< Birding Main Page

"Easy Birder" Driving Routes

San Felipe Grade (S2)

Paved all the way

Approximate Length: 17 miles

Approximate Birding Time: 3 hours (4 with the two optional hikes)

Traffic: Moderate, but can be noisy as this is the most popular grade with the big trucks...

Facilities:  None along this route, but there are restrooms at the two Cuyamaca campgrounds on the way up and restaurants in Santa Ysabel on the way home.

Directions:  To avoid Ramona and Julian, take I-8 east to the Descanso/Japatul Road exit (highway 79) and turn left (north) under the freeway.  Follow 79 through Cuyamaca State Park (note that 79 makes a hard left a couple of miles from the freeway) up to where it Ts with highway 78 near Julian.  Go right, and follow 78 down the grade to S2 (locally known as Scissors Crossing).  Turn left (north) on S2 (note that it zigzags) and start birding here at the crossing.

Early morning at Scissors Crossing

Optional hike: PCT @ Scissors Crossing + (there's a mild rise at one point, but otherwise it's flat).  Just past where S2 heads north, the PCT picks up on the south side of highway 78.  You'll see a turnoff for the Sentenac Birding Trail on your left, which is an hour long loop, part of which goes through soft sand or water (depending on if the creek is running), so if you prefer a shorter, easier walk continue straight along the PCT, which eventually dumps out along S2, where you can simply follow the road back to your car.  If there's water in the creek and you prefer to keep your feet dry, you may want to skip the trail altogether and just walk the bridge down to the "southbound" S2 and back.  Any way you take it, this area can be quite productive, as this lush riparian area houses birds from the foothills not usually found in the desert.  Here, look for both Nuttall's and Ladder-backed Woodpecker (knowing their unique vocalizations helps here; beware of hybrids!), Northern Flicker, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wrentit, Western Scrub Jay, Common Yellowthroat, Black Phoebe, and Song Sparrow year-round; Yellow-rumped Warbler and White-crowned Sparrow in winter, and Bullock's Oriole and Bell's Vireo in summer.  Look for Western Tanagers and other migrants in the spring; even herons are possible!  Other desert-related species can also be found here, such as Black-throated and Brewer's (winter) Sparrows, White-winged Dove, and Verdin.  Chaparral species which are also found in our deserts include California Thrasher and Towhee, Ash-throated Flycatcher (summer), and California Quail.  Check for migrating swallows as well; one year a large flock of Lawrence's Goldfinches had the place staked out!  For the first few miles up S2 the riparian area remains lush; listen for Blue Grosbeak, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and the newly-colonized Summer Tanagers in (appropriately) summer.  Although I missed it for purposes of this project, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo showed up during the summer of 2006, so they're worth keeping an ear out for!

Southbound PCT (taken shortly after a controlled burn)

San Felipe Creek

Further up the road the big trees die out for awhile, and the habitat becomes more open and scrubby, good for Loggerhead Shrikes, Northern Mockingbirds, and Scott's Orioles (summer).  Across the street the cactus and scrub are good for Phainopepla, Cactus and Bewick's Wrens, and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  Keep an ear out for Rock Wrens along the hillsides, and watch for Greater Roadrunners crossing the road.  Further up the grade listen for Mountain Quail in spring.

Optional Trail: San Felipe Valley Wilderness Area  (Very mild incline on the way down to and up from the valley, where the trail is flat.)  At about mile 5.5 (from Scissors Crossing) there's a parking area on the left and a short trail down to the creek; the Pines Fire of 2002 devastated much of this area, but vegetation is coming back and so are the birds (particularly Lazuli Buntings in spring and summer).  This hike might yield some birds otherwise hard to get from the road, such as Common Ground Dove, as well as sparrows and migrating warblers (Black-throated Gray Warbler and Indigo Bunting has been kicked up in here).  Dark-eyed Juncos seem to like this area in winter, and Lark Sparrows start flocking here in late summer.  Listen for Costa's Hummingbirds zinging in early summer.  Willow Flycatchers have been reported from deep within the partially burned willow riparian area, but have not yet been heard from the road.

Burned area

After a rare snow in the Volcan Mountains

Desert habitat on the east side of the road

Continuing on, you eventually reach oak savannah habitat and start picking up expected birds such as Black-headed Grosbeak (summer), Western Bluebird, Red-shouldered Hawk, Western Scrub Jay, Oak Titmouse, Acorn Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Chipping Sparrow.  Black-chinned Sparrows are repopulating the burned chaparral areas in summer, to be replaced by Fox Sparrows in winter.  Past the turnoff to Montezuma Grade, the rolling grasslands of the Vista Water District come into view; unfortunately the Mataguay Fire of 2004 took out much of this area as well, but there's still enough habitat to support Western Kingbirds in summer, American Pipit and Vesper and Savannah Sparrows in winter, and Lark Sparrows and Horned Larks year round.  Look for American Kestrels and other raptors (keep an eye out for specialties like Ferruginous Hawk and Prairie Falcon in winter and rarities like Swainson's Hawk in migration).  The riparian area along Buena Vista Creek was spared, however; listen for Bullock's Orioles, Blue Grosbeaks (both summer) and other riparian birds, and check the very small marsh for nesting Tricolored Blackbirds (Brewer's and Red-winged can also be plentiful in here, as well as Western Meadowlark).   Check the larger trees for nesting Great Blue Heron.  A stand of pines down the road is often good for Lawrence's Goldfinch, and possibly Mountain Chickadee, and the willow woodland that comes up to the road can have Yellow Warblers in summer.  The route ends at the intersection with highway 79.

Oak savannah habitat

View from the summit

Grasslands of the Vista Water District

Pines and willows near the end of the route

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 indicate vagrant or irruptive species and are not to be expected.

< Birding Main Page

   
 

 

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

Great Blue Heron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turkey Vulture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White-tailed Kite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooper's Hawk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swainson's Hawk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-tailed Hawk

 

 

 

Ferruginous Hawk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Kestrel

 

 

 

 

 

Prairie Falcon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California Quail

 

 

Mountain Quail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Turkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Killdeer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mourning Dove

 

 

White-winged Dove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Ground Dove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater Roadrunner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barn Owl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White-throated Swift

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna's Hummingbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costa's Hummingbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Flicker

 

 

 

 

 

Acorn Woodpecker

 

 

 

 

 

Nuttall's Woodpecker

 

 

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

 

 

 

 

Ash-throated Flycatcher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Phoebe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Say's Phoebe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western Kingbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loggerhead Shrike

 

 

 

 

Warbling Vireo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bell's Vireo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Crow

 

 

 

 

Common Raven

 

Western Scrub Jay

 

Horned Lark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Violet-green Swallow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cliff Swallow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain Chickadee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oak Titmouse

 

 

 

 

Verdin

 

Bushtit

 

 

 

 

White-breasted Nuthatch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

House Wren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bewick's Wren

 

 

Cactus Wren

 

 

Rock Wren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrentit

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western Bluebird

 

 

 

 

 

American Robin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Mockingbird

 

 

 

 

 

California Thrasher

 

 

 

European Starling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Pipit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phainopepla

 

 

 

 

Orange-crowned Warbler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow Warbler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-throated Gray Warbler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Yellowthroat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wilson's Warbler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow-breasted Chat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Tanager

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western Tanager

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-headed Grosbeak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Grosbeak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lazuli Bunting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indigo Bunting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotted Towhee

 

 

Green-tailed Towhee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California Towhee

Black-throated Sparrow

 

 

Black-chinned Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brewer's Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chipping Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savannah Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vesper Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lark Sparrow

 

 

 

 

White-crowned Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Slate-colored" Fox Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song Sparrow

 

 

 

Dark-eyed Junco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western Meadowlark

 

 

 

Brown-headed Cowbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tricolored Blackbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-winged Blackbird

 

 

 

 

 

Brewer's Blackbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great-tailed Grackle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bullock's Oriole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hooded Oriole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scott's Oriole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lawrence's Goldfinch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesser Goldfinch

 

 

House Finch

 

source: http://miriameaglemon.com/Birding Pages/San Diego Birding Pages/By Site/San Felipe Grade.html

Go to top