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Please note: a small section of Carancho Road was severely damaged by the 2007 Rice Fire, but the rest of the route is thankfully intact. Click here for pictures of the damage.
Except for a small stretch of dirt road near the county line (which under normal conditions should be passable for standard passenger cars), the roads on this route are all paved.
Approximate Length: 26 miles
Approximate Birding Time: 4.5 hours with the optional hiking trail
Traffic: Moderate, but can be borderline heavy at the starting point and beyond during the week due to morning rush hour
Facilities: There are porta potties in the county park at the beginning (and end) of the route.
Directions: Take I-8 east to I-15 north almost to the Riverside County line; exit on Mission Road (Fallbrook), turn left at the light, then right after you cross the freeway. Follow this road as it meanders through town (beware that Mission Road bears right at one point), and look for a sign for De Luz Road; turn right here, and at the bottom of the hill De Luz Road veers left. Pull over by the Santa Margarita County Preserve (opens at 9:30) and start birding here. (Since this EBR winds around in a loop, you can explore this park at the end of the route.)
The main draw of this area is the lush willow riparian habitat along the Santa Margarita River and the fact that many oak woodland birds normally associated with higher elevations can be found along this route. Most of it is private property with a lot of agricultural areas, so some of the route can be rather sterile, but the scenic patches of oak woodland and open space make it a worthwhile drive (and if you like gawking at expensive homes, the Riverside County portion of the loop will give you that opportunity!). Common rural birds you may encounter anywhere along this route include Turkey Vulture, Cooper's, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrel, Mourning Dove, Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Cassin's Kingbird, all three lowland corvids, Bushtit, Northern Mockingbird, Phainopepla, California Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, Lesser Goldfinch, and House Finch year-round; Bullock's and Hooded Orioles and various swallows in summer and migration; and Sharp-shinned Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Cedar Waxwings in winter.
The first part of the route runs along the Santa Margarita River and can have birds typical of that habitat such as Black-chinned Hummingbird, Bell's Vireo, Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat in summer; and Downy Woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat, American Goldfinch, and Song Sparrow year round. There is a small breeding population of Warbling Vireos in the area as well, so be sure to keep an ear out for them! There are some rocky outcroppings along this stretch that might have Canyon Wren. Wheeling up the hill there is scrub habitat overlooking the riparian woodlands that is good for Fox, White-crowned, Golden-crowned, and Lincoln's Sparrows in winter, Blue Grosbeak and Lazuli Bunting in summer, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Bewick's Wren year-round. You soon start running into patches of oak woodland that can have Band-tailed Pigeon, California Quail, Acorn Woodpecker, Hutton's Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, American Robin, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Spotted Towhee year-round; Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Wood Pewee, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Lawrence's Goldfinch in summer; and Red-breasted Sapsucker and Ruby-crowned Kinglet in winter. A portion of the road actually skirts into Camp Pendleton where there's some oak savannah-type habitat that might have White-tailed Kite and Western Bluebird year-round, and sparrows (particularly Lark) in winter.
Riparian area along the first leg of the route
Heading up the hill
Near Camp Pendleton
Oak woodland along the road
After about eight miles you'll come to a "yield" sign where De Luz Road actually bears right up the hill, but you'll want to continue straight. Be sure to check out the small private pond to the right just before crossing Fern Creek (please don't trespass), as it sometimes has surprises such as Hooded Merganser in it! (Mallards are the usual suspects, however...) Shortly after you cross the creek the road turns to dirt; the ag fields often have Cassin's Kingbirds, Western Bluebirds, Western Meadowlark, or Say's Phoebes. The creek and rural residential areas further on sometimes have Common Ground Doves, Band-tailed Pigeons, or Lawrence's Goldfinches, but almost always have orioles in summer. The wetlands can have Red-winged Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackles, as well as Killdeer and possibly even herons. After crossing the creek again (this is usually the worst part of the road, but still passable) you shortly hit pavement; although unmarked, this is the Riverside County line, where the road name changes to Carancho. You continue north through thick chaparral where California Thrasher and Wrentit may be fairly common, or you may even scare up a Greater Roadrunner. You pass through more rural residences and agricultural groves; these usually are pretty sterile but sometimes have California Quail and Common Ground Doves, and can be surprisingly good for Red-shouldered Hawk. In addition to the expected "suburban" birds, you may come across high-altitude surprises such as Violet-green Swallow, American Robin, and Purple Finch along here!
Fern Creek crossing in December
Dirt portion of the route
Chaparral and ag habitat along Carancho Road
The road eventually curves around and you come to a stop sign; this is the intersection (interestingly) with De Luz Road where it veered off to the right earlier. To continue this loop, go straight and follow the road to a four-way-stop which is Sandia Creek Road. Turn right here; you shortly pass through a thick oak woodland that can be good for Orange-crowned Warbler, Acorn Woodpecker, Hutton's Vireo, Oak Titmouse, and in winter, Dark-eyed Junco. As you pass through more residential areas, keep an eye out for a house on the right with several tall palm trees and a big pond in front that may have ducks any time of year (but beware of "stocked" exotics). The exotic flowers attract hummingbirds of various species. Back out in the chaparral, you enter into land that is owned by the Fallbrook Land Conservancy (so you're back in San Diego County--again unmarked) and get some great views (good for White-throated Swifts) before descending towards Sandia Creek and getting another shot at riparian birds. At the bottom of the hill, turn right at the sign that points you towards Fallbrook. After you cross the river, there's a large parking area on the left that's the jumping-off point for the optional trail.
Along Sandia Creek Road
Open areas along Sandia Creek Road
Heading down the hill
The Fallbrook Land Conservancy property along Sandia Creek Road
Riparian area at the bottom of the hill
Optional Hike: Santa Margarita River Trail if you go to the "drop-off", if you go further... If there was only a way to get past the washouts, this would be a wondrous, flat trail along the river and through some luscious riparian habitat that has hosted rarities such as American Redstart, and Kentucky and Hooded Warblers in the past! At present I only go to the first washout, where you can sit by some open water and hope for Belted Kingfisher along with the usual Yellowthroats, Song Sparrows, and Black Phoebes! (This can also be a great spot to wait for butterflies and dragonflies to happen by...) Sometimes Coots and Pied-billed Grebes can be found along here, and you might get fly-by shorebirds. Many of the same birds found along the road where there is oak and willow riparian habitat can be found in here. Back at the parking lot, a peek down by the river crossing might scare up a Green Heron or some other water bird. There's also a little picnic area across the street that might be worth exploring, and more short trails go down to the river.
Along the Santa Margarita River Trail
Area past the "drop-offs"
My usual turn-around point
Park area across the street from the main trail
River crossing along Sandia Creek Road
Continue on Sandia Creek Road, and when you come to the intersection with De Luz Road (the beginning of the route), you can either turn right onto De Luz again to explore the county preserve, or head back up the hill to Fallbrook. The trail accessible at this point basically parallels Sandia Creek Road and has similar species to the last trail.
Santa Margarita River Trail access from the new County Preserve
Personal Checklist ●=small numbers █ = large numbers (10+)
Please keep in mind that these lists are NOT comprehensive, and that some months may have had poor overall coverage. Species in red are out-of-place, irruptive, or vagrant species and should not be expected.
|Great Blue Heron||●|
|Common Ground Dove||●||●||●|
|Great Horned Owl||●|
|Western Wood Pewee||●||●||●|
|Western Scrub Jay||●||█||●||█||█||●||█||█||█||█||█|
|Northern Rough-winged Swallow||●||●||●|
|"Slate-colored" Fox Sparrow||●|
|"Thick-billed" Fox Sparrow||●|
|Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco||●||●||●||█|
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