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"Easy Birder" Driving Routes

Otay Mountain Road

Please note: the first few miles of this route were severely damaged by the 2007 Harris Fire, but some oak specialists can still be found in the area, and some chaparral specialists are still hanging around the burned chaparral areas.  Ironically, the remainder of the road (which is recovering from the 2003 Otay Fire) was not touched, including the remnant Tecate Cypress stands near the west end.  Click here for pictures of the burned east end.

    Except for occasional post-rain ruts and bumps, the road is graded and in excellent condition.    The "in-a-pinch western exit" isn't as nice but is passable.

Approximate Length: 34 miles round-trip, 17 miles if the gate is open or you take the "shortcut" at the western end

Approximate Birding Time: 4 - 5 hours, depending on whether you have to backtrack or not

Traffic: Practically non-existent (beware of fast-moving Border Patrol vehicles, however!)

Facilities:  There's one porta potty near the 15-mile point; otherwise it's your bumper or the bushes!

Directions: Take I-8 east to I-805 south.  Exit onto State Route 94 eastbound into Spring Valley (beware that 94 veers off the main freeway at Spring Street).  After the freeway ends, follow 94 as it makes a right turn at the first light past Jamacha Blvd., and follow 94 for about 13 miles to the little hamlet of Dulzura.  Shortly after passing through "town" you'll see a yellow sign for Marron Valley Road, where you'll turn right (reset your trip meter at this point as you'll need a mileage reading to make a turn further on).  Continue for about two-tenths of a mile and start the route where there's a little riparian woodland on your left.

Much of the Otay Mountains Wilderness Area (BLM) was devastated by the 2003 Otay Fire, but is recovering nicely.  Ironically, the unburned vegetation at the east end of the road was wiped out by the 2007 Harris Fire, but there's enough patchy habitat left that some of the typical oak and chaparral species are still around.  The first few miles of the road passes through ranch/grasslands (including a gun club) with exotic plantings, eucalyptus, and scattered oak woodlands; this is the only part of the route you're likely to get White-tailed Kite, Nuttall's and Acorn Woodpeckers, Black Phoebe, Cassin's Kingbirds, Western Scrub Jay, Western Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, Oak Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Orange-crowned Warblers (and other migrants), Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, and Brewer's and Red-winged Blackbirds year round; Western Kingbird, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Hooded and Bullock's Oriole, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Blue Grosbeak in summer; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Yellow-rumped Warbler in winter.  (A few of these may pop up in the disturbed area on the west end of the road.)  Urbanites such as American Crow and House Finches (as well as "Euro-stuff") are more likely here as well, and be sure to check the fields for Horned Larks.  There's a stream crossing just past the big "parking area" at the gun club turnoff that's worth checking; beyond this point the habitat is pretty much chaparral/sage scrub, where both towhees, Wrentits, and Rufous-crowned Sparrows can be abundant.  In spring and early summer listen for Black-chinned Sparrows as well.

Oak and chaparral at the beginning of the route

Farmland on the east end of the route

Unburned chaparral area near the gun club

At about 2.2 miles there's a road that makes a hard right up the hill and is not well marked (look for the substantial oak woodland as a landmark); this is actually Otay Mountain Road (the dilapidated sign calls it "Otay Truck Trail") and you'll want to turn right here (going straight will take you to a locked gate...).  The first few miles will show extensive damage from the Harris Fire, but beyond that any burn damage you encounter (along with recovering vegetation) will be from the Otay Fire.  The birds have recolonized; watch and listen for California and Mountain Quail, Anna's and Costa's Hummingbird, Bewick's and House Wrens, California Thrasher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Loggerhead Shrike, Phainopepla, "Bell's" Sage Sparrow, and Lesser and Lawrence's Goldfinch year-round; Fox (all three expected subspecies), White- and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Hermit Thrush, and Say's Phoebe in winter; and Lazuli Bunting, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Black-headed Grosbeak in summer.  During migration even Western Tanagers pass through this stuff!  You'll soon pass the devastated Tecate Cypress forest; in late summer check for odd disbursals such as Black-throated Sparrows and other out-of-place species.  As you climb to the summit where there is more rocky habitat, look and listen for Say's Phoebe (winter), Rock and Canyon Wrens, American Pipits (flying over in winter), Lark Sparrows, and Horned Larks.  Most of the soaring birds you're likely to see along this stretch will be Common Ravens, but be on the lookout for the occasional Red-tailed Hawk and Golden Eagle.  Check for smaller aerial birds such as Tree (winter), Barn (migration), and Cliff (summer) Swallow and White-throated Swift, and don't assume all the small falcons you see are American Kestrels: in winter check for the odd Merlin.  The vistas along this stretch can be spectacular; often you are above the marine layer, and you can feel on top of the world!

Fire-ravaged hillsides

Foggy View

The clouds can make for some great photo ops!




Towers near the summit

The downhill side offers more spectacular views and similar birds.  If the air is clear you'll see Otay Lakes below you and perhaps even the Coronado Islands!  No matter what the air quality, you'll still see Tijuana sprawling towards the south and the correctional facility directly to the west.   Check the electrical towers for raptors (many have large nests).

Heading down the west side

Overlooking Tijuana and the ocean

Otay Lakes

As you descend into the unburned area, you'll see small stands of surviving Tecate Cypress; if you're a butterfly enthusiast, you may want to check this area for the endangered Thorne's Hairstreak in season.  Occasionally White-tailed Kite can be seen in this area, as well as California Quail, Greater Roadrunner, and more songbirds (especially migrants).  You may even come across an endangered California Gnatcatcher in the surviving sage scrub, but Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is the default species here.  The rocky canyon to the north can be good for Canyon Wrens.  As you approach the disturbed area look for kingbirds, phoebes (both Say's and Black), kestrels, Western Meadowlarks, Blue Grosbeaks in summer, and Northern Mockingbirds.  The route ends at the drive that connects the private property with Alta Road.

West end of the route

You have a couple of choices from here, depending on whether the gate to the drive is open or not.  If it is, hang a right on the drive and proceed a few yards to Alta (where it Ts) and make a left.  Turn right at the four-way stop, and follow the main road as it eventually joins up with Highway 905 (where you'll turn right), which eventually joins up with both SR 125 (toll) and I-805.  If the gate is closed, you can turn around and either backtrack to Highway 94 or try the "shortcut" to Alta Road: go back up the road about a half-mile or so to the first dirt road on your right past the buildings.  Follow this road as it hugs the mountain and eventually dumps out at the end of a paved road.  This road then Ts at Alta, where you'll turn left, then follow the same directions above. 

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, vagrants, or irruptive species and are not to be expected.

  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Turkey Vulture                      
Northern Harrier                    
White-tailed Kite              
Red-shouldered Hawk                    
Red-tailed Hawk  
Golden Eagle                  
American Kestrel            
California Quail              
Mountain Quail                
Mourning Dove      
White-winged Dove                      
Rock Pigeon                
Greater Roadrunner                
White-throated Swift          
Anna's Hummingbird              
Costa's Hummingbird                      
Selasphorus Hummingbird                      
Northern Flicker          
Acorn Woodpecker                
Nuttall's Woodpecker              
Ash-throated Flycatcher                
Black Phoebe                    
Say's Phoebe                
Pacific-slope Flycatcher                    
Cassin's Kingbird          
Western Kingbird                  
Loggerhead Shrike                  
American Crow
Common Raven
Western Scrub Jay
Horned Lark                
Tree Swallow                      
Cliff Swallow                
Barn Swallow                      
Oak Titmouse        
White-breasted Nuthatch                  
House Wren        
Bewick's Wren
Rock Wren    
Canyon Wren                
Ruby-crowned Kinglet                
California Gnatcatcher                  
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher          
Western Bluebird              
Hermit Thrush              
Northern Mockingbird  
California Thrasher      
European Starling          
American Pipit                      
Orange-crowned 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-throated Sparrow                    
Black-chinned Sparrow              
Grasshopper Sparrow                      
Lark Sparrow                
Golden-crowned Sparrow                    
White-crowned Sparrow          
"Slate-colored" Fox Sparrow                
"Thick-billed" Fox Sparrow                      
"Sooty" Fox Sparrow                      
Song Sparrow                  
Lincoln's Sparrow                      
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
American Goldfinch                      
House Finch

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