Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hard winter tomatoes

Even though it's still 90 degrees every day here in Tucson, the signs of the rapidly receding fall are everywhere. The days are getting shorter, the nights colder and we've started to get more greens and squash from the CSA. Another sign is the diminishing quality of the tomatoes we're getting. A few months ago, the tomatoes were so awesome, I could hardly wait to get them home, toast some whole-wheat bread, slather it with butter, fat slices of tomato, salt and pepper.

Now the tomatoes are smaller, hard, and very green when we get them, and they don't ripen to much, so I've been looking for a way to use up the pile I've accumulated in the past several weeks. When I picked up some dried apricots at the store this weekend, I remembered this wonderful chutney adapted from my much beloved (and by now raggy) Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. It's great for those yucky hard yellow-orange tomatoes that are available at this time of year. Use it on rice, beans, curries, and tofu.

Tomato-Apricot Chutney
1 T. garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground dry ginger
3/4 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. gram marsala
1 T. butter or ghee

In a heavy saucepan, saute the garlic and spices in the butter for 1 minute.

3 c. chopped, firm red or green tomatoes
1/2 c. chopped, dried apricots
1/2 c. raisins
1 T honey or agave syrup
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt

Cook for 30 minutes until the fruit is soft and the chutney is thick. You may need to add a little more sweetener or vinegar depending on your taste. Will last for several weeks in a covered jar in the refrigerator.

Monday, November 9, 2009

More than just marinara - the spaghetti squash dilemma

Someone asked my this week about what to do with spaghetti squash, specifically what to do other than put spaghetti sauce on it. Hmmmm.... good question! It's winter squash season and we got our first spaghetti squash of the year at the CSA last week. I was checking out their website and found this great recipe for spaghetti squash salad flavored with orange juice and parsley. Sounds pretty good. I might substitute cilantro for the parsley seeing as I love cilantro.
You can also toss the cooked squash with half a cup of orange juice, the same amount of chopped parsley and a little salt or pepper for a warm salad or side dish. Any leftovers can be eaten cold the next day or reheated in the microwave. (Listed on the Spaghetti Squash Ideas page)
 So the other recipe on the CSA webpage is a spaghetti squash lasagna which got me to thinking about the Greek "lasagna" dish pastistio. I first had this dish while married to my first ex-husband. His mother (Ya-ya) made an excellent, if meaty, pastistio. For years, I've substituted veggie burgers for the traditional ground lamb or beef with pretty tasty results, but this weekend I set out to find whether I could recreate this dish using spaghetti squash instead of noodles. It worked! In fact, I think I prefer it with the tiny strands of squash instead of macaroni.

This recipe does take some work, but it's well worth it. We had enough for leftovers and it was even better re-heated! Here's the recipe:


The "noodle" part:
1 medium sized spaghetti squash, halved, seeded, cooked and cooled. Set aside.

The "hambuger" part:
2 cups of ground veggie meat (I used a mixture of Lightlife Gimme Lean sausage and Morningstar Farms Grillers) OR 2 cups cooked lentils OR 1/2 lb. ground meat (traditional is lamb or beef)
1 onion, chopped
2 T. olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (yes, cinnamon - you'd better put that in!)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp white pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
salt to taste
3 T tomato paste
3 T water

Saute the onion and "meaty stuff" in the olive oil. when it's almost finished, add the oregano, garlic and spices. Cook for 1-2 minutes  more until the spices become aromatic. Then add the tomato paste and water. Mix well. Put aside.

The white sauce part:

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 T white flour
3 cups milk
1-1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter and oil together in a heavy sauce pan. Add the flour and stir until the mixture becomes somewhat lighter in color. Add the milk all at once and stir with a wire whisk until it's creamy and hot. Add 1-1/4 c. of the Parmesan cheese and stir until it's once again creamy. Set aside.

To build it:
Pull the strands out of half the squash and put it i the bottom of a greased 9 x 9 casserole dish. press it down a little so it's flat against the bottom of the dish.

Add the meat mixture over the squash. Spread it evenly.

Pull out the strands from the second half of the squash and put those on top of the "meat" part. gently press everything down a bit with the back of a spoon.

Pour half the white sauce on top. use a table knife to make sure the sauce gets down into the dish. You should be able to add the rest of the white to the top. Sprinkle the top with the remaining Parmesan cheese, a little ground cinnamon, and some ground oregano.

Bake at 400 degrees for 35-45 minutes or utl the top is bubbly and browned. Cool after a half an hour before digging in!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Greater Guacamole!

One of my favorite things to do it to go home at lunch, put on my pj's and make guacamole. I like it because it's quick to throw together, fresh and fast to eat so I can get back to work. Plus it keeps me satisfied all afternoon. Earlier this week, I was hunting around for some lime and there was my Swiss Chard I had gotten from the CSA just looking at me! "Eat me! I'm green," it said so cheerily.  I thought, why not?  So I had my guac and my greens, too! Guess what? I couldn't even taste it! The lime and garlic did a great job of masking it while the chard gave the guac a wonderful vibrant green color. Here's my recipe in case you want to sneak some green stuff into your diet or that of a loved one:


2 avocados, pitted
1 onion
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 clove garlic
1/2 bunch fresh greens (Swiss chard, spinach, etc.)
cayenne pepper to taste
Sea salt to taste

Scoop the meat from the avocado skin.Put this and everything else into a food processor. You could do this all by hand, chopping it, but this is lunch time, right and we have to get back to work! Process it all until it's very smooth and the greens are completely gone.

Then add:

2 tomatoes
1/4 c. fresh cilantro

Pulse this a bit until the tomatoes and the cilantro are chopped to your liking. I do this b/c I don't like pulverized tomatoes or cilantro.

This recipe is great with some simple crackers or  chopped carrots, celery, broccoli, bell peppers or, if you must tortilla chips.

Here's another great way to enjoy your greens, my own version Vegetable  Hash inspired by Deborah Madison's The Savory Way. I added some veggie sausage and more spices. You can use whatever vegetables are in your refrigerator: carrots, turnips, peas, etc. It's one of David's favorites!

Vegetable Hash

2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2” cubes
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 veggie breakfast “sausage” links (optional)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon or less cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground sage
1 large bunch winter greens, washed and chopped
1 small tomato or a small handful of cherry tomatoes, chopped
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a non-stick frying pan, add the potatoes and cover. Cook the potatoes until they are about halfway cooked through, then add the onions and links, if using, and continue cooking. When the onions are translucent, add the spices and cook for another minute or two. Cover and cook until the potatoes are pretty much cooked through and then add the greens, the tomatoes, and about a tablespoon of water. Cover and cook until the greens are cooked. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir the mixture until everything is thoroughly combined and serve. Serves 2-4 persons.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Food for the Wilderness

Last weekend, David and I went with some of our co-workers on a backpacking trip to Fossil Springs Wilderness Areanear Strawberry, Arizona. It was my first backpacking trip in over 3 years and David's first civilian trip ever. We had intended to keep the bags light, but, well, you know how that is. Even with essentials only, it's always heavier than you imagine it's going to be. We took the smallest, lightest tent, a one-burner backpack stove, 2 pans (could have just taken 1), 2 light weight sleeping bags and pads, some warm clothes, one deck of Munchkins, a few multi-purpose bandannas and food and water.

The food is always the heaviest stuff since I hate eating crappy food when I'm starving which is always when I'm in the fresh air and sunshine. Trying to keep my raw food diet as much as possible didn't help either! Here's what our menu looked like:

Day 1
Breakfast in the car: grapes & strawberries and later chips and guacamole (this stuff we ate so it wouldn't go bad in the refrig. - our goal was to eat it ALL before we got to the trailhead, which we did )

Lunch: sandwiches made at home with Provolone cheese, tomatoes, red pepper, onion, cucumber, sprouts, oregano, black olives, and thousand island dressing on long french rolls which we ate immediately upon getting to camp.

Dinner: Fettuccine w/ sun-dried tomatoes, dried onion, fresh garlic, oregano, smoked paprika, basil, pepitas, and Argentinian Parmesan cheese. For dessert, bananas with crushed walnuts, dates, and ginger baked in foil over the campfire.

Day 2
Breakfast: "nutmeal" (ground nuts mixed with dried fruits and some cinnamon and ginger) for me and oatmeal for David, Java Juice, and my Mexican hot chocolate (cocoa, dried milk, cinnamon, instant coffee and cayenne pepper).

Lunch: Pb&j on rolls, LĂ„RABARS

Dinner: Caribbean red beans and rice, Argentinian Parmesan cheese chunks, soy cerviche* and chips. For dessert: fresh apples with pistachios, dates, and cinnamon baked over the coals (see image above)

Day 3
Breakfast & lunch: same as Day 2 plus as many snacks as we could power down...to lose the weight so we didn't have to carry it the 4 miles up the canyon.

*Soy Ceviche
1/2 c. TVP (textured vegetable protein) - you can find this at most natural food and ethnic food stores
1/2 c. water or tomato juice
1 medium tomato, chopped (or 4 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped)
1 small onion, chopped (or 1 Tbsp. dried chopped onion)
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1 tsp. garlic powder, not garlic salt)
juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro (or 1 tsp. dried)

Add the water (or tomato juice) to the tvp and let it sit until the fluid is soaked and the tvp is tender. I'm not exactly sure about the ratio of tvp to water as I usually eyeball it, but I'm erred on the side of less water so that if needed you can add a little more. Just get the tvp tender, but not soaked.

Then add the rest of the ingredients. It's best if you let it sit a little while, but you can also eat it right away with tortilla chips or veggies (celery, cucumber slices, or pepper strips are good).

On our way home, we stopped in Mesa to use our India's Grill coupon that we got a few weeks ago when Restaurant.com was having a 90% off sale. We got $25 gift certificates for $1! The food was excellent! OK, so we were ready to tuck into something hearty after, as David put it "two days of nothing but Pemmican and dirt!" (oh really?). But really, this restaurant is a keeper, especially with the lack of real Indian food in Tucson not counting Saffron, of course).

We started with the soup. I had the spicy tomato and rice while David had the dal which was fabulous! We also had the samosas that came lightly sprinkled with "chat" spice. They were something special! For our entrees, David had the lamb birayani (rice, lamb, raisins, dried apricots, red & green pepper, onions, cashews, and spices while I had my usual paneer tiki makani (homemade cheese cubes in a spicy creamy sauce). The paneer was tender and fresh while the sauce was less tomato-ey than I'm used to, but excellent just the same!

For dessert, we shared a gajar halwa (carrot halva). This was much sweeter than I make mine and after all the other food, it was just too much. The presentation though was beautiful...a lovely mound of ground cooked & sweetened carrots and cashews served with drizzles of chocolate and rosewater sauces. The sauces really intensified the carrot flavor. We left Mesa quite full, happy and eager to return. Anyone up to going this weekend?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Raw for Lunch

Some of you may know that I've started to incorporate more raw foods into my diet in an effort to a) lose some weight and b) control my blood sugar readings. This started with the Tree of Life website and led to various cookbooks, websites and videos that have brought not only a loss of 6 pounds in the last 6 weeks, but also a whole new menu of tasty food possibilities! I am so enjoying this so much more than I thought I would.

Today's lunch featured a new recipe that I thought I'd share with you. It's slightly adapted from the Creme Tomat recipe in Alive in 5: Raw Gourmet Meals in Five Minutes. It's especially nice right now since there were so many nice tomatoes at the Farmer's market last weekend. I used the basil we've been growing from the CSA seedling we got earlier this year and I made the almond milk by whirling 1 c. soaked raw almonds in 1 c. water and then straining it through cheese cloth. It took about 5 minutes total to make this lovely fresh, thick "milk."

Creamy Tomato Soup
1 c. fresh tomatoes
10 nice-sized leaves of fresh basil
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 c. fresh almond milk

Blend all the ingredients in the food processor until smooth and creamy. So easy to make!

At lunch I had the soup with the Everybody's Favorite Crackers I made this past weekend. Those are little work and are more hmmmm... shall we say "delicate" than the crackers I usually make, but they are nutty and satisfying to eat.

On another note, yesterday I had lunch with two lovely co-workers at La Fuente Restaurant on Oracle between Drachman and Grant. None of us had been there before and I was curious because I've heard both good and bad about it. The good has been ok, those who didn't like it really hated it! On entering I was disappointed not to smell the normal Mexican aromas of onions, peppers, spices or even searing carne asada, nope, folks this place smells strongly of Lysol! Not very appetizing. We checked out the "lunch buffet" which we all decided looked cold and old, so we ordered from the menu. I was disappointed to find that all the salads on the menu featured meat pretty prominently, so I decided to forgo the raw food for lunch and order something else. While we waited for our order to be taken we finished off the chips and roasted tomato salsa they had brought and we were attentively brought more. One of our party thought the salsa could have used more kick. We asked for a hotter salsa, but there wasn't any. I thought it was tasty without being too fiery as to burn my taste buds. We ended up getting  side of jalepenos to satisfy her need for heat.

I had the vegetarian platter which consisted of a chili rellano, a green corn tamale, and a Sonoran enchilada  with white rice with peas and carrots. The corn tamale was way sweeter than I would have liked. It felt like I was eating sugar, but then again, I don;t get much of that these days. I thought the enchilada was a little tough, but I liked the sauce. And there's little you can do to a chili rellano that I won't like! One of our party had the beef flutas which she thought were pretty good. The other ordered the Sonoran enchiladas (and if you've never had one of these, my east coast friends, you haven't lived!). She thought the sauce could have been zestier, but they were "pretty good." Overall, I thought the food and the service was pretty good, but even at  the end of the meal, I was still put off by the Lysol smell.

So what's a Sonoaran enchilada you ask? It's a flat, deep-fried masa (corn meal) patty smothered in enchilada sauce, served with shredded lettuce and sometimes a fried egg on top. They are chewy, satisfying and not at all like the enchiladas at other Tex-Mex places. Sonoran enchiladas are also known as the "original" gordita.  Apparently though gorditas are usually stuffed with meat or other fillings while the enchiladas are just masa patties with sauce and cheese on top. here's an interesting discussion of gorditas or "little fatties" on Chowhound. The difference between La Fuente's gordita and its Sonoran enchiladas is similar to this discussion in that the gorditas are filled with meat and are served with lettuce, cheese and tomatoes (taco toppings) instead of enchilada sauce. I tried to Google a good image of an Sonoran enchilada, but not one of the images labeled Sonoran enchilada looked even remotely right! I'll leave Googling "gordita" up to you!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Simple Fare

After a hard or stressful day at work, it's nice to come home, put on your pj's and cook something simple and hearty, especially now that the weather is getting cooler. Beans and rice are one of those dishes we look to for peace, comfort and satisfaction. I have the good fortune of being able to go home for lunch and yesterday I threw a few pinto beans into the slow cooker with some water. This also works if you put them on in the morning - no soaking necessary. They cook beautifully!

Our bean dinners turn out slightly different every time depending on what type of beans, vegetables, and/or herbs/spices we use. Some things never change: a little oil, onions, some kind of peppers (sweet, hot or a mixture), garlic, sofrito*, and a few pieces of tomatoes.

Most times we use Annatto oil which is made by boiling annatto seeds in olive oil until it turns a beautiful red color, but last night we used olive oil (about a tablespoon) to saute the onions, peppers, sofrito, and garlic. Into this mixture, we add the spices. This is where it gets fun. David dives into our spice cabinet and starts sniffing everything. How he feels determines the spice for the evening. Last night there was Spanish (smoked) paprika, oregano, some Goya Sazon, a little ginger, fresh ground black pepper, and a bay leaf. After the spices began to heat up, we also added some Morningstar Farms organic breakfast sausage patties and a little bit of water to steam them apart. When the vegetables were tender and the soy patties were all broken up, we added the cooked beans, tomatoes, and some kalamata olives. We let the whole thing simmer while the rice cooked.

One word of advice about rice...brown rice and jasmine rice don't mix well in a rice cooker! We've been very successful combining long grain brown and white rice together though. Anyway, after 2 cooking cycles on the rice cooker, we had our rice and pinto beans with a very nice Beringer pinot noir while we watched Monday night's  episode of The Daily Show.

So, I did a lot of "we" talking above, but really David made those beans while I worked on another simple dish for today. It's based on a dish I had last weekend at Chef Alisha's European and Bosnian Cafe (Oracle and Rudasill-ish). They called it simply "Cabbage Salad" and I can't think of a better name for it. It was shredded cabbage, olive oil, a splash of vinegar, salt, pepper and dried parsley. My first version of this was just slightly improved by using fresh parsley instead of the dried stuff. Last night, I got a bit more creative and added some color to it.

I shredded a half head of green cabbage thinly with my Cutco carving knife (and yes, I was extra careful after last week's fiasco with the smaller, but similar slicer!) and I mean as very thin as I could get it. This is important for having a tender salad as compared to one you have to chew like a cow. Then I sprinkled the shreds liberally with salt and crushed the shreds up with my (impeccably clean) hands until the cabbage turned moist and bright green in color. Then I added a small red pepper, chopped, 1 stalk of celery, chopped, and about 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley. For the dressing I drizzled 1 tablespoon of olive oil, some fresh ground black pepper, and a few splashes of rice vinegar (or you could use apple cider vinegar) over the whole thing. Mix it up and yum!

*Sofrito is a blended mixture of onions, red sweet pepper, hot peppers (to taste), garlic, some salt and lots of cilantro. You can make it in large batches in the food processor and then split it up in smaller bags in the freezer. It lasts a long time!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More Than Just Food

I've been thinking about starting this blog for a while. It won't all be restaurant reviews as I'm trying new stuff at home all the time as well. I guess if it has to do with food, it'll go into this blog and there's always something new to try or taste, so here we go!


Last night David and I ran our first Meet Me @ Maynard's event in downtown Tucson. We walk/ran the 3.4 mile course and planned simply to enjoy the refreshments afterward. However, once we were done, we figured we'd better make use of one of the restaurant discounts offered for MMM's participants. What a great idea from those area restaurateurs! Of course, we would eat out, we just burned all those calories, right?

One of my favorite activities is discovering new restaurants and so last night we checked out Barrio at 135 S. Sixth (at Broadway). As we entered I immediately felt undressed due to the decor and clientele, but the wait staff assured us our attire wasn't too casual (running shoes/ shorts and t-shirts) and went out of their way to make us feel at home.

We started with a "Little Plate" called Stuff Jalapeno. To say this was superb is an understatement! Your abuela's chili rellano, this is not! The lightly steamed bright green pepper was filled to brimming with black beans, goat cheese, and more. It was all laid bare on a roasted red pepper cream sauce with a hint of something tangy (lime?). We finished the pepper in no time and then sopped up the remaining sauce with some of the homemade bread.

Next I had a cup of the soup d'jour, creamy tomato and cilantro. Thick, creamy and very, very fresh tasting! I had to slap David's little paws away as he kept trying to dip his bread into it!

You'd think we'd be full by this time, but our entrees arrived just as we were finishing up the soup. David ordered the black pepper-encrusted roast duck with a honey sauce, basil-infused mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables (carrots, yellow and green summer squash, and cherry tomatoes). After a bite or two, David realized he had never had duck not prepared in the Chinese manner and had a hard time when pressed deciding which he preferred. He finished everything on the plate, except (of course) the tomatoes.

I chose the fruit salad for my entree. Not an entree, I know, but the vegetarian entree was the typical pasta with vegetables that so many restaurants include in their menu. More on that later. Right now, I'm thinking about that wonderful creamy vanilla bean salad dressing that was unlike any other I've ever had. It was the perfect foil for the tart strawberries, black raspberries, mandarin orange, pineapple, and pistachio nuts with Gorgonzola cheese on a bed of young mixed greens. Personally, I thought there was just a tad too much of the cheese, but I'm not a huge Gorgonzola fan. It was easy enough to push most of it to the side though while I finished off the rest of it.

As I mentioned previously, the staff was courteous and kept the bread coming - one of the things that David looks for. Barrio had a pretty good business going for a Monday night and we were the only runners there for the discounted dinner. When I mentioned they needed more vegetarian dishes, the waiter immediately said they are in the process of redesigning their menu and that he would mention that to the chef. He seemed to understand my need for something more hearty than pasta and vegetables, so we'll see...

Overall, we both liked Barrio and will most likely return for more. So, if you're in the area and are in the mood for some really good southwest-inspired dishes, stop by and check them out! Just don't check out the website Google offers as it appears to be an ad for an Asian water filter. Huh?!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

There's a bird on my head!

Happy New Year! Yesterday, Susannah and I birded the Wilcoxx/ Sulphur Springs valley area. We started out with a drive around Cochise Lake where we saw many American Coots and Northern Shovelers as well as Common Mergansers, a raft of Ruddy Ducks and a lone Canvasback, American Pipits, and a crazy Say's Phoebe who thought I was a perch and alighted on my hat! That guy gets the Bird of the Year award!

We also checked out the small pond by the golf course and found some Pied-billed Grebes, a gorgeous Green Heron, an immature Black-crowned heron, and a few American Widgeons. Then we headed south on Kansas Settlement road and a made a few stops along the road seeing a frustratingly difficult-to-ID flock of mixed sparrows. We did ID the White-crowned and Chipping sparrows mixed with Lark Buntings. In the same field, we saw a Curve-billed Thrasher that we tried to make into a Bendire's, but no luck. That bill was way too big and curved.

On the way down to White Water Draw there were surprising few raptors on the poles. We did spot a few Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers though as well as a few Loggerhead Shrikes on the wires.

When we finally got to WWD around noon, we found 2 Soras (!) among the numerous Coots and Shovelers. We checked out the Soras for a long time. It's unusual to be able to see those guys and not just hear them. We walked around the dike to the first viewing platform to get better looks at the Sandhill Cranes that we could hear but not see and immediately saw something blazing white out on one of the many sandbars (the water level is probably as low as I've ever seen it). Could that be what I think it is? YES! A Bald Eagle just sitting there looking amazingly majestic. We put the scope on him and all thought of seeing Sandhill Cranes passed out of our minds.

When we finally tore ourselves away from him/her, we got some great looks at the 1 to 2 thousand Sandhills at the back edge of the draw. Susannah also spotted a Kildeer and several Dunlin working the edges of the sandbars. As we continued around the dikes, we found two florescent orange Vermillion Flycatchers showing us their tricks. One last look at the barn storage yielded 2 Great Horned Owls sleeping the day away. We had spent 2 hours there!

Our way back north on 191 produced a few more birds (American Kestrel and Harris' Hawk) to round out the day nicely. Total species count: 37 :-)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wings over Willcox

On the spur of the moment, David and I took a road trip down to Willcox to see the Sandhill Cranes. David had not seen them before and it was fun for me to watch him try to get some good pictures. Our first stop was Cochise Lake where we almost immediately saw some cranes landing in a field beyond the golf course. There were a few ducks i the lake - mostly Northern Shovelers and American Coots, but also a few Common Mergansers, some Ruddy Ducks, and a lone American Widgeon. Two Northern Harriers swept the fields surrounding the lake - one pale and the other brown.

Next we headed to the AEPCO (Apache) power station ponds. We were able to get closer views of the cranes - there were maybe 2 or 3 thousand of them here. There were also more ducks at the forward edge of the ponds, including Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, a couple of Canada Goose, and Mallards. We spent a fair amount of time here, David trying out digi-scoping and me trying to get a fix on the swans in the neighboring pond (I vote for Mute swans, but I seem to be outnumbered). More Northern Harriers and a Red-tailed Hawk here.

Finally, we drove down to Whitewater Draw. At last we had found the hordes of cranes! More and more came in as the afternoon wore on. This time David got some very excellent pictures as the cranes were flying right over our heads. Also seen's at this location were: Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, American Pipit, Killdeer, American Kestrel, Black Phoebe, and four Greater Yellowlegs that were doing a bang-up job of imitating Hudsonian Godwits! It took me over an hour to convince myself that they were, in fact, yellowlegs and not Godwits. Dang! The Vermillon Flycatcher stole the show as we were leaving. He practically burnt up in the setting sun. So beautiful.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Salton Sea on New Year’s Day 2009

The first of the year: (Oh no, don’t let it be so!) Rock Doves outside the Best Western Date Palm Inn in Indio, CA.

On our return trip from Ontario, CA, David and I made several stops along Highway 111 at the Salton Sea. Our first stop at the northern end of the sea beside an abandoned hotel/ restaurant yielded a nice variety (and quantity) of water birds, including:

White pelican
Brown pelican
Black-necked stilt
Eared grebe
Great blue heron
Great heron
Snowy egret
Herring gull
Ring-billed gull

We then stopped at Visitor’s Center a few miles down the road. There we enjoyed the video after checking out the sea by the campgrounds. This area had even more birds than the previous stop and a few different species. House finch, Northern mockingbird, and Great-tailed Grackle hung around the visitor’s center. The birds came in pretty close so we were able to get good looks at the Western grebes, Caspian terns, and Killdeer. An American pipit gave us the best looks I’ve ever had of one as it stayed within 5 feet of us along the rocky edge of the water. The terns were catching lots of fish, but the gulls and pelicans almost always grabbed the prize away. A flock of about 50 or 60 Double-crested cormorants flew by and I added one lone Ruddy Duck to the day list. This was a lively place and we could have stayed a lot longer, but our hour of free bird watching was up and we needed to move on.

After canning a trip to Wister State Waterfowl area due to lack of change (there’s a $2.50 day usage fee), we headed to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Wildlife Refuge Area which, after a questionable start, was the very best of the day. Along the drive into the area, there were several European starling and American kestrels on the telephone poles scoping out their next meal.

We weren’t sure when we got there if it would be productive since there was only one viewing platform and fencing around the rest rooms. Even here though, there were quite a few birds including Gambel’s quail and a Greater roadrunner along with numerous Yellow-rumped warblers. We could see about a thousand Snow geese from the viewing platform, but they were kind of far away for picture taking. Eventually, we found the Rock Point trail and hit the jackpot.

The combination of salt and fresh water ponds in addition to the mesquite tree edge gives this area the variety of habitat needed to support a wide variety of birds. New species seen here:

American avocet
Marbled godwit
Long-billed dowitcher
Greater yellowlegs
American coot
Western sandpiper
American wigeon
Northern shoveler
Say’s phoebe
Black phoebe

As we came off the Rock Point trail back at the entrance, a female Cooper’s hawk landed in the trees near the parking lot causing all the songbirds to seek cover. A small (ah-hem) detour (AKA a “shortcut”) into the back roads on the other side of 111 yielded Cattle egret and Western meadowlark. Thirty-nine species in all and a very good start to a (hopefully) birdy 2009!