Date: 1/1/18 11:35 am From: Justyn Stahl <justyn.stahl...> [SanDiegoRegionBirding] <SanDiegoRegionBirding-noreply...> Subject: [SanDiegoRegionBirding] White-headed Woodpeckers in San Diego County
Happy New Year! To close out 2017, Nicole and I decided to hike Hot Springs Mountain for White-headed Woodpecker (WHWO) on Sunday, 31 December 2017. We were successful in finding a pair near the summit ( http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41480957), the first I've seen in San Diego since seeing a single female at Paso Picacho Campground in the Laguna Mountains when I moved here in 2008.
As suggested in the San Diego Bird Atlas, this species is likely in decline in San Diego County. The best remaining place to find this species is on Hot Springs Mountain, near Warner Springs, in the northeast corner of the county.
This species was adversely affected by the Cedar Fire in 2003 (and possibly even extirpated from the Lagunas in the following years?), as evidence by low number of post-2003 reports from the Laguna Mountains. Previously, the area around Cuyamaca Peak and Paso Picacho Camground was seemingly the most accessible location for this species in San Diego, with counts of 7-9 in eBird and in the San Diego Bird Atlas prior to the fire. Following the Cedar Fire, no more than 1 individual has been reported at a time from the Lagunas, with only small handful (teaspoon?) of observations since 2008, and few if any with real documentation. (However, WHWO was not previously flagged for details in eBird as it is resident. We've now set all WHWO reports in eBird to require details, as it's possible this species, if only heard, could be confused with Nuttall's Woodpeckers by inexperienced observers - as I suspect was the case with a few early 2017 reports lacking detail.) A couple reports from Palomar Mountain (including the atlas period) haven't been replicated in more recent years despite semi-regular visitation to this area by birders.
Hot Springs Mountain, the highest peak in San Diego County, stands 6,635 tall, beating Cuyamaca Peak by 20 feet. It lies on Los Coyotes Reservation ( http://www.loscoyotestribe.com/home2), accessible from the end of Camino San Ignacio, turning off Hwy 79. As I understand, access is restricted to weekends and holidays. The ticket booth at the gate was closed upon our arrival on Sunday, but an officer from the adjacent tribal police station came out and to open the booth to collect the $10 fee and record our information for entrance. Therefore, it *may* be possible (assuming the police station is staffed 7 days a week) to go any day. Phone/email contact in link above. We followed the details from this hiking blog (downloading the GPS track as well) and had no issues navigating our way to the top. Please be well-behaved while on the reservation and exercise leave-no-trace principles. The trailhead (and a bathroom) is in the campground.
It is 5.5 miles from the campground to the peak, gaining 2500 feet, with the first 2.2 miles moderately steep and mostly unshaded through chaparral. After 2.2 miles you enter forest, you're largely in the shade of the tall trees, and the incline is much more gradual until the final switchback for the peak (which lies beyond the best WHWO habitat). We saw the birds at (33.312, -116.575), about 15 minute short of the summit, so it's 3-4 hours to get to the birds. According to the atlas, this species is at 5800 feet or higher. It took us, birding, 3.5 hours to reach the top, and hiking without stopping 1.75 hours to return to the bottom. Even in our 30s we regret not bringing trekking poles for the descent. If WHWO (and/or the views from the peak) is your only target, I would recommend doing this hike in winter (now) while it's cooler. I imagine it is quite hot up there in the summer, the gnats are apparently horrible then, and the other avian species here are gettable elsewhere.
To do the hike, you should be in fairly good shape, pick a good weather day, get an early start, and bring plenty of water and a hiking partner. *There are alternatives*, involving 4WD driving, which I know nothing about, but part of our intent was to get some exercise in as well.
I would love to hear any other details or opinions on this species occurrence in San Diego County.
Wishing you good birding in 2018.
Justyn Stahl and Nicole Desnoyers North Park/San Clemente Island