Migrating birds need adequate and predictable places to rest and refuel so that their difficult journeys may have a successful outcome. Just as human travelers on our interstate highway system rely on chains of gas stations, restaurants and hotels that can be found at regular intervals, avian travelers flying across the hemispheres on their annual migration journeys rely on a long chain of rest stops supplying water, food and cover. This is especially important for birds migrating through the desert southwest where very limited resources are available between a number of oasis. Getting blown off course or discovering that a water source has dried up can be deadly. Fortunately, there are a few water sources in desert that have proven to be reliable over time. The Amargosa River in eastern California and western Nevada is a good example. The Amargosa flows from north to south through the most harsh desert, starting near Beatty, Nevada and flowing on a parallel tract just few miles east of Death Valley National Park. Eventually the river makes a 180 degree turn, flowing north and terminating in the park at Badwater Basin, the lowest, driest, hottest place in North America. Don’t be mistaken, the Amargosa barely qualifies as a river by the most basic definition and frequently disappears underground, but compared to the surrounding desert it is a verdant and welcome stopover. The contrast between this respite and the surrounding desert creates an interesting phenomenon; migrating birds (and year around resident birds, as well) stopping over to rest and refuel become concentrated in the narrow corridor of the river valley. For the bird watcher, this creates an interesting situation, an abundant and wide variety of birds confined into a small and easily accessed area. Near the small village of Tecopa, California, an adjacent canyon connects to the Amargosa River like a railroad spur line delivering fresh spring water from Willow Creek. In the upper reaches of that canyon part of Willow Creek is diverted to irrigate the China Ranch Date Farm.
The date farm is a small commercial operation harvesting dates from trees planted there about 100 years ago. The date trees and the surrounding mesquite thickets attract an amazing variety of birds as they stop over in route to more northern latitudes and cooler climates. The recordings that I present here were made at dawn during the months of March and April. I have never heard such a variety of birds from one location. In one section of the recording, I counted almost a dozen different species. It may be difficult to see the birds in the thick forest surrounding the date farm, but birding by ear can be just as satisfying. The owners of the date farm operate a small gift shop and bakery where you can purchase the most delicious date bread, their world renown vanilla date shakes and bags of the many variety of dates grown on site. So, in addition to supporting the avian traveler, China Ranch is good stopover for the human traveler, as well.