Nature’s holiday chorus at Mission Trails Regional Park

By Audrey F. Baker

Celebrate your winter holiday with frequent visits to Mission Trails Regional Park. Introduce yourself to the musicians enriching nature’s trails – two migrants and two resident songsters.


House Finch (Photos by Gerry Tietje)

White-crowned Sparrows can traverse 2,600 miles to enjoy our Mediterranean climate. Identified by their dashing black-and-white cap, listen for their sweet whistle, jazzy mid-section and buzz ending songs. These seed eaters hop between ground and low foliage.

Yellow-rumped Warblers make our sage and chaparral habitats their winter get-away, foraging mid-range in outer tree canopies. They dart out to catch insects on the fly. Their soft and slow melody is mesmerizing.

Among our permanent residents, the distinctive red head and breast of the male House Finch, like the flamingo, comes from pigments in its food. Cue into vocalizations of this near-exclusive plant material eater, a jumpy short note song with a slur ending, when streamside, in grasslands or amid our oaks.

The diminutive Lesser Goldfinch, under its black cap, fuses yellow and green colorations. Seeking seeds in the sun flower family, it eats upside down in open habitats. Wheezy songs, projected from willow and cottonwood, incorporates traces learned from other birds.


Yellow-rumped Warbler

Winter holiday music reigns. Hum along!

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. Free, interesting, fact-filled walks are geared to all ages and interests.

Morning walks are offered every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, 9:30–11 a.m. Start from the Visitor and Interpretive Center, 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos. The walk beginning from the Kumeyaay Lake Campground Entry Station, 2 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos-Santee border, gives a different perspective of the park and its diverse habitats. These walks are offered from 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.


Lesser Goldfinch

Wildlife Tracking reveals the secret lives of lesser-seen park animals and brings insight into their survival techniques and habits. Tracking Team members assist in identifying and interpreting tracks, scat, and bedlays. For two hours of dirt-time fun — wear long pants for close-up observation. 8:30 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 7 in front of the Visitor Center.

Star Party Marvels delight as MTRP Resident Star Gazer George Varga scans skies for Pleiades (Seven Sisters), Double Cluster in Perseus, Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and its companion galaxy (M32), and targets Orion Nebula and the Open Clusters of Auriga, M36, M37, M38 and more. (Rain/cloud cover cancels.) Join us between 5–8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7. Gather at the far end of Kumeyaay Campground Day Use Parking Lot.


White-crowned Sparrow

Discovery Table: Animal Tracks presented by MTRP Trail Guides explores the world of local paw and foot imprints. Acquire skills at recognizing whose track looks like a baby’s handprint, whose is the largest of local wildlife and other interesting critter facts. Saturday, Jan. 14, 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Visitor Center lobby.

La Mesa Walk ‘n Talk combines ambling scenic shores with your MTRP Trail Guide with a brief chat on this month’s topic, “Soil – What’s Underfoot?” Learn about soil’s varied composition and the organisms that depend upon it. 9–10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Meet at the boat docks, Lake Murray, 5540 Kiowa Drive, La Mesa.

Birding Spring Canyon and Grasslands with MTRP Birding Guides Jean Raimond and Millie Basden delivers avian adventure amid sweeping grasslands and molded Spring Canyon. Both habitats are frequented by a variety of hungry hawks. We anticipate active viewing. Binoculars and bird book recommended. Meet Saturday, Jan. 21, 8–10 a.m. at East Fortuna Staging area lot off Highway 52 and Mast Boulevard, Santee.

Family Discovery Walk emphasizes actively exploring nature as a family experience. Fun and engaging, it is a unique opportunity to interact in nature’s ever-changing seasonal surroundings. Our winter schedule examines how seasonal rains awaken plants from dormant stages and bring early wildflowers. Gather inside the Visitor Center, 3–4:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22.

Birding Basics increases your enjoyment of nature by learning 5 simple techniques to identify birds at a glance. Taught by experienced Birder and Trail Guide Winona Sollock, you’ll also get tips on field guide use. Bring your bird book if handy. Classroom A, inside Visitor Center from 1–2:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 28.

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 out and enjoy the park!

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

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