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Friday, January 20, 2012

#48: Yellow-crowned Night Heron - San Diego River, CA

In San Diego, pretty much every bird I saw was a lifer for me, including some birds I never thought I’d see. However, only two of the birds I found could be considered rare for the area, but there’s a problem – birds that are rare for San Diego are unfortunately common on the East Coast. One was an American Oystercatcher I found roosting at the Cabrillo Tide Pools, an area where Black Oystercatchers are far more common (never did find a Black, grrr). This is the other.

James and I pulled up to the San Diego River to find shorebirds swarming over the flats that formed in the low tide. Short-billed Dowitchers probed the mud while my lifer Marbled Godwits raced back and forth, occasionally dipping their heads for a bite. Upriver a couple hundred feet, we could see a large flock of Elegant Terns lounging around with a couple Caspians. We started walking down the bank to get a little closer, when I noticed a small gray wader on the close shore. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but raising my binocs, I found myself looking at a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a bird that’s not supposed to be here, and a lifer for James!

They may be rare in San Diego, but they breed every year in suburban Durham county!

Later, I learned that these night herons are part of a small colony that has only recently begun to colonize southern California. They’re still rare, but with enough time and effort you can certainly find some. Apparently they’ve taken to nesting in the nearby Sea World, so perhaps they’ll stick around for some time. Either way, it’s certainly the most cooperative Yellow-crowned Night Heron I’ve ever seen, and to this day, it remains the bird I recollect when I look at its tick on my life list.


  1. When I saw this listed on your WhatBird latest lifers postscript, I did a double-take. A YCNH in San Diego?!? I birded that riverbed many times last year when I was out there on business. Many of my San Diego lifers came from there or from Mission Bay. However, I would have been very surprised to find a Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron there.

  2. Rudi - apparently until a couple years ago they were hard to find anywhere in San Diego. We'll see how long they can continue this range expansion! btw, I totally agree - the River and Mission Bay are pretty awesome. Tons of lifers for me too!

  3. Hi, I was linked to this post after trying to ID a bird I'd never seen locally before. There was one across the way from me earlier today hunting crayfish out of a man made lagoon. I got some shots of it eating and just standing around. It was not shy at all. :) Gorgeous birds! I wandered through your local shots and now have names for birds I see all the time. Thank you!

    P.S. My backyard opens up onto the Famosa Slough so was wonderful seeing your shots taken there. :)