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"Easy Birder" Driving Routes

De Luz Road

Please note: a small section of Carancho Road was severely damaged by the 2007 Rice Fire, but the rest of the route is thankfully intact.  Click here for pictures of the damage.

    Except for a small stretch of dirt road near the county line (which under normal conditions should be passable for standard passenger cars), the roads on this route are all paved.

Approximate Length: 26 miles

Approximate Birding Time: 4.5 hours with the optional hiking trail

Traffic: Moderate, but can be borderline heavy at the starting point and beyond during the week due to morning rush hour

Facilities:  There are porta potties in the county park at the beginning (and end) of the route.

Directions: Take I-8 east to I-15 north almost to the Riverside County line; exit on Mission Road (Fallbrook), turn left at the light, then right after you cross the freeway.  Follow this road as it meanders through town (beware that Mission Road bears right at one point), and look for a sign for De Luz Road; turn right here, and at the bottom of the hill De Luz Road veers left.  Pull over by the Santa Margarita County Preserve  (opens at 9:30) and start birding here.  (Since this EBR winds around in a loop, you can explore this park at the end of the route.)

The main draw of this area is the lush willow riparian habitat along the Santa Margarita River and the fact that many oak woodland birds normally associated with higher elevations can be found along this route.  Most of it is private property with a lot of agricultural areas, so some of the route can be rather sterile, but the scenic patches of oak woodland and open space make it a worthwhile drive (and if you like gawking at expensive homes, the Riverside County portion of the loop will give you that opportunity!).  Common rural birds you may encounter anywhere along this route include Turkey Vulture, Cooper's, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrel, Mourning Dove, Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Cassin's Kingbird, all three lowland corvids, Bushtit, Northern Mockingbird, Phainopepla, California Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, Lesser Goldfinch, and House Finch year-round; Bullock's and Hooded Orioles and various swallows in summer and migration; and Sharp-shinned Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Cedar Waxwings in winter. 

The first part of the route runs along the Santa Margarita River and can have birds typical of that habitat such as Black-chinned Hummingbird, Bell's Vireo, Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat in summer; and Downy Woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat, American Goldfinch, and Song Sparrow year round.  There is a small breeding population of Warbling Vireos in the area as well, so be sure to keep an ear out for them!  There are some rocky outcroppings along this stretch that might have Canyon Wren.  Wheeling up the hill there is scrub habitat overlooking the riparian woodlands that is good for Fox, White-crowned, Golden-crowned, and Lincoln's Sparrows in winter, Blue Grosbeak and Lazuli Bunting in summer, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and  Bewick's Wren year-round.  You soon start running into patches of oak woodland that can have Band-tailed Pigeon, California Quail, Acorn Woodpecker, Hutton's Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, American Robin, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Spotted Towhee year-round; Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Wood Pewee, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Lawrence's Goldfinch in summer; and Red-breasted Sapsucker and Ruby-crowned Kinglet in winter.  A portion of the road actually skirts into Camp Pendleton where there's some oak savannah-type habitat that might have White-tailed Kite and Western Bluebird year-round, and sparrows (particularly Lark) in winter.

Riparian area along the first leg of the route

Heading up the hill

Near Camp Pendleton

Oak woodland along the road

After about eight miles you'll come to a "yield" sign where De Luz Road actually bears right up the hill, but you'll want to continue straight.  Be sure to check out the small private pond to the right just before crossing Fern Creek (please don't trespass), as it sometimes has surprises such as Hooded Merganser in it!  (Mallards are the usual suspects, however...)  Shortly after you cross the creek the road turns to dirt; the ag fields often have Cassin's Kingbirds, Western Bluebirds, Western Meadowlark, or Say's Phoebes.  The creek and rural residential areas further on sometimes have Common Ground Doves, Band-tailed Pigeons, or Lawrence's Goldfinches, but almost always have orioles in summer.  The wetlands can have Red-winged Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackles, as well as Killdeer and possibly even herons.  After crossing the creek again (this is usually the worst part of the road, but still passable) you shortly hit pavement; although unmarked, this is the Riverside County line, where the road name changes to Carancho.  You continue north through thick chaparral where California Thrasher and Wrentit may be fairly common, or you may even scare up a Greater Roadrunner.  You pass through more rural residences and agricultural groves; these usually are pretty sterile but sometimes have California Quail and Common Ground Doves, and can be surprisingly good for Red-shouldered Hawk.  In addition to the expected "suburban" birds, you may come across high-altitude surprises such as Violet-green Swallow, American Robin, and Purple Finch along here!

Fern Creek crossing in December

Dirt portion of the route

Chaparral and ag habitat along Carancho Road

Suburbia, ranch-style!

The road eventually curves around and you come to a stop sign; this is the intersection (interestingly) with De Luz Road where it veered off to the right earlier.  To continue this loop, go straight and follow the road to a four-way-stop which is Sandia Creek Road.  Turn right here; you shortly pass through a thick oak woodland that can be good for Orange-crowned Warbler, Acorn Woodpecker, Hutton's Vireo, Oak Titmouse, and in winter, Dark-eyed Junco.  As you pass through more residential areas, keep an eye out for a house on the right with several tall palm trees and a big pond in front that may have ducks any time of year (but beware of "stocked" exotics).  The exotic flowers attract hummingbirds of various species.  Back out in the chaparral, you enter into land that is owned by the Fallbrook Land Conservancy (so you're back in San Diego County--again unmarked) and get some great views (good for White-throated Swifts) before descending towards Sandia Creek and getting another shot at riparian birds.  At the bottom of the hill, turn right at the sign that points you towards Fallbrook.  After you cross the river, there's a large parking area on the left that's the jumping-off point for the optional trail.

Along Sandia Creek Road


Open areas along Sandia Creek Road

"Duck Pond"

Heading down the hill

The Fallbrook Land Conservancy property along Sandia Creek Road

Riparian area at the bottom of the hill

Optional Hike:  Santa Margarita River Trail  if you go to the "drop-off", if you go further...  If there was only a way to get past the washouts, this would be a wondrous, flat trail along the river and through some luscious riparian habitat that has hosted rarities such as American Redstart, and Kentucky and Hooded Warblers in the past!  At present I only go to the first washout, where you can sit by some open water and hope for Belted Kingfisher along with the usual Yellowthroats, Song Sparrows, and Black Phoebes!  (This can also be a great spot to wait for butterflies and dragonflies to happen by...)  Sometimes Coots and Pied-billed Grebes can be found along here, and you might get fly-by shorebirds.  Many of the same birds found along the road where there is oak and willow riparian habitat can be found in here.  Back at the parking lot, a peek down by the river crossing might scare up a Green Heron or some other water bird.  There's also a little picnic area across the street that might be worth exploring, and more short trails go down to the river.

Along the Santa Margarita River Trail

Area past the "drop-offs"

My usual turn-around point

Park area across the street from the main trail

"The Beach"

River crossing along Sandia Creek Road

Continue on Sandia Creek Road, and when you come to the intersection with De Luz Road (the beginning of the route), you can either turn right onto De Luz again to explore the county preserve, or head back up the hill to Fallbrook.   The trail accessible at this point basically parallels Sandia Creek Road and has similar species to the last trail.

Santa Margarita River Trail access from the new County Preserve

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 out-of-place, irruptive, or vagrant species and should not be expected. 

  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Pied-billed Grebe                      
Double-crested Cormorant                      
Great Blue Heron                      
Green Heron                      
Green-winged Teal                      
Wood Duck                      
Ring-necked Duck                    
Hooded Merganser                    
Turkey Vulture        
White-tailed Kite                      
Sharp-shinned Hawk                      
Cooper's Hawk                  
Red-shouldered Hawk    
Red-tailed Hawk      
American Kestrel                  
California Quail              
American Coot              
Greater Yellowlegs                      
Mourning Dove    
Common Ground Dove                  
Band-tailed Pigeon          
Greater Roadrunner                      
Great Horned Owl                      
Vaux's Swift                      
White-throated Swift                    
Anna's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird                    
Black-chinned Hummingbird                  
Allen's Hummingbird                      
Selasphorus Hummingbird                    
Belted Kingfisher                
Northern Flicker  
Acorn Woodpecker
Red-breasted Sapsucker                    
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker                  
Ash-throated Flycatcher                
Black Phoebe  
Say's Phoebe                
Pacific-slope Flycatcher                
Western Wood Pewee                  
Cassin's Kingbird      
Warbling Vireo                      
Bell's Vireo                    
Hutton's Vireo          
American Crow
Common Raven
Western Scrub Jay  
Northern Rough-winged Swallow                  
Violet-green Swallow                
Cliff Swallow                
Oak Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch      
House Wren    
Bewick's Wren  
Canyon Wren              
Ruby-crowned Kinglet            
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                  
Western Bluebird              
American Robin          
Hermit Thrush              
Northern Mockingbird      
California Thrasher    
European Starling    
Cedar Waxwing                      
Orange-crowned Warbler  
Yellow Warbler                  
Yellow-rumped Warbler            
American Redstart                    
Common Yellowthroat    
Wilson's Warbler                      
Yellow-breasted Chat                  
Western Tanager                      
Black-headed Grosbeak              
Blue Grosbeak                
Lazuli Bunting                
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow            
Chipping Sparrow                      
Lark Sparrow                  
Golden-crowned Sparrow                      
White-crowned Sparrow              
"Slate-colored" Fox Sparrow                      
"Thick-billed" Fox Sparrow                      
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow                    
Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco                
Western Meadowlark                      
Brown-headed Cowbird                
Red-winged Blackbird      
Great-tailed Grackle                    
Bullock's Oriole                
Hooded Oriole            
Pine Siskin                      
Lawrence's Goldfinch                      
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch                    
Purple Finch                    
House Finch

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