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Tijuana Slough NWR

Approximate Birding Time: 2-3 hours

Facilities:  There are restrooms at the visitor center or at next-door Imperial Beach Sports Park, off 4th Street.

Directions: Visitor Center:  Take I-5 to Coronado Avenue in Imperial Beach (NOT the exit to Coronado Island!!!!  Imperial Beach is almost to the border...).  Go right at the stop, and follow Coronado Avenue (which turns into Imperial Beach Ave.) for about three miles; turn left on 3rd Street, where you'll see a sign for the refuge, and the road will curve around to the center's parking area on your right.

McCoy Trail

   There are three major access points that I like to bird; McCoy Trail starts from the Visitor Center and heads down into the slough area, about a five minute walk or so to the canal (unless you're distracted by lots of birds!).  The vegetation around the center can host common songbirds such as Anna's and Costa's Hummingbirds, Black Phoebe, Western Scrub Jay, Hermit Thrush (winter), House Wren, Bushtit, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet (winter), Yellow-rumped Warbler (winter), Common Yellowthroat, and any number of sparrows including Song, Lincoln's (winter), and White-crowned (also winter).  Suburban species such as Mourning Dove, Cassin's Kingbirds, Hooded Oriole (summer), and Northern Mockingbirds (in addition to what has been affectionately referred to as "Euro-trash"...) like the telephone wires.  Watch the skies for various swallows, especially in spring.    Depending on the tides, the ponds can be full, dry, or anywhere in between; watch for waterfowl in the canals (including grebes and coots), and shorebirds in the tidal ponds.  This is probably the best place in the county to see the endangered Light-footed Clapper Rail, as they are often poking around in the open, regardless of the tide.  Even if you don't see them, you're bound to hear their raucous duetting around the marsh!  The endangered Belding's Savannah Sparrow also resides here and often sits up on the fence or bridge, along with the similar but larger Song Sparrow.  Marsh Wrens are sometimes curious enough to come out in the open, and on rare occasion you may have American Goldfinches feeding in the weeds next to the trail or Dark-eyed Juncos feeding on the ground in winter.  Watch also for Northern Harriers or White-tailed Kites cruising the open area, as well as Loggerhead Shrike and Say's Phoebe (more likely in winter).  At the end of the trail, a rest on the bench watching the marsh might even yield an American Bittern in winter!  You really never know what can show up here; for several years a pair of Yellow-crowned Night Herons hung out and actually bred in the trees in the apartment complex next door, and a Hepatic Tanager showed up there and in the sports park for two winters in a row! 

Canal at the footbridge

5th Street Trailhead (with kiosk that is no longer there...)

  From said bench, you used to be able to see the kiosk across the way (looking east) that marked the trailhead from the end of 5th Street (officially called the River Mouth Trail), but it had disappeared as of this writing!  To get to this trail, retrace your route to Imperial Beach Ave. and turn right.  At 5th Street turn right again and go as far as you can; there's a small parking area on the right.  Personally, I prefer to do this trail first, before the helicopters at the air field next door start their touch-n-go's (forget hearing anything once they start...)!  Besides the normal suburban birds, watch for Western Meadowlarks along the fenceline, as well as American Pipits in winter (look and listen carefully for stray longspurs as well), Blue Grosbeaks and Western Kingbirds in summer, and Loggerhead Shrikes and Horned Larks year round.  Killdeer and sometimes Black-bellied Plovers are usually seen on the grass behind the fence; look carefully for a stray Pacific Golden PloverBurrowing Owls have also begun nesting on base; look for the tell-tale signs marking the nests!  The ponds (distant, but in good light from this angle) can have any number of ducks in winter and shorebirds year round, but they can be low and hard to see.  Follow the trail south as far as you can; on the way check the large patch of bulrushes on the right for Marsh Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows, and even Soras; the little intermittent pond on the left will often have at least a pair of relatively cooperative Mallards hanging around in it.  This is also a good stretch to look for Savannah Sparrows: year round the Belding's is common, but in winter they are joined by paler, nominate races.  Keep a lookout as well for the plainer-backed Large-billed Savannah Sparrow, which shows up along here occasionally. American Kestrels seem to like this area as well.

Freshwater marsh

Trail to the mouth in spring

On a clear day you can see the Los Coronados Islands, officially in Mexican waters!

Tijuana River

Mob of Elegant Terns and Brown Pelicans

As the trail turns right, you'll see the Tijuana River just south of you, and the trail will lead you to a bench that overlooks the river mouth.  Sit here for a few and enjoy a variety of gulls, terns, shorebirds (some relatively close), pelicans, cormorants, and herons (including the vagrant Reddish Egret).  In summer, Elegant and Forster's Terns dominate, with lesser numbers of Gull-billed and Royal.  Black Skimmers can occasionally be found here as well.  Often a wintering Pacific Golden Plover can be seen along the dunes, although these are generally easier to see by walking down the shoreline from the end of Seacoast Drive to the mouth.  This is also where the famous Belcher's Gull was found, which hung around for several months in 1997!  After enjoying the mob, if you go directly north from there, you eventually come to the canal across from the McCoy Trail (several of us have wished they would build a bridge at that spot!).  There's a fresh water pond just before the trail's end on your left with another bench, and this can be a great place to observe ducks up close, and perhaps bitternsShorebirds such as Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet are more likely here than in other areas of the refuge.  On the way back, there's a connector trail on your left that makes the return trip just a hair shorter.

The slough in bloom

View from the dune at the end of Seacoast

(if you hike the dunes to the mouth)  The last place I frequent is at the end of Seacoast Drive; return to Imperial Beach Blvd. and turn left.  Go all the way to Seacoast Drive (the last street before you hit the ocean) and turn left.  Park as close to the end as you can; from here you can scan the marsh from the observation deck and sometimes see Clapper Rails along the edge, although during a very hide tide they are easier to see if you take a stroll up the sidewalk, where they are often very close!  Ducks (look especially for Red-breasted Merganser in winter), grebes,  and herons (including Little Blue and on very rare occasion Tricolored) frequent the open water, and this is a good place to spot harriers and (on very rare occasions) Short-eared OwlsShorebirds can be seen closer to the mouth.  Scanning the ocean from the beach can be very productive in winter, with large numbers of Surf Scoters, Western Grebes (with the occasional Clark's), and various gulls in winter; look also for loons, cormorants, Brown Pelicans, and distant shearwatersShorebirds frequent the beach, and this can be a good place for Semipalmated and Snowy Plovers (although your chances for the latter are better if you hike down the beach to the mouth).  Keep an eye out for a passing Peregrine Falcon as well.  As of this writing (January 2008) the top of the dunes appears to be open to hikers, but it has been closed in the past, so be aware of possible changes in accessibility! 

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                      
Sooty Shearwater                      
American White Pelican                    
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant  
Brandt's Cormorant                
American Bittern                      
Great Blue Heron      
Great Egret  
Little Blue Heron                  
Reddish Egret                ●    
Tricolored Heron                      
Snowy Egret
Green Heron                      
Black-crowned Night Heron                      
Yellow-crowned Night Heron                      
White-faced Ibis                      
Brant                      
Mallard    
Gadwall                    
Northern Pintail                    
Blue-winged Teal                  
Cinnamon Teal              
Green-winged Teal                  
American Wigeon            
Northern Shoveler                  
Lesser Scaup              
Bufflehead              
Surf Scoter                
Red-breasted Merganser                
Ruddy Duck            
Turkey Vulture                      
Northern Harrier      
White-tailed Kite                    
Sharp-shinned Hawk                      
Cooper's Hawk                
Red-tailed Hawk              
Osprey          
American Kestrel              
Peregrine Falcon                    
American Coot          
Clapper Rail        
Sora                      
Black-bellied Plover    
Pacific Golden Plover                    
Semipalmated Plover          
Snowy Plover                      
Killdeer    
American Avocet          
Black-necked Stilt                    
Greater Yellowlegs                
Willet
Whimbrel    
Long-billed Curlew  
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone                      
Red Knot                      
Sanderling                  
Dunlin                    
Western Sandpiper            
Least Sandpiper          
Long-billed Dowitcher                    
Short-billed Dowitcher        
Glaucous-winged Gull                    
Western Gull
California Gull          
Ring-billed Gull        
Heermann's Gull              
Belcher's Gull                    
Caspian Tern            
Royal Tern          
Elegant Tern          
Common Tern                    
Forster's Tern        
Least Tern                      
Gull-billed Tern                    
Black Skimmer                  
Mourning Dove  
Rock Pigeon  
Red-crowned Parrot                      
Short-eared Owl                      
Burrowing Owl                      
Anna's Hummingbird    
Costa's Hummingbird                
Rufous Hummingbird                      
Belted Kingfisher              
Black Phoebe      
Say's Phoebe        
Cassin's Kingbird                      
Western Kingbird                      
Loggerhead Shrike                
American Crow        
Common Raven              
Western Scrub Jay                    
Horned Lark              
Northern Rough-winged Swallow                  
Violet-green Swallow                      
Tree Swallow                    
Cliff Swallow                
Barn Swallow                      
Bushtit        
House Wren            
Marsh Wren          
Bewick's Wren                      
Ruby-crowned Kinglet                      
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                      
Hermit Thrush                    
Northern Mockingbird  
European Starling        
American Pipit              
Orange-crowned Warbler                    
Yellow-rumped Warbler            
"Myrtle" Warbler                      
Common Yellowthroat
Hepatic Tanager                      
Blue Grosbeak                      
California Towhee          
Savannah Sparrow        
"Belding's" Savannah Sparrow  
"Large-billed" Savannah Sparrow                  
White-crowned Sparrow            
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow                      
Dark-eyed Junco                      
Lapland Longspur                      
Western Meadowlark    
Red-winged Blackbird              
Brewer's Blackbird                      
Great-tailed Grackle                      
Hooded Oriole                      
Lawrence's Goldfinch                      
American Goldfinch                
House Finch
House Sparrow  

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