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Dixon Lake

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

Catfish Cove

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. 

  J* F M A M J J A S O N D
Common Loon                      
Eared Grebe            
Pied-billed Grebe
Western Grebe                    
American White Pelican                  
Double-crested Cormorant
Least Bittern                  
Great Blue Heron      
Great Egret            
Snowy Egret                  
Green Heron              
Black-crowned Night Heron                
Mallard ●   
American Wigeon                      
Ring-necked Duck            
Lesser Scaup            
Common Merganser                      
Ruddy Duck          
Turkey Vulture          
Northern Harrier                      
Sharp-shinned Hawk                      
Cooper's Hawk                      
Red-shouldered Hawk        
Red-tailed Hawk            
California Quail        
Common Moorhen                    
American Coot
Virginia Rail                      
Black-necked Stilt                    
Western Gull                      
California Gull                      
Ring-billed Gull                  
Forster's Tern                  
Mourning Dove    
Greater Roadrunner                      
Common Poorwill                      
Anna's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird              
Black-chinned Hummingbird                    
Belted Kingfisher              
Northern Flicker      
Acorn Woodpecker                    
Nuttall's Woodpecker  
Downy Woodpecker                      
Ash-throated Flycatcher              
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe                      
Pacific-slope Flycatcher                      
Cassin's Kingbird                  
Western 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                
Barn Swallow                      
Mountain Chickadee                  
Oak Titmouse  
White-breasted Nuthatch                      
House Wren      
Marsh Wren                      
Bewick's Wren
Rock Wren                  
Canyon Wren            
Ruby-crowned Kinglet        
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher          
Western Bluebird            
American Robin                      
Hermit Thrush            
Northern Mockingbird                  
California Thrasher
European Starling                      
American Pipit                      
Orange-crowned Warbler    
Nashville Warbler                      
Yellow-rumped Warbler        
"Myrtle" Warbler                      
Black-throated Gray Warbler                      
Common Yellowthroat  
Wilson's Warbler                  
Western Tanager                      
Black-headed Grosbeak                      
Lazuli Bunting                      
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Black-chinned Sparrow                    
Golden-crowned Sparrow              
White-crowned Sparrow        
"Slate-colored" Fox  Sparrow        
"Thick-billed" Fox Sparrow                      
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco                
Brown-headed Cowbird                    
Red-winged Blackbird        
Bullock's Oriole                    
Hooded Oriole                  
Lawrence's Goldfinch                    
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch                      
House Finch

*January data supplied by Christine Harvey, Sue Smith, and Richard Griebe

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