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Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

big morono

Big Morongo Preserve looking west to snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in southern California’s high desert is a unique place — where mountains and desert meet to create an oasis in an otherwise dry land. Here at Big Morongo, snowmelt from the nearby San Bernardino Mountains encounters impermeable rock that acts as a dam, which creates surface water in the form of perennial springs. The high water table thus created at Big Morongo Canyon means cottonwoods and other tall trees flourish despite the desert climate, and in addition the Mojave riparian forest with its lush growth is widely considered to be some of the best in California.

It’s for these reasons, along with Big Morongo Canyon being at the intersection of the Mojave and Sonoran desert, that wildlife flocks to the area — and the birding can be some of the best in southern California, particularly during spring migration. 254 species have been recorded here and in Covington Park across from the Preserve, and nesting birds include Vermilion Flycatcher, Summer Tanager and Brown-crested Flycatcher. I’ve been there in May and have seen Summer Tanagers, who are regular summer visitors –

summer tanager

Summer Tanager

along with California Thrashers, who are year-round residents at the Preserve.

Callifornia Thrasher

California Thrasher

Vermilion Flycatchers arrive in spring and stay for the summer, giving the Preserve an added splash of color —

Vermillion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

and the occasional presence of Mountain Chickadees reminds one that the mountains are nearby.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Costa’s and Anna’s hummingbirds are year-round residents, and it’s always a thrill to see an Anna’s mom feeding her nestlings in a tiny nest on a branch right off the Marsh Trail —

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

From singing Yellow-breasted Chats to nesting Red-tailed Hawks at Covington Park, Thrashers to Flycatchers, all set in unique high-desert scenery, Big Morongo Preserve and Covington Park, particularly during spring migration, should be considered a top destination for birding in Southern California.

All photographs are copyright Steve Wolfe.

Steve’s report on the Birds of Southeast Nevada’s High Desert.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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