Winter Southern California Jan 21—27, 2018

Posted by Brennan Mulrooney


Brennan Mulrooney

Brennan Mulrooney was born and raised in San Diego, California. Growing up, his heart and mind were captured by the ocean. He split his summer days between helping out behi...

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Sunny and 75 degrees…just like the San Diego Tourism Authority advertises. While the East Coast has been getting hammered all winter with Aidens, Benjis, Graysons, and who knows what other named winter storms, the southwest has been experiencing unusually warm and dry conditions. That’s exactly what we encountered on our Winter Southern California tour this year. No snow in the mountains, no rain on the coast, warm daily high temperatures, and an unusual number of wintering rare birds.

California Towhee

California Towhee— Photo: Brennan Mulrooney


We started our birding in the coastal sage scrub of San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve. The native vegetation here is home to many California specialty bird species, many of which are named for the state. We started with California Towhee and California Thrasher sitting out in the early morning sun. Soon after that we had amazing views of a pair of California Gnatcatchers out in the open where they seldom spend very much time. Wrentits were calling all around us, and we eventually had excellent looks at these supremely skulky little birds. Similar in appearance, though smaller and certainly more cooperative, were a thundering herd of Bushtits that came by to say hi. Allen’s and Anna’s hummingbirds chased each other in circles as we hiked through the fragrant sage scrub, and California Scrub-Jays watched it all at a safe distance.

Our next stop was La Jolla Cove, where we enjoyed stunning views of the Pacific Ocean as we scoured the rocky shoreline, finding rocky shore specialists like Black Turnstone, Wandering Tattler, and Black Oystercatcher (normally not present). Offshore we got repeated views of California Gray Whales as they worked their way south to the calving lagoons of Baja. Close at hand on the cliffs we enjoyed stunning views of Brandt’s Cormorants (on nests already!), “California” Brown Pelicans, Heermann’s Gulls, and California Sea Lions.

Read Brennan’s full report in his Field Report.