Saturday, September 1, 2012

White Ibis in Baker, CA

The summer doldrums are a thing of the past here in the desert, and I'm doing my best to forget them until next year.  Temperatures have been kindly staying below 110, monsoons have been passing through on a weekly basis, and fall migrants are steadily streaming through.  The past several weeks have been spent in and around Blythe, providing a nice change of scenery with some great birding locations that receive little coverage throughout the year.

David and I were wrapping up a week of work when we got word of a White Ibis discovered yesterday morning in Baker, CA--a neighboring desert locale a few hours from the LCRV.  There are only three previous records of this bird in California.  This status is somewhat surprising given their range: White Ibis are common along the coast of the Gulf of California.  Like Tricolored Heron, which shares a similar range, the ibis has turned up many more times in south-central and southeastern Arizona than in the deserts of western Arizona and eastern California.  The ibis is the much rarer bird out of range, however, and does not share the heron's tendency to turn up on the Pacific coast of California.

Naturally, we rushed to get home as soon as possible.  After dealing with paperwork issues that had to be resolved, we stared at Mapquest and weighed our options.  Two hours and 45 minutes from Lake Havasu City, sunset at 7:15.  Could we get there on time?  Should we wait until the next morning?  After waffling a few times, we threw scopes and snacks in the car and sped off towards Baker.  Two hours later (rare birds and setting suns wait for no man), we arrived in Baker in the middle of a torrential downpour.  Parked at the sewage ponds, we huddled in the car with lightning striking all around, rivers flowing down the roads, and bushes waving wildly in the wind.  Soon the storm abated, the rain let up, and the sun settled in just above the mountains to the west.  A flock of ibis lifted off the ponds and circled around, all White-faced.  We stood in the mud watching the birds, hoping the lone white bird would appear, when the rain started again.  The wind had shifted and seemed to be blowing the storm back towards us.  This is it, I said, the sun is about to set behind the mountains and we won't have enough time to wait it out again.

Off we went, wading through the red puddles and up to the ponds, walking as quickly as we could without risking flushing the birds.  Fortunately, the wind slowed and the rain stopped after a few minutes, leaving us free to scan the ponds.  We checked each pond carefully but could not spot the White Ibis.  As we were slogging through ankle-deep mud to check the next pond and the next, we heard voices behind us and spotted Jim Lomax and Bruce Barrett.  They circled back around the ponds while I walked out to the edge to scan the temporary mudflats covering the desert.  Suddenly David and I heard a piercing whistle, and looked up to see a large flock of ibis circling over the ponds, wheeling dark birds with one glowing white beacon among them.  The black storm clouds lingered to the northeast, in stark contrast to the one pure white bird against the lightning-laced clouds.

We joined Jim and Bruce to watch the flock fly up, gaining altitude as it circled.  They flew to the north as the rays of the sun grew dimmer behind the mountains, turned back and headed southwest of the ponds, apparently scanning the area for a better roost site.  Finding nothing, they set their wings and dropped back, circling repeatedly over the ponds before settling into the trees.  We were finally able to get scope views of the White Ibis (thanks to Jim!) as it struggled to gain a purchase in the dead branches with its gangly red legs.  Very much satisfied, the four of us slowly and carefully retraced our muddy steps, returning to the cars just as the sun's last rays faded, and the glow of the blue moon peeked out from behind the clouds.


  1. Oh Wow! Love the narrative Lauren! I must admit though, this stings a bit. I was birding at the Salton Sea today and could've gone for the Ibis maybe this evening. Alas, now I am home and checking my blog-roll to find this great story.

    Congratulations on a great sighting!

  2. Thanks, Laurence! The ibis seems to be sticking pretty well so far, so I hope you get a chance to go for it.