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Marshes and migratory birds at the desert's edge.

Tall green reeds line the water's edge and the hot, swampy air clings like a bayou's thick breeze. Just 1/2 mile away, the marsh surrenders to a parched Colorado Desert, but here, on the edge of the Salton Sea, the desert comes improbably alive with the calls of thousands of waterfowl. Imperial Wildlife Area's Wister Unit, in the low desert southeast of Palm Springs, is now part of the California Wildlands Program, a recreational and habitat enhancement effort. With the hunting season over and bird populations reaching their winter peak, this month and next offer the year's best birding and exploring. A desert haven on the Salton Sea At the Wister area, nature exists on both grand and small scales: even as the honking of 10,000 wintering snow geese fills the air, the hidden rustling of marsh wrens and Say's phoebe lures you toward the thick brush along the water's edge. The 6,200 acres here were once a mixture of farmland and desert; after buying the area in the mid- 1 9 50s, the state constructed a web of levees to create waterfowl habitat. Today, the resulting ponds host 375 bird species, including such rare ones as the Yuma clapper rail, brown pelican, white pelican, and peregrine falcon. Also look for mudpots: murky, oozing bubbles form at vents for carbon dioxide that rises through the water table. A fork in the San Andreas fault, which runs under here, causes the gas to be released. While plans for the area are still incomplete, monthly guided trips are available; for a schedule and details about prime birding areas, call (619) 359-0577 during business hours. Wildlife viewing is best in early morning or at dusk. And while one pond may seem empty, one just around the corner may be filled with birds. From Indio, go southeast 50 miles on State 111; turn right at preserve sign. Admission is $2.25 over 16, free with fishing or hunting license. Yearly pass ($11) is good at all Wildlands units.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Imperial Wildlife Area's Wister Unit, California
Publication:Sunset
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Words:337
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