Visit the High Sierra with a trip to Palomar Mountain

Even in Southern California where we are not lashed by endless winter storms, spring is a time for renewal and reconnection.

It’s a glorious season of rebirth and life. The more springs I experience, the more they mean to me.

I’m outdoors as often as possible, but as days turn longer, temperatures lose the bite of winter chill, and flowers begin to turn a drab landscape into a palette of color, I must feel dirt under my boots.

As spring days become uncomfortable in the desert, I find myself pulled to the embrace of giant cedars and pines, whispering winds through the trees, perhaps the trickle of a mountain brook, and the chatter and activity of busy birds.

Many San Diego County residents don’t realize we have such a place very close. San Diego’s version of the Eastern High Sierra can be found on Palomar Mountain, just a short drive to the north end of the county.

Like an island in the sky, Palomar Mountain rises to over 6,000 feet, but tucked into grassy meadows at slightly lower elevations sits Palomar Mountain State Park, a place where you can easily get lost in nature for a day, or spend a week or more camping, hiking, and connecting with the world outdoors.

Within the nearly 2,000 acres of this mountain park there are miles of hiking trails that will allow you to answer the call of spring. Forested areas cloaked in deep shade where smiling baby blue-eyes will be pushing up through the thick layer of leaves on the forest floor, nest holes in the side of oaks where busy acorn woodpeckers will be tending to nestbuilding, or soon to demanding chicks.

Bluebirds will cavort in the meadow next to Doane Pond, while families will sit at water’s edge, perhaps tending a fishing rod with hopes of catching trout for dinner.

In the cattails surrounding the pond there will be another show as damsel and dragonflies compete with mountain wildflowers to add reds and blues to the spring landscape.

And then there’s the night sky. Perhaps at this altitude we are simply closer to heaven, or maybe it’s just the clean air and lack of urban lighting. On a dark and warm summer night, you can stand in Doane Meadow and feel like you could reach out and touch the Milky Way. Meteors streak across the inky sky like fireflies darting about Eastern woods.

On a moonlight night, there is enough light to hike by, providing even one more way of intimately touching nature at a time of day most people never experience.

Whatever you want to call it; being outdoors, grounding, forest bathing, it’s all part of pursuing a life well lived.

I’m slipping into Spring mode now as I climb the winding road to Palomar Mountain. I’ve turned off the car radio, and the words from my favorite Robert Service poem echo in my mind.

“There’s a whisper on the night wind, a star agleam to guide us. The wild is calling, calling let us go.”

Nest Watch

For the past several weeks I have reported on a house wren that has been nesting in a small nestbox at the edge of our garden. We had seven eggs, and now have seven, hungry chicks.

Once the eggs hatched, both parent birds joined in the ongoing feeding, with an almost constant shuttle to deliver small crickets, grubs, and assorted insect delights.

The tiny camera in our nestbox has given us an inside view of this miracle of life, and also some delightful insight into the behavior of the house wren.

Five of the seven chicks hatched in one day, and two arrived the following day. Initially they were bald, nearly transparent and helpless. Within a day they had downy feathers on their head and back, and on the third day we started to see eyes opening.

A fascinating revelation was how fastidious the adult wrens are. Once the eggs were hatched, the female would remove the egg shells. Apparently to avoid advertising the nest location, she carried the shells well away from the nestbox.

Another strange behavior was the disposal of waste produced by the chicks. Frequently the adult bird would stuff an inset into the gaping mouth of the chick and the little bird would then turn around and produce a soft sack of waste that the parent would remove from the nest.

Pictures and video of the nesting, hatching and feeding can be viewed at the Mt. Whoville Wren Nest Facebook page.

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