I’ve heard that Point Loma is THE place to see migrating birds in San Diego in the fall, so I thought that I should check it out. October is supposed to be the best time of year, so I thought it would be good to check it out and find the best places to see birds before the huge rush happens. That way when I go back, I won’t waste my time looking in the wrong places.
Point Loma is a navy base in Southern San Diego that is open to the public and contains both the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and the Cabrillo National Monument (operated by the National Park Service). We checked out both and we saw quite a few birds. Here are the highlights:
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
Cabrillo National Momument Tidepools
My mom and I showed up on Saturday for the Buena Vista Audubon’s monthly San Diegutio River walk. I had heard from several people at the BV bird count that John is an excellent teacher and birder so we were excited to see how it varied from the BV walk in both birds and in teaching style. We saw Bill there, whom we had met at the BV bird count and we stood around chatting for a while. After 30 minutes, it was clear that the walk wasn’t happening after no one else showed up.
Disappointed but not deterred, my mom and I walked around the river spotting and identifying what birds we could. All we were seeing were hummers and finches, both of which we can see in our backyard, so we decided to head over to the other side of the river thinking we would see more shorebirds closer to the ocean. With it being the height of tourism season, there are too many people to ever see any birds at the ocean. I was hoping that that would mean they would all flock to the lagoons/rivers but alas, there doesn’t seem to be any more than normal. I can’t figure out where they head off to.
Anyways, back to the story. We hit the jackpot at the overlook on the other side, but struck out pretty much everywhere else (we even headed over to San Elijo Lagoon on the way home). Pretty much all of the pictures above are from that outlook, except we saw a kingfisher but I didn’t get a shot of it. My favorite were the Killdeer, but I’m a sucker for any sandpiper because they are so entertaining to watch. The Osprey was pretty awesome too.
I can’t wait for summer to be over and there to be more birds…. and less tourists!
So I was reading an article about unusual migration patterns in certain birds from the All About Birds blog (produced by Cornell Lab of Ornithology) and saw that there was an unusual seagull listed. The Heermann’s Gull is pretty easy to spot among other seagulls since it’s beautiful charcoal color stands out in sharp contrast too all the other white seagulls.
Since we were down at Bull Taco anyways, I thought why not walk along the beach and see if I could see any of these unusual gulls. The beach was WAY crowded so the birds were pretty much non-existent but we managed to find one spot on the beach that they were congregating. My dad took a couple of shots.
We also took a couple of shots of the other gulls in the area. I’m unsure what this juvenile to the right is, I would assume a California Gull but who knows. Young seagulls all look the same to me.
Sketching at the Safari Park
I went with my mom either this week to hang out for a couple of hours at the San Diego Safari Park to watch and sketch birds. Work has been a little light this week so I thought that I would celebrate by hanging out and watching the truly odd birds that might hold still a little longer than the finches outside my window.
I’ve never gone to the Safari Park with the sole intention of just sketching birds, so I noticed that I wasn’t 100% sure where the best birding would be. Here’s a brief overview:
Wings of the World
Wings of the World is the first thing you see when you come into the park and therefore is a crowded mess full of children who are still full of energy and constantly yelling and trying to poke at the birds. The poor birds were mostly hiding making the children as upset as the birds probably are. There is also just one tiny bench in the aviary and it’s right near the front door and therefore you see no birds. Terrible birding. Just avoid this one or catch it on your way out when it’s less busy.
If you keep going and hang a right near the signs that point towards the Gorilla Forest, you’ll end up on the Lagoon Loop. This is a large shallow lake that contains mostly native California birds that have realized that there is a sweet lake in the middle of the desert of Escondido and have taken up residence accordingly. Of course there are “zoo birds” such as flamingos, pelicans, some foreign geese and coots, but they are stuck on little tiny islands in the lake and are mostly overrun with native species.
There aren’t a ton of benches and since this is still early on in the day for most kids, there is still lots of running around and screaming. However, if you keep going you’ll end up at the other side of the lagoon by the Snack Shack and Mombasa Cooker. This place is gold. You can sit in the shade under misters, snacking and watching the birds. There are a ton of weird “zoo birds” but also a wide selection of shorebirds (herons, egrets, etc) that have somehow found this place to make home. This area is pretty quite and the birds don’t seem to mind you. They aren’t super close, so break out the binoculars or scope to see them.
If you keep going past the lagoon, you end up at my favorite part of the park, Lorikeet Landing. For $4, you can purchase nectar at a kiosk outside the aviary and the lorikeets will hop right onto your arms to get some sweet nectar action.
There are no benches in this area, so it’s hard to really sketch in here. This area gets crowded pretty quickly, so I would recommend doing this early on in your day. The lorikeets get full fast, so that’s also another great reason. Since these birds spend all day hanging out on tourists, they aren’t skittish and it’s easy to get really great close up pictures and looks at them. There is also a great hand washing station outside the exit, so feel free to get dirty trying to take good shots.
Once you exit the lorikeet area, you’ll see two smaller bird cages on your left. These birds are pretty fun to watch, but it’s even better to keep going on down the path. On your right, a smaller unmarked path veers off and up a hill. Some of the best birding is up this hill in the Hidden Jungle. I’m unsure why this aviary isn’t ever full but we sat here for a good half hour before anyone else came in. This place is a total gem, full of very active exotic birds. They fly around, weave nests before your eyes, climb up the screened walls, and sing their little hearts out. A Superb Starling even came and dropped a leaf at my feet. Probably he was so excited to see humans that weren’t screaming and trying to touch him.
The birds are unbelievably friendly and after sitting there and sketching them for a while I noticed that some would get jealous once you turned your attention to other birds. They fly around trying to get your attention and it’s quite a delightful experience. There are several benches in both halves of this aviary so you can sit for as long as you need. It’s quite peaceful except there are birds that make that super creepy screaming that you always hear in scary jungle movies right before someone gets killed… totally freaked us out since it started with no warning.
This is all we did this week, but I’ll keep going with other areas of the park that I’ve been do previously that have great birding.
African Outpost Lake
Once you leave the Hidden Jungle, follow signs toward the African Tram and you’ll find yourself at the lake in the African Outpost part of the park. This lake has also been discovered by native California birds, and many have their nests in this protected area of the park. The lake contains several little islands that you can see by walking through the lake on wheel chair accessible criss crossing raised walkways. There aren’t really benches on the lake and the pathways are obviously just wide enough for one wheel chair in many places, so it might be difficult to step up tripods to take pictures. I would recommend that you just enjoy watching the birds while you walk through is area because if you keep going, you’ll end up at the Okavango Outpost, a restaurant (with bathrooms!) that has a large deck that overlooks the lake.
The Okavango Outpost has plenty of seating with umbrellas and misters to make it comfortable on hot days. Not only can you watch birds through binoculars or your scope, you are also tree level so you can see all the shorebirds’ nests complete with fuzzy babies (if you’re there the right time of the year) without having to strain your neck. There are hundreds of birds (no joke) hanging out here, so it’s better than many of the naturally occurring lagoons in San Diego for seeing large quantity of birds.
Unfortunately, now you have to walk a long ways to see more birds. There are a couple of them on the African Tram but it’s a long trek up to the opposite end of the park before you see more. If you are really into condors and bald eagles, it’s worth it. Although not the fastest way, I would recommend taking the Tiger Trail loop to get to the condors. Not only do you get to see the best shots of tigers you’ll ever see, you also get to walk along a plateau ridge with great views of the scrub brush and mountains that make up California. The area that you are seeing is owned by the Safari Park with the understanding that it will never be developed, preserving natural habitat for California species. You can see predators like hawks flying around searching for food and other native species that for some reason seem to prefer the desert instead of the plush zoo lagoon life. You’ll see a trail that takes off to the right and up to the Condor Ridge (although this isn’t clear on the map, trust me it’s there).
Condor Ridge is basically the zoo’s “native California” animals that you’ll just see if you spend any time in the outdoors in California. You’ll see bald eagles, owls, big horned sheep, and (of course) the great California Condor. The condor viewing area isn’t very large, but if you go to the very end past the roof, you can get some good shots. When I’ve been there, condors have taken off and flown around the enclosure so it’s not like they just sit there.
Although I’ve never actually made it to this area of the park, it’s supposed to be pretty neat. If you walk back to the beginning of the Condor Ridge area, you take a right turn and hike a slightly different trail basically right back up to where you just came from. This area is full of plants and no animals (hence why I’ve never been). You’ll see small songbirds running around and other native birds. I assume this area is crazy quiet because kids aren’t normally huge plant fans and who comes to a zoo to hang out in an area with no animals? Also, you have to walk a long way up hill to get here. If I were guessing, I would say that this is the next area of the park that they will renovate because I can’t believe that it’s making them very much money.
I love the Safari Park. We have season passes and take all out of town guests here when we get the chance. If you live in the North County area, I would totally recommend getting a season pass because it comes with two 50% coupons for guest tickets, so if you go only twice a year it pays for itself. It also comes with other coupons and unlimited tram rides. The membership normally goes on sale during the year, you’ll see $20 off coupons on things like LivingSocial or flyers in the mail. There is also a Keeper’s Pass that we have thought about getting because it gives you two free tickets to the park, free parking, and gets you into several members only events. Since the park is pretty new, it’s totally ADA accessible, has plenty of bathrooms, and there are gluten free food options at most of the places (the best one is a lettuce wrap at the Tiger Trail). If you have a reusable water bottle, they will fill it for free at any of the soda fountains so I normally bring my own.
So, next time you are in the area, check out the Safari Park and enjoy.