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Peñasquitos Canyon

Facilities:  There are restrooms at Canyonside Park and porta-potties at both the western and eastern parking areas.

Directions: The best strategy is to bird the western portion first, then head to the eastern portion, as there are traffic restrictions on certain roads during the week.  To get to the west end, take I-8 east to I-805 north, and take the Mira Mesa/Vista Sorrento Parkway exit.  Go straight at the light, where you'll be paralleling the freeway for awhile.  Turn right on Sorrento Valley Blvd., and once past the industrial park, look for the large parking area on your right.  Note: the park may be closed after a storm.

This lovely little preserve contains a five-mile trail popular with hikers and bikers; if you have a friend with an additional car and don't mind the long hike, parking a car at each end and hiking the whole thing would be a delightful birding excursion (and you get to see the little waterfalls in the middle as well).  Otherwise, there are three short hikes you can take and probably see most of the birds you'd see anyway.

Lopez Canyon    +  From the western parking area, head through the lush riparian woodland and bear right at the kiosk (the main trail, described next, goes to the left).  The trail follows the creek for about 3.5 miles; birds you can expect along here include Red-shouldered Hawk, Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds, Black Phoebe, Northern Flicker, Nuttall's and Downy Woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat, Lesser Goldfinch, and Song Sparrow year-round; Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow-rumped Warbler in winter; and riparian specialties such as Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Bullocks' Oriole, and Blue and Black-headed Grosbeak in summer.  Good migrants are always a possibility in this type of habitat.  Watch for White-tailed Kites hunting over the grasslands, and Rufous-crowned Sparrows calling from the brushy hillsides.  In winter you may have Say's Phoebes feeding in the open areas.  Other scrub-loving birds you might find along here include California Quail, Wrentit, Bewick's Wren, Spotted and California Towhees, California Thrasher, and Western Scrub Jay.  In summer look for Ash-throated Flycatchers, and in winter keep an eye out for Lincoln's, White-crowned, and Golden-crowned Sparrows.

Lush riparian woodland just off the parking area

Lopez Canyon

Peñasquitos West        From the kiosk, veer left under the bridge (where Cliff and Northern Rough-winged Swallows hang out in summer) and drag yourself up the hill into the grasslands, where you may have Grasshopper Sparrow in summer, American Pipit and Savannah Sparrow in winter, and Western Meadowlarks, Lark Sparrows, and Horned Larks year-round.  Northern Harriers like this area as well.  From the hill you get a great view of the creek and a small wetland and pond (which might be dry); since this may not be visible from ground level, check it out now for herons and other possible water birds.  At the bottom of the hill the main trail veers right, but for a nice loop veer left into the riparian woodland, where, in addition to the birds previously mentioned, you may find American Goldfinch and Red-winged Blackbird year round, and Bell's Vireo in summer.  (Despite the thick vegetation, Willow Flycatcher is apparently only a migrant here.)  Closer to the wetland you may hear Marsh Wrens, rails, and grebes calling unseen or flush a Belted Kingfisher.  The trail passes an old historic adobe, then joins Sorrento Valley Parkway, where you can turn left and follow the road back to the parking area.  Please be careful crossing the road; they drive like maniacs here!!

Grasslands on the top of the hill

Where the trail dumps off on Sorrento Valley Blvd. (the adobe is on the right)

Peñasquitos East        This is definitely the easiest of the three hikes, and includes some oak woodland along with the willows, sycamores, and exotic trees.  From the west end parking area, turn right onto Sorrento Valley Blvd, which becomes Calle Cristobal after awhile.  The main road makes a hard right at Camino Ruiz; follow this to Capricorn Way, where you'll make a left.  Follow this road to Black Mountain Road, where you'll turn left.  You can either park in the preserve's parking area across from Mercy Road (open at 8:00; fee), or you can continue to Canyonside Park (which is the next light), which opens at 6:00 and is free.  The trailhead from Canyonside is almost to the ranch, as far down as you can drive (unless the gate to the ranch house is open), and this takes you through the woods and to the main trail. 

There's one large trail that runs the length of the canyon, with grasslands on the south and riparian woodland to the north.  There are several small trails that sneak into the woodland from the main trail, and these are worth exploring for birds.  Check the wires for Mourning Doves and kingbirds (Cassin's year-round and Western in summer).  In addition to the birds occurring on the west end, the oaks may have Cooper's and Sharp-shinned (winter) Hawks, Acorn Woodpecker, House Wren, Hutton's Vireo, Phainopepla, Western Bluebird, and in summer Black-chinned Hummingbird.  Suburban birds such as Northern Mockingbird are more likely at this end as well, so be mindful that both mimids can occur here!  If you do wind up parking at Canyonside, check the ball fields for blackbirds and gulls, plus American Pipits in winter; the palms may have Hooded Oriole in summer.  Cedar Waxwings are a possibility in winter, as they tend to like suburban areas.  There's also a trail into some grasslands accessible from the northwest side of the parking area.  If the trails are closed due to post-storm conditions, you still should be able to rack up a pretty good list by birding from the paved portions of the park.

Grasslands and ranch at the Canyonside Park parking area

Main trail

Side trail into the woods

In the woods

Oak canopy heading towards the falls area

Oak savannah about two miles in

Waterfall area about three miles in

Peñasquitos "Falls"

Scrub habitat heading back towards Canyonside Park


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
Great Egret                    
Black-crowned Night Heron                      
Turkey Vulture                      
Northern Harrier                  
White-tailed Kite            
Sharp-shinned Hawk                      
Cooper's Hawk            
Red-shouldered Hawk          
Red-tailed Hawk          
American Kestrel                
California Quail          
Virginia Rail                      
Ring-billed Gull                    
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon                    
White-throated Swift                    
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                  
Willow Flycatcher                      
Cassin's Kingbird    
Western Kingbird                      
Warbling Vireo                      
Bell's Vireo                      
Hutton's Vireo      
American Crow
Common Raven  
Steller's Jay                      
Western Scrub Jay  
Horned Lark                      
Northern Rough-winged Swallow              
Tree Swallow                      
Cliff Swallow              
White-breasted Nuthatch                      
House Wren  
Marsh Wren                      
Bewick's Wren  
Ruby-crowned Kinglet              
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                      
Western Bluebird            
Hermit Thrush                    
Northern Mockingbird      
California Thrasher    
European Starling  
American Pipit                
Cedar Waxwing                      
Orange-crowned Warbler        
Yellow Warbler                      
Yellow-rumped Warbler          
Black-throated Gray Warbler                      
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler                    
Yellow-breasted Chat                
Western Tanager                    
Black-headed Grosbeak              
Blue Grosbeak                  
Lazuli Bunting                      
Spotted Towhee  
California Towhee  
Rufous-crowned Sparrow              
Grasshopper Sparrow                  
Savannah Sparrow                      
Lark Sparrow                  
Golden-crowned Sparrow                      
White-crowned Sparrow              
Song Sparrow  
Lincoln's Sparrow                      
Western Meadowlark                    
Brown-headed Cowbird                
Tricolored Blackbird                      
Red-winged Blackbird      
Brewer's Blackbird                  
Bullock's Oriole                  
Hooded Oriole                  
Lawrence's Goldfinch                      
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch          
House Finch
House Sparrow                      

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