IMPERIAL VALLEY PRESS STAFF
10:54 PM AKST, December 21, 2012
I counted at least 21 vultures roosting atop the trees and power lines of that creepy property. It was kind of cool; reminded me of big bird sentinels standing guard outside a haunted house. — Passing By, El Centro
What we didn’t know about this property could fill a book. We asked a couple of people around the office about this locale and even put it out there on Facebook, but nothing. It wasn’t until we called a local birder and naturalist that we found out the turkey vultures were the bit part in a larger story.
Bob Miller, who runs the website Southwest Birders along with some partners, told us that location is a major roosting spot for turkey vultures, but there are major roosting spots in a few locations in the Valley including up in Brawley and farther south of El Centro.
This particular roosting spot is unique in there has been a zone-tailed hawk spotted among the vultures, the only such hawk seen in the Valley, Miller said. That is significant because the zone-tailed hawk looks like a turkey vulture and flies like a turkey vulture, but hunts like a hawk. He said prey does not fear the turkey vultures, so when the hawk is among the vultures, it has prime pickings.
OK, that’s not even the coolest part of this Probe.
Miller said the property at the corner of McCabe and Dogwood is not abandoned, but is an occupied private residence of a local physician who has spent his life in the Valley turning this area into a bird habitat and ecological preserve —- on private property, no less.
The man is Miller’s friend, and Miller said he does not want to be identified. Miller says he doesn’t mind people knowing about his compound, but he is private and this place is not open to the public.
However, Miller is among a select few birders and naturalists around the country — and probably from outside the area — who get invited to go onto the property and view the hundreds of species of birds that pass through the property, much like they do at the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea, and by extension, this property, are on the Pacific Flyway and attract many birds this time of year.
The zone-tailed hawk is among many rare species of birds that have been spotted at the property. Miller told the story of the Brandt’s cormorant, which has only been spotted in the Imperial Valley once — at this property. Unfortunately, the bird flew into some of the trees on the property, died and is now among the specimens at the San Diego Museum of Natural History, Miller said. That species has not been seen in the Valley since.
Miller describes the property as an island of trees and dense habitat that has been meticulously planted for many years. There are features to the property that make it really unique, hundreds of hummingbird feeders along the front of the house and several blinds for photographers. The owner himself is a renowned nature photographer who can spend up to six hours at a time awaiting the opportunity for the perfect photograph.
Miller speaks of the property in almost reverential tones, but we can understand that, and we can certainly understand the desire for the owner to keep it a semi-secret and keep people out.
Copyright © 2013, Imperial Valley Press