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LeConte’s Thrasher: A Desert Specialist on the Edge? – Monthly General Meeting
February 19, 2020 @ 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Living only in sandy washes and dunes in the Southwest, LeConte’s Thrasher is perhaps more specialized for life in the desert than any other bird of North America. Yet it faces serious conservation challenges. For decades, it was best known in California as a resident of the Coachella Valley. Few, if any, now survive there. The birds prefer to nest in cholla cacti, a habit that helps protect the nest from predators—but not from drought. In the Coachella Valley, the cholla has died off over large areas, apparently as a result of the multiple successive droughts of the 21st century.
In 2019, Phil Unitt and his team from the San Diego Natural History Museum (the NAT) studied LeConte’s Thrasher in Joshua Tree National Park and the Anza-Borrego Desert, finding 26 nests. The population was clearly depressed from the levels observed from 1997 to 2002 during research for the San Diego County Bird Atlas. But in 2019, after a wet winter, the surviving birds enjoyed excellent nest success.
February’s speaker is Phil Unitt, the curator of Birds and Mammals at the NAT. He has published nearly 50 articles on the distribution, ecology, identification, taxonomy, and conservation of birds. He’s co-author of Birds of the Salton Sea and author of the San Diego County Bird Atlas. No one is more qualified to speak to the LeConte’s Thrashers’ plight and promise. Join him as he brings to life the harsh realities of survival in San Diego’s most challenging ecosystem.