Friday, February 24, 2017

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilt. Mission Bay, California. January 1, 2017. Greg Gillson.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Little Blue Heron


Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron. Mission Bay, California. January 1, 2017. Greg Gillson.



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck. Mission Bay, California. January 1, 2017. Greg Gillson.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull. Off Mission Bay, California. January 1, 2017. Greg Gillson.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Mew Gull

Mew Gull
Mew Gull. Off Mission Bay, California. January 1, 2017. Greg Gillson.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Heermann's Gull

Heermann's Gull
Heermann's Gull. Off Mission Bay, California. January 1, 2017. Greg Gillson.
Heermann's Gull

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Bonaparte's Gulls

Bonaparte's Gulls
Bonaparte's Gulls. Off Mission Bay, California. January 1, 2017. Greg Gillson.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican. Offshore Mission Bay, California. January 1, 2017. Greg Gillson
Brown Pelican

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plover. Imperial Beach, California. December 30, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird. Borrego Springs, California. December 18, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Say's Phoebe

Say's Phoebe
Say's Phoebe. Borrego Springs, California. December 18, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Chaparral Trail at Dixon Lake in early February

I arrived just about 8:00 AM, February 8th, 2017, at the parking lot at the entrance of Dixon Lake. On weekdays there is no entry fee. I had an hour-and-a-half before I needed to head to work. Rather than visiting the lake proper, I decided to stay up in the picnic area and chaparral above the north shore of the lake.

The first birds were heard as I opened the car door, before I even got out. A dozen American Robins were there--some already apparently paired up. One of the robins had ugly swollen legs, as several did here last year--probably a scaly mite infection. Several Dark-eyed Juncos were feeding in the lawn, some House Finches were flying about, a Mourning Dove was cooing, and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers were working the tops of the California pepper trees that were just getting the first warming rays of sun as they lined the parking lot.

I walked through the first picnic area and down the hill slightly to the adjacent Jack's Creek picnic area. There were fewer birds this morning here, still in shade. A Nuttall's Woodpecker was working the dead top of a sycamore branch.

Nuttall's Woodpecker at Jacks Creek picnic area
Nuttall's Woodpecker.
Leaving the picnic area and crossing the road to the north leads to the trailhead for the Chaparral Trail. The mixed chaparral is heavy here. I'm still learning the plants, but laurel sumac and big clumps of chamise were mixed in with several species of evergreen oak trees. This trail follows a creek bed--usually dry, but now was running after several days of recent rains the past two weeks.

Oak Ravine to start the Chaparral Nature Trail at Dixon Lake
There was actually water running in the creek!
A trailside sign identified the oaks and called attention to a "coast wild lilac" but didn't give its scientific name. The three parallel veins running down the leaf identify it as a Ceanothus, but exactly which of the 50-60 species this is I am not sure.

Coast Wild Lilac -- Ceanothus
Wild Lilac (Ceanothus spp.) starting to bloom.
Three species of evergreen oaks occur together here. Most of the larger oaks are coast live oaks. A sign brought attention to the more blue-gray smooth-edged leaves of the Engelmann's Oak. Some scrub oak were also present. And in the oaks,... Oak Titmouses.

Engelmann's Oak
Engelmann's Oak.
Scrub Oak
Scrub Oak.
The nature trail goes uphill for almost one-half mile. Near the top I've noted wintering Fox Sparrows in the past but had a hard time seeing them in the riparian tangles of brush and scrub oaks. The loud smacking "tchuck!" or "check!" call told me I was looking for the Sooty Fox Sparrows, or maybe one of the Slate-colored Fox Sparrows, but not the Thick-billed Fox Sparrows, which have a metallic "zink!" call. About 20 subspecies of Fox Sparrows can be divided into 4 groups (including the Eastern Red Fox Sparrows). These 4 groups are long overdue to be split into 4 separate species.

Eventually, I spotted some very pale (pale for Sooties), but evenly-colored Fox Sparrows, with dense breast markings. I obtained two completely out-of-focus and useless photos, and one fuzzy photo that I present here. This probably represents unalaschcensis--the palest of the Sooty Fox Sparrows. It is also the form that breeds farthest north and west--in the Aleutians. Sooty Fox Sparrows have a leapfrog migration, with the northernmost breeders migrating the farthest south. The dark breeding form near Vancouver, Canada barely migrates at all.

Sooty Fox Sparrow -- unalaschcensis subspecies
Sooty Fox Sparrow -- probably unalaschcensis subspecies
At the top of the nature trail the chaparral opens up into primarily Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) interspersed with a few yucca--Our Lord's Candles (Hesperoyucca whipplei). The photo below shows the trail north into Daily Ranch from the nature trail. There is a seasonal pond mid-left in the photo below. A creek exits this pond via a culvert and splashes down the ravine to the right in this photo.

Chaparral with yucca
A dead yucca stalk stands as a sentinel over the chaparral.
There haven't been any butterflies out for a couple of months. But this white butterfly with the orange tips to its wings was easy for me to look up and identify--the Pacific or Sara Orangetip (Anthocaris sara). It was perhaps 1-1/2 inches wingtip to wingtip. It even kept its wings open for me for a great photograph!

Pacific Orangetip
Pacific Orangetip
At this point I was running out of time, so returned directly down the nature trail again. There were a few of the red-barked Mission Manzanitas, with a few blossoms.

Mission Manzanita
Mission Manzanita starting to bloom.
I then heard a light loose trill and spotted a singing Rufous-crowned Sparrow. After a few moments it came over to investigate me. Of the two photos below, the lower one seems to hold what I view as a more typical pose--short neck, flat head, and long rounded tail. The upper photo is more alert, which gives it an appearance similar to a giant Chipping Sparrow--which it otherwise is not shaped like.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Alert Rufous-crowned Sparrow.
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Rufous-crowned Sparrow, typical pose.
In past visits I had noted a "something"--a ball of vegetable matter like a Brillo-pad. I found one again, remembered to get a photo of it, and found the source.

Wild Cucumber
What is it? Wild cucumber.
Wild Cucumber
Wild cucumber.
I believe this is Marah macrocarpus, also known as wild cucumber, bigroot, and chilcothe. It is similar to Marah oreganus, the old-man-in-the-ground gourd I knew in Oregon. It is less common than the similar and widespread Marah fabaceus that has similar common names: California manroot, bigroot.

Nature Journal
Nature Journal

My eBird Checklist of this hike.

eBird Hotspot for Dixon Lake.

My previous birding site guide to Dixon Lake (written June 2016).

Mary Beth Stowe's birding site guide to Dixon Lake (written about 2008).

Verdin

Verdin
Verdin. Borrego Springs, California. December 18, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird
Western Bluebird. Escondido, California. December 12, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

House Finch

House Finch
House Finch. Escondido, California. December 12, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker. Escondido, California. December 12, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Another Storm Wigeon

A very few male American Wigeons have pure white head, rather than speckled gray-brown. The green eye patch is really striking against the white. My post on Storm Wigeon from 3 years ago is actually the most popular post in my entire blog--I assume as much from duck hunters as birders, because the hunters are usually aware of the term, but birders are less aware of this rare individual variation.

"Storm Wigeon." American Wigeon variant. Escondido, California. December 12, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow. Escondido, California. December 12, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pied-billed Grebe

I have accumulated several month's worth of random bird photos. So this starts a near-daily presentation for the next month or so.

Pied-billed Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe. November 30, 2016. Dixon Lake, Escondido. Greg Gillson.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird. Escondido, California. November 30, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Birding Site Guide to Stonewall Mine and Lake Cuyamaca

The 2003 Cedar Fire decimated Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. It burned more than 98% of the park (24,000 acres), eliminating over 95% of the conifers in the park, and 20% of the conifers in all of San Diego County! Only a few conifers were saved on the summit of Cuyamaca Peak, at Paso Picacho Campground, around the shores and community of Lake Cuyamaca, and a few acres at Stonewall Mine. Replanting started in 2008. The new trees are natives in the same proportion as existed prior to the fire: 65% Jeffrey Pine, 15% Coulter Pine, 8% Sugar Pine, 7% White Fir, 5% Incense Cedar.

Despite the devastation, this is still a beautiful place and the conifers remaining attract specialty forest birds.

From Stonewall Mine looking south across the meadow
From Stonewall Mine looking south across the meadow.
Getting there: From downtown San Diego it is about 38 miles east on Hwy 8 to Hwy 79. Then travel north about 14 miles, about a mile past Paso Picacho Campground, then turn right for over a half mile on a paved, almost single-lane wide, road to Stonewall Mine. If you miss this turnoff you come to a sharp set of corners on Hwy 79 at the south end of Lake Cuyamaca and an alternate parking pull-out for Trout Pond Trailhead. Alternatively, Stonewall Mine is 11 miles south of Julian on Hwy 79. Parking: Stonewall Mine Parking is limited and now $10 for day use (January 2017). Parking at Trout Pond is free, and across the road is more free parking primarily used for horse trailers. Hours: Dawn to dusk. Map Navigation: Stonewall Mine, CA.

Stonewall Mine is 1 mile south of Lake Cuyamaca, roughly a dozen miles midway between Julian and Descanso.
Stonewall Mine trail map
Stonewall Mine trail map
Where to bird: The map shows approximate locations of major hiking trails (not including separate near-parallel horse trails).

A is the parking lot at Stonewall Mine.
B Trout Pond Trailhead (there is no trout pond) parking lot for Los Vaqueros Trail to Marty Minshall Trail.
C Fletcher Island.

First, some tactical information. Free public restrooms are sparse. The one at Stonewall Mine seems perpetually closed, but perhaps is only open in summer when I visit less frequently. There are porta-potties on Fletcher Island. Pay private campgrounds and day use areas are on the west and north side of the lake. Paso Picacho campground is 1 mile south on Hwy 79.

For a quick birding stop, many birders restrict their birding to the top of the hill right around the Stonewall Mine parking area (A). The Jeffrey Pines are largest here. Expect montane forest species such as Steller's Jays, Mountain Chickadees, and Pygmy Nuthatches (more common here than on Palomar Mountain). Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Sapsuckers, and Purple Finches are rare residents. On the other hand, the black oak-loving species are equally or more common: California Scrub-Jays, Oak Titmouses, White-breasted Nuthatches, Acorn and Nuttall's Woodpeckers, House Finches.

Spring and summer bring neo-tropical migrants and summer residents: Western Wood-Pewee, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, As-throated Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, House Wren, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Bullock's Oriole are the more common of many additional summer visitors or residents. Lower elevations nearer the lake are frequented by Wild Turkeys.

The eBird Hotspot list for Stonewall Mine combines both the pine forest and the lake. You'll have to use your knowledge of birds in wet habitats versus dry pine forest to know where to expect them. So I'll describe two separate hikes of a couple hours each, that also combines forest and lakeshore.

Confusing trail sign
This should be called the Mobius Loop Trail. If you get lost, take the horse trail sign you see behind.
Hike 1) Stonewall Mine to Fletcher Island

The Stonewall Mine parking area (A) is near the summit of the hill. There are several loop trails around the hill. Thus, following the trails down and around is where there is the most elevation change (though only a couple hundred feet). A hike around the loop trails and over to and around Fletcher Island is about 2.5 miles round trip, though could be shorter if you take a more direct route and skip some of the loops (see map above).

The top of the hill is more pure conifer forest, while more black oaks mix with conifers on the lower flanks. The forest is very open with little understory--mostly just grass between widely spaced trees. When approaching Fletcher Island you leave the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park lands at a footbridge to the island. You may also see a sign that warns of hunting on certain days of the week in fall and winter. This doesn't mean you can't visit on those days, it is just to let you know that duck hunting takes place around the lake in early morning. You may want to delay visiting the lakeshore on these days until a couple of hours after sunrise.

The Fletcher Island loop (C) gets you next to the low rock dam on the NE end of the lake. Water is deepest next to the dam so some diving ducks or grebes may concentrate here. Behind the dam there is an intermittent marsh in winter that may have herons or other water birds, and perhaps hawks hunting over the grassy plain. Bald Eagle is a frequent visitor. From Fletcher Island you can see larger ducks and geese on most of the lake, though smaller shorebirds on the far shores will be too distant to see or identify.

Lake Cuyamaca from Fletcher Island
Lake Cuyamaca looking south from Fletcher Island.
Hike 2) Trout Pond and south end of Lake Cuyamaca

An out-and-back hike from the Trout Pond Trailhead (again, there is no Trout Pond trail... I guess all the good names were taken) may be best for spring migrants in the riparian willows and fall shorebirds on the shallow south end of the lake. From the parking area (B) head north to the southeastern corner of Lake Cuyamaca. This may be the best location to find Wild Turkeys, though you are likely to see them in some of the rural yards and pastures on your drive here on Hwy 79.

You may continue to the bridge to Fletcher Island (C) and turn back there, for a total of about 2 miles, or continue around the island, adding another 1/2 mile. Or you an turn into the Stonewall Mine trails through the pines.

Fishing paths and trails actually circle Lake Cuyamaca. If you are so inclined you may hike all the way around the lake, or so I'm led to believe. It is supposed to be 3 miles around the lake, and perhaps 5 miles hiking around Fletcher Island and back tracking to the Trout Pond Trailhead.

There is actually a decent restaurant on the west shore of lake. It serves breakfast and lunch.

Oak Titmouse
Oak Titmouses are restricted to... oaks.
Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpeckers are abundant in pine-oak woods.
Pygmy Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch. More common here than at Palomar Mountain.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet is fairy common in winter throughout San Diego.
Mountain Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee is fairly common in pine and mixed woods.
White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch is fairly common in pine-oak woodlands.