Anza-Barrego Desert State Park

On the drive over across the empty rangelands a few miles from Anza-Barrego we watch a red-tailed hawk harry a golden eagle. We drive the switchbacks down the slope to the desert basin and the temperature picks up a few degrees. At the visitor centre, half buried in the slope we receive some helpful advice from the volunteers on the desk; and we take the trail to Palm Canyon. It is a gentle walk next to a wadi and beneath high cliffs to a small clump of palms at the head of a canyon.

Palm Canyon in late afternoon light

At the car park, there is an artificial pond, choked with vegetation where a swarm of bees is taking salty water and a few fast-flying, red dragonflies. On the walk up we are passed by a female desert bighorn sheep adorned with satellite collar and ear tag; according to other visitors she has a young sheep following on which perhaps explains her standing tall on a rock and scanning the horizon.

The hummingbirds are the most obvious bird species because they have loudip zip calls; the black-necked hummingbirds are most common. One more dumpy looking one may be a broad-tailed hummingbird. Some appear to be in moult with partly grown, new head feathers giving a moth-eaten appearance.

We find a beautiful black-throated sparrow; its striped plumage merges perfectly with the dry bushes. as the sun drops we head back down the trail; an elderly lady joins us and then at the pond near the car park she scans the slopes for bighorn sheep as they often come down at dusk to drink from the artificial water sources. This pattern of behaviour and the desert landscape was reminiscent of a distant view at daybreak of an Arabian tahr as it climbed the precipitous slopes of Jebel Hafeet in the United Arab Emirates with remarkable speed and agility after coming down to a similar drinking place.

Palm Canyon

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