What we thought would be a couple month project turned into nearly a 7 month van building adventure, but we are pretty excited about what we created and we are almost ready to hit the road. Since our last post we painted the pop-top with a bed-liner type paint (Raptor liner), installed solar panels, completed the insanely awesome electrical system, made pockets and cubbies for our gear, installed a sliding screen door for the side barn doors, attempted to fix a leaky rear window (a long and not fun process – don’t ask), made a custom center console complete with cup holders which was missing from the van, completed the plumbing complete with shower hose, made a custom shovel mount for the rear galley box, installed a few more security features, and more.
Two weeks ago we took the birding mobile on a test run to Joshua Tree National Park and the Salton Sea. The van is a serious upgrade from the old Tacoma and I must say it is pretty awesome! We cooked dinner inside and had a nice cozy place to relax and enjoy the evening! A first for us! We figured out a few little things that we needed to change but overall everything we built worked like a charm and we are super excited to hit the road. In addition to testing the van we went on a little thrasher recording mission and even got a little bit of rock climbing in at Joshua Tree.
We received new recording equipment from the Macaulay Library for the second part of our trip and we needed to test it out. Word has it that they needed a few more recordings of the southwestern thrasher species (LeConte’s, California, Crissal, and Bendire’s), so off we went to try to track down some of these elusive thrashers. Earlier in the month we had a California Thrasher singing in the front yard but he disappeared before I could get the mic on him. I’m hoping he will start singing again before we head out. In Joshua Tree we tried for Bendire’s Thrasher in a few spots where they have been previously reported (Barker Dam and Cottonwood Springs) with no luck. We didn’t think we had great odds of seeing them there but we thought we would give it a try and hiking around Joshua Tree is just amazing! So it was worth it! After we finished wrecking ourselves climbing we headed to the Salton Sea to see if we could turn up a Crissal Thrasher and maybe get a few looks at some rarities that had been reported in the region. We stopped at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area but we ended up thrasherless so we headed over to the Calipatria State Prison to search for a few Sprague’s Pipits. We must have bad pipit vibes because we struck out on the Sprague’s Pipits just like the other three times we went looking for Red-throated Pipits in the San Diego area. The Sprague’s Pipits are apparently around in the short grass fields near the Calipatria State Prison but not for us to see.
We spent the night on the shores of the Salton Sea stopping for a moment to scan for the Roseate Spoonbill that was spotted at the end of Garst Road near Red Hill Marina. We missed the Roseate Spoonbill but we hear that it is still hanging around. As the sunset the mosquitoes and no-see-ums started to make an appearance and we learned that the screens in the pop-top do not keep the no-see-ums out! Good to know and kind of a huge bummer since the number of bugs we are going to encounter is going to grow as we head south. Unfortunately I do not think there is much we can do but close up the pop-top windows in really buggy areas and turn on the fan to keep the little buggers off of us especially while we sleep. I made a sliding screen door for the barn doors that is supposed to keep out no-see-ums (which we have not tested yet) so hopefully the screen door will let in some air while keeping the biters out.
In the morning we headed out to the Alamo River Wetlands Project (Access to the site is from Hwy 115 on O Brien Road .5 miles south of Shank Road or 1.25 miles north of the intersection of Hwy 78.) to search for the Crissal Thrasher. The birding at this created wetland spot is actually pretty good. We saw a number of Neotropic Cormorants which appear to be making parts of southern California their home. Other than the Neotropic Cormorants our bird list included all of the expected species for the area (Sora, Mourning Dove, Black Phoebe, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and more). The cool morning quickly gave way to the sun and things started heating up quickly and still no thrasher. Before giving up we decided to check a scrubby patch north of the wetland. We wandered a bit and finally heard a Crissal Thrasher singing. We tried to get a good recording but he was singing on the other side of the river and would not come closer. At least we managed a fleeting look and a so-so recording.
Our weekend test run was brief but pretty fantastic and we can’t wait to get back on the road. We have a few more things to work on but we are hoping to hit the road in 2-3 weeks. Oh and we need to study!!!
We will post more information on the van for those who are interested soon. In the meantime enjoy the photos.