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All roads are paved, except for a small bit of dirt road around the picnic areas on the back side of the lakes and the dikes of the sewer ponds, which can be slick after a rain.
Approximate Length: About 4 miles
Approximate Birding Time: 1.5 - 2 hours
Traffic: Moderate to light
Facilities: There are restrooms at Santee Lakes Park.
Directions: Take I-5 north to highway 52 east, and follow this all the way to Santee, where you'll exit on Mast Blvd. Turn left under the freeway onto Mast, and after several blocks turn right on Fanita (you'll cross over the bridge over the lakes just before the turn). The entrance will be on your right. Entrance fee; Golden Age Passport holders get in free.
For a city park, Santee Lakes can be surprisingly productive; several rarities have shown up here over the years. It's good to carefully check each lake as you drive down the main road. The open water is attractive to coots, grebes, White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, and any number of ducks (depending on the season). This park is famous for its colony of reintroduced Wood Ducks, so you're likely to see several, usually down towards the far end where there's more vegetation (you'll see their nest boxes placed prominently in the trees as well). Various herons like the islands, and there's usually a token Western Gull (rather unusual inland) hanging around, as well as other larids in season. In summer Rough-winged and Cliff Swallows like to nest under the bridge, and Tree Swallows feed over the water in winter; look for Barn and Violet-green Swallows in migration. This can also be a good place for icterids, including both Bullock's and Hooded Orioles (both in summer), three species of blackbird (including Tricolored), and Great-tailed Grackle. Be sure to check the trees near the office building for migrants and other songbirds, including Cedar Waxwing (winter), Phainopepla, and Lesser and American Goldfinches.
Mob of fisher-birds
Chow time at the gazebo...
Optional hike: The Pet Walk You'll soon come to a point where only campers are allowed to pass; turn left and park anywhere along this short stretch of road that connects you with the back (west) side of the park (check the trees in this little area for the roosting Great Horned Owl while you're at it). Along the fence line you'll see a sign for the "pet walk"; this easy trail will take you close to a couple of the ponds and away from the hubbub of the rest of the park, where you may even be able to hear the soft chuckle of Least Bitterns and the hoots of Pied-billed Grebes in spring! The meager riparian area along the drainage can house Lincoln's Sparrows in winter, Yellow Warblers and orioles in summer; and Scrub Jays, Common Yellowthroats, Song Sparrows, and Black Phoebes year round. Loop around and return to your car via the campground, where the exotic trees (as well as campers' bird feeders) may hold some surprises.
The sewer ponds next door (open during the week only) have more open habitat surrounding the area, and the far pond (closest to the office) has more willow/marsh habitat growing around it, and so is more attractive to things such as Marsh Wren, Common Moorhen, Sora, and Least Bittern. Shorebirds are also more likely here; look for Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, and Killdeer, as well as other shorebirds that may show up. Different kinds of ducks tend to show up here that seem to shun the park (such as Hooded Mergansers), and in winter the place can be quite active! The surrounding open area (burned off from the recent Cedar fires) still offers open country birds such as both kingbirds (Western only in summer), Say's Phoebe, Western Bluebird, Western Meadowlark, Horned Lark, American Pipit and Savannah Sparrow (both winter), Blue Grosbeak and Grasshopper Sparrow (both summer), and even some chaparral birds like Wrentit are coming back (I recently had a Sage Sparrow, but I don't know if he'll be consistent...) To get here, exit Santee Lakes Park and turn left onto Fanita, go past Mast, and go to the end of the road, where the main drag veers sharply to the right. The entrance to the sewer ponds veers down and to the left, but it's very important that you go straight to the office and get permission to bird first, and then stay off the paved roads when you stop! Personally, I've had some officials say, "Go ahead; any time!" whereas other times I've been politely asked to leave, so I guess it depends on whom you talk to... After checking in, be sure to head across one of the dikes and check the willow and wetland vegetation along the western fenceline
Santee Sewer Ponds
Heading over a dike to the western fence line
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 denote vagrants or irruptive species and should not be expected. Do keep in mind that many of the sage/chaparral birds included in the checklist may have been temporarily extirpated by the Cedar Fire, although if Wrentits are coming back already, the others can't be far behind....
|American White Pelican||█||●||█|
|Great Blue Heron||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●|
|Black-crowned Night Heron||●||●||●||●||●||●|
|Great Horned Owl||●|
|Western Scrub Jay||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●||●|
|Northern Rough-winged Swallow||█||█||●||█||●|
|Black-throated Gray Warbler||●||●|
|"Bell's" Sage Sparrow||●|
*Although considered a vagrant in the county, this is the standard spot in San Diego to find Hooded Merganser in winter.
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