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NO SWEAT

Bird-watching in a stink hole

Birds of the Salton Sea Status, Biogeography and Ecology Michael A. Patten, Guy McCaskie and Philip Unitt University of California Press, 2003; $65

September 09, 2003|David Lukas

Long maligned as a sweltering stink hole and colossal human mistake, the Salton Sea has recently gained a reputation as a place of massive fish and bird die-offs. The water is a toxic brew of industrial and agricultural runoff, and fierce debate is underway on whether to let the sea die a slow agonizing death or to resuscitate it.

Yet an astonishing new book, "Birds of the Salton Sea," written by three of California's premier ornithologists, celebrates this same body of water as one of North America's foremost bird sanctuaries. Not only does the sea host more species of birds than some states, but the numbers are off the charts: millions of wintering eared grebes, tens of thousands of American white pelicans.

This exquisitely detailed book describes the status, distribution and origins of all species found in the region.

Whether this book stands as a farewell to this rich haven or a rallying cry of support is yet to be seen, but its case and timing make it a classic.

-- David Lukas

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