Sunday, September 4, 2016

Birding Site Guide: Why don't I like Famosa Slough?

The eBird Hotspot for Famosa Slough lists 213 species. These include the following rare birds since 1998: Tufted Duck, Stilt Sandpiper, Tricolored Heron, Bar-tailed Godwit, Plumbeous Vireo, Ruff, Summer Tanager, Clay-colored Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and the August 2015 surprise of Gray Thrasher (probably an escaped cage bird from Tijuana but, still, a great bird to see).

The 37 acres of Famosa Slough is a tidal slough that was once part of Mission Bay's formerly extensive salt marsh wetlands. It was long ago left isolated by the channeling of the San Diego River. When birders plan to visit San Diego, high on their list is Famosa Slough. And the city is fixing it all up by planting native vegetation and adding interpretive signs. [Friends of Famosa Slough website.]

Other people like it. So why don't I? Instead of a celebrated birding location I see a weedy mud puddle behind a gas station and a couple dilapidated apartment complexes, bordered by a major thoroughfare and its deafening roar of traffic. Gang graffiti and panhandlers. I do not feel comfortable here. I feel perfectly safe birding alone anywhere in the wilderness and wilds of southern California. Why do dense urban areas disturb me so? Please pardon my prejudice against this urban birding location--I'm sure it doesn't deserve my disdain. Please tell me why you like this birding location in the comments.

Famosa Slough area map

Getting there: Famosa Slough is centrally located in the middle of several great San Diego birding hotspots. It is near Robb Field and the mouth of the San Diego River, just across from Sea World and Mission Bay. It is at the base of Point Loma and a mile from the marina for those taking pelagic birding trips. From Hwy 8 at Hwy 163 interchange follow Hwy 8 west 4.3 miles until it ends, turning left onto Sunset Cliffs Blvd, then immediately left again 0.1 miles onto Nimitz Blvd and only 0.2 miles, left onto W Point Loma Blvd for 0.5 miles and park when you reach the slough. Or, from Nimitz Blvd turn east on Famosa Blvd and follow it to the end for the south parking area. Map navigation: 4275 W Point Loma Blvd, San Diego, CA (street parking main access). 2598 Famosa Blvd, San Diego, CA (south parking lot, take surface streets around until you reach it). Parking: The north side of the slough is accessible by free street parking on Point Loma Blvd. There is free parking in a small dirt lot on the south end of the slough at the end of Famosa Blvd. During my most-recent visit in summer 2016 there is no longer a walking path from the south to north sides--you must drive around.

Famosa Slough birding map

Where to bird: The dirt parking lot at the end of Famosa Blvd (A on the map above) is the start of a loop trail in the willows on the south end of the slough. It's a small loop--maybe only 200 feet in length. Nevertheless, this is where most of the non-waterbirds are seen. Is there a rare warbler or bunting hiding in these willows? Maybe. Is there a mugger hiding in the willows? Oh no, there I went again! It's good habitat. It's worth a look. Just remember to be safe and pay attention to your surroundings.

Perhaps the city will restore a trail to the other side of the lake. But for now, drive around taking Valeta Street to Camulos Street and then turn right and park on W Point Loma Blvd (B on the map above). From here there are a couple of access points to scope out shorebirds. There is probably a best tide for choosing your visiting time, but I haven't figured it out yet.

Famosa Slough park here
This is it. Park here.
Famosa Slough main entrance
Welcome to Famosa Slough
Famosa Slough

Famosa Slough northwest corner

Famosa Slough

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret
There is a "North Channel" portion of the Famosa Slough (eBird hotspot here). There's not often much there of note, but for completeness sake I present it. Walk east down to the gas station and cross at the light on Adrian Street to the north side of very busy W Point Loma Blvd. There is a trail of 200 feet or so along the east side of the channel as it heads north under Hwy 8 and the San Diego River.

North Channel Famosa Slough
North Channel
North Channel Famosa Slough

Cassin's Kingbird
Cassin's Kingbird


  1. This popped up as I was searching for Famosa Slough; I was in San Diego in Oct 2007 for business, but took a day off to be guided by John Puschock, part of a great day birding metro San Diego with him. We did see the Plumbeous Vireo, as well as about 12 other life birds. I am now entering historical birding records into eBird (shamed by my birding friends and also by the enforced boredom and isolation of Covid-19)), and as my memory failed completely to remember anything but a brief hike along a path to a clump of trees where John had previously seen the Vireo, I hoping to see if looking at the site might jog more memories. It did not, and I'm saddened by your description of its current state. Phil (from Florida).

    1. Thanks for your comments, Phil.

      It could just be me. I don't like birding in residential neighborhoods, either. Maybe it's leftovers from teenage birding when you hid your binoculars under your coat in residential areas and got teased a lot from your peers. Give me the wilderness!!!


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