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Wildcat Canyon

Facilities:  Potties are available at Stelzer Co. Park and Oak Oasis.

Directions: I've included two primary birding stops in this description: Louis Stelzer County Park and Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve.  To get to Stelzer from San Diego, head east on I-8 into El Cajon and take Highway 67 north.  The freeway ends at a stoplight on Mapleview in Lakeside; turn right, then make a left at Ashwood St., which turns into Wildcat Canyon.  The entrance to the park is about a mile beyond the four-way stop, on your right.  Note that the park opens at 9:30, and there is a nominal fee for day use.

Stelzer Ridge Trail (or Wooten Loop)    Most of this park (as was the whole area) was devastated by the 2003 Cedar Fire, but the picnic area and playground miraculously survived.  The feeders may have Dark-eyed Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows in winter and House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches year round; the hummer feeders usually have Anna's there.  Check the old oaks for Cooper's and Red-shouldered Hawks, White-breasted Nuthatch, Phainopepla, Western Scrub Jay, Oak Titmice, American Robins, Western Bluebirds, Acorn and Nuttall's Woodpeckers, Hutton's Vireos, and in winter, the look-alike Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  During spring migration this area can be alive with migrants, so check the trees carefully!  Upon entering the park you'll see the Riparian Trail on your right, but I usually take the Stelzer Ridge Trail, which connects with the Riparian Trail at the bottom of the hill (and it's less strenuous this way).  Veer right through the playground and you'll see the trailhead past the amphitheater.  You shortly head up the ridge into recovering chaparral where you may pick up Bushtit, Bewick's Wren, California and Spotted Towhees, Costa's and Anna's Hummingbirds, possibly Rufous-crowned Sparrows, and from the distant hillsides, Rock and Canyon Wrens year round.  In summer listen for Lazuli Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks as well.  At the fork bear right, and go down the hill to the overlook for a rest, watching for raptors (White-tailed Kite is possible); in spring and summer you'll often have swallows and White-throated Swifts at eye level!  Continue down to the riparian area, where you can pick up orioles, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Lawrence's Goldfinch, and Pacific-slope and Ash-throated Flycatchers in summer; Yellow-rumped Warblers, Hermit Thrush, and Fox and White-crowned Sparrows in winter; and House Wrens, Orange-crowned Warblers, Black Phoebes, and Song Sparrows year round.  Even though the fire swept through this area as well, it is recovering quickly and a well marked series of interpretive signs educates the visitors on the native plant life and their uses.

Feeders at the entrance to Stelzer County Park

View from the amphitheater

Stelzer Ridge Trailhead (and special-event Cub Scout group...)

Recovering chaparral

Connecting with the Riparian Trail

Recovering woodland

Oak Oasis    (Most of the trail is reasonable, but there are a couple of hills that are puffers...)  Continuing north on Wildcat Canyon, after about two miles look for the entrance to Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve on your left.  The ambitious hiker can tackle El Captian, the trailhead for which is directly across from Oak Oasis, on the right.  Personally, I've never gone past the exotic plantings of the home there (where you can pick up orioles in summer and Cassin's Kingbirds year round), as this trail is toted as being the most strenuous in San Diego County, but I hear the view is incredible! 

Trail to El Capitan (across the main road) taken from Oak Oasis

You have a couple of choices at Oak Oasis: the less strenuous option is to take the main road into the group camp area.  Even though the habitat is still in recovery stage, chaparral specialties such as Wrentit and California Thrasher are still possible here, as are Rock and Canyon WrensCalifornia Quail might be in the campground; in summer look for Black-chinned Sparrow and Lazuli Bunting, and in winter this can be a good area for Fox Sparrow.  There's also a short loop through the chaparral that starts at the kiosk along the north side of the parking area and loops around to the main road.  The really ambitious hiker can take the big loop (there's a map at the kiosk), which--if memory serves me--is at least three to four miles total.

Oak Oasis entrance road

Flowers sprouting from the devastation in the campground

Nature Trail (short loop)

Although I don't bird it regularly, mention should be made of San Diego Audubon's Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary, which is just up the road from Oak Oasis, and unfortunately not well-marked (it's just past Old Barona Road, on the right).  The preserve is only open on Sundays, and even then by appointment only; see the above link for more information.  Many of the same birds found at Stelzer and Oak Oasis can be found here.

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. 

  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Turkey Vulture                
White-tailed Kite                  
Cooper's Hawk                    
Red-shouldered Hawk              
Red-tailed Hawk            
American Kestrel                      
California Quail                  
Mourning Dove          
White-throated Swift                  
Anna's Hummingbird    
Costa's Hummingbird                  
Black-chinned Hummingbird                
Acorn Woodpecker                      
Nuttall's Woodpecker      
Ash-throated Flycatcher                  
Black Phoebe          
Pacific-slope Flycatcher                
Cassin's Kingbird                  
Warbling Vireo                      
Hutton's Vireo              
American Crow      
Common Raven      
Western Scrub Jay    
Violet-green Swallow                      
Cliff Swallow                      
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted Nuthatch                      
House Wren                  
Bewick's Wren
Rock Wren                      
Canyon Wren                
Wrentit      
Ruby-crowned Kinglet            
Western Bluebird              
American Robin                    
Hermit Thrush                
Northern Mockingbird                    
California Thrasher        
Phainopepla                      
Orange-crowned Warbler                
Nashville Warbler                      
Yellow-rumped Warbler          
Black-throated Gray Warbler                      
Wilson's Warbler                      
Blue Grosbeak                      
Lazuli Bunting                    
Spotted Towhee    
California Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow          
Black-chinned Sparrow                      
White-crowned Sparrow            
"Slate-colored" Fox  Sparrow                  
Song Sparrow    
Dark-eyed Junco                      
Brown-headed Cowbird                      
Hooded Oriole                  
Lawrence's Goldfinch                    
Lesser Goldfinch
House Finch

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