On Saturday, June 4 STAY COOL members and their families met for a wonderful guided hike and wildlife observation morning at San Diego Audubon’s Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary. Located near Lakeside off Wildcat Canyon Road, the 785-acre open space sanctuary is owned and maintained by San Diego Audubon. They have done a superb job maintaining the land in as natural a state as possible, with more than 300 native plant species and hundreds of bird species to observe.
We began our hike in the Frank Gander Nature Education Center and met our Naturalist Educator, Judie Lincer, who is also a board member with San Diego Children and Nature. Her insight into the local flora and fauna was intriguing for the five young boys (members’ children and grandchildren) who were joining us for the hike.
We then set out to explore the Sanctuary’s trail system, with Judie stopping to point out tracks along the way, including mule dule, raccoon and bobcat. We spotted butterflies, large lizards and even the rare tarantula hawk, which is a spider wasp. The boys got a kick out of Judie’s enthusiasm for the scat we found along the way – most likely from a bobcat.
The region was devastated by the large 2003 Cedar fire, but fortunately for us, the sanctuary has completely recovered. Judie pointed out coast live oak, San Diego monkey flower, chapparal whitethorn, coastal sagebrush, yucca and white sage. The wildflowers were past their peak, but there still was an abundance of color from blooming native wildflowers all around us.
We learned about the traditional uses of some of the native plants, especially wild cucumber, or manroot, which all parts of the plant are toxic to some degree. The root contains a substance that stuns fish, and Native Americans “fished” by tossing pieces of roots into ponds and streams to slow down the fish so they could easily catch them.
The more adventurous of the crew climbed up the rock formations along the trail to check out the view point.
Eventually we reached the yurt where Resident Manager Phil Lambert lives. Happy to be in the shade, we met with him and used the community binoculars to view the active bird life. We enjoyed watching the many native birds enjoy the free bird seed and water offered by the Sanctuary. We spotted hummingbirds, goldfinches, phoebes, towhees, jays, ravens and squirrels. A large coven of California quail stopped by for a visit.
We learned from Phil that the region has suffered dramatically from climate change, and more specifically, the drought and loss of underground water supply. He noted that the oaks haven’t produced acorns in four years – causing a food shortage for native animals like scrub jays, woodpeckers, woodrats and mule deer. These animals, therefore, must go elsewhere for their food source.
The changing climate has also allowed the spread of invasive pests. Many of the trees have suffered from borers such as the bark beetle, largely because the lack of ground water and drought prevents the trees from producing sap. Sap is a natural defense mechanism that helps prevent borers from infecting the tree.
The highlight was a pair of ash-throated flycatchers that returned each year to nest in a bird house and eat mealworms practically out of the hand of Phil. We also met his daughter who showed us a Rosy Boa they had rescued – and the boys had fun getting a close up look at the snake.
On the walk back to the parking area, we made our way through a thick riparian oak woodland and Judie pointed out berries and fruits the natives used for a food source, including the manzanita berries and lemonade berries.
STAY COOL would like to thank the 17 STAY COOL attendees that joined us for this educational hike, and to San Diego Audubon Executive Director Chris Redfern, for reaching out to us about this opportunity. We are also so appreciative to Judie and Phil (and his family) for taking time out to share their knowledge with us.
Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary is open on Sundays to the public – but closed in July and August. The sustainability of the Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary trail system depends on both volunteer and monetary support. To learn more about how to support this sanctuary or to become a San Diego Audubon Society member, click here.