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"Easy Birder" Driving Routes

Kitchen Creek Road

    Kitchen Creek Road is paved all the way; however, Fred Canyon Road is 4WD/high clearance only.  Bear in mind that the road is now (probably) permanently closed past Cibbets Flat, due to security issues.  The upper part of this road is usually still accessible from S1 (Sunrise Highway), by foot if not by car (see directions below).

Approximate Length: 14 miles

Approximate Birding Time: 2 hours without the optional trails; 4 hours with the trails

Traffic: Very light, if that.

Facilities:  There are pit toilets at the Cibbets Flat Campground and various campgrounds up in the Lagunas.

Directions: Take I-8 east about 45 miles, past the turnoffs to Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains, and exit on Kitchen Creek Road.  Go left under the freeway and start birding the road past the first cattle guard. 

This driving route offers good birding in a variety of habitats on a good paved road with relatively little traffic (during the week).  Check the freeway underpass for nesting Cliff Swallows before getting away from the traffic noise!  The road begins in open sage habitat with scattered pinyons and oaks and is good for open country birds such as Western Kingbird in summer, and on rare occasions Loggerhead Shrike; look for Northern Mockingbird, California Thrasher, California Quail, Hermit Thrush (winter), and other chaparral-type birds in this area as well.  Surprisingly, Steller's Jays occur regularly at this relatively low elevation; listen for them in the oaks around Cameron Station and further up the road at Cibbets Flats.  Look and listen for Red-winged Blackbirds in the willows, and keep an eye out for Greater Roadrunners scooting across the road as you ascend.

Kitchen Creek Road just off the freeway

The road rises shortly after that, getting into thicker chaparral habitat; scan the tops of the rocky cliffs for raptors, swallows, and White-throated Swifts.  In just over two miles is another cattle guard at the top of a little rise; this is the first of three optional hiking trails.

Optional Trail: Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Southbound @ Kitchen Creek Road   

Park in the left hand pullout and hike about ten minutes of the southbound trail (which actually goes west at this point).  Besides the usual chaparral fare, this is a good area to try for Gray Vireo (summer), as well as Costa's Hummingbird, and Sage, Rufous-crowned, and Black-chinned Sparrows (summer).  In winter, White-crowned and Fox Sparrows (including the less common "Thick-billed") can be abundant, but check carefully for Golden-crowned Sparrow as well.  At the small overlook you can sit and enjoy the view of Kitchen Creek below you (usually dry) and listen for Rock and Canyon Wrens across the way.  Sometimes Mountain Quail sit on the rocks below, but their covey clucking is much more easily heard along here.

PCT Trailhead

Typical chaparral habitat

View of Kitchen Creek from the PCT

Continuing on, the road hugs the lush oak riparian woodland along Kitchen Creek.  Here you can find Phainopepla, House Wren, Black-headed Grosbeak (summer), White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Scrub Jay, Hutton's Vireo, Oak Titmouse, Dark-eyed Junco (winter), Black-chinned Hummingbird (summer), and Lawrence's and Lesser Goldfinches.  Migrating high-elevation species like Olive-sided Flycatcher can sometimes be seen on the tops of dead trees.  

Where Kitchen Creek scoots under the road

Near Cibbets Flat

After another couple of miles you'll come upon Cibbets Flat Campground; if you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, you can take Fred Canyon Road (when it's open) to the next optional hike. If the road is closed, you can park in the pullout and walk the road a little for some of the same birds, or just walk the campground for oak woodland birds.

Optional Hike: PCT Southbound @ Fred Canyon Road        

Follow Fred Canyon Road for about a mile until you come to what looks like an intersection.  Veer right into what is actually a large parking area next to a large oak tree; you'll see the southbound trailhead in front of you.  Taking this trail down to where it comes close to the oak riparian area will yield many of the same birds as on the earlier PCT (including Gray Vireo and Sage Sparrow), but with the nearby oak woodland you can also pick up things like Nuttall's Woodpecker, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Ash-throated Flycatcher (summer).  This is another excellent place for Fox Sparrow in winter.

Looking back at Kitchen Creek Road from Fred Canyon Road

Lonely oak riparian area along the PCT southbound from Fred Canyon Road

Access point to Fred Canyon Road (by foot) at the far end of the campground

 

Cibbets Flat Campground

Returning to the main road, after another mile or so there's a pulloff just past the "pavement ends" sign (which it really doesn't: they just re-tarred it).  This is the third and final optional hike, but is highly recommended if you want a better chance at oak woodland birds.

Optional Hike: Cibbets Flat Trail 

A ten minute walk along this lovely trail can yield the expected oak woodland birds, in addition to Steller's Jays, Lawrence's Goldfinches, Pacific-slope Flycatcher (summer), Band-tailed Pigeon, Black Phoebe, Western Wood Pewee (summer), House Wren, and in spring and fall, Western Tanager (some linger into summer), and any number of migrants. 

Cibbets Flat Trail

The infamous tank-stopping gate is just past this point, but you can still access the upper end of the road if you don't mind a 40-minute detour up Sunrise Highway (but it can be worth it)!  Retrace your route back to the freeway, but instead of taking said freeway continue to Old Highway 80 and turn right (this route is not only more scenic, but the Border Patrol checkpoint along this road is a lot quicker to get through than the one on the freeway...).  If you have the time, the PCT crosses the road just past the campground and gives you great access to the lovely riparian area along Kitchen Creek itself (parking is on the left; the trail is on the right; see the description of this trail on the Boulder Oaks page).  To continue this route, keep going on Old Highway 80 through the four-way stop at Buckman Springs Road and the checkpoint down the road.  After a few miles the road curves to the right, where there's another freeway access; keep going straight on Sunrise Highway for about seven miles to the upper end of Kitchen Creek Road, just past the cattle guard.  The road is usually open for the next three miles and takes you through some wonderful pine/oak woodland, where you should be able to add Pygmy Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker, and Mountain Chickadee to your list.  This can be a good area for Mountain Quail as well, and in summer you can expect Violet-green Swallow and perhaps Purple Martin flying over.  Look also for Red-shouldered Hawk (beware of Steller's Jays doing a darn good impersonation), Purple Finch, Western Bluebird, and Chipping Sparrow up here, and the rare invasion of winter finches such as Pine Siskin and Cassin's Finch.

Open pine woodland near the top

View from the upper road

Even with the closed gate, it's still permissible to walk the closed area if you have the time and energy (just remember that you're going downhill and you'll have to come back up...)  Gray Vireos are still a possibility for the next few miles (although much easier to get along the lower section), and the views are spectacular, even if things are quieting down bird-wise!  Bewick's Wrens and Phainopeplas seem particularly lively in here no matter how hot it gets...

View from the locked gate

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 vagrants or irruptive species and are not to be expected.

  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Turkey Vulture                      
Sharp-shinned Hawk                    
Cooper's Hawk                      
Red-shouldered Hawk                      
Red-tailed Hawk        
American Kestrel                  
California Quail          
Mountain Quail  
Mourning Dove            
Band-tailed Pigeon        
Greater Roadrunner                      
White-throated Swift                      
Anna's Hummingbird          
Costa's Hummingbird              
Black-chinned Hummingbird                      
Selasphorus Hummingbird                      
Northern Flicker  
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker    
Hairy Woodpecker                
Ash-throated Flycatcher                
Black Phoebe          
Say's Phoebe                      
Pacific-slope Flycatcher              
Olive-sided Flycatcher                    
Western Wood Pewee              
Western Kingbird                      
Loggerhead Shrike                  
Gray Vireo              
Warbling Vireo                      
Hutton's Vireo            
Cassin's Vireo                      
American Crow                    
Common Raven    
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Purple Martin                      
Northern Rough-winged Swallow                      
Violet-green Swallow        ●        
Cliff Swallow                    
Mountain Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit  
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
House Wren      
Bewick's Wren
Rock Wren      
Canyon Wren        
Wrentit
Ruby-crowned Kinglet            
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher        
Western Bluebird      
American Robin                
Hermit Thrush              
Northern Mockingbird                    
California Thrasher
Phainopepla          
Orange-crowned Warbler              
Yellow Warbler                      
Yellow-rumped Warbler              
Black-throated Gray Warbler                      
Townsend's Warbler                    
Wilson's Warbler                      
Western Tanager                
Black-headed Grosbeak            
Blue Grosbeak                    
Lazuli Bunting                  
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow              
"Bell's" Sage Sparrow              
Black-chinned Sparrow              
Chipping Sparrow                      
Lark Sparrow                      
Golden-crowned Sparrow                      
White-crowned Sparrow                
"Slate-colored" Fox Sparrow              
"Thick-billed" Fox Sparrow                      
Song Sparrow                      
Dark-eyed Junco      
Western Meadowlark                    
Brown-headed Cowbird                      
Red-winged Blackbird                      
Brewer's Blackbird                    
Bullock's Oriole                  
Pine Siskin                      
Lawrence's Goldfinch          
Lesser Goldfinch  
Purple Finch              
Cassin's Finch                      
House Finch  

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