San Diego's backcountry is dominated by the Peninsular Ranges, high mountains extending northward from the peninsula of Baja California. This IBA is dominated by five main ranges Palomar, Volcan, Hot Springs, Cuyamaca and Laguna. The montane habitat occurs above 5500', and includes yellow pine woodland alternating with high-elevation chaparral (e.g. Redshanks, Chamise, Manzanita), with pinyon-juniper woodland on eastern slopes facing the desert. Surface water is scarce, though Lake Cuyamaca, a large lake surrounded by meadow and riparian thicket, serves as a notable exception. Scattered grassy meadows serve as magnets for birds, particularly after wet winters.

Ornithological Summary

The montane bird community of this IBA is basically a reduced Sierran avifauna, closely resembling that of the Transverse Ranges north of the Los Angeles Basin, with several taxa reaching the southern edges of their global ranges, including Red-breasted Sapsucker, White-headed Woodpecker and Mountain Chickadee (the latter of the endemic southern California race P. g. baileyae). The avifauna of these ranges has been monitored over the past few decades (e.g. Unitt 1981), and they appear to have recently been gaining rather than losing avian colonists, with the more interesting summer additions being Zone-tailed Hawk, which bred on Hot Springs Mountain at least through the early 1990s, and high-elevation species such as Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Hermit Thrush (San Diego Natural History Museum 2002). Purple Martin continues to maintain small breeding groups, most recently in the Laguna Mtns., and Swainson's Thrush maintains an interesting montane breeding outpost at Palomar Mountain (San Diego Natural History Museum 2002). Many of the meadow systems are located on private lands and have not been adequately surveyed, though Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and other riparian breeders are known to summer in the willow thicket on the south end of Lake Cuyamaca and may breed. Finally, the desert slopes of these peaks appear to be a stronghold in the state for Gray Vireo, an enigmatic, localized breeder that favors dense, arid chaparral with scattered trees at around 4-6000' elevation.

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Conservation Issues

While much of the habitat in this IBA is protected by National Forest or State Park designation, numerous in-holdings are scattered throughout, often coinciding with the most sensitive habitats (e.g. meadows, streams). Particularly at risk are montane meadows (e.g. Mendenhall Valley on Palomar Mtn.; Laguna Meadow) that are heavily grazed by cattle, particularly on privately-owned sections. The impact of grazing, along with recreational activities (summer visitation is very high), should be assessed.

Ownership

Much of this IBA is protected by National Forest or State Park designation, but numerous in-holdings are scattered throughout.

Habitat

The montane habitat occurs above 5500?, and includes yellow pine woodland alternating with high-elevation chaparral (e.g. Redshanks, Chamise, Manzanita), with pinyon-juniper woodland on eastern slopes facing the desert. Surface water is scarce, though Lake Cuyamaca, a large lake surrounded by meadow and riparian thicket, serves as a notable exception. Scattered grassy meadows serve as magnets for birds, particularly after wet winters.

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