San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature Connection[San Diego County Bird Atlas Project]

Reports from the Field
Summer 1997

A Progress Report from Square S10, or Phil's Birding Adventures in Southeast San Diego
News from Square C15, Dameron Valley

A Progress Report from Square S10, or
Phil's Birding Adventures in Southeast San Diego

Scrub Jay, painted by Allan Brooks, from The Birds of San Diego County I selected square S10, Greenwood/Mt. Hope, as one I wanted to cover myself for several reasons. First, I didn't anticipate that other participants would request this heavily urbanized area, so I wanted to fill what might otherwise be a gap in our coverage. Second, the square is but a 10-minute drive from both my home in Hillcrest and from the Museum, so I can cover it easily, sometimes even visiting it before work on a weekday. And third, it is the square where I grew up (and where my mother still lives), giving me a chance to reacquaint myself with places where I first began looking at birds as a junior high school student. The square extends from the Golden Hill and Logan Heights neighborhoods east through Southeast San Diego to Euclid Avenue.

The large Greenwood and Mt. Hope cemeteries, situated near the middle of the square, have long been known as a wintering site for Western Tanagers, Bullock's Orioles, Solitary Vireos, and an occasional Vermilion Flycatcher. But I had little idea what to expect in them during the breeding season. Not surprisingly, the bottlebrush tree under which I parked my truck had a House Finch nest in it, a pair of Killdeers on the graded slope at the east end of the cemetery greeted me with a distraction display, and a Black Phoebe was feeding its young in a mud nest attached to a wall overhanging the lily pond. Less expected -- not on my target list -- were several singing Western Flycatchers (with two fledglings on 31 May) and some Black-chinned Hummingbirds (including a female sitting in a nest high in a cottonwood tree on 20 April). These two species kept close to the few sycamore and cottonwood trees in the cemetery -- testament to the value to wildlife of including native vegetation in an urban landscape. Leftover from last winter's invasion were three Red-breasted Nuthatches on 3 May -- no sign of nesting yet.

South of Greenwood Cemetery across Imperial Avenue I noticed a large open area equivalent to several city blocks. A closer look revealed some jojoba and lemonadeberry bushes and even a little native grass, enclosed in an area once graded. One pair of Loggerhead Shrikes is likely the only one in the square. Still further south, across Ocean View Boulevard, I saw some tall sycamores, so I made a point of visiting this area on 11 May. I was delighted to discover the San Diego Community College District's Educational Cultural Complex, extensively landscaped with many beautiful mature sycamore trees, as well as smaller numbers of pines, eucalyptus, Grevillea, and alder. Three pairs of Bullock's Orioles included one feeding nestlings, and one pair of Western Kingbirds was still incubating on a nest in a eucalyptus. My second visit revealed a Cooper's Hawk feeding its young in a nest high in another eucalyptus, so the site produced three breeding species I hadn't anticipated.

The most extensive areas of natural vegetation in the square are patches of sage scrub in isolated canyons north of Highway 94 -- just west of Interstate 15, along Home Avenue between Interstate 805 and Fairmount Avenue, and in Chollas Canyon both above and below Fairmount. Along Interstate 15, I found one pair of California Gnatcatchers almost exactly where plotted on the color habitat map -- a pair feeding and brooding probably newly hatched chicks (I didn't chase the male off the nest to see) in a nest not more than 15 feet from the edge of the busy freeway! I didn't find the gnatcatcher plotted along Home Avenue, but I found three unmapped pairs (one feeding fledglings, one mobbing a Scrub Jay) in Chollas Canyon.

The new Fairmount Avenue bridge over the canyon has drain holes offering a home to at least one pair of Rough-winged Swallows and probably one pair of White-throated Swifts. The canyons also had several California Thrashers and Bewick's Wrens, but the California Quails and Roadrunners that lived there in my childhood are gone. Nevertheless, the gnatcatchers' nesting successfully in these canyons, isolated for decades by urban development, shows that conservation of even small scraps of native habitat can be worthwhile, and exemplifies one of the contributions to wildlife management and conservation the atlas project can make.

So far, I've made eight trips to square S10, totaling 24 hours, and I still have the two June trips to make. But with 42 species at least possibly breeding, 26 of them confirmed, I've already exceeded the two minimum threshold criteria based on the target list -- a modest 27 species. The area well exceeded my expectations!

--Philip Unitt

News from Square C15, Dameron Valley

A dramatic example of diverse microhabitats side by side occurs in the Dameron Valley square, along the Riverside County line west of Oak Grove. A hike in the low hills south of Highway 79 crosses very dry brush country with birds such as the Black-throated Sparrow, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Scott's Oriole, and Desert Cactus Wren -- the first two well west of their previously reported ranges in San Diego County. When the deep canyon cut by Temecula Creek is reached, the observer drops down into a woodland in which the Mountain Quail, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Hairy Woodpecker find a refuge. Both microhabitats are located in a coastal -- not a desert -- drainage, and the birds listed are quite isolated from other populations of their species. In this square, the Lawrence's Goldfinch outnumbers the Lesser Goldfinch. The Sage Sparrow, very local and much reduced by development near the coast, is one of the most abundant brush birds.

--Ken Weaver


Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica), watercolor by Allan Brooks, painted in the early part of this century.
The original is from the Ellen Browning Scripps collection now in the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Summer 1997 Wrenderings | Wrenderings Archive | Bird Atlas Introduction