Northern Waterthrush, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Connecticut Warbler in Death Valley

Observers: Justin Hite
Remote Name:
Date: 10/02/2006
Time: 01:25 PM -0400

There were some good birds in Death Valley yesterday (October 1) as I drove back from the lower Colorado River, and they have inspired me to write another unnecessarily long post for this fine website. At dawn I saw the Northern Waterthrush that Chris and Rosie and Barb have already posted. Great bird. It was bobbing and running around in the little irrigated ditch that lines the eastern border of the Date Palm orchard between the general store and the gas station. At about 10:30am I walked down the paved road that skirts the northern edge of the golf course and heads to the airport. There was a single molting male Chestnut-collared Longspur foraging on the golf course. It was on the green (I think that’s what you call the finely mowed grass that surrounds the hole) of whichever hole is at the furthest northwest corner of the golf course. After watching three golfers hit their balls onto the green then putt their balls into the hole with the Longspur staying on the green but out of their way, I waited until they left and then walked out for closer looks. I got good looks at the tail, which has the characteristic black wedge at the far end of the mostly white tail. It also has the little black and white bars on the shoulder in flight, and still has a few dark feathers on the belly/flanks, which I think means it’s a male almost done molting out of breeding plumage. Also at Furnace Creek: 3 Red-naped Sapsuckers by the gas station, and 2 Wood Duck at the golf pond.

I birded Scotty’s Castle from about 2-3:30pm. At 2:20 I saw just the head of a strange small bird poking up above the leaf littler below the hedgerow of Oleander that lines the road that connects the fancy bridge to the castle. My first quick guess was that it was a ground dove, because the way it was jamming its head back and forth was very dove like. But it seemed a bit enthusiastic and agile for a ground dove, moving quickly and cocking its head upwards to look at the Oleander leaves. Then I got a good silhouette-view of a stocky short-tailed walking warbler. I was guessing Ovenbird until I got closer and realized it was Oporornis-patterned (hooded with yellow body). It flushed out of the Oleander and under a Shadscale, then hopped up to the lower branch of a Creosote, where I got really good views at 20’ for about 5 seconds before it hopped down onto the rocks and ran off a short distance until out of sight. It was pale-yellow below with a full grayish hood, an orangish underside to the bill, and a complete white eye-ring. I tried to follow it up the little ridge it had climbed onto (the little creosote-covered rocky terrace that extends downstream from the big Tower), but I think it must have circled back into the riparian. I spent another hour combing the brushy areas near the water and more time watching the Oleander hedgerow, but was unable to find it again. I think the walking gait mixed with pale Oporornis-patterning with complete white eye-ring means it has to be a Connecticut Warbler, but I’ve never seen one before and hope someone can refind it. All in all, it was an awesome day in Death Valley. I even made a little time to check out the pupfish at Salt Creek. They’re such cool little fish.

Chestnut-collared Longspur photos © Justin Hite