Desert Birding at a Death Valley Spring

Approaching the desert spring area, I smell water and plants. Insects seem to suddenly appear on, in or under creosote bushes (Larrea tridentata ) though for the last two miles I have seen almost no signs of insects or spiders in the daylight. Exception to that statement is the occasional sighting of tracks in a patch of sandy soil. Yes, a PATCH of sand. Most of this area is salt pan, and clay with some sandy patches and a few erratic boulders from the distant canyons. Those boulders of different origins hint at ancient and significant storms which may even pre-date the Shoshoni in this region.

Perhaps the most memorable one is the tarantula hawk (Pepsis thisbe ). It is neither a tarantula nor a hawk. Rather it is a large black desert wasp with bright orange wings. It behaves like a hawk in flight, yet when scampering across the sand it looks like a six legged spider. It seeks tarantulas (Aphonopelma chaleodes). The male tarantula hawk consumes mostly nectar. The female lays her eggs in the bodies of tarantulas she captures. The larva eat the tarantula. Continue reading