Under ordinary circumstances, this lesser goldfinch would remain undetected on its high perch. But on this day, with over 30 bird watchers (birders) gathered at the Tecolote Canyon Nature Center, the carduelis psaltria will be the first of many bird sightings this group will enjoy for the next three hours.
The walks are conducted by the San Diego Audubon Society on the fourth Saturday of the month. They meet at the nature center at 8:00 a.m. and hit the trail for three hours of continuous bird watching. There is no penalty for an early departure. Walk leaders are veteran birders, Anitra Kaye and John Walters.
Many in this birder group have never met before; though you'd never know it. They share a common interest, ornithology, and speak the same language of birds and migrations. Information and sightings are announced amongst themselves like old friends. The group stays together and collectively enjoys the presence of a new winged friend. With this group, even the house sparrow is watched and copiously noted.
Not a local group either; Walter and Ann Burns hail from Scottland, north of Aberdeen. They're passing through on vacation with a strong interest in the red-tailed hawk which they do see atop a large eucalyptus tree and then circling about 1,500 feet above the ground. Tecolote Canyon does not disappoint Walter and Ann or the couple from Calgary, Canada.
The canyon, once farmland up to the 1950's, is preserved as an open space park by the City of San Diego. Not large with just under seven miles of trail, but large enough to pack a lot of flora, both native and invasive species, and a healthy amount of fauna. The dirt trail, about 15 feet wide, is ideal for groups, joggers, and mountain bikers. It's not hilly, but flat and mostly straight with a tremendous amount vegetation and trees that don't go unnoticed by the inquisitive birders, including an old-growth oak tree and an early blooming western sycamore where Nuttall's woodpeckers have carved out living quarters. A warning is given for poison oak which remains toxic even in its leafless winter state.
White sage with its distinctive square branches and strong minty odor are present as is an enormous century plant with a mourning dove commanding special interest from the bird watchers group.
Jack Friery, a local birding enthusiast of the first order, identifies a large bush of lemonade berry. The berries on this plant have a coating that when mixed with water tastes like bitter lemonade. Native Americans are said to have consumed this mixture and utilized the bush in purifying their lodges, according to Friery.
As the sun continues to rise, so does the number of bird sightings. Western gulls are spotted high overhead. Song sparrows, western scrub-jays, common yellowthroat warblers, and the California towhee are all sighted within twenty feet of either side of the trail. The group moves forward by inches; a winged wonder in just about every tree and bush, the most prolific being Anna's hummingbird, or is that the Costa’s hummingbird?
"All hummingbirds are Anna's unless proven otherwise," declares Friery with a grin.
Tecolote Canyon Natural Park and Nature Center
5180 Tecolote Road
San Diego, CA 92110
The nature center hours:
9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Sundays
9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tuesday thru Saturday
San Diego Audubon Society
4010 Morena Blvd
San Diego, CA 92117
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