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"Easy Birder" Driving Routes

Boulder Creek Road

There is a burn-damaged portion of the road between miles 9 and 10 from an isolated fire; the McCoy Fire (which burned portions of the Inaja Indian Reservation) did not adversely affect the route.  Click here for pictures of the burned area.  Keep in mind that most of the burn damage you'll encounter along this route was from the 2003 Cedar Fire.

    Boulder Creek Road begins in Descanso as a paved road for the first five miles, then turns to a good graded dirt road, which turns to pavement again past the fire station near Pine Hills.

Approximate Length: 21 miles

Approximate Birding Time: 4.5 to 5 hours

Traffic: Light to moderate along the paved lower end; extremely light along the dirt portion; picks up slightly in Pine Hills, but still pretty light

Directions: Take I-8 east to the highway 79 exit, towards Descanso and Cuyamaca State Park.  Turn left under the freeway, and watch for the Descanso turnoff (Riverside Dr.) about 1.3 miles down the road on your left.  Follow this road for 0.8 mile to a gas station/general store, where you'll turn left on Viejas Grade, then make an immediate right onto Oak Grove.  After about 1.5 miles Boulder Creek Road bears right; its terminus is at Pine Hills Road.


Although severely damaged by the 2003 firestorms, much of the habitat along this road came through unscathed, primarily the riparian areas and the lovely oak savannah meadows of McCoy Ranch.  Despite the devastation, many chaparral-loving birds are still using the area.  Along deciduous-riparian creeks look for Mallard, Black Phoebe, Red-winged Blackbird, and Song Sparrow year-round; Blue Grosbeak, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Bullock's Oriole, and Yellow Warbler in summer, and migrants during spring.  In the oak woodlands you can still expect Oak Titmouse, Band-tailed Pigeon, Acorn and Nuttall's Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Phainopepla, American Robin, House Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Orange-crowned Warbler, Hutton's Vireo, Dark-eyed Junco, and Lesser and Lawrence's Goldfinch year-round; Western Wood Pewee, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and Black-headed Grosbeak in summer, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet in winter.  Lazuli Buntings have been particularly abundant after the burns in the chaparral, and the fires have not deterred Rufous-crowned, Black-chinned and Sage Sparrows, Bewick's Wrens, Wrentits, and California Thrashers; White-crowned Sparrows and the occasional Golden-crowned don't seem to mind the recovering brush, and both Fox Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes have returned.  Rock and Canyon Wrens have moved into areas that have more exposed rock faces, and Loggerhead Shrikes are taking advantage of the more open grassy areas.  In spring and early summer when the flowers are blooming, Costa's Hummingbirds can be abundant; in mid-summer Selasphorus hummingbirds start coming through, so watch the flowering plants for Allen's and Rufous Hummers.  Watch for a little ranch about halfway up (complete with white picket fence) where "Wild" Turkeys sometimes come in and schmooze with the barnyard fowl!


Sunrise near the beginning of the road


Already life is re-emerging after the 2003 firestorms!




One of the somewhat undamaged oak draws along the road



Recovering oak savannah


One of several creek crossings


Optional hike:    At about 13.2 miles there's a gate on the left (two, actually) with just enough room for one car to park; you'll see a trail that follows a ridge and heads up into a tiny grove of oak trees.  Lark Sparrows seem to have taken up residence here, and this is a good place to try for closer views of Sage Sparrows.  The view up at the oak grove is beautiful.  For those with more energy, the trail continues down the hill, and you eventually get a view of a distant waterfall on your left (if the rains have cooperated), but it's a climb back up!  One year nesting Dippers were found in this area, but I hear the spot was quite difficult to get to.


Trail to the overlook


"Memorial Tree"


Continuing on, up in the meadows look for raptors, as well as Western Kingbirds in summer and Wild Turkeys, Meadowlarks, and Western Bluebirds year round.  This is another good place for Lawrence's Goldfinch and Lark Sparrow.  As you ascend and start getting into mixed pine/oak woodland, start looking for Band-tailed Pigeon, Steller's Jay, Violet-green Swallow (summer), Mountain Chickadee, and Purple Finch (in winter, these can be sometimes found at the south end of the road as well, along with the bluebirds).  About a mile's worth of the route passes through the well-marked Inaja Indian Reservation; please respect tribal law and refrain from stopping along this stretch!  Before the fires, Purple Martins nested in dead trees along the paved part of the road in Pine Hills, but although rare they can still be possible anywhere along the road.  Once in Pine Hills, if you stop, be sure to find a nice wide area where you can be easily seen; the locals tend to take these curvy roads rather fast!


Oaks at McCoy Ranch





With the snowy-topped Cuyamacas in the background


Higher elevation oak woodland


Mixed woodland habitat within the Inaja Indian Reservation



Near the fire station at Engineers Road


Pine Hills

Personal Checklist  ●=small numbers  █ = large numbers (10+) 

Please keep in mind that these lists are NOT comprehensive, and that some months may have had poor overall coverage.  Species in red are vagrant or irruptive species and should not be expected.

Turkey Vulture                
Sharp-shinned Hawk                      
Cooper's Hawk                  
Red-shouldered Hawk              
Red-tailed Hawk    
American Kestrel                
California Quail              
Mountain Quail          
Wild Turkey                    
Mourning Dove        
Band-tailed Pigeon            
White-throated Swift                    
Anna's Hummingbird        
Costa's Hummingbird                    
Black-chinned Hummingbird                      
Allen's Hummingbird                      
Northern Flicker
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker      
Ash-throated Flycatcher              
Black Phoebe              
Say's Phoebe                    
Pacific-slope Flycatcher                    
Western Wood Pewee                  
Western Kingbird                  
Loggerhead Shrike                    
Hutton's Vireo              
American Crow
Common Raven      
Steller's Jay    
Western Scrub Jay
Purple Martin                    
Violet-green Swallow                
Cliff Swallow                      
Mountain Chickadee        
Oak Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch  
House Wren    
Bewick's Wren    
Canyon Wren                    
Rock Wren            
Ruby-crowned Kinglet            
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
Western Bluebird  
American Robin                    
Hermit Thrush                  
Northern Mockingbird                      
California Thrasher  
European Starling              
Orange-crowned Warbler                
Yellow Warbler                  
Yellow-rumped Warbler              
Wilson's Warbler                      
Western Tanager                    
Black-headed Grosbeak              
Blue Grosbeak                
Lazuli Bunting                
Spotted Towhee
Green-tailed Towhee                      
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow                  
Sage Sparrow (Bell's)                  
Black-chinned Sparrow              
Chipping Sparrow                    
Song Sparrow                  
Lark Sparrow              
Golden-crowned Sparrow                      
White-crowned Sparrow              
Fox Sparrow (Slate-colored)                
Dark-eyed Junco          
Western Meadowlark                    
Brown-headed Cowbird                  
Red-winged Blackbird              
Brewer's Blackbird                  
Bullock's Oriole                
Hooded Oriole                  
Pine Siskin                    
Lawrence's Goldfinch        
Lesser Goldfinch    
Purple Finch                  
House Finch
House Sparrow                      

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