STAY COOL Members Walk through Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary

By Laura Schumacher

On April 28, I joined a group of STAY COOL members for a guided walk through the Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary, a 785-acre preserve near Lakeside owned and maintained by San Diego Audubon. Its mission is to preserve in as complete and natural a state as possible a prime area of coastal chaparral and riparian woodland.

Silverwood was one of the most pristine nature preserves in San Diego. Then the Cedar Fire hit in 2003, turning Silverwood into a “moonscape.” But walking through this preserve 15 years later, we saw first-hand how nature regenerates itself. The area is almost completely recovered.

Silverwood’s resident manager, Phil Lambert, was our guide pointing out native plants, animals and history along the trail. He knows the area intimately after 23 years and explained how the various plants and trees responded to the Cedar Fire. At one point, Phil suddenly stopped talking and looked up at the sky. We all shifted our eyes upward to see a flock of white-throated swifts circling above. “The swifts are migratory and they return to Silverwood every year,” Phil explained. “Today is their first day back and I’ll record this sighting in my log.”

Comfortable benches and wood-stump tables for bird-watching.

On the walk, we learned both the good and the bad about wildfires. Wildfires can help by adding nutrients to the soil, clearing debris and enabling seeds to germinate. But the Cedar Fire was of such intense heat that some native plants and trees that usually survive wildfires were severely damaged.

After crossing a beautiful hand-made wooden bridge, we reached the Observatory – a shaded area with wooden benches with binoculars laid out. We all grabbed binoculars and sat down to observe birds coming to enjoy a meal on the hanging feeders some distance away.

Nine-year old Aurelia gets friendly with a Striped Racer Snake while her grandfather, STAY COOL member Jay Hanson, looks on.

We saw California Scrub-Jays, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Hooded Orioles, California Towhees, and a Cooper’s Hawk.

Then Phil brought out some of the resident snakes for a close-up view.

Walking through Silverwood reminded us all of the beauty and complexity of San Diego’s native chaparral. For those who missed the walk, Silverwood Wildlife Preserve is open to the public every Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm (Closed August and September).

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