Sunday, February 8, 2015

Birding Site Guide: Lake Hodges (Bernardo Bay area)

Lake Hodges
Lake Hodges looking west from Bernardo Bay.
Lake Hodges is just south of Escondido on I-15. The Bernardo Bay Trailhead on the east end of the lake and the footbridge is a popular hiking and biking destination, with lots of birds.

Lake Hodges map

Getting there: Lake Hodges is 25 miles north of San Diego on Interstate-15 at the Pomerado/W Bernardo Dr exit. Follow W Bernardo Drive west about 1/2 mile. Parking: There is a FREE dirt parking area on W Bernardo Drive for the Bernardo Bay Trailhead ("A" on the 2nd map below). Alternatively, continue on to Rancho Bernardo Community Park ("B" on the 2nd map below), and park in one of the FREE paved spaces. Hours: Dawn to dusk. Map Navigation: 18402 W Bernardo Dr, San Diego, CA 92127.

Where to bird: From the parking lot ("A" or "B") I bird clockwise around the loop trail, though either way would work. It is sparse grassland as one heads for the creek crossing ("C"). Say's Phoebes, California Towhees, sparrows, and the occasional Greater Roadrunner may be found here. A few weeks ago I found 7 Hooded Mergansers in the creek--a large number for San Diego County.

Lake Hodges
The start of the trail. Looking west from Bernardo Bay Trailhead.
The Bernardo Bay arm of the reservoir ("D") has many American Coot and other ducks and grebes.  White-tailed Kites frequent this area. Swallows and Cassin's Kingbirds roost in the drowned trees. Western Grebes are very common in the lake here, and a few Clark's Grebes can always be found.

Lake Hodges site guide

It is along this section (near "D") that both California and Blue-gray gnatcatchers may be found. Shorebirds aren't frequent, but you may find them here in fall.

Lake Hodges
Lake Hodges looking west from Bernardo Bay.
As you approach "E" more ducks may be found, often Northern Shoveler and American Wigeon. Many egrets are here, including Cattle Egrets at times. American White Pelicans often rest in the shallows.

Lake Hodges
Bernardo Bay looking south.
The area between "E" and "F" have more songbirds, including warblers and sparrows. When the lake was first created this was deep water, but it has been a couple of year since the lakeshore reached the footbridge ("F").

The footbridge is worth walking out, at least half way, to observe the winter sparrows (Lincoln's Sparrow can be quite common). White-tailed Kites also frequent this arm of the lake. White-throated Swifts are often seen high in the sky here. And one should keep a look out on the ridge to the north for the rare Zone-tailed Hawk in winter.

Lake Hodges footbridge
Lake Hodges footbridge.
By this time you have walked about 2 miles. I usually head back to the parking area from here. But I have walked across the footbridge and gone another 1/2 mile in both directions. Specifically, if one goes west along the lake you will approach the prickly pear cacti patches where you can find Cactus Wren. But I have actually heard them from across the lake when between "D" and "E" on the map.

Here is the weekly abundance chart of 175+ birds found here as listed in eBird.