Posted by: DarkEyedJunc0 | August 10, 2012

LOCATION REPORT- Northern California Bird Quest

The following is an account of the route which we took on our 11 Day (9 Full days + 2 Travel) California Birding Trip:

Report by Lisa Ann Malandrino & Rob Fanning

Some vacations the stars seem to align properly, others are a comedy of errors, no matter how much planning you do. We really lucked out on this vacation because despite the unplanned, it went very well.
One of our main reasons for going, the Half Moon Bay Pelagic, got cancelled due to sea conditions–but that just opened us up to heading north to farm country….  Lesson learned: When one door closes, another opens (if you let it.)

We are serious listers, so we began birding even before the flight attendant could make us put our seats in the upright position. Don’t discount places like Airports or Hotels for birding. In fact, my (LAM’s) first lifers came at the Hotel (California Towhee, Anna’s Hummingbird, Western and California Gull, etc.) And nearby, we found a protected rea with a mudflat (Belmont Slough)  and had great birds in good numbers such as Black-Necked Stilt, Pacific Golden Plover, Marbled Godwit, LB Dowitcher,
Long Billed Curlew, etc. So while the first day was a “relaxing day,” we were still birding!

The following outlines the “hotspots” we birded:

Day 2

  • Don Edwards NWR — Great for Shorebirds!  We had great looks at Black-Necked Stilt, hundreds of Wilson’s and a dozen or so Red-Necked Phalaropes, White-throated Swift, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, White-Tailed Kite and American Avocet.
  • Joseph D. Grant Ranch County Park — This one is a hike to get to… the journey is not for the faint of heart. It is a steep climb to get to the ranch, but well worth it. We had California Quail, 3 White-Tailed Kites, Acorn Woodpeckers, Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Western Wood-Peewee, Oak Titmouse, and Chestnut-Backed Chickadee.

Day 3

  • Yolo – farm country – the roads and farms were great for Yellow-billed Magpies, Loggerhead Shrike, and Swainson’s Hawks. (Check the wires, telephone poles, and skies.)   The landfill was also great for gulls and shorebirds. Pull over to the dirt road, and pull to the side to allow for easy scoping. (Also, 1 Bobwhite heard from a nearby farm)
  • Vacaville – Mix Canyon Road- another steep climb, bird the road to the peak – is known to occasionally get Lawrence’s Goldfinch (we had no luck) but did have plenty of Lesser Goldfinches, Wrentit, a Western Tanager, and a Black-Throated Gray Warbler.

Day 4

  • Moonglow Dairy  – an actual Dairy, filled with blackbirds – Tri-Colored, Red-Winged (incl.  the Bi-colored subspecies) and Brewer’s to be exact!
  • Moss Landing SB – amazing shorebird spot – we had plenty of Dowitchers, Yellowlegs, Marbled Godwits, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Long-Billed Curlew, Brandt’s Cormorant, Elegant Terns etc. on the flats – on the beach side, we had Snowy Plovers, Heerman’s Gulls, Willet, etc.   Also a great place to see Sea Lions and Sea Otters.
  • Salinas River NWR – Great numbers of Snowy Plover (22), Heerman’s Gulls (hundreds), Sanderling, and a lone Pacific Loon.

Day 5

  • Highway 1 -Big Sur  / Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP / San Luis Obispo – Known for California Condor (we had no luck)… best bet is to spend the day driving and parking in pulloffs – We did not spend much time in the state parks – but rather scoping the cliffs.   Our lunch stop produced Anna’s HB and Allen’s HB. We did well with the shorebirds in certain spots with Black Turnstone, Black Oystercatcher, Wandering Tattler and Surfbird. Piedras Blancas near San Luis Obispo was the best spot, and is also an Elephant Seal sanctuary.
  • Cayucos –  check the rocky shore for shorebirds – we had Surfbird, Black Turnstone, Black Oystercatcher,  and Elegant Tern (from the Pier.)

Day 6

  • Pinnacles National Monument(NOTE: there is no direct way to get from EAST TO WEST or VICE VERSA – it requires a one hour drive down to King City, and turn around.)
    • Pinnacles National Monument (West) – I think we hit the timing wrong on this – we started in the morning, and by 11 AM, it was close to 100 degrees. So we cut our day short. This is supposed to be a good spot for Prairie Falcon, California Condor, Sage Sparrow and Lawrence’s Goldfinch, though we were 0’fer. We did have great looks at a Pacific Slope Flyacatcher.
    • Pinnacles National Monument (East)– after taking a break to get out of the heat, we returned to the east side of Pinnacles- the evening was much birdier, with a count of 61 California Quail, close looks at Acorn Woodpeckers, Wild Turkey, Scrub Jay, Lark Sparrow, and a California Thrasher. We also had great looks at Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Jackrabbit, Black-tailed Deer, and one of 12 species of bat that resides there.
      • the Roads to and from Pinnacles– the roads leading to Pinnacles were very birdy as well:
        •  West – Yellow-Billed Magpies, Lark Sparrows, California Quail and Phainopepla.
        •  East – driving to Pinnacles on route 25 in the early evening, we had what would be the ONLY California Condor of the trip, an Immature that showed well.  We also had great fence birds such as Loggerhead Shrike, Western Bluebird, Western Kingbirds, and at night, under the full moon, Great Horned Owl and Barn Owl.

Day 7

  • Monterey Bay Pelagic (Debi Shearwater) – Pelagics are pelagics, they can be great one day, but not the next – we lucked out with this one. We had the usual gulls and Brown Pelicans, Sooty and Pink-Footed Shearwaters, Pigeon Guillemots, Common Murres, Pomarine and a Parasitic Jaeger, Leach’s (many), Ashy and Black (2) Storm Petrels, Black-Footed Albatross, Rhino and Cassin’s Aucklet, adult Sabine’s Gulls, and Red and Red-necked Phalarope fly-bys. We were also graced with Humpback Whales, Pacific White-Sided Dolphin and Risso’s Dolphins.

Day 8

  • Pebble Beach – 17 Mile Drive –  This was a GEM and completely unexpected. For $10 you can drive the 17-Mile Drive around the coast of Pebble Beach. (The fee is reimbursable if you dine at participating restaurants.) Once again, this is a great spot for shorebirds. Just pull over to the side at the pullouts, or walk the beaches with rocky jetties for results. Not to be missed – the stop called BIRD ROCK.

Day 9

  • Farallon Islands Pelagic (Debi Shearwater) – This trip’s main focus is the Tufted Puffin. The boat brings you to the island where the Puffins breed, also Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, and some of the other “more common” seabirds.  The island is also a breeding ground for Sea Lions and Seals. If you get lucky with time, the pelagic will venture 5 miles out (away from the protected waters, where they can chum,) this is where we had BF Albatross, Sooty and Pink-Footed Shearwater, as well as manyHumpback,  several Blue and a Grey Whale.  While we were there, we had a look at the first Pacific Ocean and CA record of a Northern Gannet which has been calling the Island home for the month of July and August.

Of course, I would be remissed if I didn’t mention that you can get Anna’s Hummingbird and Brown Pelican just about anywhere  🙂



  1. Lisa, I love that you posted about your trip. I haven’t seen your blog before but will keep it on my favorites. Glad your trip was so successful!

    • Thank you, Beth! I like to use it as a record of things I have learned.

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