Lake Henshaw – "Southwestern" Willow Flycatchers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo 20 July 2019
I made an early morning hike around to the back of Lake Henshaw from the Highway 76 pullover closest to the southwest corner of the lake. This was my first hike there since last August and what a difference a wetter winter and spring have made. The lake has extended somewhat in size, with higher water, not as high as some of the high-water marks I have noted around the lake shore, but the deep lush growth of herbaceous plants was quite incredible both to see and struggle to walk through.
At the same location as I noted in July 2018 there were multiple "Southwestern" Willow Flycatchers "singing" in what has become quite extensive flooded willow gallery woodland on the southeast shore of the lake. In this same area I also detected, by its loud knocking and kyowp calls, and saw in flight a few times, a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO in a lush area where larger cottonwoods meet the smaller stature willow trees at the lake shore. This looks pretty nice habitat for cuckoo. I did manage to stumble into a small creek here getting pretty wet through, don't trust watercress on the surface.
There were a few shorebirds in the southwest shallows nearer the highway, I also hiked around to the back or east side but the mudflats and shallow riparian water usually there is now much deeper so no real shorebird habitat to be found. In the southwest area margins some Western (25) and Least Sandpipers (9), a Long-billed Curlew, four Long-billed Dowitchers, a Semipalmated Plover, a Willet, two Spotted Sandpipers, and eight Greater Yellowlegs. All adults.
There are no trails around the lake and the easy-going open lake shore walking now stops in the southeast corner where it is necessary to skirt up and away from the lake over decomposed granite hillocks and boulders to find your way around. The incredible plant growth out there is fascinating and beautiful to see but exhausting to find your way through. I was up to my chest in plants pretty often trying to figure out a route. Not easy hiking and heat index rising by 9am. For anyone wishing to venture out there I would recommend taking lots of water and some snacks, cell phone coverage is good, as well as long pants and good footwear to combat bushwhacking, endless sap covered herbs, grass seeds, etc. Dawn patrol 5:30am is best start and lingering at the back of the lake unwise as the high temperature hike back to the highway can be very tiring. Check yourself for ticks too.
Source: SanDiegoRegionBirding Latest Reports