Madulce and Big Pine

Linus Blomqvist

Hi all,

This past weekend I spent some time up in the San Rafael Mountains in the vicinity of Madulce Peak and Big Pine Mountain. I started at Cox Flat and hiked up Santa Barbara Canyon to Madulce Campground where I spent the first night. The next day I hiked the Madulce Trail via the north slope of Madulce Peak to Alamar Saddle where I spent the next two nights. On the mornings of the third and fourth days I birded the Big Pine Mountain area between Alamar Saddle and Big Pine Campground, before heading back to Cox Flat. This takes you through a variety of habitats from chaparral and riparian/oak forests at mid to high altitudes, to the main draw of this area - the very high elevation pine forest surrounding Big Pine Mountain.

This is a pretty strenuous hike - I walked about 46 miles with 56 pounds on my back and with over 3000 ft of elevation gain, but it was totally worth it both for the experience of the vast wilderness up there and the birds unique to that area. All in all I had a blast and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind some challenging hiking. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to access the area since the Forest Service gates are closed many miles before Big Pine Mountain, so what I did, in spite of its rather strenuous nature, is probably one of the easiest ways to reach the area.

The absolute highlights of the trip were the birds that, within the county, pretty much only exist around Big Pine Mountain: Flammulated Owl, White-headed Woodpecker, and Dusky Flycatcher. But I also had lots of fun birds that are found more at higher elevations including in pine forest, like Olive-sided Flycatcher (14 in total), Mountain Chickadee (31), Golden-crowned Kinglets (2; they are rare breeders in the county), Red-breasted Nuthatch (2), Pygmy Nuthatch (13), Brown Creeper (12), Lawrence's Goldfinch (10, not necessarily a high-altitude species but common up there), Chipping Sparrow (2), Black-chinned Sparrow (8), Fox Sparrow (2), Bell's Sparrow (5, of both subspecies - canescens in Santa Barbara Canyon and belli at higher altitude), Black-throated Gray Warbler (14), Western Tanager (10), Common Poorwill (4), and Northern Pygmy-Owl (4). The only obvious misses were Cassin's Finch and Red-breasted Sapsucker.

A bonus was a singing male Indigo Bunting on the north slope of Big Pine Mountain.

I tried my best to collect data for the Breeding Bird Study, with a total of 15 or so records, including evidence for breeding Western Tanager, Brown Creeper, Bell's Sparrow, Mountain Quail, and Chipping Sparrow.

You can see my eBird trip report here: Note that some of the totals are misleading since I birded one of the areas twice, so there could be double counting.


Linus Blomqvist

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