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It's that time of year


September 20, 2001|By AL KALIN, Special to this newspaper

I always look forward to this time of the year. That's because after surviving August, anything is better.

The weather is improving. West winds blow frequently in the afternoon now and the mornings are becoming increasingly cooler.

In addition to cool mornings after a west wind, my biggest thrill is to see the mountains to the west of us, clear as a bell. All summer they have been hazy and sometimes nonexistent, hidden by high humidity and heat waves. Now, most mornings it's as if you could reach out and touch them as they stand there in their stark, desolate beauty.

From the wildlife's standpoint, conditions have been much better than previous years.

In many parts of the desert, on the east side of our valley, rainfall exceeded the total of the last five years and brought an end to a very long drought. As a result, desert willows, mesquite, palo verde and ironwood trees are lush and green, providing an excellent source of high protein for the new hatch of desert mule deer. There are still pockets that didn't receive rain, but the vast majority of the area has improved. Obviously, the desert bighorn will benefit also, as will all the other animals that live in the area, especially quail, dove and rabbits.


I recently talked with members of Desert Wildlife Unlimited, the group founded by Leon Lesicka. Over the past two decades they have installed over 100 tanks in our eastern desert to provide water for wildlife during drought conditions. They are overjoyed that many of the tanks are virtually full from the summer rains. These large tanks are designed to provide water for up to two years once they have been filled by rainwater.

Dove season ended Saturday and I was heartened to see thousands of doves still hanging around. Many of the doves are young, which suggests a good second hatch this year.

Quail are showing up in places they have been vacant from for years. I sure can't explain it, but it's great to see they are making a comeback. Quail are a common sight as they move up out of the New River and feed in lawns on the west side of Brawley.

Pelicans have been very lucky this summer. The dreaded botulism bacteria has only infected one-third the number of birds as were infected this time last year. I am sure the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who policed the shorelines regularly looking for sick birds, had a lot to do with the decreased number of sick birds this year. They should be congratulated for their help in keeping the disease in check.

The wood storks, one of the summer visitors that frequent the Salton Sea during the hottest parts of the year, have moved on in their yearly migration. Ungainly as they look on the ground, they are indeed the kings of soaring as they rise to amazing heights, riding thermal updrafts better than any hawk, eagle or white pelican could ever think of doing.

The local ducks, particularly mallards and cinnamon teal, have had excellent hatches this year and most local ponds are full of the young birds starting to fly along with their parents.

The mallard numbers have skyrocketed in recent years. It's thought their high numbers may be a result of a few local farmers raising the birds in irrigation supply ponds, which created the brood stock of birds that then moved on to many of the canals and ponds in the Valley to raise their young.

Every afternoon, at last light, hundreds of mallards fly over my house from the south end of the Salton Sea, on their way to a wheat stubble field not far away. When moonlight is sufficient, they feed all night, creating a noise that sounds like a 100 old-fashioned push lawn mowers.

At first light, they silently return to the marshes and canals around the south end of the Salton Sea. I feel like I am divulging a deep secret as few even know they exist or where they feed, but the beauty of their silent comings and goings are sight to behold during the hot summer evenings.

Although the mallards presence is welcome, it still saddens me to realize I no longer see the large flights of pintail that used to fly over every night, 20 years ago, to feed in milo stubble. Their numbers used to be in the thousands as they passed through every August and September on their yearly migration to Mexico and South America. Intensive game management has improved the numbers of most ducks in recent years but the pintail numbers have continued to decrease and biologists don't have a clue why that is.

Last Saturday I watched a newly arrived red-tail hawk snatch a dove from midair and land on a nearby pole for a morning brunch. Fall is close!

Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at

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