Friday, April 22, 2016

Trip report: All day birding the Tijuana River Valley and Imperial Beach area

My birding buddy, Tim, came for a 3-day visit at the end of January. I planned 3 full days of birding for us. The first day started along the Mexican border in the Tijuana River Valley and Imperial Beach and Chula Vista areas of the south end of San Diego Bay. Here's our route and some of the bird highlights we had.

I provide the timing and additional details, as this is a very desirable and repeatable route for birders visiting this area. eBird checklists are linked for complete species lists and maps. The daylight for our visit would be about the least expected for the year, so at any other time of year one could spend more time at some of the better locations.

Map for birding Tijuana River Valley, Imperial Beach, Chula Vista

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A) Dairy Mart Road, San Ysidro
6:51 AM, 1 hr and 16 minutes, walked 1.0 miles, 46 species
eBird checklist
Highlight species: 15 Black-crowned Night-Herons, 1 White-tailed Kite, 1 Common Gallinule, 1 Downy Woodpecker, 2 Hutton's Vireos, 4 House Wrens, 3 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and 2 American Goldfinches.
Comments: We walked about a mile of trails around the 3 Ponds on Dairy Mart Road. The wintering House Wrens in San Diego make a wide range of sounds that are unfamiliar to Tim and I from decades listening to breeding House Wrens in Oregon. Calls that seem to mimic California Gnatcatchers are not given by breeding birds in Oregon. Other calls House Wrens make here seem half-way between California and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and gave us pause all day. This is the very south end of the range for Downy Woodpecker and American Goldfinch.

B) Bird and Butterfly Garden 
8:17 AM, 49 minutes, walked 0.1 miles, 28 species
eBird checklist
Highlight species: 4 Common Ground-Doves, 5 Hermit Thrushes, Black-and-white Warbler
Comments: I was able to show Tim some of San Diego's small, tame, crow-sounding Common Ravens. This area must have crows and ravens that are more alike than elsewhere in North America. We found a fairly rare Black-and-white Warbler. It was my county first. There were 2 or 3 other known birds wintering in the county, but I was glad to find a previously undiscovered one on my own at a place that is birded several times daily. This is a fairly reliable isolated location for Ground-Doves, otherwise they can be found in Borrego Springs or in avocado orchards in the North County. We did NOT find Black-throated Magpie-Jays, which are regular here. They are not "countable," as they are escaped cage birds from Tijuana, but they are still amazing to see. Their native range is several hundred miles farther south in Mexico.
Visit my birding site guide to the Bird and Butterfly Garden.

Lawrence's Goldfinch
Lawrence's Goldfinch
C) Sunset Avenue Ball Fields
9:08 AM, 28 minutes, walked 0.1 miles, 14 species
eBird checklist
Highlight Species: Vermilion Flycatcher, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler
Comments: There are often rarities scattered around the Tijuana River Valley. On this day we chased two species known to be present for several weeks. We saw one of 2 Vermilion Flycatchers that had been here all winter, and a huge flock of nomadic Lawrence's Goldfinches that can sometimes be hard to find. We also found an unusual winter Yellow Warbler.

D) End of Seacoast Drive, Imperial Beach
10:40 AM, 53 minutes, walked 0.5 miles, 39 species
eBird checklist
Highlight Species: Little Blue Heron, Red Knot
Comments: After a brief breakfast we stopped at the Lemonade Berry bush where up to 5 Nelson's Sparrows had been reported during extreme high tides, but found nothing. So we went to the end of the road and walked out the dike and beach toward the north side of the mouth of the Tijuana River. This stop was all about species we didn't see, like Brown Booby or Snowy Plover. We did spot a couple of Red Knots flying over the surf and noted a Little Blue Heron in the channel.

E) Tijuana Slough Visitor Center
11:37 AM, 37 minutes, walked 0.1 miles, 17 species
eBird checklist
Highlight Species: None
Comments: We walked around the trails by the buildings hoping to spot a Green-tailed Towhee that has been wintering here for a couple of years, but no luck.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
F) Imperial Beach Sports Park
12:17 AM, ~5 minutes, 1 species of note
eBird checklist
Highlight Species: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Comments: A quick stop for the resident Night-Herons

G) Bayshore Bikeway, 7th Street, Imperial Beach
12:26 PM, 23 minutes, walked 0.2 miles, 21 species
eBird checklist
Highlight Species: 175 Marbled Godwits, 95 Short-billed Dowitchers
Comments: This is one location where the single Reddish Egret this winter has been found, but not this time. The shorebird flats here probably deserve more time with a scope, and earlier in the days so as not to look SSW into the sun.
For more information, visit my birding site guide to the Bayshore Bikeway for 7th and 13th Street access points.

H) Bayshore Bikeway, 13th Street, Imperial Beach
12:54 PM, 9 minutes, stationary, 1 species
eBird checklist
Highlight Species: 125 American Avocets
Comments: Construction was going on and all birds were extremely distant. Only a huge distant flock of American Avocets were identifiable--barely. At different times of the year it may be worthwhile to walk eastward on the Bikeway a half mile or more to scan the Saltwork Ponds through the fence.

I) Poggi Creek Greenbelt, Chula Vista
1:45 PM, 25 minutes, walked 0.1 miles, 9 species
eBird checklist
Highlight Species: None
Comments: A Thick-billed Kingbird has spent the past 6 winters in trees in an apartment complex here. Although someone else spotted it earlier in the morning, we did not. We grew impatient and left after sweeping through the area twice. This stop is probably best skipped as part of the route. It didn't help that I drove past the road I was supposed to take and had to wind my way back to it, taking an extra 20 minutes getting there!

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
J) Chula Vista Bayfront Park (J Street mudflats)
2:25 PM, 44 minutes, walked 0.4 miles, 30 species
eBird checklist
Highlight Species: Brant, Herring Gull, Peregrine Falcon
Comments: We were hoping for the rare Reddish Egret, Snow Geese, Laughing Gull, or Lesser Black-backed Gull which had been seen here during the winter. But no such luck. I'm not sure what tide stage is best for birding here, but whatever it is, we weren't at it.

K) Bayside Park, G Street, Chula Vista
3:16 PM, 29 minutes, walked 0.3 miles, 19 species
eBird checklist
Highlight Species: Red-throated Loon
Comments: This was a quick stop on the north side of the marina we had just visited to check for another location frequented by the rare Laughing Gull that had been recently reported.

J again) Chula Vista Bayfront Park (J Street mudflats)
3:57 PM, quick untimed stop (maybe 10 minutes), 1 species recorded
eBird checklist
Highlight Species: Thayer's Gull
Comments: We made another quick stop to try to find Reddish Egret for Tim. I scanned the gulls again and picked out an uncommon Thayer's.

Well, that was our birding trip. We had 112 species for the day on this route with 11 stops, even though no one stop had even 50 species.

[We actually stopped on the way home for a half hour at Kit Carson Park in Escondido, ending at dusk about 5:10 PM. There we picked up a pair of Wood Ducks and a nearby Merlin and ended our day with 118 species.]


  1. I really appreciate you taking the time to layout your big day itinerary. I'm going to be in Sand Diego for a work event and have one day to bird. Being able to find someone who has already layed out a well thought set of locations to bird literally saved me hours. Thank you. Hopefully I'll have some of the success you had. (I also really appreciate you linking your ebird checklists.)

    1. You're welcome, Ben. Hope you see some good birds!


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