Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Palomar Mountain State Park

Bobcat at Palomar Mountain
Bobcat. Palomar Mountain State Park, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
The nearest conifer forests to my home in San Diego's North County is Palomar Mountain. A little over 35 miles away, it takes about an hour to reach the mile-high summit, through Escondido.

It was a very pleasant 65F as I pulled away from home in San Marcos at 4:00 am. As I started gaining elevation on the mountain I was expecting it to get much cooler. I was wrong. There was a temperature inversion. It was 80F at 4,000 feet as I pulled over to listen for owls. I heard none, but enjoyed a full moon and the hot night-time air. I reached Palomar Mountain State Park at dawn.

The bottom of the mountain starts in chaparral and grasslands. Canyon Live Oaks and Black Oaks gradually were joined by conifers. The three primary conifer species found at the summit here are Incense Cedar, Big Cone Spruce, and White Fir. [To read a bit more about Palomar Mountain, read this blog post at the Anza Borrego Foundation: "The Forests of Palomar Mountain."]

Palomar Mountain

The most common bird here is Acorn Woodpecker--they are everywhere in the oaks and cedar trees. Perhaps second most common was hummingbirds. Most were young of the year. I noted primarily Rufous/Allen's Hummingbirds, but also a single Black-chinned. The road edges were adorned with these red flowers similar to a columbine (but my grasp of flower identification pretty much stops at dandelion). Bees and hummingbirds were a-buzzing.

I walked 2 miles on the park road from the entrance down to Doane Pond,... and back up. Other common birds included Western Scrub-Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Purple Finch, Band-tailed Pigeon, Western Wood-Pewee, Western Bluebird, Spotted Towhee.

There were 3 new species for the year for me: 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches and 1 Brown Creeper, which I heard but didn't see. And a pair of Purple Martins flew over with many Violet-green Swallows. Really, if I hadn't heard the martins I wouldn't have identified them either, with the brief view I got.

I'll save some bird photos for future posts.

Palomar Mountain

Evidently I missed quite a view when I decided I didn't have time to visit Boucher Hill and lookout (pronounced "booker").

Boucher Hill
Boucher Hill.
Finally, I didn't have time, either, to visit the Palomar Observatory, about 2 or 3 miles from where I spent the morning.

I'll have to come back in the later autumn when it's not quite so hot and search for more mountain birds and explore more so I can do a proper birding site guide to this area. After all, mountain forests are my favorite places to watch birds--even if all my leg muscles still ache from the 5 miles down and up hiking I did!

Update: September 2016: I have written a new birding site guide to hiking Palomar Mountain.