task. There he remained, watching his land, diligent and dedicated. It is my hope that there he will forever be.

Common Redpolls of the Desert

by Bryce W. Robinson


It has been a harsh winter thus far. Before the deathly cold and snows hit, I found something that really excited me. I was in the middle of the west desert, in the northern part of Utah, and I came upon a flock of Common Redpoll- Cardeulis flammea. This bird is not common in Utah. I hardly expected to find it in the desert, so my excitement was doubled. It was quite the group, nearly thirty or so birds. It was a wonderful surprise, and reminded me that the best birding happens when I am not looking. The surprise is what I treasure in the experience.

The Next Adventure- Eagle Surveys in the West Desert of Utah

by Bryce W. Robinson

After a weeks respite, I have returned to field work. Now that the migration season is over, my work has refocused to wintering Golden Eagles in the west desert of Utah. I am charged with cataloging the presence of eagles across the vast landscapes. This task is quite heavy, as I travel alone throughout the vast lands alone, with only my own eyes to spot the birds. Luckily, these birds are large and dark. Thus far, they have not been too difficult to discern from the landscape. I have picked out a few birds perched high on rock faces.

In only two days of surveying, I have already found more than a dozen eagles. I have been blessed with a few close encounters, one of which was an eagle perched atop a decaying tree trunk, deep in the no-mans-land. Basking in the evening sun, the large eagle sat in seeming comfort. The bird was, no doubt, enjoying the warmth of the setting sun, as was I. Of course my camera was ready to capture the encounter. I came away with a few photos that I enjoy immensely.

Upon discovering this beautiful golden bird, I was taken aback by the overall impression the bird gave at a distance. Golden Eagles are unmistakable. They are long bodied creatures, and look very unlike the stocky appearance of a perched Buteo. Still, what I noticed was the shape of the head of this bird. Usually, the eagle looks sleek. This bird was fluffed and ruffled, likely warming itself. The feathers on the head of the eagle were raised, which gave an impression of a round headed bird much like that of a Red-tailed Hawk. The beak of the bird looked small and delicate. Indeed, the image I saw was endearing, and was far from the usual fierce demeanor that eagles often portray.

I included the following video of another eagle I found perched on a rocky hillside. This video adequately illustrates my experience, as I watched the bird from afar, through my scope. Using my camera phone, I digiscoped the bird. I am pleased that the bird does not simply sit motionless, but is often glancing about, surveying its surroundings.

The video is not the best in quality. I do like the aesthetic though. I wanted to illustrate how it might look through the lens of the scope. I have been taking some video with my telephoto lens, and will surely share when they are ready.

I have found a wide variety of birds while I have been traveling the west desert. Buteos abound in the agricultural areas, and I have been blessed by finding the best of the birds. I can’t believe the number of Rough-legged Hawks that I have stumbled upon. I find more than twice the number of B. lagopus than B. jamaicensis, which is surprising. I cannot wait to share my discoveries, birds and beyond. The desert is home to unique structures, abandoned vehicles, and any number of remnants from humanity’s past in the place. Juxtaposed against the otherwise human-less landscape, the decaying history presents a dramatic scene of which I love.

Next week brings the second leg of my adventures. I am anxious and excited to hit the road again, in search of N. America’s Aquila, and whatever else may come.