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Directions: Take I-8 west towards Lakeside, and exit on Lake Jennings Park Road. Turn left at the four-way stop and then left turn right on Harritt Road. Entrance to the recreation area is on the right.
Once a major holdout for the endangered Coastal Cactus Wren, the area around Lake Jennings was greatly damaged by the 2003 Cedar Fire. But some patches miraculously survived, and the wrens can still be easy to find in the area. Unfortunately one can no longer park in the lot by the dam (thanks to 9/11 and people who abused the area), but on weekends you can park in the recreational area (nominal fee) and hike all the way around the lake (a five-plus mile hike) if you wish! Upon entering, the road continues for another two miles, allowing good birding right from the road and numerous parking areas; I haven't encountered them since the fires, but there is some remaining coastal sage scrub on the hills that may still have California Gnatcatchers. Other chaparral birds such as California Thrasher (beware of similar-sounding Northern Mockingbirds nearby), Spotted and California Towhee, California Quail, Wrentit, Bushtit, Costa's and Anna's Hummingbirds, Greater Roadrunner, and even Rufous-crowned Sparrow have all returned, so the gnatcatchers are certainly a possibility. In winter look for Say's Phoebes, and Savannah, Lincoln's, White-crowned, and Golden-crowned Sparrows, and in summer look for Ash-throated Flycatchers. The fire-following Lazuli Buntings may be quite common in spring and summer, but once the chaparral grows back their numbers will probably decrease. Closer to where there are rock outcroppings you may find Rock or Canyon Wrens. The eucalyptus forests are great for Cassin's Kingbird, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Phainopepla, American Robin, and Lesser Goldfinches year round; Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Bluebird, and possibly Pine Siskin in winter; and Western Kingbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, and orioles in summer. At the end of the road is a gate and a hiking trail beyond; the first 15 minutes or so is flat, then starts getting mildly hilly (and more so as you reach the campground; the paved road up into the campground is quite steep). Look for more chaparral birds along this trail, and check the wetlands for Pied-billed Grebes, Green Heron, Coots, and Mallards year round, and other ducks, grebes, and possibly Common Loon in the winter. The willows can have Black-chinned Hummingbird, Yellow Warbler, and Blue Grosbeak in summer, and the reeds hide Red-winged Blackbirds, Great-tailed Grackles, Common Yellowthroats, Black Phoebes, and Song Sparrows. Check the shores for other herons, and large exposed branches for Osprey and smaller ones for Belted Kingfisher. In spring check the hordes of swallows for the odd Vaux's Swift, and check the barren hillsides for cruising Northern Harriers. Hours vary according to season; click here for current information.
One of the fishing accesses at the rec area
Trail into the recovering chaparral
...with obliging swallows...
If you're camping, you can enter the campground on the other side of the lake and access the hiking trails from there; when the county ran the campground there were no day use areas, but things may have changed. It's about a half mile walk to get to the entrance road from the recreation area (and another half mile to the campground), but many locals use this route as an exercise trail: follow the paved road that borders the lake out of the rec area, checking the stands of eucs for nesting Great Blue Herons and roosting Double-crested Cormorants and Turkey Vultures, and the hillsides (and mobile home feeders) for Anna's Hummingbirds, Scrub Jays, California Towhees and Thrashers, Bushtits, and other scrub birds. At the lot, the hillside flowers can attract Allen's and Rufous Hummingbirds during migration, which starts as early as late June for the Allen's. Follow the entrance road towards the county park, checking the lake for waterfowl (various diving ducks in winter), gulls, terns, and the resident Osprey. Cliff Swallows are abundant in summer; they nest under the large structure (pump?) in the lake as well as under the eaves of nearby homes. If you're lucky you may spot a Rock Wren or an American Pipit (in winter) amongst the rocks! The Cactus Wrens and gnatcatchers can be looked for closer to the county park, and the trees in the park are worth checking, especially for Hermit Thrushes, Dark-eyed Juncos, and other sparrows in winter. A nature trail just off the entrance road hooks up with the main trail back to the rec area.
Entrance road to the old county park with "large structure" in the lake
View of recovering hillsides from the campground
Personal Checklist ●=small numbers █ = large numbers (10+)
Most of this data was gathered only along the entrance road before the 2003 Cedar Fire, but subsequent trips imply that most of the species are returning and generally the data should still be valid. Data for February, April, May, June, July, and October include the rec area. Species in red denote vagrant, out-of-place, or irruptive species and should not be expected.
|Great Blue Heron||●||●||●||●||●||●|
|Black-crowned Night Heron||●|
|Western Scrub Jay||●||●||●||●||●||●|
*While not encountered since the Cedar Fire, there is still good Coastal Sage Scrub habitat in the rec area which may still have the gnatcatcher.
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