Monday, August 1, 2016

Birds to know in San Diego: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

This is the final post of the monthly series of common San Diego birds. We head into the oak-covered foothills of the mountains, south of the town of Julian.

Lake Cuyamaca
Lake Cuyamaca
Stonewall Mine
Over 95% of the conifers in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park were incinerated by the 2003 Cedar Fire. The few pines remaining, such as at Stonewall Mine and Paso Picacho Campground, host some pine mountain birds such as found at Palomar Mountain: Steller's Jay, Pygmy Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee. [Pronunciation: kwee-ah-MAHK-ah]

Vegetation has started returning to the burned upper reaches of the mountains, first with grasses, small bushes, and then oak trees. Even pine and cedar are beginning to sprout. Oaks in some of the lower valleys were spared. But it will be decades or even a century before the forests return to their glory, assuming rainfall amounts of the past return from the recent decades of drought. The cycle of fire keeps changing woodlands and forests back to grasslands. Then a succession of plant communities grow back until the next fire. A general warming climate, though, means larger and more frequent fires and less woodlands.

Most of the birds featured in this post are especially common in the open oak foothills throughout the county, now typified by Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk. Rancho Bernardo, California. December 8, 2013. Greg Gillson.
Red-shouldered Hawk
That hunch-backed hawk sitting on the telephone line is a Red-shouldered Hawk; Red-tailed Hawks rarely perch on telephone lines. The California subspecies has this rusty orange chest and barred belly as an adult; Eastern birds are paler and less marked on the underparts. Frequently the loud keer-keer-keer-keer-keer-keer-keer-keer call attracts your attention to this bird. Similar San Diego birds: Red-tailed Hawk.

Nuttall's Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker. Lake Hodges, California. February 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Nuttall's Woodpecker
This little woodpecker is widespread throughout San Diego County except for the desert. Indeed, it is found throughout most of California wherever there are oak trees. However, except for birds in extreme northern Baja, it is entirely restricted to California. It often gives its brief rattly call when as it flies to the next tree on its feeding route. Similar San Diego birds: Downy Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Western Bluebird
Western Bluebird. Julian, California. July 3, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Western Bluebird
The friendly little Western Bluebird may be found in some open residential lawns and city parks chasing bugs, but is most abundant in grasslands edged with oaks. Bluebirds nest in old woodpecker cavities. Is it more than coincidence that bluebird numbers in San Diego have increased along with Nuttall's Woodpeckers in the past 25 years or so? Similar San Diego birds: Western Scrub-Jay.


Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey. Julian, California. July 5, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Wild Turkey
Introduced unsuccessfully to the county several times in the past, a release of birds from Texas in 1993 finally took hold. These huge birds are now widespread in the mountains and inland foothills. Rather than being really "wild" they are more self-domesticating--thriving in parks and at the edge of residential areas where they cannot be hunted. Similar San Diego birds: none.

Oak Titmouse
Oak Titmouse. Hot Springs Mountain, California. April 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Oak Titmouse
Well named, this little relative of the chickadee is found throughout the county foothills where there are extensive larger native oaks. Its former name was Plain Titmouse. And, except for a little crest, that is an apt name, too, for this plain little pale gray-brown bird. It gives husky chickadee-like calls, in addition to clear whistled song notes, thus sometimes it's a bit tough to tell whether you are hearing the titmouse or the Mountain Chickadee unless you actually see the calling bird. Similar San Diego birds: Bushtit, Mountain Chickadee.

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture. Ramona, California. February 1, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Turkey Vulture
Soaring unsteadily across the summer skies, the vulture is a familiar bird across North America. Feeding on roadkill or other dead animals they do look like black turkeys when on the ground. While widespread in summer, nests are hard to find because they choose to nest in caves and rocky crevices on steep mountain slopes. In winter they are more restricted to the interior of the county, away from the desert, high mountains, city, and immediate coastline. Similar San Diego birds: Red-tailed Hawk.

This is the last post in this series. To view all of them from the start click on this link...
Birds to know in San Diego: introduction