|The birding scene is huge: More than 480 species have been observed in San Diego County, more than in any other county in the United States. The area is a haven along the Pacific Flyway -- the migratory route along the Pacific Coast -- and the diverse range of ecosystems also helps to lure a wide range of winged creatures. It's possible for birders to enjoy four distinct bird habitats in a single day.
Among the best places for bird-watching is the Chula Vista Nature Center at Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge (tel. 619/409-5900; www.chulavistanaturecenter.org), where you may spot rare residents like the light-footed clapper rail and the western snowy plover, as well as predatory species like the American peregrine falcon and northern harrier.
The nature center also has aquariums for sharks and rays, aviaries featuring raptors and shorebirds, and a garden featuring native plants. Also worth visiting along the coast is the 25-acre Kendall Frost Marsh on the east side of Crown Point, in Mission Bay, which draws skimmers, shorebirds, brant, and, in winter, the large-billed savannah sparrow; and the Torrey Pines State Reserve, north of La Jolla, a protected habitat for swifts, thrashers, woodpeckers, and wren tits. Inland, Mission Trails Regional Park is a 5,800-acre urban park that is visited by orange-crowned warblers, swallows, raptors, and numerous riparian species; and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (see chapter 12) makes an excellent day trip from San Diego -- 268 species of birds have been recorded here.
Birders coming to the area should obtain a copy of the free brochure Birding Hot Spots of San Diego, available at the Port Administration Building, 3165 Pacific Hwy., and at the San Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park, San Diego Natural History Museum, and Birch Aquarium. It is also posted online at www.portofsandiego.org/sandiego_environment/bird_brochure.asp. The San Diego Audubon Society is another source of birding information (tel. 619/682-7200; www.sandiegoaudubon.org).