Monday 27 April 2020

Southern California January 2020 - Logistics and Itinerary

Southern California, 10th-12th January 2020

I didn't think I'd every post another of these, but here we are, Covid-19 has had all manner of strange effects. This may also be my only birding trip of 2020 so probably best to make the most of it. Anyway, what started out as a vague plan to visit Joshua Tree National Park for some winter R&R instead turned into a frenetic two and a half days of all out birding around San Diego and the Salton Sea. Using eBird I worked out a good mixture of sites that I could visit whilst driving a large loop from Los Angeles down the coast to San Diego and then back via the inland route, maximising species diversity and offering the possibility of quite a number of both new ABA and world birds. It was a great success, although as ever an extra day would have been handy. This is of course always the case but I would never change this. Before lockdown I was forever short on time and my specialty had become short intense trips - I really enjoy the challenge that they bring. I never did see the Joshua Trees…


  • Two and a half days of mid January birding in Southern California, mainly around San Diego and the Salton Sea.
  • Getting there: Whilst there are direct flights to San Diego from London, there are more flights and cheaper options to Los Angeles, and enough birding sites between the two cities to easily break up the two hour drive. I actually came via San Francisco as I wanted to visit some family I have there, and so arrived in Los Angeles at around lunchtime on a Friday afternoon. I used a combination of British Airways and American Airlines.
  • Car Hire: I hired a Ford Escape SUV from Avis for three days which cost about £200. This is a little on the expensive side but I enjoy having a large car in the US and it meant I could have my tripod permanently extended along the length of the vehicle.
  • Driving: Other than horrendous traffic all over LA, as easy as it gets. The downside of flying to and from LA is that you could find yourself in a superjam with a flight to catch. There are some decent birding sites very close to the airport, so my recommendation would be to leave earlier than you need to and spend any spare time you have at Ballona Freshwater Marsh, Marina del Rey or Dockweiler State Beach.
  • Accommodation: I booked my first night in San Diego so as to be close to La Jolla for Saturday morning. There are many options due to the presence of Sea World and other attractions. As I was a little unsure of my timings I did not organise the second night in advance - I ended up staying in a motel in El Centro, an unremarkable town south of the Salton Sea close to the Mexican border.
  • Literature: I used the Audubon App and researched all my targets using eBird which really comes into its own in America.


Day 1: Around LAX I birded briefly at Ballona and Marina del Rey, before driving south to Bolsa Chica and onwards to San Diego where I spent the night.
Day 2: Early morning photographing Brown Pelicans at La Jolla, and then up until midday birding a variety of sites either on the coast of close to the Mexican border. In the afternoon I headed inland to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park via Lindo Lake. Evening drive east to El Centro.

Day 3: Morning visiting the main sites around the Salton Sea, starting the southern part of Sonny Bono NWR and then making my way up the east side. Early afternoon at Palm Desert and a quick stop at Mystic Lake before heading back to the airport at Los Angeles for a 7pm flight.


  1. I'm looking forward to this report! My husband and I covered much of this ground in late October - Salton Sea, Indio, Joshua Tree, Riverside, La Jolla Cove - some bird photography for me, but also visiting old friends and chilling. I'm always amazed (and impressed) at how you manage to squeeze so much activity (and distance) into such a short space of time. If I learnt anything from the trip it's that I'm very immersive and have to be dragged away from any given place. The Salton Sea, in particular, is somewhere that I could have spent much, much longer, not just for the birds, but for the crazy history (and uncertain future) of the place. Some very sad and thought-provoking stories there, maybe you were planning on discussing it. Anyway, bring on the Southern Californian birds! (And mammals.)

    1. Focus is almost exclusively the birds rather than the history - as you note I don't have time for immersion. One day I will revisit all these places in a more leisurely manner, but for now it is all a rush job I'm afraid.

    2. Everyone has their own way of doing things. I admire your energy. And you are a very entertaining writer. (It's a rainy day here in Paradise, so I'm commenting on my favorite blogs.)

    3. Well it's nice to hear from you, thanks. The next few days are all California - I'm rather dragging it out due to lockdown and there not being a great deal else to do.