If you Google California Gnatcatcher, you can find lots of information about this endangered species, including that there are about 2000 pairs of these birds left in the United States. What you can't find as easily online, are directions for how to find these birds in San Diego County. If you find yourself flying into San Diego, and want to know where to go find California Gnatcatchers, here's the post for you.
After landing in San Diego, I got the rental car and cruised north on I-5. I had read that San Elijo Lagoon north of San Diego had lots of gnatcatchers, so that's where I headed first. Turned out to be the right call, as I was able to find several California Gnatcatchers within 20 minutes of arriving at the lagoon about lunch time.
Directions: Exit I-5 at Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach. Head west towards the beach and turn right onto Rios Avenue. Drive just over half a mile to the end of the road and park. There is a trail heading down towards the lagoon (map here). After maybe a quarter mile, the trail splits. Stay straight (don't turn left). I had four California Gnatcatchers in the short coastal sage shrub between the trail split and the large dead-looking tree 100 yards down the trail.
Lots of other birds in the area, including Cassin's Kingbirds, Wrentit, Bushtits, California Quail, and Western Scrub-Jay. Had to whisk the Audubon's Warblers away with a stick. Same with House Finches. All in all, I was there for maybe 45 minutes and saw 50 species in the brush and on the lagoon. Looks like the gnatcatchers are pretty easy to find there, I just walked slowly until I heard a gnatcatcher like call and waited. Eventually at least four of them were busy feeding in the bushes near the trail. I had them in sight for maybe 15 minutes before they moved on. If you are looking for these guys, just walk slowly and enjoy the trail and the lagoon while you wait for them to appear.
I really enjoyed these little tail-wagging birds, and got great looks at the mostly dark under tail, as well as the dark slate gray plumage. These are amazing little birds, well worth the effort to go out and see. (photo: David Nelson)
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