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Mount Soledad morning flight (general info)

10:10 am

It’s that time of year again to dust off your in-flight migrant landbird skills and contemplate an early-morning visit to Mount Soledad in La Jolla for a couple hours. Paul M. and I were there this morning, April 3, and below are our totals for a “light but noticeable flight” morning that is still early in the season. The peak period for volume and variety is typically from mid-April through mid-May. And the flights can start as early as first light and last usually about 90 minutes to two hours–but the typical peak period starts about a half hour after it first gets light. On days with a low to medium-volume flight, it can be over by 8AM or soon thereafter, continuing in smaller but steady numbers as late as 9AM or slightly later on the better days. A reminder that the needed weather conditions for a reasonable flight are overnight and early morning mostly clear or partly cloudy skies, with calm or, much better yet, some sort of easterly flow (E to NE are best; SE and N can work as well), and perhaps having warmish overnight and early morning temps also helps.
We usually view from along the road in the park, between the entrance and the summit circle, and if the gate is still locked when you arrive you can park just outside and walk in.
For those who rarely or never have tried it, one does need to get a bit of practice at IDing many of these birds in flight, BUT I’d say that a good percent of even the first-timers I’ve seen there have said that they noted that they really picked up on some of the visual clues rather quickly and felt much more comfortable with a bunch of the species even by later that same morning. And many photographers enjoy the challenge and actually do get a reasonable number of fairly good flight shots.
If I think that the weather forecast looks particularly encouraging for a very good flight, I’ll post news the day before. To determine if there is overnight and/or pre-dawn easterly flow, I check the NOAA website and look at the current weather very early in the morning at a few sites which actually give wind speed and direction–which unfortunately seems to be fewer and fewer sites every year! Currently, at least the Mount Soledad and San Diego Airport weather station sites give such wind information. The weather at Soledad can be extra fickle, because the summit area can suffer from coastal fog and low clouds on some mornings when it is clear just a mile or two farther inland. And fog is no good for a flight.
In addition to witnessing lots of regular-occurring passerines performing active migration, this site gets the occasional rarity and is also relatively “good” (at the appropriate dates) for seeing some of the scarcer, uncommon coastal spring migrants such as Olive-sided, Hammond’s, and Gray Flycatchers, Cassin’s Vireo, Purple Martin, Swainson’s Thrush, and MacGillivray’s Warbler–and of course it is also arguably the most reliable site in the county during mid-to-late May for Black Swift under the appropriate weather (partly or mostly overcast, cool, head-winds, late-season front, etc.).
Today’s totals, 3 April (6:30-8:45 AM):
Western Kingbird  17
Western Flycatcher  1
Cassin’s Vireo  1
N. R-w Swallow  4
Cliff Swallow  1
Ruby-cr. Kinglet  1
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
Hermit Thrush  1
Chipping Sparrow  6
Golden-crowned Sparrow  4
Orange-cr. Warbler  14
Nashville Warbler  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  15
Black-thr. Gray Warbler  13
Townsend’s Warbler  3
Wilson’s Warbler  3
–Paul Lehman, San Diego