Date: 1/1/18 11:35 am
From: Justyn Stahl <justyn.stahl...> [SanDiegoRegionBirding] <SanDiegoRegionBirding-noreply...>
Subject: [SanDiegoRegionBirding] White-headed Woodpeckers in San Diego County
SD Birders,

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 (, 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

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 (, 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

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