Winter Birding in San Diego County
Mid-December to mid-March officially bracket winter birding in San Diego County, even though they are mild by most Northern Hemisphere standards. All habitat types except for the highest mountains offer interesting and comfortable winter birding here. Just know that it’s the rainy season here, so watch the weather forecasts and keep your rain gear within reach!
By December, most of the birds present are either year-round residents or migrant species that have been hanging around for several months. The regular winter stalwarts, such as Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows, appear everywhere. Check any bush or tree sporting red berries for fruit-loving birds such as Cedar Waxwings or American Robins. Many species of wintering waterbirds—American White Pelicans, Eared Grebes, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks—troll the coastal lagoons such as the Buena Vista, San Elijo, or Batiquitos Lagoons. February may even bring about some long-distance migrants arriving here to set up breeding territories. For instance, a few early arriving swallows can be found flying over the lagoons, swooping and zipping after flying insects.
Every winter also seems to bring an errant shorebird or sea bird (a Reddish Egret and Red-throated Loon was spotted at the mouth of the San Luis Rey River in Oceanside), predominantly eastern warblers (a Chestnut-sided Warbler was spotted at Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad), and interesting sparrows (a Clay-colored Sparrow in Rancho Santa Fe, the unusual subspecies of Belding’s Savannah Sparrow was spotted at the San Luis Rey River). An adorable, diminutive Call Duck of unknown origin also appeared at Guajome Regional Park.
If you’re interested in the latest unusual sightings, consider joining San Diego Region Birding (operated by the San Diego Field Ornithologists) or Birding San Diego to stay abreast of all the latest sightings. If you like to chase rarities, you’re often in luck, since wintering rarities tend to linger a bit once they arrive (can you blame them?). Mornings are most productive for finding passerines, but waterbirds will be visible all day so if those are your target you can sleep in a bit!
*All bird images courtesy of Steve Brad.
Bird Watching Opportunities:
What: Come join the Friends of El Corazon for their monthly bird walk at the Garrison Creek Trailhead. Joan Bockman will also be sharing her knowledge of the local flora and the history of El Corazon. The walk lasts about an hour and a half to two hours.
When: Second Wednesday of Every month, 7:30-9:30am
Where: To get there from the intersection of El Camino Real and Oceanside Blvd, go east on Oceanside Blvd and turn left (north) into the first gate. Veer to the left where there is ample parking.
What: Come enjoy a casual combination birding workshop and bird count around Buena Vista Lagoon. The group will visit Maxton Brown Park, walk to the ocean, and return to the nature center along Coast Highway with plenty of wader, songbird, and shore bird sightings along the way. After the walk the group will tally the bird sightings and finish by 11:30 a.m.
When: January 26, 9:00-11:30am
Where: Buena Vista Nature Center, 2202 South Coast Highway, Oceanside, CA 92054, USA
About The Author
After birding for a quarter-century in Colorado, Tina and her family recently moved to Oceanside, where she’ll probably spend the next quarter-century trying to remember that the mountains now lie to the east. Tina is a guest blog contributor that will be sharing her insights and discoveries as she explores Southern California with her binoculars, scope, and field guide.
To learn more about regional birding opportunities, contact the Buena Vista Audubon Society and Nature Center.