Monday, February 4, 2019

Site Guide: Lake Wohlford, Escondido

Lake Wohlford
South side of Lake Wohlford looking toward east end. December 2019.
Lake Wohlford is a fishing lake and residential drinking water reservoir (no swimming or wading or pets). It's in a rural setting in the hills northeast of Escondido.

The open grassy north shore has picnicking, and boat rentals at the ranger station. You may walk the fishing trails along the lake, searching the cattails, open water, or grassy knolls between the lake and main road.

The south side of the lake is more conducive to birding as the Egret Trail goes through an Engelmann's oak woodland where a Bald Eagle winters (or is perhaps a resident).

As far as unusual species go, this lake has a fair number of winter reports of Common Mergansers compared to the County as a whole.

Note: Saturday and Sundays only from early September until mid-December, otherwise 7 days a week, sunrise to sunset. You might check first before driving out.

Escondido City webpage for Lake Wohlford:

Getting there: Escondido is reached via I-15 north 20 miles from I-8 in San Diego. Take exit 27 "E Via Rancho Pkwy." Turn right on Bear Valley Pkwy for 6 miles, then turn right on Valley Parkway. After 1.3 miles turn right on Lake Wohlford Rd. After 1.9 miles on Lake Wohlford Road you have two choices, designated "North side of lake" and "South side of lake" below.

North side of lake
From the "Getting there" directions above, continue 0.7 miles to the Ranger Station. Parking: Free. Hours: Dawn to dusk. Map Navigation: 25453 Lake Wohlford Rd. Escondido, California 92025.

Where to bird: From ranger station the unsigned Osprey Trail goes west 0.25 miles to red buoy line. In the other direction, from ranger station head east 0.5 miles on unsigned Kumeyaay Trail above the fishing trails at the lake shore to the east buoy line where the trail ends.

South side of lake
From the "Getting there" directions above, turn right on Oakvale Rd. Travel 0.7 to easily-missed dirt parking are on left, Lake Wohlford Park. Parking: Free. Hours: Dawn to dusk. Map Navigation: approximately 14972 Oakvale Rd, Escondido, California 92025.

Where to bird: Egret Trail starts at Lake Wohlford Park and follows the lake shore east about 1/2 mile where it joins up with Oakvale Road. You may walk gated Oakvale Road an additional 1/2 mile east. Then you return to Lake Wohlford Park on Oakvale Road, walking past the residential homes. I detected just over 50 avian species in early December 2018, and meandered 3 miles, including a lot of side fishing trails.

Some cautions about Egret trail: poison oak is the major shrub, rattlesnakes are possible, and it is a bit isolated because of the dense but narrow woodland, though in earshot of some homes. Dirt trail can be muddy or rutted and uneven, generally a moderate hike, with very little elevation gain. I've seen only fishermen and hikers, including families, on these trails--nothing suspicious.

Portable toilets in several areas on both north and south shores.

Usually this is a rather quiet retreat, except for occasional boat motors. However, one day the lake served as the focus of a plane doing aerobatics--not good for birding.

Looking over eBird data there were 11 different groups of birders reporting in January 2019. That's compared to 37 different birding groups in all of 2018. Very few or no birders visit July-October, though certainly there will be birds here, and not too hot if you arrive early. 162 species have been recorded here. The eBird bar chart is here.

Lake Wohlford
South side of Lake Wohlford looking north.
Lake Wohlford
South side of Lake Wohlford looking westward. The ranger station is visible on the north side of the lake.


  1. I was admiring the bald eagle parent which was perched on a tree overhanging the north side of the lake. Immediately after taking off to fly to the south shore of the lake, a large "heron" like bird (large dark wings, "w" wing stroke, short legs & reddish beak) took off sd to be avoiding the eagle (which was not interested & landed 75ft north of it in a tree). I am a birder & have no clue what kind of bird that is. Any idea of what shoreline? bird that flies like a heron with buteos like wings, "hidden" legs (in flight) with a reddish beak is? Tx

    1. You had me stumped at first, but now believe I know what bird you saw.

      Double-crested Cormorants are fairly large black water birds. They have broad wings. They have a snaky neck like a heron, but very short legs. They swim and dive for fish. You may see them on a log boom or dock with their wings open, drying. They build communal stick nests in trees.

      Like a pelican they have a bare throat pouch of bright yellow-orange skin that also comes up on the face from bill to eye. Most of the bill itself is actually black.

      Cormorants are found coastally along Atlantic and Pacific shores. Double-crested Cormorants are widespread mostly on freshwater lakes and brackish estuaries.

      I wouldn't call the color of the throat pouch "red," exactly, but there is nothing else it could be. These birds are common all year-round at Lake Wohlford.


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