When Daisy and I visit her sister Julia and her brother-in-law Andrew there is a certain unwritten rule that we put into effect. Whenever the women want to go shopping Andrew and I go and do something else. The afternoon of New Year’s Eve was the perfect example. While the gals went off to buy who-knows-what Andrew, who over the last couple of years’ worth of visits has started to get the hang of the whole birding thing, and I headed down to San Dieguito Park on Lake Hodges. Unfortunately, and much to our chagrin, we discovered the park was closed due to damage from the wildfires this past fall so we needed an alternative plan. I remembered the great fun and birds I had at Kit Carson Park last winter during the Escondido Christmas Bird Count and seeing as I was in California too late this year to join the count I suggested that we go see if we could have as much fun birding the park without the benefit of native birders to guide us.

Long story short: we did! From the pond loaded with bread-fattened waterfowl to the warblers to the woodpeckers we had a blast. Was the top moment watching an American Kestrel nailing a bird and then dismembering it? Or getting looks at four warbler species, including Townsend’s Warblers almost as cooperative as the one Charlie had recently? Or was it watching a Double-crested Cormorant trying to choke down a massive fish? Maybe it was my life Ferruginous Hawk? Or the Pied-billed Grebe I photographed emerging from underwater from three feet away? Perhaps the hundreds of American Crows flocking with some Common Ravens? Or the Acorn Woodpeckers laughing it up from their palm tree larders? Or was it the Western Bluebirds, Lesser Goldfinches, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, Common Moorhens, Red-tailed Hawks, Say’s and Black Phoebes, Great Egret or the Black-crowned Night-Herons? I can’t decide but you get the idea: it was a heck of an afternoon’s birding, especially for a busy urban park!

Ring-necked Ducks

Ring-necked Ducks, male (back) and female

Nuttall's Woodpecker

female Nuttall’s Woodpecker

Townsend's Warbler

male Townsend’s Warbler

Townsend's Warbler

female (note the light cheek patch) Townsend’s Warbler

Acorn Woodpeckers

Acorn Woodpeckers

submerged but emerging Pied-billed Grebe

submerged, but emerging, Pied-billed Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant struggling with big fish

Double-crested Cormorant getting ready for a “fish story”

So if you ever find yourself traveling on Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and San Diego take a stop at Kit Carson Park, not more than three minutes off the highway, and check out the birds!

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.