This morning in an effort to fulfill an admittedly arbitrary birding goal – 28 new life-list birds in the month of February – I drove up to the Ramona Grasslands Preserve in hopes of seeing a few birds I hadn’t yet seen. Though about 10 years ago, I lived 3 years in Ramona, not only did I never visit the Ramona Grasslands, I hadn’t even heard of it until last fall.
After a false start, and getting some great info on the whereabouts of a Bald Eagle nest – Ramona’s first recorded instance – I found the trailhead. There is a nice, large parking area, picnic benches, an information kiosk, and a port-a-potty. Being Ramona, the trailhead is referred to as a staging area, as one of the uses is equestrian.
The Ramona Grasslands Preserve, according to the County website, is 3,521 acres. The public-accessible trails are on a parcel of 480 acres. This parcel has extensive grasslands, plus the longer trail, the 2-mile “Wildflower Loop,” also has a very nice stretch of undisturbed chaparral. Also according to the website, more trails are being planned. Where the Wildflower Loop and the .8-mile “Meadow Loop” meet there is a small pond. As small and muddy as it looked today, not a week after a storm, I imagine it dries up completely in summer. There were a few species of water fowl enjoying it today, however.
Obviously, since the “long” trail is but 2 miles, this isn’t a major trek. Most of the folks I saw on the trail were walking with their dogs, which are only allowed on-leash. Though, that particular rule didn’t seem to faze most of the people I encountered. I would categorize this trail system as more along the lines of an exercise spot, or, in the Spring, a good place for a photo walk or some bird watching. The trails are multi-use; equestrians, mountain bikers and hikers are all welcome, and as I said, dogs on leashes too. The trails I hiked were wide, and well-maintained. I encountered two women on horses and there was plenty of room for a comfortable and friendly, passing.
The Grasslands in general are known as a good place to observe wintering raptors. Like I said, there is a Bald Eagle nest out there this winter for the first time. The regular Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Golden Eagles will likely always be viewable, but Ferruginous Hawks, Prairie Falcons, and others can be seen in the area during winter.
I’ll be heading back in the spring to see if the Wildflower Loop lives up to its name. Today was also very windy, and I didn’t see what I was looking for. I had to drive back to the coast, only to fall just short of my birding goal – 27 birds in 28 days. The Grasslands provide some beautiful vistas across Santa Maria Valley, and if I lived closer, it would certainly be a regular stop.
The Googeleable address is 17278 Highland Valley Rd, Ramona, CA 92065. Put that in your smartphone or GPS and you shouldn’t have any problem finding it. EDIT: Ok, after testing that address, it will take you there, but not right there, just a bit down the road. Look for the sign pictured above.
I’m sitting here listening to Phil Spector’s amazing Christmas album, accented by our first good rain in a while, and realizing I haven’t been out on a good hike in quite a while. A good, proper, trekking poles, water bladder, and profuse-sweating hike anyway. I have been out, walking in dirt, but mostly at a rather leisurely pace, watching birds, and taking photos. I’ve even turned another birding friend onto Hollenbeck Canyon and Upper Otay Lake, but I’ve written about both of those already, so I spared you all of that again.
As it says in the above tab “What is THAT?”, much of my focus on this site, aside from actual places to hike (Jerry Schad has that nailed down), is what you might expect to see while you are out and about in this great county. I guess I’ve been a little sidetracked lately with the avian residents and rarities viewable in San Diego. Which is to say, birds.
Unfortunately, I’ve also got a slight, minor, harmless, but infinitely annoying, physical issue which doesn’t allow me to be out hiking too much. So, sorry about the scarcity of posts lately. I have cleared some other obligations off of my plate, so I hope to find more time to add to the site.
Thanks for reading, if you still are, and hopefully I will have some stuff to post up on a more regular basis.
On that note, if anyone out there has a hike, park, trail, hiking group, cause or something else related to the outdoors in San Diego County, and would like to share it on San Diego Hiker, drop me an email. I don’t pay or anything, but if you have an itch to write, maybe we can put something together. No product promotion, please.
Anyway, here are the photos I’ve been taking over the last few months. All of them are species and sights you can see pretty easily in San Diego County, and likely will. Thanks, and sorry for slacking off.
San Diego County is in a long-standing, see-saw battle with Los Angeles County for the most bird species spotted in the United States. We have so many different habitats, and happen to be in a great position for migratory stop-overs, that we are blessed with an amazing array of bird species.
Many are year-round residents, many just stop by in Spring and Fall during migration, some, very few really, just wander in from their normal range, to cause a stir in the birding community.
One San Diego resident can be seen in virtually every one of the contiguous 48 states, at least part of the year. In San Diego, you’ll see it in the mountains, the chaparral-covered hills, in your neighborhood, and even on the coast. Yes, one is the Red-tailed Hawk. But that’s not who I’m talking about. I’m referring to a smaller cousin, the Cooper’s Hawk.
Copper’s Hawks are medium-sized hawks of the group known as Accipiters (Accipiter cooperii). They average about the size of a crow, though, like many birds, female Cooper’s Hawks can be significantly larger than males. They are long-tailed, have broad, rounded wings, and a largish head. Juveniles are mostly mottled brown, with a pale breast which is streaked vertically with dark brown. Adults turn a slate grayish color, with a dark cap on the head, buff cheeks, red eye, and the breast streaking pattern is medium orange and runs horizontal. The Copper’s long tail feathers are broadly striped dark and medium grays, with white, rounded tips. The rounded tail is a good identifier when differentiating the Cooper’s from the nearly identical, but smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk. Sharp-shinned Hawks are more secretive, and aren’t as wide-spread in the county, so, if you can get a look at the tail, you can take a good guess at the ID. In flight, look for broad, wide (not long) wings and a long, narrow tail, unlike the Red-tailed’s shortish, fanned tail. The flight is generally a few-flaps-then-glide rhythm.
Cooper’s Hawk are ambush hunters. They will swoop in low to surprise prey, usually smaller birds, but here in San Diego County also rodents, reptiles They will also engage in “fly-catching,” aerial capture of large insects, like dragon flies. I’ve seen Cooper’s Hawks in my neighborhood fly by with Mourning Doves, Hooded Orioles in their grip, and once, as I mentioned on the Facebook page, engage in a protracted effort to capture a Raven, while being mobbed by its companions. The Cooper’s was a juvenile, and easily outmatched by the wily Ravens. Note I mentioned a Cooper’s is about the size of a crow, making it much smaller than the Ravens it hunted.
Raptors are diverse group in San Diego County, and aside from the ubiquitous Red-tailed Hawk, aren’t widely known. I’m sure everyone has seen a Red-tailed on a lamp post, or a Turkey Vulture soaring high above, maybe even an Osprey over one of the bays, or at a local lake. But if you keep an eye out, soon you’ll notice that bird on the telephone pole isn’t a Red-tailed, its tail is long and striped, and it’s kind of small, it’s probably a Cooper’s Hawk. Then, as it flies off, notice its long tail, and orange breast, and the rhythm of its flight. Soon, you’ll see just how many Cooper’s Hawks there are in your neighborhood, at the park, perched above the freeway, or harrying your bird feeders.
For more information, photos, and helpful audio of calls, visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds site
News broke yesterday that California State Parks has a “secret” fund amounting to over 50 million dollars. This when 70 parks had been threatened with closure in order to save twenty-two million dollars. This lead to the resignation of Parks Director Ruth Coleman, and the firing of her lieutenant, Michael Harris. In fairness to these two, I don’t imagine they had knowledge of the money, as it was the work of some accounting department. I have to admit I find this news a bit dismaying for a a few reasons.
One reason is I am a volunteer in Cuyamaca State Park and hear the bit and pieces of what’s being cut, and who’s being laid off and which campground is being closed with a couple day’s notice. Obviously this isn’t all because some bean counter squirreled away funds over more than a decade. But it points to a lack of oversight, a lack of accountability.
It has recently been announced all but one of the parks threatened with closure “has been saved” temporarily (that park must have really sucked). How were these parks saved? Most of them were saved because people around the state who love their state parks flew into action and put together sophisticated proposals to show the state they would be able to fund their particular parks. Two such gentlemen did so for Palomar Mountain State Park. With an innovative proposal, and business smarts Rick Barclay and Michael Walsh put together a plan and were, after a lot of foot-dragging on the part of the State, able to get their proposal passed. Part of that proposal was they would raise from donors approximately $180,000 to cover what the state needed to pay salaries for the three years covered by the proposal. Now, Rick and Michael, were able to raise more than enough money to cover the first year, and more money is coming in all the time. But, how likely would you be to pledge your hard-earned cash to help the parks department cover their 22 million in savings when they’ve had over twice that in their back pockets the entire time? I’m a donor to a variety of state-parks related non-profits, and I have to tell you, I’m a bit peeved by all of this right now. A bit peeved. All of these non-profit “partners” of the Park service worked their asses off to draft plans, gather pledges, and win approval of the Park service, IN ORDER TO PAY FOR THE BUDGET SHORTFALL. Which could have been covered twice over, by this accountant’s secret stash.
In fairness, 50-odd million is probably a drop in a large, leaky bucket of what would be required to bring these parks, which have suffered budget cuts year after year, into a state where they didn’t have maintenance back-logs, weren’t understaffed, and didn’t have to implement service reductions. But… it’s still a damn lot of money, and would have paid plenty of salaries, and kept campgrounds open. (Oddly, though campgrounds like those at Cuyamaca and Palomar make WAY more money than it costs to staff them, they don’t pay for themselves because the camping fees go back into a statewide pool of collected fees, and don’t directly support the campgrounds from which they were collected. Brilliant, huh? So for want of a few comparatively reasonable salaries a campground, almost guaranteed to be full all summer long, still closes “to save money.” I know, it’s totally fucked up.)
The funniest part in this unfunny debacle… the Legislature will now have the task of deciding what to do with new-found funds. Wonderful. I’d feel better if they let a classroom of third graders decide. Third graders don’t have corporate sponsorships or kowtow to lobbyists.
Excuse the rantish nature of this post, but I’ve been biting fingernails for a couple of years over whether Cuyamaca, Palomar, Tijuana Estuary, or any other state park was going to be closed, and this news just irked me. I might not seem all that irked, but I cooled off a little, and edited heavily, mostly to protect my volunteer positions in Cuyamaca. But irked I am. Peaved even.
I’ve brought up some of the local opportunities to volunteer in the past, and have had a little luck with readers finding a place to volunteer. Coming up in September, a real solid, educational, and well-trained organization, is getting ready to train new volunteers. This would be an excellent opportunity for folks looking to learn a lot about San Diego’s natural history, and in-turn, teach others.
Canyoneers, San Diego Natural History Museum volunteers, have been leading
guided nature hikes throughout San Diego County since 1972. They receive comprehensive training by Museum scientists and local experts on the natural history of the San Diego region. The nine-session Saturday classes begin September 8. To apply visit the museum’s website or call Janet Morris at 619.255.0245.