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The Silver Strand

Facilities:  There are restrooms at Silver Strand State Beach (fee), Fiddler's Cove, and Coronado Community Park.

Directions: The best way to bird this area is to start from the south end and work your way up.  From San Diego take I-5 south to Palm Avenue in Imperial Beach.  Turn right (west) and continue to 13th Street, where you'll turn right and park in the large lot at the end of the street.  Note: There is sometimes "questionable activity" going on behind the buildings at 13th Street, so if you're alone, it might be best to head straight to 7th Street.

This spot and the end of 7th Street provide some of the best shorebird-watching in the county.  From here you're looking north into the old "salt works", now a part of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge.  7th Street is by far more productive, but for some reason 13th Street seems more attractive to certain birds like Red-necked Phalaropes in season.  The barren area to the east can have Horned Larks as well.  Continue west on Palm Avenue to 7th Street and turn right, following it to its terminus.  This is the most reliable spot in the county for Black Skimmer, but they may be hiding behind one of the dikes!  Common shorebirds include Western and Least Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Red Knot in season, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Dunlin.  Rarities such as Stilt Sandpiper and Ruff have also shown up here.  The far dikes are almost always occupied by Brown Pelicans (American Whites have been declining in recent years), Double-crested Cormorants, and Western Gulls; in winter California and Ring-billed join the ranks, along with the occasional Herring, and in spring and summer the din of the Elegant Terns can be deafening!  Forster's Tern is also a common breeder here, and a small colony of Royal Terns also nest in the area, so check your orange-billed terns carefully (in winter this is the default orange-billed tern)!  This can be a great spot for herons as well: both Great and Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Heron are the expected species, but on rare occasion you might spot a Green, Black-crowned Night, Little Blue, or even the quasi-vagrant Reddish Egret.  In winter numerous ducks can be found here; this is a good spot to look for Red-breasted Merganser, and Greater Scaup sometimes shows up in large numbers (Lesser is generally the default scaup here), as well as the occasional Eurasian Wigeon Osprey and Belted Kingfishers often perch on the posts, and on rare occasion you might spot a Peregrine Falcon.  This can also a good spot for Belding's Savannah Sparrows.

San Diego NWR from the end of 7th Street

The Egret Club (look for the Reddish next to the spit)

Return to Palm Avenue and veer right onto the Silver Strand (Highway 75).  A little over a mile up the road is a parking area for the South Bay Marine Biological Study Area, a big name for a little place!  A short walk down the dike will usually yield many Belding's Sparrows (sometimes at your feet), and on rare occasion a Large-billed Savannah SparrowShorebirds often hide in the cordgrass, and in winter this can be a good place to find Brant and Surf Scoter out in the bay.  Western, Clark's, Eared, Pied-billed, and occasionally Horned Grebes can be found here as well.  In summer this can be a good spot for Least and Gull-billed Tern in addition to the much more abundant Elegants.

Marsh and dike at South Bay Marine Biological Study Area

Hide tide at the overlook

Continue north to the Silver Strand State Beach on your left (fee).  In winter this can be a great place for loons (Red-throated seems to be particularly consistent here), but also hordes of Surf Scoters and Western Grebes can be easily seen offshore, as well as common coastal birds such as Western and Heermann's Gulls, Brown Pelicans, and Brandt's Cormorants.  Expected shorebirds include Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plover, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Sanderling, and Ruddy Turnstone.  Endangered Snowy Plovers and Least Terns nest in the area, so keep an eye out for them.  Sometimes Horned Larks and Brewer's Blackbirds hang out on the beach as well.

Silver Strand State Beach with Point Loma in the distance

On a clear day you can see Mexico's Los Coronados Islands

Continue north to Attu Drive and turn right, where you can access the state park's nature trail.  Bay birds are similar to what you can see at the Marine Biological Area, and more gulls and shorebirds can be studied at the mouth of the creek.  The scrub area is good for Say's Phoebes, Horned Larks, and American Pipits (the latter only in winter).  In migration this can be a good area for swallows, and check the wires for White-tailed Kites and American Kestrels.  In winter, White-crowned Sparrows especially like this stuff; check the flocks carefully for nominate Savannah Sparrows as well.  In summer Hooded Orioles nest in the residential area and sometimes will pose on the wires, and the trees may attract Northern Flickers.  On quiet days you should at least be able to kick up a Jackrabbit...

Silver Strand Nature Trail

View of south San Diego Bay

Cove at the south end of the trail

Continuing north on the strand, you shortly come to the entrance of Fiddler's Cove, a marina that also offers parking for an easy, ten-minute walk north to an observation platform that gives you a marvelous view of the mudflats of Delta Beach (the down side is that, in order to see anything, you'd better drag your scope along...).  The path borders a Least Tern colony, so if you missed them earlier, you're sure to get them here!  (Horned Larks are also a possibility.)  Shorebirds are about the same as what you'd see elsewhere along the strand, but this seems to be particularly attractive to Semipalmated Plovers and Long-billed Curlews (in the spring of 2007 a Wilson's Plover showed up here, and in July of 2008 San Diego County's first Red-necked Stint was found, so you never know what you'll turn up).

Start of the "Strand Trail"

 

Mudflats at the overlook at low tide...

...and at high tide!

If you want to pad your songbird list, a stop in the Coronado Community Park (about three miles north of the marina, accessible from Strand Way just past the Naval Amphibious Base) might be worthwhile.  The flowering bushes are also attractive to butterflies.  If you have time you may also want to check the beaches from the Hotel Del down to the naval air station; for some reason this area seems to be more attractive to Mew Gulls in the winter than other areas, but can be a good spot to study large gatherings of gulls and terns in general, despite the people!  One easy access to the beach is to continue north to RH Dana Place and make a U-turn, then make a right on Avenida del Sol, which ends at the beach (the rock jetties here sometimes have Black Turnstones and other rock-pipers in winter).  Otherwise you can continue on RH Dana Place (which becomes Ocean Blvd.) and park anywhere you can find a spot.  The road ends at the gate to North Island Naval Air Station.

Coronado Community Park

Checking for offshore birds at Coronado Beach

To return to San Diego, continue north through Coronado and follow the signs to the Coronado Bay Bridge, which will take you to I-5.

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. 

  J F M A M J J A S O N D
Red-throated Loon                  
Pacific Loon                  
Common Loon                
Horned Grebe                    
Eared Grebe                
Pied-billed Grebe              
Western Grebe            
Clark's Grebe                
American White Pelican                
Brown Pelican  
Double-crested Cormorant
Brandt's Cormorant                      
Great Blue Heron    
Great Egret  
Little Blue Heron              
Reddish Egret                
Snowy Egret    
Green Heron                      
Black-crowned Night Heron                  
Brant              
Mallard                
Gadwall                  
Northern Pintail            
Cinnamon Teal                      
American Wigeon          
Eurasian Wigeon                      
Northern Shoveler                  
Redhead                      
Ring-necked Duck                      
Greater Scaup                      
Lesser Scaup                
Bufflehead              
Surf Scoter                
Red-breasted Merganser                  
Ruddy Duck              
Northern Harrier                    
White-tailed Kite                      
Red-tailed Hawk                
Osprey            
American Kestrel              
Peregrine Falcon                      
American Coot                      █
Black-bellied Plover      
Semipalmated Plover              
Snowy Plover                    
Killdeer              
American Avocet      
Black-necked Stilt      
Greater Yellowlegs              
Willet
Spotted Sandpiper                    
Long-billed Curlew    
Marbled Godwit  
Ruddy Turnstone                  
Black Turnstone                      
Red Knot                
Sanderling          
Dunlin            
Western Sandpiper        
Least Sandpiper              
Long-billed Dowitcher                      
Short-billed Dowitcher      
Red-necked Phalarope                    
"Olympic" Gull                    
Herring Gull                    
Glaucous-winged Gull                      
Western Gull
California Gull        
Ring-billed Gull      
Heermann's Gull              
Bonaparte's Gull                      
Mew Gull                      
Caspian Tern              
Royal Tern          
Elegant Tern        
Common Tern                      
Forster's Tern
Least Tern                  
Gull-billed Tern                  
Black Skimmer        
Mourning Dove      
Rock Pigeon    
Anna's Hummingbird        
Costa's Hummingbird                    
Belted Kingfisher                
Northern Flicker                      
Black Phoebe              
Say's Phoebe                
Cassin's Kingbird                      
Common Raven                    
American Crow        
Horned Lark              
Northern Rough-winged Swallow                  
Violet-green Swallow                      
Cliff Swallow                
Barn Swallow          
Bushtit                  
Ruby-crowned Kinglet                    ●
Northern Mockingbird                
European Starling    
American Pipit                    
Orange-crowned Warbler                      
Yellow-rumped Warbler                
Savannah Sparrow                  
"Belding's" Savannah Sparrow  
Large-billed Savannah Sparrow                      
White-crowned Sparrow              
Western Meadowlark                    
Brewer's Blackbird                
Hooded Oriole                    
Lawrence's Goldfinch                      
House Finch        
House Sparrow    

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