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2019-09-06 – Bird and Butterfly Garden

I posted recently about the first of three stops I made last Friday at some of my favorite birding destinations in the southwestern corner of San Diego County. I started my first visit at the southern end of the San Diego Bay and ended it at the Tijuana Estuary. This post is about my second destination of the day.

Townsend's Warbler - Setophaga townsendi
An early migrating bird at one of the “must see” locations in the Tijuana River Valley: The Bird and Butterfly Garden. Numerous water drips and many trees and flowering bushes have been planted to provide nourishment for migrating birds. Tijuana River Valley, near Imperial Beach, California. San Diego County.

When I left the Tijuana Slough NWR Visitor Center, I pointed myself eastward to routes I knew would take me into the Tijuana River Valley a short distance away. This river valley has its origins in the Laguna Mountains east of San Diego before emigrating into Mexico. There it gathers all manner of waste and refuse from industrial and residential sources. Most of the time there is only a faint trickle that passes back onto US soil near San Ysidro. Occasionally during wet years, this river floods, creating havoc for the horse ranches and farms that remain in the valley. Pollution is a real concern during these high water events.

In times prior to 1960, dairies were prevalent in this valley, but with the first population booms after WW2, the city fathers made them unwelcome. By the time the sixties were upon us, the dairy industry had left the city. Except for a few outlying areas, they left the rest of the county too. The fate of these last few miles of the Tijuana River Valley has been to revert to a semi-wild state and a haven for migrating birds.

A favorite stop of mine in this valley is the Bird and Butterfly Garden off Hollister Road. The local birding community knows this place well, but during the summer doldrums its popularity wanes. I found a shady place to park the van, grabbed my camera gear and explored the grounds for possible opportunities to meet birds. It wasn’t a complete surprise that birds were hard to find this time of year. It won’t be long before migrations bring a host of new visitors, but during the late summer, supplies are limited.

I found a water drip positioned near a shaded table with flowering and fruiting shrubs and trees nearby. These water drips are pipes rising three feet above the ground with water trickling very slowly, dripping into a bowl for birds and other wildlife. I sat and waited with camera gear poised, but the birds I saw did not seem interested in approaching. Common Ground Doves are always here, but I find them especially shy. They were feeding with a California Towhee within sight, but too far away for good photographs. After enjoying twenty minutes of quiet time, I picked up my gear and began looking for a more promising strategy to meet birds. As I walked through the grounds I found a half dozen or more drips, which explained the lack of activity on the one I staked out earlier (good for the birds though). Eventually, I heard the song of a Solitary Vireo (best bet would be a Cassin’s Vireo), but I never got eyes on the bird. Nearby I found Bushtits, Orange-Crowned Warblers, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, Bewick’s Wrens and a surprise Townsend’s Warbler. I lingered with the birds here for 45 minutes and captured images as best I could in the difficult light of mid-day, then I gathered my gear and headed back to the van.

Next stop: Border Field!

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