A collection of arid landscapes and habitats and diverse bird species drew me to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which occupies eastern San Diego County and reaches into Imperial and Riverside Counties. From the desert floor of the Colorado Desert to several towering mountain ranges, the park covers nearly 600,000 acres. Elevations range from near sea level to 6,200 feet.
Anza-Borrego offers lots of great places to bird. Raptors hover high above, and last winter, record numbers of Swainson’s Hawks arrived. Steller’s Jays are spotted in the higher elevations, and Greater Roadrunners scamper across the desert scrub. Fan-palm oases are a shady option for Black-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, and southeastern California holds a strong population of Burrowing Owls.
Two of my favorite fan-palm oases are Palm Canyon, located north of the visitor center, and Hellhole Canyon, just south of it. I’ve sat in the shade on granite boulders beneath the palms, waiting patiently. As spring water gently flows through the oasis, birds come and go. And in spring, don’t miss the hawk watch, located along Di Giorgio and Borrego Valley Roads. It tallies as many as 500 Swainson’s Hawks per day. — Chuck Graham
Desert washes, badlands, montane chaparral and oak woodlands, pine forests, canyons, California fan-palm oases, and several mountain ranges.
Flat desert trails to steep, rock canyons. Trail near visitor center wheelchair-accessible.
300 species. American Wigeon, Ruddy and Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflehead, Redhead, Hooded Merganser, California and Gambel’s Quail, White-winged Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Anna’s and Costa’s Hummingbirds, Verdin, Horned Lark, Cactus Wren, Western Bluebird, Steller’s Jay, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, Black-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, Brewer’s Blackbird, Lesser Goldfinch, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Golden Eagle, Northern Harrier, Merlin, Great Horned and Burrowing Owls.
When to go
October through May.
Primitive camping, developed campgrounds, restrooms, visitor center, restaurants. Borrego Springs Desert Birding Festival to be held March 15-17, 2017. The Borrego Birders hosts outings on Wednesday mornings; times posted at park headquarters.
State park. Open year-round from dawn until dusk. $10 day-use fees to enter campgrounds; overnight camping fees from $10 to $80. Visitor center hours: October 16-May 14, daily, 9-5; May 15-October 15, weekends and holidays only, 9-5.
Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and lip balm, sunglasses, and a hat. Temps can fluctuate from freezing to 100 degrees, so dress in layers. Wear good hiking shoes.