WORDS & IMAGES: DANA BENNER
Best Wildlife viewing in the San Diego area
There are few places in this country where a person can go from ocean to river bottoms and then to the desert all in the matter of a few hours. San Diego is one of those places, and offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities – close to a city – in California.
It is hard to believe that in an urban area this large one would find wildlife. It is not uncommon to see coyotes, fox, bobcat and even occasionally a mountain lion as they cross the roads at night. Hotel parking lots are great places to sit and watch for activity. Snakes and lizards can often be seen warming themselves on the pavement. Vacant lots provide homes for ground squirrels, rabbits, snakes, lizards and other creatures.
Heading out into the desert you will find many different types of wildlife, each one unique in how they have adapted to conditions. Don’t let the beauty of the desert mask the dangers.
Mission Trails Regional Park
A good place to start your search for desert wildlife is Mission Trails Regional Park. Located just eight miles north-east from downtown San Diego, the 7220 acre park is a great example of what the San Diego area must have looked like prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s. Walk slowly and pay attention. You will be surprised at what you will see. In among the Black sage and California sagebrush can be found snakes and a host of lizards. Coyotes, bobcats hunt this scrubland for rabbits, deer mice, ground squirrels and other rodents. In the rocky hills mountain lions can be found though they are rarely seen by visitors. You may see deer along the trails. Birds abound here. You’ll see hummingbirds, sparrows and other small birds darting in and out of the brush. In the sky you will see Red-tailed hawks and other raptors soaring on the thermals rising up from the desert floor.
Tips for visiting the Desert
- Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It is much cooler during these times so it is best for humans and animals alike. On a side note, the CDFW (California Department of Fish and Wildlife) has put out information that recommends that people use caution when venturing out at these times as they are when animals such as mountain lions are the most active.
- If you do go out during these times never go alone. While these large predators rarely attack humans it has happened.
- Carry plenty of water and drink often. It is very easy to suffer from dehydration without even knowing about it until it is too late.
- Wear the proper clothing. Proper footwear, like high ankle hiking boots will help keep you from turning an ankle. A wide brimmed hat will help protect your head and eyes from the sun. Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts. Clothing made from UV protective material is perfect for the desert.
- Above all, have a plan. Don’t wonder around aimlessly. Tell someone where you are going and when you are expected back. Bad things do happen to even those who are prepared.
- The desert is full of things that can stick, bite or sting you. There are eight species of rattlesnakes found in Southern California. Be careful of where you put your hands and feet. Stay on trails and never use your hands to turn rocks. The undersides and edges of rocks are perfect places for snakes, scorpions and spiders to hide.
La Jolla Cove
The desert and the ocean are two entirely different environments, but equally rewarding. Whether from shore or by boat you are liable to see dolphins, seals, sea lions and even whales. Numerous sea birds and even some land animals will be encountered.
Seals and sea lions, like whales and dolphins, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act which prohibits the killing, harming or encroaching upon any marine mammal. La Jolla Cove (just 15 miles north of downtown San Diego) offers you the ability to view these animals in a manner that protects both the animals and the people watching them. The true draw of the coast is the whales and to see whales up close you need to get out into deeper water. On any whale watch you are likely to encounter California Gray whales, Blue whales, Minke whales, Pacific Humpback whales and dolphins.
Mission Trails Regional Park
One Father Junipero Sierra Tr.
San Diego, CA 92119
La Jolla Cove
Dana Benner has been writing about all aspects of the outdoors for over 30 years with his work appearing in both regional and national publications in the U.S. He holds a M.Ed. in Heritage Studies and teaches Sociology, History and Political Science at the university level. Dana is based in the USA and is a regular guest writer for Our Planet Travel.
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