San Diego Birding Pages
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Facilities: Porta potties and flush toilets are located throughout the park.
Directions: Take I-15 north through Escondido and exit on El Norte Parkway. Turn right at the light and go about four miles to La Honda Drive, where you'll turn left (there's a sign for the lake which is easy to miss as you're driving into the sun; a good landmark is the fact that the road narrows and curves right at that point). Follow La Honda all the way to the top of the hill; parking for Daley Ranch is on the left, but bear right to go to the park.
A weekday visit is definitely preferable, as this is a popular place for fishermen and picnickers. Several trails take you through good chaparral, oak, and riparian woodland, as well as some exotic plantings down near the Lake Shore picnic area. Click on the above link and then go to "Fishing Information" for a map of the area.
Chaparral Nature Trail Once past the entrance kiosk, bear left towards the "primitive area" and park in the lot immediately on your left, across from the Jack Creek Picnic Area, for this hike. The trail technically starts by the porta potties, but the less strenuous route is to hike up the paved road, through the gate into Daley Ranch, and back down the actual nature trail. The trees in the picnic area and at the creek crossing can have Cooper's Hawk, Nuttall's and Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Hutton's Vireos, Oak Titmice, Black Phoebes, American Robins (rare), Orange-crowned Warblers, all three goldfinches year-round (although Lawrence's is generally scarce in winter); Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Ash-throated and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and both Bullock's and Hooded Orioles in summer; and other warblers in migration (Yellowrumps are common in winter). My one record of Bell's Vireo probably represents a dispersing individual. The chaparral and brush will have both California and Spotted Towhees, and Western Scrub Jays and California Thrashers are particularly common here. Other chaparral birds you can look for include Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds, Greater Roadrunner, Phainopepla, Wrentit, Bushtit, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and California Quail; in summer Black-chinned Sparrows sing from the hillside, to be replaced by Fox Sparrows (both "Slate-colored" and "Thick-billed") in winter. As the trail opens up into Daley Ranch, bear left (the right trail goes up and over the hill to the lake) to where you'll see the entrance to the nature trail. The trail you're on actually continues on into the heart of Daley Ranch, which is a whole other area to explore! Listen for Say's Phoebes and Rock and Bewick's Wrens in this area, and more chaparral birds as you descend along the trail.
Creek crossing along the road on a foggy morning
Further up the road
Trail at the top, heading into Daley Ranch
Top end of the Chaparral Nature Trail
Heading down said trail
Getting back into the woods
Whisker Bay Trail + (The main trail is basically flat, but there's a bit of a climb to get back to the parking area.) To get to this trail, drive up the road you just hiked, and follow the pavement as it bears right. At the fork, bear left, and you'll see a sign for Whisker Bay ahead of you. I generally continue to the big parking area at the end of the road and make a loop out of it by hiking back up the road, taking the trail down to the bay, and then circling back around to the parking area (it's less strenuous this direction). As you hike back up the road be sure to check out Catfish Cove, as there will often be a good selection of waterfowl there (at the bare minimum you should find American Coots and Pied-billed Grebes). Although probably not visible, you may hear Least Bitterns or Soras (winter) from the reeds, as well as Common Yellowthroats, Marsh Wrens, and Song Sparrows. The rocks along the road sometimes have Canyon Wrens among them, and Northern Harriers might make a pass over the reeds. The trail down to Whisker Bay (bear right when the trail forks) should have the usual chaparral suspects (this seems to be a good place for Blue-gray Gnatcatchers), and the little bay itself will give you a closer encounter with possible reed-dwelling species, including Common Moorhens or Ruddy Ducks in with the coots, or hiding Virginia Rail, and Green and Black-crowned Night Herons. There are often Red-winged Blackbirds in here as well. The trail winds around the lake at this point, giving you a good view of the dam area; look for California and Ring-billed Gulls, Forster's Terns, Great Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, and Double-crested Cormorants on the buoys, and check for Osprey on the telephone poles. The open water could have Eared and Western Grebes, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Ducks, and Lesser Scaup in winter; and White Pelicans year-round (although these have become scarce throughout the county recently), and you might kick up a Spotted Sandpiper or American Pipit (winter) along the rocks. Watch for various swallows over the water as well. One miraculous day I actually flushed a Poorwill along here, so anything's possible! The trail continues on around the lake, but you'll see the parking area above you and the trail to get there.
Dixon Lake from the lower parking area
Whisker Bay from the top of the trail
Whisker Bay Trail (that switchback in the distance is the "up and over" trail I mentioned earlier...)
Whisker Bay from the bottom
The trail as it hugs the lake
Lake Shore "Ditch" Trail" (Mostly flat, but there's a good climb up the side of the hill from the cove.) To get to this trail, drive back towards the entrance and continue on the paved road all the way to Lake Shore Picnic Area (beyond this turnoff are the campgrounds, which clearly state "No Day Use"). I generally take the paved walkway down to the dock to check for ducks or Belted Kingfishers, then pick up the "fishermen's trail" along the shoreline. Western (summer) and Cassin's Kingbirds and Northern Mockingbirds are also more likely here, as they tend to prefer the more "park-like" areas. This shortly climbs the hill and dumps you onto a flat trail that parallels a ditch. There are a lot of pines and exotic plantings in here that can have Oak Titmice, Acorn and Nuttall's Woodpeckers, and White-breasted Nuthatches year-round; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warblers (keep an eye out for the occasional "Myrtle"), Dark-eyed Juncos, and Fox, Golden-crowned, and White-crowned Sparrows in winter, plus migrants in spring and fall. You get some terrific views of the lake from this side as well, as the lighting is usually better. The trail goes as far as the fence (almost to the dam), and you can take the paved road back to the parking area. Doing this trail "backwards" might be less strenuous, but the climb down the hill to the cove could be more dicey as well.
One of the "oak coves" along the Lake Shore Ditch Trail
Scenes along the "Ditch Trail"
Two views of the lake from the trail
From here I generally weave my way back towards the Jack Creek picnic area, stopping at the various parking areas, scanning the lake and listening for marsh birds. For those who don't care to hike, I'm sure many of these birds can be gotten by poking around these parking areas.
Jack Creek Nature Trail This one is a challenge, but can get you into some nice riparian habitat. It also can be hard to find; I usually bird the edges of the picnic area towards the back side, where both ends of this loop trail can be picked up. I prefer to start from the "dirt" end (as opposed to the "footbridge" end) because there's one step along the trail that's so deep that I actually have to sit down to negotiate it (so going the opposite direction would be nearly impossible)! You pick your way down a rocky trail at first with more chaparral specialties, but then the nature trail makes a hard hairpin left while the "main" trail continues on; make this turn and check out the riparian area around the bridge. The usual suspects will be Song Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats, but you never know when a quiet sit among the rocks may yield close-up views of Wrentits or other specialties who come in to drink! Continue up the "stairs" to a cove with more reeds and another parking area, then up and down more "stairs" back to the picnic area. Checking the trees along the edge as you make your way back to the parking area can be fruitful; look for House and Bewick's Wrens, warblers, vireos, thrushes (including Western Bluebird) and Black Phoebes. You might even flush a Red-shouldered Hawk in here.
Jack Creek Picnic Area
Nature trail and riparian area along the creek
Cove along the trail
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.
|American White Pelican||●||●||●|
|Great Blue Heron||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●|
|Black-crowned Night Heron||●||●||●||●|
|Western Scrub Jay||●||●||●||●||●||●||█||●||█||█||●||█|
|Northern Rough-winged Swallow||●||●||●||●|
|Black-throated Gray Warbler||●|
|"Slate-colored" Fox Sparrow||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●|
|"Thick-billed" Fox Sparrow||●|
|Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco||●||●||●||●|
*January data supplied by Christine Harvey, Sue Smith, and Richard Griebe
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