San Diego County, July 2015
by Henry Detwiler

Mike, Lauri, and I spent two days wandering the wilds of San Diego County

101 species seen  Click here for bird checklist

Western Gull baby


Mike, Lauri, and I left Rancho Bernardo early on Sunday morning to arrive at the La Jolla Cove before the crowds descended. We spotted good numbers of our target Heermann's Gulls, and were also treated to lots of grey-spotted Western Gull chicks.

San Elijo Lagoon was our next destination, and here we saw and heard many California specialties, including California Gnatcatcher, California Towhee, California Thrasher, and our first of many Wrentits. An American Kestrel was snacking on the remains of a small bird--not enough left to ID it. Ridgway's Rail babiesA big surprise to me was seeing several Ridgway's (Clapper) Rails out in the open, and seeing three black Ridgway's Rail babies. Migration for shorebirds had begun, and we got good scope looks at Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Black-bellied Plover, Western Sandpiper, and Least Sandpiper.

In the drainage canal adjoining the Tecolote Nature Center parking lot we hunted for, and eventually located, a flock of Scaly-breasted Munia, a recent addition to the ABA checklist. At nearby Robb Field we scoured the mud flats of the San Diego River for interesting birds, and came up with some great opportunities for comparing terns: Royal, Elegant, Caspian, and Forster's. Little Blue Herons have been doing quite well, and were present in good numbers.

Our next stop was Mission Trails Regional Park. Despite the heat (upper 80's) we managed a few more birds along the riparian dam trail. A Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Spotted Towhee, another pair of Wrentits, and both Flame & Roseate Skimmers (dragonflies) welcomed us to this picturesque area.

Barn Owl



On Saturday morning we drove into the rising sun to reach Jacumba before it got too warm. The "church" Barn Owl was there to greet us, peering down with curiosity. On the west side of town we got some nice photos of California Quail and California Thrasher. A young Bewick's Wren flew out to scold us from a close bush. We flushed a Green Heron, but the Tricolored Blackbirds had all fledged and none were to be found. A handsome male Hooded Oriole perched at the top of a cottonwood, allowing Mike to get some excellent photos.

California Thrasher

We stopped at a spring along Kitchen Creek Road and tracked down several pairs of Lawrence's Goldfinches feeding fledglings. It looked like one of them was feeding a Brown-headed Cowbird. Here, too, we got excellent looks at an Orange-crowned Warbler.


California Quail






From the Kitchen Creek Campgrounds we hiked a short way up the creek. Lots of Phainopeplas were calling and flying about. In one of the open areas Lauri spotted a couple of birds that turned out to be Black-chinned Sparrows. A few minutes later a young bird initially had me stumped; once I identified it as a Rufous-crowned Sparrow, one of the adult birds showed up and confirmed the ID. Other common birds in the area included Acorn Woodpecker, Steller's Jay, and Western Scrub-Jay.




Cooper's Hawk

Tricolored Blackbird


Still farther up in the Laguna Mountains we explored Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. At the visitor center we found this young Red-shouldered Hawk, Mountain Chickadees, and our first Oak Titmice. On the road to Stonewall Trail we encountered a flock of Wild Turkeys. The temperature was nearing 90 degrees, but we still did a short hike. We got good looks at Ash-throated Flycatcher, Violet-green Swallow, and Pygmy Nuthatches. At Cuyamaca Lake we finally scored with a flock of Tricolored Blackbirds!




Rufous Hummingbird



The feeders at the Julian Birdwatcher Store weren't too productive so we made a final stop at William Heise County Park west of Julian. We chanced upon the campground host's RV and their sprawling bird feeding station. Dozens of hummingbirds buzzed and zipped about, including some very colorful Rufous Hummers. And their seed feeder was attracting Dark-eyed Junco and several Oak Titmice. By now it was getting really toasty, so we called it a day and returned to Ranch Bernardo. It had been a fine couple of days in San Diego County.


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