Glimpsing nature’s beauty at Mission Trails Regional Park

By Audrey F. Baker

Nearly 3 1/2-feet tall with a 5-plus-foot wingspan, the Great Egret firmly stands in the sediments of Mother Earth, grounding itself against the ebb of fresh or salt water. A member of the Heron family, this poised, exacting fisherman stoically waits, and then takes its catch by precision movement of its dagger-like bill. Graceful in flight, on water or land, it captivates.

Its courtship dance includes a full skyward stretch of its famed S-curved neck, with its piercing bill bridging sky and earth.

Elegantly displaying pure white feathers, tuxedo black legs and taxi-yellow bill, sighting this magnificent bird against the storied backdrop of Old Mission Dam is a breathless moment in nature.

The Great Egret symbolizes vigilance, patience and renewal. After decimation in the early 20th Century brought on by the insatiable demands of the plume trade’s feather harvesting for ladies’ hats, demand for its preservation was the impetus that formed the Audubon Society and growing environmental consciousness.


Great Egrets (Adrea alba) visit Mission Trails regional Park in the fall and winter seasons. (Photo by David D. Cooksy)

In San Diego County, Great Egrets are predominately non-breeding fall and winter visitors. The first modern-era county nesting was documented in 1988 and colonies have since gained a foothold.

Whatever your moment in nature at Mission Trails, beauty accompanies you!

Our MTRP Trail Guide walks are an opportunity to learn more about natural Southern California, with its unique landscapes, habitats, local history, plant and animal life. Walks are free, interesting, fact-filled, and geared to all ages and interests. Grab sturdy shoes, comfortable hat, water bottle, sunscreen and hit the trail!

Morning walks are offered every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, 9:30–11 a.m., starting from the Visitor and Interpretive Center, 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos. Walks beginning from the Kumeyaay Lake Campground Entry Station, 2 Father Junipero Serra Trail, at the San Carlos-Santee border, give a different perspective of the park and its diverse habitats. These walks are offered 8:30–10 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, and take in historic Old Mission Dam. We meet by the flag poles.

Wildlife Tracking reveals the secret lives of lesser-seen park animals and brings insight into their survival techniques and habits. Mission Trails Tracking Team members assist in identifying and interpreting tracks, scat, bedlays and habitats. Join in for two hours of dirt-time fun — wear long pants for close-up observation. Begins at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 5 in front of the Visitor Center.

Discovery Table: Lichens is the station for hands-on science fun as MTRP Trail Guides introduce you to the colorful, diverse, and amazing world of lichens. Their ornamentation, ability to adapt to various habitats, measure environmental health and create soil will amaze! Visitor Center lobby on Saturday, Nov. 12 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

La Mesa Walk ‘n Talk combines a stroll along scenic shores with your MTRP Trail Guide and a brief nature chat. This month it’s “Squirrels and Other Small Creatures.” In November, the lake and its environs witness harvesting activities. Learn about the lifestyle of local critters. Join us Tuesday, Nov. 15, 9–10:30 a.m. Meet at boat docks, Lake Murray, 5540 Kiowa Drive, La Mesa.

Bird the Grove with MTRP Birding Guides Jeanne Raimond and Millie Basden for avian adventure amid Oak Grove Loop Trail’s multiple habitats. We’ll focus on hawks that frequent the area, as well as migratory and resident species. Binoculars and bird book recommended. Saturday, Nov. 19, 8–10 a.m. in front of the Visitor Center.

Star Party Marvels is your passport to solar exploration. MTRP Resident Star Gazer George Varga tells us city light pollution lessens from a post-midnight moon rising, allowing enhances views of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and companion (M32). Light from these celestial objects takes 2.5–2.9 million years to reach earth. Also view Perseus’ Double Cluster and more. Rain/cloud obstruction cancels. 5–8 p.m. on Nov. 19 at the far end of the Kumeyaay Day Use Parking Lot.

Family Discovery Walk invites you to share nature’s fall magic as a family experience. See the seasonal changes it brings. Examine how deciduous trees lose leaves while stately oaks remain green, producing acorns, and view seasonal flowers that debut as migrant birds arrive. Our Trail Guide-hosted interactive walk focuses on fun, childhood enrichment, and memorable moments in nature walk. Inside the Visitor Center, Sunday, Nov. 27, 3–4:30 p.m.

Visit for more information and our events calendar, or call 619-668-3281. Special walks can be arranged for any club, group, business or school by contacting Ranger Chris Axtmann at 619-668-2746 or at Meanwhile, come on out and enjoy the park!

—Audrey F. Baker is trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park. Reach her at

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