I wasn’t going to write about this again this year, my first rattlesnake entry is by far the most read, and most Googled blog entry on the site. I figured I had it covered. That article occasionally gets comments, but this year is a little different.
One recent commenter mentioned seeing more rattlers than usual in Mission Trails Regional Park. I sort of put that down to time of year. A State Parks Interpreter 1 (a naturalist/educator) once told me, early in the season, snakes come out of their hibernation a little discombobulated, and end up, more often, in the path of humans; in people’s garages, on doorsteps and other inconvenient places. He also said they tend to strike indiscriminately. So I thought that maybe this was just some early season chaos, and that the snakes would settle into their routines, away from human activity.
The UT article says not only are bites on the rise, but that venom is becoming more toxic. If you’ve ever seen the advanced stages of a rattlesnake bite, you’ll know you don’t want any part of that.
Always be aware where you are walking. I saw my first three rattlesnakes as a kid in the yards of different houses I lived in. But, as hikers in San Diego we are nearly always in some place or another where we are likely to be in rattlesnake habitat. My last encounter was in Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. Don’t step over rocks and logs you can’t see over, step on top and look where you are stepping. Rattlesnakes don’t always rattle before striking.
Geocaching always managed to creep me out. People always tend to hide caches in perfect snake hides. In fact I was geocaching in Laguna when I came across that last rattlesnake. Be careful where you stick your hands. Use a walking stick or trekking pole if you’re not sure.
Most of all don’t go bushwhacking if you don’t need to, stay on trails, watch where you are walking, and be careful. If you are bit call 911 immediately, remove rings, bracelets, shoes or anything constrictive near the wound. Try to stay calm, no ice, no tourniquet, no sucking venom from the wound. Get to hospital as soon as possible.
Spring, to me, is the most interesting time of year. Obviously flowers are in bloom, and San Diego County’s variety of terrain and ecological zones provides an amazing number of plant species to explore. In addition, birds are migrating through the county, and birders can see migratory species not normally spotted in San Diego. This will just be a quick guide on where to go to find local wildflowers and a variety of birds. Usually, both will be viewable in the same place.
Depending on where in the county you are, there are a number of excellent, enviable birding locations within a 30-minute drive. Some of my favorites are Tijuana Estuary, Cuyamaca State Park, and Hollenbeck Canyon, but I think it is better I leave it to those who know best. San Diego Audubon has produced an excellent list of prime birding locations in the county, no point in me trying to reproduce it.
Take some binoculars, a bird guide, and your patience, it’s far more productive to find a good spot, and let birds happen by, than it is to try to chase down birds.
- San Diego Audubon
- SD Audubon’s Birding Site
- Birding San Diego Facebook Group
- Birding San Diego Flickr Group
Obviously, wildflower blooms rely on weather, and times will vary throughout the county. A couple of those warm spells this winter had flowers blooming a little early. Though, some flowers do bloom in the winter as part of their normal lifecycle.
Anza Borrego is one of San Diego’s premiere wildflower-viewing areas, which can be a haul for some folks, but luckily, Desert USA provides a wildflower watch for different sites in the deserts. Their site for Anza Borrego is an excellent resource for those who want to know what is blossoming in the desert, and when.
A much closer option for many San Diegans for an incredible wildflower display is Torrey Pines State Park. The relatively small size of the park, and large number of species makes for a near overwhelming viewing experience. Bring a camera and pick up a flower guide in the gift shop, or take a walking tour.
There are so many places to see native wildflowers in San Diego, and so many ecological regions, almost any springtime hike will be great viewing.
My go-to key for identifying local wildflowers is Ken Bowles site. It can be hard to figure out at first, but it’s pretty accurate once you get the hang of it. Take a few photos, and dig into Ken Bowles’ site, and next time you’re on the trail, you can show off your new skills.
As I’ve said many times before, a hike can be a walk in dirt, or, if you are familiar with the flora and fauna, it can be a rich, rewarding experience. BTW, SanDiegoHiker.net has a Flickr with hiking pics and birds and wildflowers.
Do you seek out wildflowers in Spring? Are you a birder? Where do you like to seek out your favorite native San Diego wildlife?
All in one weekend, all the mountain state parks campgrounds opened back up. All campgrounds at Palomar Mountain State Park, and previously closed, Green Valley Campground, at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park are now open, and taking reservations through Reserve America.
Palomar’s campgrounds are open due to Friends of Palomar Mountain’s State Park’s fundraising efforts, and orchestration of a viable plan and agreement with State Parks. They should be commended for their ingenuity, and tenacity.
Cuyamaca’s campground opening is apparently the result of some unexpected funds becoming available. State budgets and the dispersion of funds are a mystery to me. Regardless, my favorite campground is now open, and I better figure when I want to take advantage, before it’s not anymore.
Cuyamaca’s Green Valley opening also provides horse camping sites, for those equestrians out there.
Glad to have some of the campgrounds open. Anyone planning to get out there?
I’ve debated, over the years, writing an entry about Upper Otay Lake. One reason is it’s not a real long hike, only a couple of miles if you do a loop around the lake, another reason is suburban Chula Vista is creeping closer to lake, and the hills to the west of the lake are crowned by a row of mcmansions. To be fair, if you’re looking at what you’re supposed to be looking at – the flora, fauna, and where you’re walking – you wouldn’t even know they were there. A third reason is, access permission on the eastern side of the lake is dubious at best. You can, obviously, walk the loop in either clockwise, or counterclockwise directions. If you walk clockwise, you won’t know you’ve trespassed until you’re no longer trespassing. If you do the opposite, the first thing you see is a brawny, yellow, metal gate, with enormous no-trespassing signs on it. That said, the entire loop is very popular with hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and nature gawkers.
Upper Otay is part of the Sweetwater Authority’s reservoir system. It is easily the smallest in the system. It’s a renowned fishing lake as well, and home to one of the most successful Florida-strain largemouth bass breeding programs in the West. Unlike many lakes in the county, Upper Otay is a catch-and-release-only lake, and artificial lures with barbless hooks are the law. It’s also a zero-contact lake, it can only be fished from shore, waded, or from a float tube. No contact with skin allowed, waders must be worn in the lake. No dogs within 50 feet of the shoreline (though, while struggling into my waders on more than one occasion folks have pulled into the parking lot, got out, flung a tennis ball into the lake and a large lab has bound in after it).
This is the part of Chula Vista I roamed as a child. We rode our bmx bikes out here, then our 10-speeds to Lower Otay to try to catch fish, eventually our mountain bikes. My teachers marched us through these hills and taught about the plants and animals. The sights, sounds, and smells take me right back to those days whenever I am out there. When I was in high school, kids would come to the dam and leap from it into the water. Now it has a big notch cut into it, and is covered in graffiti. Covered.
For the most part, parking pretty obvious. You park at a small dirt lot on the edge of Otay Lakes Road. If it’s a Saturday, Sunday or Wednesday the gate should be open and you can drive up the hill and park right next to the lake. That’s not as great as it sounds, as it makes the loop a little more complicated. I recommend parking by the road. But if you’re just out for some bird watching, or a casual walk, parking at the lake is fine.
Speaking of bird watching… Upper Otay is one of the better bird-watching spots in the county, and not all that renowned for it either. If you can get a float tube and waders, you can see an incredible variety of birds, from American Coots, Great Blue Herons, Least Bitterns, I’ve even seen Purple Gallinule. All sort of ducks, and gulls use the lake, as well as Ospreys. The water is, for the most part, walled off from view by reeds, trees and bushes – until you get to the higher, eastern shore. The trail around the lake will reveal a large variety of birds as well. Red-wing Blackbirds, Grackles, Black Phoebes, are all common, as are American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Crows and Turkey Vultures. In fact this afternoon I saw a Northern Flicker, a type of woodpecker, I’d never seen there before.
Once parked, head up the weathered asphalt road, and when you get to the top go left, and follow the road down towards the fishermen’s parking lot. Ignore the iron ranger, only fishers need to pay. The road continues left, and around the lake. When you make it all the way to the northern end, there will appear a couple faint trails heading over the saddle, east. The one close to the prominent hill will take you to the correct place to cross. Don’t worry too much about picking the wrong trail, once you crest the saddle, it will be obvious, by the trail on the opposite hillside where the crossing is. After you’ve successfully crossed the creek(bed), follow the trail right, contouring the hillside back towards the road. A lot of the nicer views of the lake will be on this section of trail. A camera and/or binoculars are a must for the birders. If you’re more inclined towards flora, this is a great example of coastal sage scrub, and the spring blooms can be quite incredible.
There are also a few geocaches along this loop, and winter is a good time to avoid surprising any dangerous snakes. Upper Otay Lake is a tiny gem in the encroaching sea of suburbia creeping west.
The map below is from a geocaching trip, which why there is so much meandering.
A while back, I asked Rick Barclay, of Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park to write a guest blog, outlining his ideas for starting a cooperating association for Palormar Mountain State Park. Since then, the situation became a little more urgent, and the focus of FPMSP evolved. The imminent closing of the park, and losing the park’s ranger staff, changed the focus from cooperating with the park on projects and trail maintenance, to coming up with a solution to keep the staff, and keep the park open.
My volunteer activities at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park lead me into direct contact with Rick Barclay, and Michael Walsh, the two men spearheading the drive to keep the park open. Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park is currently an “arm” of the organization upon who’s board I sit, as a director. Rick and Mike’s proposals to our board, as well as the State Department of Parks and Recreation, have been impressive in their innovative thinking, and relative simplicity. CRSPIA stands firmly behind their effort to keep Palomar open.
Their plan isn’t just going to keep the day-use areas of the park open, it will keep the campgrounds open year round, and cover the current maintenance backlog. Meaning this isn’t just a bandaid, it’s going to make the park better.
If you go check out their website, you can see that, though the state has yet to officially respond to the proposal, the drive for monetary pledges has been going gangbusters. The information is fluid, so I won’t quote numbers here, but the FPMSP website keeps the news updated. Like I said, the website is currently only accepting pledges, not donations. Please, if you make a pledge, be sure to make good should the proposal move forward. I urge you to check it out, make a pledge, and keep open a beautiful San Diego County landmark.
You can also ‘like’ their Facebook page to keep informed. Thanks!