Sunday, September 27, 2015

North County coastal birding

There have been several unusual birds seen over the last ten days or so on the northern San Diego County coast. So I planned a route to try to at least visit some of the locations where these birds were seen. I wasn't expecting to see most of them and, in fact, saw none of the rare birds reported by others. This was my first birding and photography in over two months since my shoulder surgery.

Oceanside, California
View of the Oceanside Pier from the San Luis Rey River mouth, Oceanside, California. September 27, 2015. Greg Gillson.
At sunrise, or what would have been sunrise if not for the overcast skies along the beach, I visited the San Luis Rey River mouth in Oceanside. I was hoping for some shorebirds. But it was nearly a full moon, so that means high tide and mudflats under water at dawn. American Coots, Western Gulls, and Great-tailed Grackles were the most abundant birds.

Great-tailed Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle. Oceanside, California. September 27, 2015. Greg Gillson.
There was a very rare Mourning Warbler last week at the Lower Cottonwood Park in Encinitas. This small little canyon side park has a little creek, but is otherwise unremarkable. I did spot a juvenile Pacific-slope Flycatcher that allowed a quick photo with only one pesky branch in the way.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Encinitas, California. September 27, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Yesterday birders found a rare Least Flycatcher at a wet weed patch at Del Mar. There were a half dozen birders there when I arrived. None had seen the bird this morning. I found a common Orange-crowned Warbler and a couple of Warbling Vireos, but otherwise, nothing of note.

Orange-crowned Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler. Del Mar, California. September 27, 2015. Greg Gillson.
A Pacific Golden-Plover has wintered for 4 or 5 years at the nearby San Dieguito River mouth in Del Mar. I tried to see it last winter but was in the wrong place. At the correct location on the coast highway, street parking was full, and the sides of the roads were clogged with hundreds of fast walkers, runners, baby stroller-pushers and hundreds of bicycle riders. And the tide was high and still rising, so I didn't try to stop to scour the weedy edges of the small flooded river mouth. I just drove by slowly.

I had thought of birding San Elijo lagoon. But it was 9:30 a.m. and I wanted to get back home and watch the San Diego Chargers play football against the Minnesota Vikings. I was born in Minnesota and the Vikings were strong in the 1960's (I remember singing the "one eyed, one horned, flying purple people eaters" song in grade school, before it became popular in the 1970's to describe the Vikings defensive line). The family moved to Oregon in 1967, and there was no local NFL team, so I stuck with the Vikings. The Seattle Seahawks were an expansion team in 1976. But they weren't any good for many years. Even when they played against Minnesota I could still cheer for their good plays, since I knew they weren't going to win anyway! Now that I've moved to San Diego I've tried to be interested in the Chargers. But I've never been a fan of the AFC, only the NFC, and mostly the NFC North. And with a potential move of the Chargers to Los Angeles, I think I can stick with the Vikings. At any rate, the 4th Quarter has started and Minnesota is winning 31 to 7. So, a good morning all around!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Birding Site Guide: Old Mission Dam & Kumeyaay Lake

On the eastern edge of the City of San Diego lies the 5800 acre Mission Trails Regional Park--the largest city park in California.

In size, it is similar to the 5100 acre Forest Park in Portland, Oregon. As with its Oregon counterpart, Mission Trails (official website) is equally beloved by hikers, mountain bikers, equestrian riders and, of course, bird watchers.

There are many areas within the park where you may find good bird watching. Perhaps the most popular is the Old Mission Dam area and Kumeyaay Lake. This area is especially productive in late April and May for spring migrants.

Getting there: 19 miles from San Diego airport taking Hwy 163, then Hwy 52 to Santee, exiting at Mast Blvd (Exit 13), left on Mast Blvd, right onto West Hills Parkway, right on Mission Gorge Rd, and right on to Father Junipero Serra Trail. ONE WAY WARNING: Father Junipero Serra Trail is one way 3 miles from Mission Trails Visitor Center on the south end of the park to Old Mission Dam. But Mission Gorge Rd is actually faster to go around. Parking: FREE, just off Mission Gorge Rd at the intersection with Bushy Hill Drive and across the street from Cumeyaay Lake Campground.  Hours: The main road through the park, Father Junipero Serro Trail, is CLOSED except 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Park as indicated above and walk in starting at dawn.  Map navigation: Parking lot is approximately 10599 Father Junipero Serra Trail, Santee, California 92071 [The campground across the street is addressed as 2 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, California 92119.]

Where to bird: Park in the FREE dirt parking area across from Kumayaay Lake Campground (map location A). Walk through the campground to the trails that lead around both sides of Kumeyaay Lake (map location B). Unfortunately, the trails do not circle the lake completely. The trail on the south side of the lake goes east to the road you can see at the edge of the map below. Besides several species of ducks and water birds, Least Bittern is found here, though a skulker. Bell's Vireos can be found in summer. Taking trails on both sides of the lake and back to the parking area is probably about 3/4 of a mile.

After finishing the lake and campground, walk the road (Father Junipero Serra Trail) to a well-marked gate that leads down into the riparian zone and out to a grassland (map location C). This river crossing thicket has Yellow-breasted Chats and is good for flycatchers and warblers in spring and early summer.

Mission Trails Park
North of map location C looking south to San Diego River.
Continue northward on the trail out into the grassland and follow the trail toward Spring Canyon (map location D). On the way you may expect Greater Roadrunner. As you reach the wet area with scattered small trees you'll hear more Yellow-breasted Chats and find Blue Grosbeaks and Lazuli Buntings.

Mission Trails Park
North of map location C looking north toward map location D.
From here I backtrack just a bit and take one of the two trails across the rolling grassland westward (map location E). My target species here is Grasshopper Sparrow. These are best detected singing at dawn on calm mornings. If there is any breeze (or flyover planes) you won't be able to detect the soft insect-like buzzy song.

Once you reach the Oak Canyon Trail on the western edge of the map above you encounter many chaparral birds such as California Thrasher and Phainopepla.

Soon you enter the lush area of the San Diego River at the Old Mission Dam (map location F). Again, this is a great place for Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Bell's Vireos, Downy Woodpeckers (rather local in San Diego County), and other neotropical migrants. There is a small crowded parking lot here but, as mentioned, it does not open until 9:00 a.m. You really want to be leaving soon thereafter anyway, as the best birding is within 3 hours of dawn, and it can become quite warm by mid-morning.

Mission trails Park--Old Mission Dam
Old Mission Dam
The loop from C to D to E to F and back to the parking lot at A is about 2 miles. So, adding the nearly mile of the Kumeyaay Lake trail, the total walking distance is 2.5 to 3 miles. If you want to go farther there are 50 miles of trails and several peak trails to challenge the more physically fit.

On the other hand, I can understand if the campground was full so you decide to skip the lake, you didn't want to walk out the grassland, and you just birded from the parking area (A) to the San Diego River (C) and around Old Mission Dam (F) looking for spring migrants. That would limit the walking to just about a mile or so without sacrificing too many species--and may actually lead to more species by spending more time in the most productive habitat.

Here is an eBird bar chart showing the weekly status of 183 species in 3 hotspots listed for eBird in this small portion of the park (Mission Trails Regional Park: 1) Kumeyaay Lake & campground, 2) Oak Canyon Trail, and 3) northeast region).

Here are a few of my personal eBird checklists from the area:
May 10, 2015 Old Mission Dam and Grasslands
October 4, 2013 Old Mission Dam and Grasslands
April 20, 2014 Kumeyaay Lake and campground

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Western Bluebirds near Julian

Six weeks. It's been six long weeks since my rotator cuff surgery. I started physical therapy this week. Perhaps, in another couple weeks I will again be able to lift my camera.

It has actually been 10 weeks since my last photo session. I've been rationing out my bird photos from the July 4th weekend at Julian. But these are now the last ones. I'm out.

Western Bluebird
Juvenile Western Bluebird. Near Julian, California. July 3, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Western Bluebird
Western Bluebird
Western Bluebird

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Lesser Goldfinch at Julian

Here are a couple of shots of another bird from Julian this past July.

During the rainy El Niño winter of 1997-98 this widespread County bird even bred in the blooming deserts far from water (San Diego County Bird Atlas. Unitt. 2004). This winter is shaping up to be a strong El Niño again--hopefully with accompanying rains that southern California could sure use.

Lesser Goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinch. Julian, California. July 3, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Lesser Goldfinch

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wild Turkey at Julian

According to the San Diego County Bird Atlas (Unitt, 2004) there were several releases of Wild Turkeys into San Diego County since 1931. However, by the time of the last release in 1993, no progeny from the earlier releases remained. Since 1993 they have proliferated in the oak foothills in the middle of the county.

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey. Julian, California. July 5, 2015. Greg Gillson.
As Unitt points out, the term "wild" is a bit liberal when discussing these birds. Rather than roaming about in the more wild areas of the county where hunting is permitted, these birds 'domesticated themselves' and came down into the parks, campgrounds, and rural back yards and ranches where they are afforded protection from hunters.

Two forms of Wild Turkey are those of the Eastern United States with a white tail tip and these Texas birds with a rusty tail tip. Most Wild Turkeys in the West are of the Texas form.

Wild Turkey