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Flanked by avocado orchards and brand-new suburban housing, the 43-acre Los Jilgueros Preserve (jilgueros means finches) stands as a quiet oasis of tranquillity in booming Fallbrook. Endowed with two good-sized ponds and patches of freshwater marsh, this former ranch property has been enhanced by extensive plantings of native oak, sycamores, ash, and cottonwood trees, plus a variety of native shrubs. Sunday morning is a good time to visit if you enjoy quiet; otherwise, the traffic noise from busy Mission Road can be annoying.

Out of the network of old roads and paths in the preserve, you can fashion a one-mile loop around its perimeter. Start at the preserve's south parking area, off Mission Road 0.3 mile north of Stage Coach Lane. Start by walking north on a curving, wood-planked bridge. At the preserve's north end, you'll find benches and a kiosk with interpretive information. From there, another plank footbridge leads toward Mission Road. Spend a moment on the bridge and let the sensations soak in: Water vapor and moist odors transpire from the cattails, bulrushes, and yerba mansa thriving in the black mud a foot or two below. A breeze tinged with the dank odor of avocado and the sweetness of citrus ruffles the slender leaves of the willow branches spreading above and caresses your exposed skin. White and yellow butterflies scintillate in shifting beams of sunlight.

On your way back to the parking lot, you can visit a "fire-escape garden," which exhibits fire-resistant plants for landscaping. You can also swing by the larger of the two ponds, but don't expect to see much water in either pond until more copious rains arrive -- possibly next winter.

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