From Whales to Warblers: San Diego’s Winter Wildlife-Watching
January 2nd, 2017|SofiaBlog


Royal Tern (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

San Diego’s an amazing city for nature lovers, given the diversity of habitats in our hinterland and the spectacular lineup of public lands arrayed throughout. Wintertime has its own appeal on this count: It’s a great season to be out appreciating the natural world of Southern California—not least because the temperatures are so darn balmy compared to most of the rest of the country!

Wintertime Birdwatching

Those clement conditions mean a heck of a lot of North American birds decide to spend the winter around greater San Diego (and we can’t say we blame them). One of the best spots for eyeballing feathered critters is the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses fertile saltmarshes, tidal mudflats, and other brackish habitats in two separate units: Sweetwater Marsh and South San Diego Bay. These are excellent places to look for wintering waterfowl and raptors as well as shorebirds such as long-billed curlews and red knots.

The Imperial Beach area’s another primo destination for birders, with the Tijuana Estuary—the biggest coastal wetland complex in Southern California—offering precious refuge for hundreds of species of birds. Along with many shorebirds, you can scout for offshore loons and royal terns and the odd longspur or two; you may even luck out with a glimpse of the light-footed Ridgway’s rail, a saltmarsh phantom found only in this region.

In parks and greenspaces throughout the San Diego area, you’ve got a good chance of seeing wintering yellow-rumped and orange-crowned warblers. Great horned owls are already starting their breeding ceremonies, and hummingbirds their courtship displays. A whole slew of year-round residents—from great blue herons to scrub jays to dark-eyed juncos—mean you’re liable to have something to admire on any birding outing around the city.

The San Diego Audubon Society leads guided birdwatching forays year-round; some of the winter outings are to the South San Diego Bay Salt Works, a portion of the San Diego Bay NWR that’s normally closed to the public and which is host this time of year to a variety of waterbirds as well as the always-dramatic peregrine falcon. Meanwhile, there are free guided bird walks in the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve on the first, third, and fifth Sundays of the month.

March of the Whales

The migration of Northeast Pacific gray whales between Baja California and Alaska every year makes one of the defining strands of San Diego’s natural heritage. January’s typically the best time to catch the show from the headlands of Cabrillo National Monument: Set up shop at the Whale Overlook or the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and scan the ocean for the spouts of southbound grays. With binoculars, you can often see the whales’ mottled backs surfacing, even upraised tail flukes.

Winter Wildlife—and Top-Shelf Hospitality!

Whether a 30-ton leviathan or a pocketsize hummingbird, wintertime San Diego’s ideal for wildlife-watching. At the Sofia Hotel, you’re perfectly poised to mix up your cosmopolitan R&R in America’s Greatest City with daytrips to San Diego Bay NWR, Cabrillo National Monument, and other lovely refuges. Come visit us soon!