I will remember 2014 as the year I met Lewis’s Woodpeckers for the first time, and while this account is not about that first meeting, this, the second meeting was my best. My very first encounter was two months earlier in August while visiting friends at June Lake in the Eastern Sierras. I enjoyed my visit to this Ranchita neighborhood on October 17 so much; I returned two days later for another dose.
My friend David from El Centro is a great explorer of cool places, and he’d mentioned some springs at Old Mine Road when we swapped stories during one of our meetings on Santa Rosa Mountain. Surface water in an otherwise dry area has proved to be a great place to meet and photograph birds for me, so I was eager to explore this new location.
Old Mine Road is a small road that departs from the Montezuma pass road (Highway S-22) to Borrego Springs lying at the bottom of the desert east of San Diego’s mountains. The road ascends the southern flanks of the county’s highest mountain — Hot Springs Mountain, just 2½ miles west of the community of Ranchita. Ranchita California is situated in a transitional zone between the county’s mountain and desert ecologies. The road’s first half-mile is bordered by residences on both sides of the road, with large lots and horse properties, under a canopy of California Coastal Live Oak in a riparian valley. Beyond the homes, the road rises up-slope through chaparral to the higher ground where many years ago miners dug holes in the ground in search of mineral wealth (hence the name). Here the rising brush covered fields meet the steepest slopes, and the primitive road drops into narrower, tree-lined canyons. Small water seeps trickle downhill and provide a reliable water source for wildlife. In such locations I have found rewarding opportunities to photograph birds, and this place did not disappoint.
2014 was an outbreak year for Lewis’s Woodpeckers in San Diego County and I believe I was the first birder in San Diego to find them here at Old Mine Road. It was also an invasion year for Varied Thrushes and I may have been the first to report on my sighting at this location as well. Later the thrushes were found in Encinitas at the San Diego Botanic Gardens, which proved to be a better location for meeting those beautiful birds. But the woodpeckers were the story at Old Mine Road.
I’m presenting a large set of images with this story. I whittled down the gallery from 63 to 44 images of birds I met on the days I visited here. They were Lewis’s Woodpecker, Western Scrub-Jay (now California Scrub-Jay), Hermit Thrush, Band-Tailed Pigeon, White-Crowned Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Golden-Crowned Sparrow, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Wrentit, California Towhee, Steller’s Jay, California Thrasher, Dark-Eyed Junco, Fox Sparrow.