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Broad-winged Hawk (Mount Soledad) and fall raptor-watching sites in San Diego County

Several of us have been talking for years about trying some fall raptor watching from Mount Soledad in La Jolla. Finally this year we are starting to do just that. We are still not sure exactly what weather conditions are best–although today's easterly flow seemed like a good time to try–or what time of day might be best. Our main goal is to find Broad-winged Hawks, and I am happy to report that one flew by the mountain, heading NORTH, today at 11:56AM. Late morning and mid-day has been the preferred time to look for this very rare species out at nearby Point Loma, and perhaps today's Soledad bird had already gotten to Point Loma and had turned around and was heading back some distance to the north in an attempt to re-orient? BUT, I have heard that fall hawkwatching is best at inner coastal plain foothill sites in southern Santa Barbara County in the mid- and late afternoon, and where fair numbers of Broad-wingeds and Swainson's have been documented in recent years. The most Broad-wingeds, by far, are seen in CA at the Marin Headlands hawkwatch site (where late morning and mid-day are good times to look, as also in San Luis Obispo County foothills), and there they have put satellite tags on several Broad-wingeds in recent years. The route these relatively few tagged birds have largely taken southbound, is down the Coast Ranges to Santa Barbara County, then east along the Transverse Ranges (Santa Ynez, San Gabriel, and San Bernardino Mountains), then hang a right and go south along the San Jacintos and our own Cuyamacas/Lagunas, and then cross into Mexico around Tecate to Campo. But, if a Broad-winged heading to the tropics for the winter knows what's good for it, it will avoid the dead-end Baja Peninsula and instead head farther east and come down through mainland West Mexico.

So…..in addition to trying Mount Soledad, if one has the time and inclination, an even better spot (based on the limited satellite tracking) would probably be to find a good raptor watching site on either the west flank of the Cuyamacas or on the east flank of the Lagunas. The lattter area is much easier to figure out, as there are several well-known superb view-points, which look up and down the east flank and out over the desert, along Sunrise Highway north of Mount Laguna, for example. The key is, find a place with a noticeable passage of other migrant raptors such as Turkey Vultures (easiest) or accipiters or perhaps harriers. Presumably sometime between late-ish morning and mid- or late afternoon. (NOTE: Be aware that unfortunately one cannot presently try there, due to high fire danger National Forest closures.)

My incredible 2-1/4 hours of raptor watching at Mount Soledad today produced TWO migrant raptors: the Broad-winged and my first-of-season Sharp-shinned Hawk (southbound). Otherwise the multiple Red-taileds and Red-shouldereds were presumably all or almost all locally resident birds. Also good numbers of White-throated Swifts flying around, along with a few Vaux's Swifts. Wish I had been there right after dawn to see if the easterly flow resulted in any sort of fall passerine morning-flight (much more poorly known and less concentrated than the spring morning-flights), but I was elsewhere early on. But even in the late morning I saw a few groups of Yellow-rumped Warblers fly by, as well as a Warbling Vireo and a couple gnatcatchers. I see that Jay Desgrosellier tried "the mount" a few days ago for just one hour, and slightly earlier in the AM, and he had one migrant raptor: a southbound Northern Harrier; also a White-winged Dove. So, again, we are not exactly talking Hawk Mountain or Cape May here!!!!!

The next two weeks or so should be the peak season for Broad-wingeds, although stuff seems to be running a little late this year up at Marin (in part due to smoke issues?), but Broad-wingeds are possible as late as perhaps mid-November.

–Paul Lehman, San Diego
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