Thanks to Dick for the excellent suggestions and directions for finding Crissal and Bendire's Thrashers. I just wanted to add a cautionary note to Dick's description of where to find Gilded Flickers. While the Cima Dome area that Dick describes is certainly the place to look for them, be aware that Red-shafted Flickers breed in this area as well. In fact, a few years ago, a few of us found a mated pair, one adult with reddish wing linings and the other with yellowish wing linings. We could not get close enough to see all the details of the two birds' plumages.
I personally do not know exactly what a Gilded x Red-shafted Flicker ought to look like and would welcome any comments from anyone with experience identifying them. But I did want to point out that a flicker in this region with yellowish wing linings might in fact be a hybrid and not a pure Gilded, so one should take care and try to see all the plumage details, not just the color of the wing linings. Unfortunately, my experience has been that the flickers on Cima Dome tend to be rather wary, so getting a good look is decidedly non-trivial (even if you have found a candidate to observe, in itself non-trivial).
One final plea: the East Mojave National Preserve is a beautiful and under-birded area; if you do go, please report your sightings, at the very least to the local listserve, email@example.com
Department of Mathematics
University of Redlands, Redlands, CA 92373
on behalf of Richard J. Norton
Sent: Sun 3/9/2008 3:34 PM
Subject: [CALBIRDS] Bendire's Thrashers in California
The most difficult to find breeding thrasher in California is the
Bendire's Thrasher. Bendire's Thrashers are migratory birds that breed
in a few spots in dry southeastern California deserts, primarily areas
with Joshua Trees. You will not see them unless you look at the times of
the year they are present, which is roughly late March through July.
I've seen them mostly in May and early June. Admittedly, I don't recall
looking in April or March. They sing in May, and possibly April as well.
As with other thrashers, they are easiest to find in early morning or
late in the day.
The most reliable places to find them are in the Mojave Desert in the
areas near Baker, Kelso, and Cima. Baker is a town on Route 15, the
freeway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. There are motels in Baker to
facilitate an early morning search.
From Baker, proceed south on Kelbaker Road about 26 miles to the area
near Powerline Road, a dirt road that runs along the large power lines.
Bendire's Thrashers are on either side of Kelbaker Road in this
vicinity. Another mile or two to the south, you will find an area with
distinctly different vegetation (I don't know what it is, but it will
stand out) on the east side of the road. A few years ago, Bendire's
Thrashers were easy to see in this area. Note that LeConte's Thrashers
and Northern Mockingbirds are also present.
Proceed south to Kelso, and turn left or northeast and continue to Cima.
At Cima, turn left or north onto Cima Road. I've seen Bendire's
Thrashers along Cima Road from somewhat north of where Powerline Road
crosses it, north to where the Joshua Trees end.
If you make this trip in May, you can fairly reliably also see Gilded
Flickers and Lucy's Warblers, another two non-trivial-to-locate
California species. I've found Gilded Flickers easiest to find along
Cima Road north of Cima and dirt roads just to the southeast of Cima.
They are also along Powerline Road itself, in the first few miles west
of Cima Road. Lucy's Warblers breed in tamarisk trees along the railroad
tracks east of Kelso. I've always enjoyed the May trips, which also
produce birds like Scott's Oriole and Black-throated Sparrow. This trip
can be made using only paved roads, easily permitting use of a regular car.
Neither Bendire's Thrashers nor Gilded Flickers are trivial to find. You
may have to search for a number of hours. One year I found about 6
Bendire's Thrashers along Cima Road, late one afternoon. The following
year, mistakenly thinking I had them figured out, planned on seeing them
again late in the day. It got dark before I found any, and I left
without one on that year's list.
I've also seen Bendire's Thrashers in Joshua Tree National Monument, but
can't remember exactly where.
Another option is to watch Rare Bird Alerts from coastal Southern
California during September and October, when a young Bendire's Thrasher
will sometimes show up for a while. I've seen them in Sycamore Canyon
and Malibu Creek State Parks, but the last one was in 1999.
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