Rare geese pay a visit to the valley

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Greater White-fronted Geese breakfasting in the San Dieguito River Valley

The Greater White-fronted Goose was a frequent winter visitor to the salt marshes and lakes of southern California until its Pacific coast population was decimated by uncontrolled hunting in the early 20th century. Small flocks still migrate in early fall from western Alaska to winter in northwestern mainland Mexico, using San Diego County as their route to the Pacific coast. But the elegant brown birds with their distinctive orange legs and white rump are rarely seen here, and never more than a few at a time – that is, until this week when a flock of 62 Greater White-fronted geese (including a lone Snow Goose) was seen – and heard – just after sunrise, flying over the San Dieguito River Valley. The honking geese cautiously circled several times before touching down in a vacant horse paddock near San Dieguito Road. The largest previous sighting of the Greater White-fronted Goose in San Diego County was 17 at Sweetwater Reservoir in December 1997.

Update 11/4/22 Since the October 25, 2022 post (above), the local flock of Greater White-fronted geese has increased to over 100 birds with the lone Snow Goose still in the mix. They appear to be commuting between the Del Mar Lagoon (where they spend the late afternoon and night) and the horse farm in Rancho Santa Fe where they land just after dawn.

Lone Snow Goose with 62 close friends
Geese increase: The flock of Greater White-fronted geese flying toward the Del Mar Lagoon on the afternoon of November 4, 2002. Note the Snow Goose in the bottom line of the formation

Friends spur fresh look at delayed trail restoration

The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority (JPA) has asked the City of San Diego to establish a deadline for restoring a section of the Coast to Crest Trail that Surf Cup Sports committed to do when they signed the lease for the former Del Mar polo fields in 2016. The Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley were instrumental in the recent effort to jumpstart this process.

Surf Cup’s April 2022 $6 million purchase and grading of a parcel just north of the fields (that includes protected wetlands) generated renewed scrutiny of Surf’s activities – and raised questions about the holdup in restoring the trail segment along the south side of the soccer fields. Surf Cup has cited cost as the reason for the six-year delay.

The JPA manages the San Dieguito River Park as “a landmark project in land preservation, habitat restoration, and construction of the regional Coast to Crest Trail.” Its members include representatives from the relevant jurisdictions including Joe LaCava, District 1, City of San Diego that includes Del Mar Heights and Carmel Valley; Kelly Harless, Solana Beach; and Dwight Worden, Del Mar.

“The unfinished gap promised by Surf Cup to correct [the] previous lessee’s damage and improving public access for pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders, and bird watchers,” Dave Grosch, JPA chairman wrote in his September 26 letter to the City, “is preventing completion of this key part of the CTC Trail.”

Update: On October 6, 2023, the City of San Diego issued a Civil Penalty Notice and Order to Surf Cup Sports for unpermitted grading on their newly acquired lot adjacent to the fields. This included unpermitted placement and compacting of gravel into native substrate by driving and parking activities, grubbing and removal of native vegetation on property considered Environmental Sensitive Lands, and use of a vacant lot for storage of multiple soccer goalposts. The Notice sets deadlines from immediate compliance to a March 31, 2023 deadline to correct the issues or face assessments of $1,000 a day for each violation until corrected.