Desert Birding at Joshua Tree National Park
A friend of ours reserved a couple of group camping spots at Indian Cove campground in Joshua Tree National Park and invited us to come along. Needing a little getaway from the continuing social restrictions, we eagerly accepted. That it would require driving through traffic to get there, and that it promised to be 99 degrees despite it being October, didn’t dissuade us.
Indian Cove is only three miles off the highway, but it’s not connected by road to the interior of the national park. We’ve camped here twice before. It’s a quiet spot with great rocks for scrambling. Conveniently, in the group camping area, those rocks provide a good deal of shade during the day. There’s no water in sight. And the bushes are devastatingly prickly.
Like most water-free desert spots, there isn’t a lot of bird activity. The most common birds are Black-throated Sparrows. Their tinkling sounds are often coming from a nearby bush. Ravens roam the campground regularly. There’s a wash west of the campground with more vegetation, which I’ve found to be a good spot to find birds. During morning and late afternoon walks in the wash, I saw desert birds like Gambel’s Quail, Cactus Wren, and Verdin. Activity was otherwise pretty low. I didn’t make it over to Rattlesnake Canyon, which is a mile east of the campground. It’s also got a wash full of bushes and is probably the best bet for finding birds in the area.
One of the best parts of the trip was that it coincided with a full moon. About an hour after sunset, the moon started to rise in the east. By 9:30, it was incredibly bright out, with clear, dark shadows cast about. Without a need for headlamps, we went for a full moon hike. It was fantastic. The kids were scrambling all over the rocks like it was daytime. I didn’t see anything flying around, and wished I had an infrared camera to see where the birds were hiding during the night. If you’re good at planning, time a trip to Joshua Tree when there’s a full moon. It washes out the Milky Way (we did still see some shooting stars). But the splendor of the night walk is worth it.