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"Easy Birder" Driving Routes

Pine Creek Road

    The route is paved all the way, although Pine Creek Road itself turns into a narrow one-lane road past Pine Valley.

Approximate Length: 17.5 miles

Approximate Birding Time: 4.5 hours (with optional hikes)

Traffic: Can be rather heavy along Old Highway 80 (especially during the early morning commute), but it diminishes past the turnoff for Highway 79 and virtually disappears once on Pine Creek Road.

Facilities:  There are pit toilets at the Pine Creek and Noble Canyon Trailheads; otherwise it's the bumper or the bushes...

Directions: Take I-8 east to the highway 79 exit, towards Descanso and Cuyamaca State Park.  Turn left under the freeway, and begin birding about 0.3 mile down the road where there's a pond on the right. 

I include this little pond in the route because it often (when there's water in it) has waders and marsh birds such as Common Yellowthroat and Song Sparrow that you probably won't get elsewhere on the route.  The willows can have Hooded Oriole, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow Warblers and other migrants in spring.  Continuing on Old Highway 80 into Guatay you'll pass through chaparral and oak savannah; in these open areas you might want to check for Western Kingbirds in summer and Lark Sparrows and raptors in winter, or even the odd Great Egret.  Past the turnoff to Cuyamaca State Park (Highway 79) there's a hidden pond on the left, just past the borrow pit on the right; a stop here just to listen for a couple of minutes might add Coot, ducks, and other marshy/riparian birds to the list (just be watchful of the traffic).  In the little town of Guatay you'll pick up the usual human-associated birds (Acorn Woodpeckers also tend to be more numerous here than elsewhere); just before leaving town check the little lot on the left, as the owner sometimes puts feed out that attracts California Quail and sparrows in winter.  Given the traffic, however, you may want to save your oak woodland/chaparral birding for the first optional hike at the Pine Creek Trailhead.

Pastureland along Old Highway 80

Optional hike: Pine Creek Trail Just past the 3.5 milepost is the entrance to the Pine Creek Trailhead (Forest Adventure or Golden Eagle Passport needed to park).  You have a choice of two trails here: Secret Canyon goes down to the creek, but I prefer the nice wide (and relatively flat) fire road, which gives you more of a view as well.  In the parking lot the bushes are good for sparrows in winter, and the willows could have Lazuli Buntings in spring and summer, as well as other riparian birds.  Listen for Wrentits and California Thrashers in the chaparral, and the oaks should have the usual Cooper's and Red-shouldered Hawks, Nuttall's Woodpeckers, Flickers, House Wrens, Oak Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Hutton's Vireos, Spotted Towhees year-round; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Dark-eyed Junco, and Hermit Thrushes in winter; and Violet-green Swallow, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Black-headed Grosbeak and Western Wood Pewee in summer.  Band-tailed Pigeons are a possibility as well, and the riparian woodland down below can house Western Tanagers and Bullock's Orioles in summer.  Further along the trail in the chaparral look for Black-chinned Sparrows in summer, Fox Sparrows (both "Slate-colored" and "Thick-billed") in winter, and Rufous-crowned Sparrows year-round.

Pine Creek/Secret Canyon Trailhead

Interstate 8 from the trail

Return to Old Highway 80, turn right, and very shortly you'll see the turnoff for Pine Creek Road on your left.  Check the open area for sparrows and raptors; a couple of Red-crowned Parrots flew over this area once, but to my knowledge there's not an established population here.  Lawrence's Goldfinches can sometimes be found around the vicinity of the Bible Conference Center; in winter the Yellow-rumped Warblers like the trees here.  In summer watch for Cliff Swallows swarming around the ranch homes.  Shortly past the Summer Home Tract you'll come to the turnoff for the Noble Canyon Trailhead parking area on your right.

The start of Pine Creek Road

Optional hike: Noble Canyon  The parking area (Forest Adventure or Golden Eagle Pass needed) can be productive in and of itself, as the pines will sometimes have Hairy Woodpeckers as well as the more expected Acorns and Nuttall's.  Listen for the occasional Pine Siskin flying over in winter.  The trail starts out fairly flat, but then begins a series of "stepping stones" that about ten minutes' in will give you a lovely view of the area.  Wrentits are common here as well as Bewick's Wren, both towhees, and Fox Sparrows in winter.  In summer watch the blooming flowers for Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds; in early July Allen's start moving through.  Keep in mind that Mountain Lions have been sighted along this trail.

Noble Canyon Trail parking area

The start of the trail

View from "my" turnaround point

Return to Pine Creek Road and turn right.  The new gate is usually open, but is apparently closed between 4:00 PM and 9:00 AM in wet weather.  After crossing the bridge and passing more homes, you'll come to a little creek crossing with willows that can have Song Sparrows and Black Phoebes.  Beyond this point are several oak woodland areas with the usual suspects (including both Western Scrub and Steller's Jays, affording a good opportunity to practice telling the two apart vocally).  Keep an ear out for California Quail and Red-shouldered Hawks, taking care to remember that the Steller's Jays are very good hawk mimics!  Purple Finches are likely to come down here in the winter, and keep an eye out for migrant warblers and hummingbirds (Costa's can be abundant along here when the penstemon are in bloom).  The road then rises into the chaparral with some spectacular views of the valley.  Black-chinned and rarely "Bell's" Sage Sparrows are here in the summer, replaced by Fox in the winter.  On very rare occasions you may encounter Scott's Oriole in spring.  Listen also for the flicker-like covey call of the Mountain Quail

Along Pine Creek

Creek crossing

Patches of oak woodland

Most of the road is like this...

...but, oh, what views!

Flowers after the fire

"Jip" after a snow, where the road beyond this point may be closed if conditions warrant it

Up into the burned pine area, a few trees remain to attract Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches, but with the undergrowth burned off in the Cedar Fire, Rock and Canyon Wrens have apparently moved in (but keep in mind that as the vegetation grows back, these birds move out)!  White-tailed Kites, Kestrels, and Western Bluebirds like the open areas as well.  During "invasion" years this has been a good place for Cassin's Finches and Pine Siskins.  Near the top, unmarked Fillaree Flats to your left has hosted nesting Purple Martins in the past, and Lazuli Buntings tend to like this area as well; watch the skies for Violet-green Swallows and White-throated Swifts in summer.  Hairy Woodpeckers also tend to show up near the intersection with the Sunrise Highway.  Olive-sided Flycatchers have been heard in the area in summer, even after the burn; keep an ear out for American Robin up here as well.  Three species rather unusual in the highlands, Western Meadowlark, Northern Mockingbird, and Loggerhead Shrike, have apparently been attracted to the newly "opened" area, but probably should not be expected.

Patch of unburned coniferous habitat higher up

Fillaree Flats

The fastest way back to San Diego is to turn right and follow Sunrise Highway (S1) all the way to the freeway.  Turning left will take you to highway 79 and the Cuyamaca area.

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, vagrant, or irruptive species and should not be expected.

  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Great Egret                    
Mallard                  
Northern Shoveler                      
Ruddy Duck                      
Turkey Vulture                    
White-tailed Kite                      
Cooper's Hawk                      
Red-shouldered Hawk      
Red-tailed Hawk    
Ferruginous Hawk                    
Golden Eagle                      
American Kestrel                      
California Quail    
Mountain Quail                
American Coot            
Mourning Dove      
Rock Pigeon                    
Band-tailed Pigeon          
Red-crowned Parrot                      
White-throated Swift                    
Anna's Hummingbird        
Costa's Hummingbird                  
Allen's Hummingbird                      
Selasphorus  Hummingbird                      
Northern Flicker
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker        
Ash-throated Flycatcher                
Black Phoebe            
Pacific-slope Flycatcher                
Olive-sided Flycatcher                    
Western Wood Pewee                
Cassin's Kingbird                      
Western Kingbird                  
Loggerhead Shrike                      
Hutton's Vireo    
American Crow  
Common Raven
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
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
Golden-crowned Kinglet                      
Ruby-crowned Kinglet                
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
Western Bluebird
American Robin        
Hermit Thrush              
Northern Mockingbird                  
California Thrasher  
European Starling    
Phainopepla                
Orange-crowned Warbler        
Nashville Warbler                      
Yellow Warbler                  
Yellow-rumped Warbler              
Townsend's Warbler                      
Common Yellowthroat                  
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    
Lincoln's Sparrow                      
Dark-eyed Junco    
Western Meadowlark                      
Brown-headed Cowbird                    
Red-winged Blackbird          
Brewer's Blackbird          
Great-tailed Grackle                      
Bullock's Oriole                
Hooded Oriole                      
Scott's Oriole                      
Pine Siskin                
Lawrence's Goldfinch            
Lesser Goldfinch    
Purple Finch                    
Cassin's Finch                      
House Finch
House Sparrow      

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