MECCA — Out of the 927 species of birds currently in the United States, 432 species make use of the Salton Sea either as their home or as a place to stay during the winter months.
As the Sea continues to shrink and contains record-high salinity levels, the more than 400 species inhabiting it are at risk of being lost from the area. In an effort to build more exposure toward the issue, the Sea and Desert Interpretive Association created the annual Salton Sea Bird Festival.
The fifth annual festival held Saturday and Sunday at the Salton Sea Recreation Area drew in about 200 people who were able to view the Sea in the same fashion as avid bird-watchers do through a series of guided tours, bird walks, lectures and nature walks.
“We want to inform people and to excite people about the bird life that’s here,” explained SDIA’s Debi Elton. “That’s one of the biggest things the Salton Sea has, and that’s why they want to try to preserve it and keep the wetlands to keep the birds coming through.”
SDIA was able bring the festival back this year, as it was canceled last year due to a lack of SDIA staff because of state park cutbacks.
Sunday’s festival events included a trip to the Coachella Valley Wild Bird Center and presentations from Chris Schoneman, project manager of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, regarding environmental changes at the Sea and Bruce Wilcox, assistant secretary for the Salton Sea policy in the California Department Natural Resources Agency, on the Sea’s 10-year plan.
The festival on Saturday featured Sony Bono SS National Wildlife Refuge Biologist Matthew Salkiewicz as a tour guide for an Ironwood trail walk and two shoreline bird walks. Those who attended were also given the opportunity to participate in a north-to-south birding tour, in which eight caravans guided guests from the Recreational Area to Sonny Bono Unit One to see the best bird locations along the way.
“I think this is a good opportunity to bring people into an area they’re completely unfamiliar with,” stated Salkiewicz, who is in his fifth year as a tour guide for the festival. “Typically when we get people to come down to these events they’re brand new to the area and seeing the Salton Sea for the first time.”
On Saturday afternoon, Salkiewicz guided about 11 guests for an hour-long walk down the Sea’s shoreline, stopping at popular bird locations and giving facts about the Sea along the way.
Among the group was Joey Ryan, a bird enthusiast for more than 50 years, who travels from her home in Philadelphia, Pa., to Palm Springs during the winter and makes it a point to attend the festival whenever she can.
“It’s a good event to come to because the folks that lead the birding tour for the festival are really experts in what they do, and they take the time to explain the birds and what they see and also the history of the area,” expressed the Philadelphia resident, whose favorite part in her third year at the festival was seeing a Sage Thrasher bird.
Salkiewicz hopes that guests not only enjoyed the bird-watching, but also took away the importance of saving the Sea.
“If it wasn’t for the Sea, these birds would have no place to go and this is the last stand for a lot of these birds in the Pacific Flyway,” said the tour guide. “All the coastal areas they inhabited are gone, destroyed. If we lose this, we’re going to lose a lot of our birds.”
Staff Writer Vincent Osuna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-337-3442.