Previous Tours - COMPLETE CALIFORNIA
TOP TEN HIGHLIGHTS
I think I already told you this, but I want you to know what a considerate leader Jason Horn is. Also, his trip report is great. I didn't expect this much detail. He did leave out the part about the otter attacking/playing with the cormorant, and I can't remember what day that was. It definitely left a lasting impression on me.
The Mola Mola (Ocean Sunfish) was a bonus that I never expected. I was so impressed with it because I had never even heard of one. You can delete the Mola Mola from my Top 10 (bird) List, put the American Dipper as #1, and move the rest down. I had forgotten about the Dipper until I finished the list. It is really hard to decide which is a favorite as you might imagine, but I always love to see a Dipper.
Jason Horn was great. He made certain that we all had great views. I saw 45 lifers!!
Favorite species of the COMPLETE CALIFORNIA TOUR,
conducted 7-20 September 2012,
as voted upon by the participants and leader.
- NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL--this bird was seen well atMount Pinos, for a nice long period of time. Good looks at owls are hard to beat.
- Laysan Albatross--a single bird was observed numerous times during the second pelagic trip into Monterey Bay, along with several Black-footed Albatrosses.
- Island Scrub-Jay--a California endemic, found only on Santa Cruz Island. Several were seen.
- Spotted Owl--an after dinner owling trip produced a pair in Los Padres National Forest. One of the owls was seen exceedingly well.
- Yellow-billed Magpie--another California endemic. "We watched two Yellow-billed Magpies harass an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk and chase it off. After a couple of minutes the hawk returned and made several attempts to kill one of the magpies." What a show!
- Mountain Quail--this elusive species was seen and heard several times on the tour. They were seen very well at Los Padres National Forest, picking grit from the roadside.
- California Condor--Big Sur yielded SEVEN Condors, soaring along scenic cliffs that overlook the Pacific.
- Le Conte’s Thrasher--great looks at a species that is often difficult to find, especially outside of its breeding season.
- 'California' Clapper Rail--an adult with two young was observed at the Palo Alto Wetlands.
- Great Gray Owl--one was found in Yosemite National Park after searching several locations. This is always an exciting bird to see.
COMPLETE CALIFORNIA Trip Report
Friday, 7 September through Thursday, 20 September 2012
Leader: Jason Horn
Day 1. Friday, 7 Sep. For those that arrived early, we started our first day at Palo Alto and waited for the others to arrive at the San Jose Airport. Here we had many types of birds including shorebirds, waders, and ducks. After the whole group had assembled we returned to a different area of Palo Alto. Among the highlights of our visit was a close view of the endangered California Clapper Rail. We observed a family with one adult and two nearly grown chicks as they slowly worked their way along the edge of a tidal marsh. Other highlights included Long-billed Curlew, Short-billed Dowitcher, Cinnamon Teal, and Willow Flycatcher. From there we headed north over the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and worked our way to the Petaluma Wetlands. Here we found a Pacific Golden-Plover and "Bicolored" Red-winged Blackbird, which is the race of Red-winged Blackbird that lacks the yellow line on the wing. We had close views of many nice birds including Long-billed Dowitcher and Lesser Scaup. We had great views of Sora, Virginia Rail, and Common Gallinule, all in the same field of view as they fed on the edge of a cattail marsh. After enjoying these birds we drove into the countryside where we found Western Bluebird, Oak Titmouse, Wild Turkey, and California Quail.
Day 2. Saturday, 8 Sep. In the morning we headed toward Bodega Bay. On the way there we found our first of many Red-shouldered Hawks. The western birds are beautiful with their bold markings. Once we arrived at the harbor we found Common Loon, Brant, Pigeon Guillemot, Elegant Tern, Red Knot, Red-necked Phalarope, Black Turnstone, and many other shorebirds. Along the harbor we found Orange-crowned and Wilson's Warblers, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Pacific Wren, and a vagrant Orchard Oriole. At this location we located two roosting Great Horned Owls and two Barn Owls. At Bodega Head we had nice views of Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants. After having a nice lunch while overlooking the bay, we drove to Point Reyes National Seashore. Once at Point Reyes we went to Tomales Bay State Park where we found Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Hutton's Vireo, and Wrentit. At a nearby cattle ranch we found some Tricolored Blackbirds. After our visit to the park we headed to the Tule Elk Reserve. There we found a couple of large bull Elk defending their herds. Then we birded our way back to the hotel to end the day.
Day 3. Sunday, 9 Sep. Today’s destination was Yosemite National Park. Along the way we stopped for Lewis's Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, California Towhee, and a group of Phainopepla. After entering the park we went to a nearby stream to see American Dipper. We found the birds shortly after we arrived and watched them as they foraged along the stream. Next we went to a nearby meadow to look for Great Gray Owl. We did not find the owl, but we saw many of the birds common to the area. We had nice views of Vaux's Swift, Red-breasted Nuthatch, "Oregon" Dark-eyed Junco, and "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Day 4. Monday, 10 Sep. Our first target bird at Yosemite was Great Gray Owl. We checked three separate meadows before we found one. The bird made a brief appearance on the edge of the meadow before it retreated into the woods. After seeing this majestic owl, we found a nice flock that included Mountain Chickadee, plus Hermit, Townsend's, Nashville, Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, and Black-throated Gray Warblers. Next we headed toward Glacier Point to look for Sooty Grouse. En route we found three female Sooty Grouse standing in the middle of the road. We had close up views as they fed along the shoulder. The whole time the birds were within a few yards of the group--what an incredible experience! After enjoying these three grouse we headed down the road and found another pair of grouse that included a nice male. We had a late breakfast overlooking the Yosemite Valley. Here we saw Lewis's Woodpecker, and Vaux's and White-throated Swifts. We then drove to Glacier Point to look for more birds and enjoy the incredible scenery of Yosemite National Park. Here we found our first White-headed Woodpecker. We watched as it fed on the seed of a pine cone. After our visit to Glacier Point, we worked our way across the park toward Mono Lake. Along the way we stopped to look for Black-backed Woodpecker and quickly found a nice male feeding in a burn area. We then encountered a Black Bear that was standing on the edge of a small meadow. Farther down this scenic drive we found our first of many Clark's Nutcrackers. As we neared the Mono Lake area, we finished the day with nice views of two Red-breasted Sapsuckers feeding in a large pine tree.
Day 5. Tuesday, 11 Sep. In the morning we headed toward Bodie Ghost Town. Before first light we had a brief view of a Common Poorwill in the road. After arriving in the area of the Ghost Town we found Sage Thrasher, Sage Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, and a lot of Greater Sage-Grouse. We counted 132 grouse in total. We had fantastic views of the birds as we watched them feeding and flying around. After spending time with the grouse show, we continued to bird the area and found a flock of Mountain Bluebirds. While leaving the Bodie area we stopped to see Green-tailed Towhee, Rock Wren, Black-billed Magpie, and two Golden Eagles. Next we went to Mono Lake County Park. We noticed several migrants including Western Tanager and two MacGillivray's Warblers. Here we had nice views of the lake and it's bountiful bird life. The lake was covered with thousands of California Gulls and Eared Grebes. Nice views of a Virginia Rail standing in the open topped off the morning. In the afternoon we visited some feeders in town and saw Lesser Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, and Rufous Hummingbird. Our next habitat was the pine forest to look for some new birds. Here we quickly found several beautiful Williamson's Sapsuckers and a large noisy flock of Pinyon Jays. On the edge of Mono Lake we found American Avocet and other species feeding on the alkaline flies and brine shrimp that inhabit the lake.
Day 6. Wednesday, 12 Sep. Before breakfast we looked for Mountain Quail. We heard some at close range but we were unable to see them. We managed to find Cassin's Finch and Warbling Vireo. After breakfast we headed back through Yosemite National Park. After leaving the park we drove to Fresno to look for Spotted Dove and were successful in our mission. On the way to Watsonville we stopped at a site for Western and Clark's Grebes and had fantastic views of several of these birds, including some with babies.
Day 7. Thursday, 13 Sep. Today was our first pelagic trip with Shearwater Journeys on famous Monterey Bay. At the harbor we had our first Sea Otters. Once on the ocean birds surrounded us. We were fortunate to have a good day with a variety of pelagic species and many close and prolonged looks. Bird highlights included Sabine's Gull, Parasitic Jaeger, Pomarine Jaeger, South Polar Skua, Cassin's Auklet, Tufted Puffin, Buller's Shearwater, and Black-footed Albatross feeding beside of the boat. Mammal highlights included Common Dolphin, Dall's Porpoise, and Orca.
Day 8. Friday, 14 Sep. Today’s destination was Pinnacles National Monument. Along the way we had great views of Prairie Falcon, Wild Turkey, and Yellow-billed Magpie. We watched two Yellow-billed Magpies harass an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk and chased it off. After a couple of minutes the hawk returned and made several attempts to kill one of the magpies. After chasing the magpie and having several face-to-face stand offs, the hawk flew away. At a wet area we had nice views of Lawrence's Goldfinches and Lark Sparrows, and then a handsome Barn Owl. At Pinnacles National Monument we saw California Thrasher, Canyon Wren, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Bell's Sage Sparrow, and many of the other birds common to this area. We drove to Los Padres National Forest where we found two groups of Mountain Quail. We watched these birds as they gathered grit along the roadside. After a nice dinner we went owling and located a pair of Spotted Owls, and had excellent views of one of these fantastic birds.
Day 9. Saturday, 15 Sep. We started the day at the Santa Cruz Waterfront. Here we had distant views of Pigeon Guillemot and Marbled Murrelet. On the rocks we had nice views of Elegant Tern, Black Oystercatcher, Surfbird, Black Turnstone, and other shorebirds. Next we birded Elkhorn Slough. This area is rich in wildlife that included thousands of shorebirds. Highlights were Snowy Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Red-breasted Merganser, and a large group of California Sea Otters.
Day 10. Sunday, 16 Sep. Today we enjoyed our second pelagic trip with Shearwater Journeys. We had many of the same species as on the previous trip, along with a few new ones. This trip gave us the opportunity to get some better views of many birds like Cassin's Auklet and Red Phalarope. We were fortunate to find some large flocks of shearwaters. In these flocks we had a brief view of the rare Flesh-footed Shearwater along with Sooty, Pink-footed, and Buller's Shearwaters. One of the highlights of the day was a Laysan Albatross along with several Black-footed Albatross that made repeat visits to the boat during the day. After the pelagic we had a nice dinner overlooking the bay, and then birded along the Monterey Waterfront. Here we found more Black Oystercatchers, Surfbirds, and Black Turnstones.
Day 11. Monday, 17 Sep. Today we made our way down the coast to Big Sur in search of California Condors. When we arrived in the prime area we located SEVEN CONDORS. We watched them as they soared along the scenic cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Also in this area we had several flocks of Red Crossbills and a Common Merganser. We then drove south along Pacific Coast Highway. We stopped at an Elephant Seal colony that had many females and young. In the surf, the young males practiced fighting in preparation for being a beach master one day. At the colony we had nice views of a Wandering Tattler. Farther down the coast we found Ruddy Turnstone and Red-throated Loon.
Day 12. Tuesday, 18 Sep. Today we went by boat to Santa Cruz Island. On the way out we had nice views of Black-vented Shearwater and Common Dolphin. Once we arrived we landed at Prisoner Cove, where we found most of the resident birds of the island. The main attraction is the Island Scrub-Jay. We saw several of these birds as they slowly foraged around the wooded areas. Other birds of interest included Allen's Hummingbird, Western Tanager, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Back in Ventura Harbor we found Wandering Tattler and two hybrid American x Black Oystercatchers.
Day 13. Wednesday, 19 Sep. Our first stop was Maricopa to look for Le Conte's Thrasher. Along the way we found another covey of Mountain Quail. In Maricopa we managed to get excellent views of several Le Conte's Thrashers. Also in this area we found many Sage Sparrows and a Greater Roadrunner. After enjoying these birds, we made our way to the Mount Pinos area and found a very cooperative Northern Pygmy-Owl. It showed very well as we watched it for a prolonged period in a nearby tree. Also in this area we found White-headed Woodpecker and many of the other common birds of this habitat. In a nearby location we found Williamson's Sapsucker, Cassin's Finch, and the Large-billed form of Fox Sparrow.
Day 14. Thursday, 20 Sep. This was our final day of the tour. We headed to the Palos Verde Peninsula where we found a pair of California Gnatcatchers with a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. It was nice to see these species together to study the subtle differences. After dropping part of the group at the airport we went Bolsa Chica where we found "Belding" Savannah Sparrow, Royal Tern, Reddish Egret, Red Knot, and many other shorebirds. Next we headed to Newport and birded Bayshore Drive. In the tidal area we found Marsh Wren, "Light-footed" Clapper Rail, and Nutmeg Mannikin. Afterwards we made our way to the airport and the conclusion of the tour. We saw many good birds on this trip and had excellent views of nearly all of them. Hopefully everyone enjoyed their time in beautiful California and left with fond memories of the birds they encountered.
Favorite species of the COMPLETE CALIFORNIA TOUR,
conducted 14 - 27 September 2011,
as voted upon by the participants and leader.
- GREAT GRAY OWL
- Northern Pygmy-Owl
- California Condor
- Black-footed Albatross
- Golden Eagle
- Island Scrub-Jay
- Le Conte’s Thrasher
- Black Oystercatcher
- Sooty Grouse
- Sabine’s Gull
- COSTA’S HUMMINGBIRD
- ‘Yuma’ Clapper Rail
- Yellow-footed Gull
- Neotropic Cormorant
- Sandhill Crane
- Burrowing Owl
- Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
- Lesser Nighthawk
- Wood Duck
- Lawrence’s Goldfinch
Complete California and Salton Sea Extension
Wednesday, 14 September – Saturday, 1 October 2011
Leader: Jason Horn
Day 1. Wednesday, 14 September. Most of the participants arrived in San Jose the night before the tour began. For those that came in the night before, we started our first day by heading to Palo Alto. Here we had many types of birds including shorebirds, waders, and ducks. Among the highlights of our visit was a close up view of the endangered California Clapper Rail that came in and proceeded to have bath in a channel. Other highlights included Long-billed Curlew, Long-billed Dowitcher, Cinnamon Teal, and Peregrine Falcon. After too brief of a visit we headed back to the airport to retrieve our final member of the group before working our way north. We crossed the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and worked our way to Petaluma. After lunch we stopped at Petaluma Wetlands, where we found a lovely Pacific Golden-Plover and a Bicolored Blackbird, which is the race of Red-winged Blackbird that lacks the yellow line on the wing. Here we had close views of many shorebirds and ducks, including Wilson's Phalarope, Stilt Sandpiper, Canvasback, Redhead, and both Scaup. After enjoying these birds we headed into the countryside were we found Oak Titmouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Nuttall's Woodpecker, and several others. At dusk we heard Western Screech-Owl and saw a Barn Owl.
Day 2. Thursday, 15 September. In the morning we headed to Point Reyes National Seashore. Once at Point Reyes we found our first California Quail feeding along the road. At a small pond we found our first Red-necked Phalarope. At this location we located a roosting Great Horned Owl that revealed its presence after a splattering sound. Luckily no one was standing directly under where the bird was roosting. At a cattle ranch we found a flock of Tricolored Blackbirds feeding at close range. We headed to the Castle Rock area to look for migrants. Here we found Hermit Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, and a Red-throated Loon in nearly full alternate plumage. Next we went to Tomales Bay State Park and had a nice picnic lunch. We had excellent views of Wrentit and the recently split Pacific Wren. After our visit to the park we headed to the Tule Elk Reserve. On the way we found a Bobcat lying in a field. After reaching the reserve we quickly found many large bull Elk defending their herds. After leaving the reserve we found a different Bobcat that crossed the road in front of the van. We then made our way to Bodega Bay. In the harbor we found Common Loon, Brant, Black Turnstone, and many different shorebirds. Along the Harbor we found Orange-crowned and Wilson's Warblers.
Day 3. Friday, 16 September. Today we had some morning birding at the Petaluma Wetlands. After our time at the wetlands we made our way to Yosemite National Park. Along the way we stopped for a nice group of Swainson's Hawks and a flock of White-faced Ibis. After entering the park we went to a nearby stream to see American Dipper. We found the birds as soon as we got to the spot. Next we went to a nearby meadow to look for Great Gray Owl. We were not disappointed. The bird was there when we arrived and it put on a nice show as it hunted for mice from the nearby trees. We watched the bird as it actively hunted. It sat on exposed perches and occasionally flew to the ground in an attempt to catch a meal. We had excellent views as the owl hunted at close range -- we watched it to our heart’s content. After getting incredible views of the owl, we checked out a nearby flock of birds and found an Olive-sided Flycatcher before happily making our way back to the hotel. Near the hotel we had excellent views of Western Screech-Owl..
Day 4. Saturday, 17 September. We started early to get to the park before it got crowded. On the way we encounter a large Black Bear in the road and we watched it for a while as it walked along the road. Our first stop was Glacier Point to look for Sooty Grouse. We got close up views of seven Sooty Grouse feeding on grass seeds as we happily watched. The whole time the birds were within a few yards of our group, what an incredible experience. After enjoying the show we found our first White-headed Woodpecker. We then headed out to Glacier Point to look for some more birds and enjoy the incredible scenery of Yosemite National Park. Our next stop was McGurk Meadow. On the walk to the meadow we found many of the common forest birds including Mountain Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Red-breasted Nuthatch. A Pine Grosbeak and a Dusky Flycatcher made a brief appearance, while two Red-breasted Sapsuckers were more accommodating. The main target bird here was Black-backed Woodpecker. After searching for several hours we headed back to the van. As we got to the road, I heard some light tapping coming for across the road. When I turned my head I was surprised to find a female Black-backed Woodpecker feeding right beside of the road. After enjoying fabulous views of the woodpecker we had to lunch. We then worked our way across the park toward Mono Lake. Along the way we found our first Clark's Nutcracker. We finished the day at Mono Lake, which was covered with thousands of California Gulls, Eared Grebes, and Red-necked Phalaropes. On the edge of the lake we found Yellow-headed Blackbird and American Avocet..
Day 5. Sunday, 18 September. In the morning we drove to Bodie Ghost Town. Before light we had a brief view of a Common Poorwill in the road. After sun up we stopped to see a large flock of Pinyon Jays as they foraged through the Pinyon Pines. After arriving in the area of the Ghost Town we found Sage Thrasher, Sage Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, and a lot of Greater Sage-Grouse. There must have been nearly one hundred grouse in total. This is the most that I have ever seen at this location. We drove up alongside the birds and watched as they fed at close range. After fantastic views of the grouse, we continued to bird the area and found a group of Mountain Bluebirds. While watching the bluebirds we saw a Red-tailed Hawk nearly catch one of the grouse. After leaving the Bodie area we stopped to see Rock Wren and more Pinyon Jays. Next we went to Mono Lake County Park. Here we had nice views of the lake and it's bountiful bird life. Nice views of a Virginia Rail standing in the open helped finish the mourning. In the afternoon we headed to the pine forest to look for some new birds. Here we quickly found a beautiful male Williamson's Sapsucker. After birding the pine forest we went to the South Tufa Area on Mono Lake.
Day 6. Monday, 19 September. Today we went to Aspendell in search of finches. Here we found Pine Siskin and Cassin's Finch but were unable to locate our main target, the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. While looking for the finches we had our first Golden Eagle. On the way back we stopped for Say's Phoebe and Black-billed Magpie. In the afternoon we went to Mono County Park and some more time along the lake. After watching the sunset over the lake we quickly found a Common Poorwill sitting on the road.
Day 7. Tuesday, 20 September. Before breakfast we went to Virginia Lake. Here we had a Bald Eagle fishing on the lake and a fly-over Lewis’s Woodpecker. After returning to town we found several Rufous Hummingbirds coming to feeders and had close up views of Clark's Nutcracker. After these sightings we headed back through Yosemite National Park. After leaving the park we drove to Fresno to find Spotted Dove and were not disappointed. On the way to Watsonville we stopped at a site for Clark's Grebe and had fantastic views.
Day 8. Wednesday, 21 September. Today we headed toward Pinnacles National Monument. Along the way we had great views of Yellow-billed Magpie, Wild Turkey, and Golden Eagle. We watched the eagle at close range from the van. After several minutes the eagle started flying down the road and we followed it at close range for over a mile. It was quite a sight to see this bird so close and so well. At a wet area we had nice views of Lawrence's Goldfinches. In the same area we had a California Thrasher singing from the top of a small bush. At Pinnacles National Monument we saw Canyon Wren, Nuttall's Woodpecker, and many of the other birds common to this area. On the way back to Watsonville we birded the Elkhorn Slough area. This area is rich in wildlife. Highlights included Snowy Plover, Elegant Tern, many shorebirds, and a huge group California Sea Otters.
Day 9. Thursday, 22 September. After an early start we headed to the docks for our first pelagic trip with Shearwater Journeys on the famous Monterey Bay. At the harbor we had a Peregrine Falcon. Once on the ocean we were surrounded by birds. We were fortunate to get in the middle of a large feeding flock of Sooty Shearwaters. We watched the shearwaters as they were diving all around the boat. It was fascinating to watch these birds as they used their wings to fly through the water. We were fortunate to have a good day with a variety of birds. Many of these birds gave us close and prolonged looks. Bird highlights included Black-footed Albatross feeding beside of the boat, all three jaeger species, South Polar Skua, Black Storm-Petrel, Ashy Storm-Petrel, Buller's Shearwater, and Sabine's Gull. Mammal highlights included Risso's Dolphin. After the pelagic we birded along the Monterey Waterfront. Here we found Black Oystercatcher, Surfbird, and Black Turnstone.
Day 10. Friday, 23 September. Today we had our second pelagic with Shearwater Journeys. We had many of the same species along with a few new ones. This trip gave us the opportunity to get better views of many birds like Cassin's Auklet and Red Phalarope. On this trip we got a brief view of the rare Flesh-footed Shearwater.
Day 11. Saturday, 24 September. Today we headed down the coast to Big Sur in search of California Condor. When we arrived we were unable to locate any condors because of a thick fog that blanketed the area. We made our way south along Pacific Coast Highway. We stopped at an Elephant Seal Colony that had many females and young. In the surf, the young males practiced fighting in preparation of being a beach master one day.
Day 12. Sunday, 25 September. In the morning we took a boat to Santa Cruz Island. We landed at Prisoner Cove and found most of the resident birds of the island. The main attraction was the Island Scrub-Jay. We saw several of these birds as they slowly foraged around the wooded areas. We had one jay come in and watch us while it was hoping for a handout. It hung out with us as we birded our way along a dry streambed. Other birds of interest included Allen's Hummingbird, Western Kingbird, Blackpoll Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, and Lazuli Bunting.
Day 13. Monday, 26 September. In the morning we headed to Maricopa to look for Le Conte's Thrasher. After we arrived we managed to get excellent views of this difficult bird. Also in this area we found many Sage Sparrows and a pair of Burrowing Owls. After enjoying these birds, we made our way toward Mount Pinos. Blocked by a traffic accident, we had to take the long way around. Our main target was California Condor. When we got to the area for the condors, it was nearly covered in clouds. As we were driving down the road, a condor came flying directly overhead and disappeared into the clouds. We stopped at this location and waited to see if it would return. Eventually the skies began to clear, but there was no sign of the condor. While standing there I noticed some whitewash on a distant cliff and upon closer examination discovered a condor nest site. We moved down the road to get a closer look and noticed a recently fledged condor. Next, at the Mount Pinos area, we heard several Northern Pygmy-Owls. We were lucky to find a pair. They showed very well as we watched them perched in a nearby tree. We watch them for quite a while as they preened each other and moved around together. It was hard to leave these fantastic little birds, but as always we had more birds to fine. Also in this area we saw Townsend's Solitaire, White-headed Woodpecker, and many of the more common birds.
The Complete California Tour ended on the morning of Day 14 and the Salton Sea Extension began . .
Day 14. Tuesday, 27 September. After breakfast we headed to Newport and birded Bayshore Drive to look for California Gnatcatcher. At the first location we could hear one vocalizing. We were happy to find a California Gnatcatcher, along with a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. It was nice to see these birds together to study the differences. In the tidal area we found “Belding’s” Savannah Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and "Light-footed" Clapper Rail. Next we headed to Bolsa Chica where we found Royal Tern, Red Knot, Reddish Egret, and many different shorebirds. Near the hotel we found several Wood Ducks and a Nutmeg Mannikin.
Day 15. Wednesday, 28 September. First thing in the morning we found thirty-five Nutmeg Mannikins feeding behind the hotel. Next we headed to the San Jacinto Mountains. Here we saw many of the common forest birds. We also found several of the California specialties including Nuttall's Woodpecker and nice flock of Lawrence's Goldfinch. Other highlights included Nashville Warbler and Black-throated Sparrow. At the south end of the Salton Sea we found many new birds including Black Tern, Caspian Tern, Mew Gull, and Yellow-legged Gull.
Day 16. Thursday, 29 September. ll day was spent exploring the Salton Sea and surrounding areas. We started at the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge where we saw Sora, Virginia Rail, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and eight Sandhill Cranes. At the Salton Sea we had large numbers of birds; there were flocks as far as you could see, with Brown Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants being the dominant species. Good numbers of gulls and terns filled the air and the shoreline was crowded with other species of waders and shorebirds. It certainly is a sight to see so many birds concentrated in this desert oasis. Within a flock of Laughing Gulls we found two Franklin's Gulls. Along the road we had the first of many Burrowing Owls and Greater Roadrunners. Many of the owl pairs had at least one nearly grown juvenile. At the Salton Sea Headquarters we found Abert's Towhee, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Common Ground-Dove, Gambel's Quail, and a Lesser Nighthawk. On the way to Obsidian Butte we found a pair of "Yuma" Clapper Rails that was standing in the open along the edge of a cattail marsh. With the heat building we returned for lunch and a little siesta. After lunch we searched the nearby area for Costa's Hummingbird. We found a house with several feeders and after a while, our target bird came in to feed. Also at the feeders we had many Anna's Hummingbirds and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. We found Gila Woodpecker and Ladder-backed Woodpecker before driving to Red Hill Landing. There we found a large number of shorebirds including both species of dowitcher and American Avocet. At the boat launch we found Snowy Plover as we watched a beautiful sunset.
Day 17. Friday, 30 September. We started the day in town were we visited the hummingbird feeders. At the feeders we had nice looks at multiple Costa's Hummingbirds in the morning light. We also had better looks at a bird we saw the night before, that we confirmed to be a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird. We then headed to Red Hill Landing to look through the birds in better light. Among the highlights were Wilson's Phalarope and Red-necked Phalarope. We stopped at the Salton Sea Headquarters where we saw a roosting Barn Owl and a pair of Lesser Nighthawks. At Obsidian Butte we found a nice adult Neotropic Cormorant. From here we decided to bird our way back through the San Jacinto Mountains. In the mountains we encountered many of the same species that we saw earlier in the tour. In one large flock of songbirds we found a beautiful Black-throated Gray Warbler and several Hermit Warblers.
Day 18. Saturday, 1 October. After a good night’s sleep, we made our way to the airport and the conclusion of the tour. We saw a lot of good birds on this trip and had excellent views of just about all of them. Hopefully everyone enjoyed their time in beautiful California and left with fond memories of the birds they encountered.
From Ocean to Mountains to Salton Sea
14 September – 1 October 2011
Text and photos by Bob Coley, tour participant
Chapter 1: The Ocean
On the plane to San Jose, I ran through the birds I had seen in the West and then concentrated on the habitats and field marks of the forty to fifty completely new birds that I might see. By the time the plane landed, I was already anxious to begin birding. Most of us arrived the afternoon before the beginning of the tour and so had an opportunity get acquainted and to explore the area around the hotel. We found no new birds, but we renewed our acquaintance with some we had not seen since our last trip to the West. The next morning those of us who arrived early headed to Palo Alto and the nearby wetlands. A variety of aquatic birds greeted us including Long-billed Curlew, Long-billed Dowitcher, Cinnamon Teal, Peregrine Falcon, and the rare California Clapper Rail (not yet a full species).
After collecting our final participant at the airport, we again headed west, this time through one of my favorite cities, San Francisco. This brought back memories of cable cars, Fisherman’s Wharf, the opera house, and the great food on our visit before the last big earthquake. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge years ago, we visited Sausalito and the giant redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument. Our destination this time was, however, the wetlands in and around Petaluma. The intoxicating sounds and smells of the wetlands were made more memorable by the many shorebirds and ducks, including a very nice Pacific Golden-Plover (a new North American bird for me) Wilson’s Phalarope, Stilt Sandpiper, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, and Greater Scaup. We also had good looks at Bicolored Blackbird, still a subspecies of Red-winged Blackbird but a thrill to see nonetheless. Moving inland into fields and woods, we found Oak Titmouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and Nuttall’s Woodpecker-- all lifers for me. After hearing a Western Screech-Owl and seeing a Barn Owl, we checked into our very well landscaped hotel in Petaluma.
After an early breakfast we piled into the van and once more pointed it to the west to a great birding area, Point Reyes National Seashore. Our greatest laugh of the day was spotting a Great Horned Owl after it splattered (relieved itself) on the road a few feet from where we stood. In a field was a flock of Tricolored Blackbirds, another lifer, with their distinctly deep red and white wing patches. At Castle Rock yet another lifer exhibited itself, the recently split Pacific Wren (formerly a subspecies of the Winter Wren) along with Hermit Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Western Wood-Pewee, and Common Loon. While having lunch in Tomales Bay State Park, we spotted a Wrentit and a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, yep, another lifer.
In the Tule Elk Reserve we saw several herds grazing in the distance, each herd being guarded by a large bull. Between the elk reserve and Bodega Bay, our next stop, the second bobcat of the day crossed the road just in front of the van. They are seldom seen, and twice we happened to be in the right place at the right time. At Bodega Bay, the site of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, we saw nothing like the number in the movie, but we did see many shorebirds and Brant and another lifer: Black Turnstone. Also along the bay were numerous Orange-crowned and Wilson’s Warblers. Another lifer for me, a covey of California Quail, was feeding by the side of the road.
Chapter Two: The Mountains
After returning to the Petaluma wetlands area for some early morning birding, we drove boldly across the Coastal Range to where the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley join to form the Central Valley. This huge valley, slightly smaller than West Virginia, is the heart of the agricultural area with seemingly endless fields devoted to single crops such as broccoli or lettuce. They are irrigated by numerous dams on the streams to the detriment of native plants and animals. The water from this area also is diverted at the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers via pumps and canals into an aqueduct running the entire length of the San Joaquin Valley to the Los Angeles area. Needless to say, birding was very poor in the valley.
Once across the valley we ascended the western slope of the Sierra Nevada to reach one of the major reasons I wanted to participate in this excursion – Yosemite National Park. To finally see Half Dome and El Capitan from several vantage points exceeded my expectations. The huge granite monoliths are much larger than I expected, and the views into the Merced River and other valleys were breathtaking. In stark contrast to the Central Valley, the mountains were teeming with birds and other wildlife. We quickly found a stream where an American Dipper was busily hunting its prey in the water undeterred by a canine tourist enjoying a romp and an occasional drink from the stream. In another location an amazing encounter with a Great Gray Owl wowed all of us. Not only did it pose in an evergreen tree, but it also dropped to the ground a number of times before disappearing into the woods. A number of other birds including Western Screech-Owl presented themselves on the drive between the meadow of the Great Gray Owl and the hotel.
It seems that the Great Gray Owl and American Dipper started a trend. Shortly after leaving the hotel early in the morning, we stopped to watch a very large Black Bear sauntering down the road, minding its own business and ignoring the van behind it. We reached Glacier Point with its great view of Half Dome and other features of the park and began to look for our target birds. To our surprise the trend continued when a group of more than a half-dozen Sooty Grouse leisurely breakfasted on grass seed only a few feet from us. One even sat on a guardrail and preened itself, while across the road several Black-tailed Mule Deer grazed warily and then moved slowly out of sight. Very likely the crowds that would come later would miss the show.
Descending the mountains we walked through the forest to reach McGurk Meadow. Amid the fresh smell of the evergreens a number of birds sang and posed for us including Mountain Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Grosbeak, Dusky Flycatcher, and Red-breasted Sapsucker. Not finding our main target bird, the Black-backed Woodpecker, we were returning to the van only to find that the Great Gray Owl trend continued. On a tree right by the road and only a few feet from us a female Black-backed Woodpecker was busy searching for grubs, going round and round the trunk blissfully unaware that we were watching and snapping pictures. She dominated our conversation during lunch.
After lunch we boarded the van once more and drove slowly through the park and exited on the east side on our way to Mono Lake, but stopping to see a Clark’s Nutcracker. Our first visit to the lake was in the late afternoon but many birds were still busily seeking food, including numerous California Gulls dining on uncountable alkali flies on the surface of the water near the shore. This lake is a mere shadow of itself,
since for years Los Angeles drew down its level to help slake the thirst of Southern Californians. The draw down has been stopped and the lake is slowly recovering, but will probably never reach the levels it once had.
On one shore of the lake is Mono Lake County Park, which offers easy access to the wild flowers, birds, and the Tufa Towers, large formations of limestone rising from underwater springs on the bottom of the lake. Lowering of the water level exposed many of them and some are no longer anywhere near the water and serve as perches for California Gulls and other birds. Our bird of the hour here was a Virginia Rail in plain view but still hard to photograph.
After lunch in Lee Vining we ventured into a pine forest on the lookout for new birds and were successful in netting great looks at a most colorful Williamson’ Sapsucker. The forest now is composed of mostly second-growth trees since in the late 19th and early 20th centuries most of the forest was logged and sent by rail to other parts of the state. Now the forest is the Mono Mills State Park, because the trees were milled into lumber on site before being shipped. From this high ridge, views of the lake are stunning.
Leaving Lee Vining early in the morning, we set our sights on Aspendell, a small collection of houses at the foot of the mountains, in search of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. This bird proved elusive, but we had close up looks at some Pine Siskins and Cassin’s Finches as well as a Golden Eagle overhead. Say’s Phoebe and Black-billed Magpie provided good looks on our way back to Mono Lake for a farewell visit. We were enthralled by the beautiful sunset over the lake and spied a Common Poorwill waiting for us on the road.
Another early start (habit forming), we headed north of Bodie Ghost Town and arrived at Virginia Lakes (a group of eight smallish lakes) well before breakfast, giving us time to view Little Virginia Lake and one behind it with the backdrop of the High Sierra in the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest. Our birds of the morning were fly-overs by a Bald Eagle and a Lewis’s Woodpecker. Then we had breakfast at the rustic resort on the shore with the lakes, the mountains, and a clear blue sky outside the picture window.
Because we still were east of Yosemite, we were “forced” to drive through it for our last visit to a most exhilarating park. We stopped from time to time to breathe in the air and feast our eyes on mountain streams, wildlife, and majestic mountains. Leaving the park reluctantly, we sped westward toward Fresno to locate another target bird, the Spotted Dove. Once again we found the bird very cooperative. Hitting the crowded freeways once more, we hurried through the southern Central Valley on our way to our next destination, Watsonville, in the Monterey area. A chance to view Clark’s Grebe proved too compelling, so we stopped at a lake to be rewarded by smashing views.
Chapter Three: The Ocean Again
Watsonville is the place to go for luxurious hotel accommodations. We were assigned suites, each with two bedrooms including large flat-screen TVs and two baths, on a relatively quiet street. We teased each other about non-existent fireplaces and Jacuzzis. Before heading for the water, forty miles to the west, we stayed inland to look for the California Condor, the top bird on all of our wish lists. While the Pinnacles National Monument is spectacular with its tall volcanic monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons and talus passages, no condors chose them as perches while we were there, even though this is where some raised in captivity were released. However, the Canyon Wren and Nuttall’s Woodpecker served as smaller substitutes. On the way to the Pinnacles we stopped at the Bryan Ranch in San Benito County for excellent views of the endemic Yellow-billed Magpie (a lifer). Just a few miles from the ranch the “trend” kicked in again when a Golden Eagle, the largest eagle on the continent, landed on an electric pole just ahead of us. Tiring of our oohing and ahing, it moved to a perch on another pole not far away. A Lower California specialty, Lawrence’s Goldfinch (another lifer), supported the “trend” with close-up views of several of them. In addition a small flock of Wild Turkeys and an endemic California Thrasher (lifer) put in an appearance.
Our first encounter with the ocean came in late afternoon at Elkhorn Slough on Monterey Bay to the north of Monterey. Moss Landing, our stop, rewarded us with crippling looks at a large group of California Sea Otters frolicking near the shore between the marina and some shops. As attractive as these creatures were, we were drawn to the large number of birds on the water and in the air. In spite of too many gulls to count and a good number of Brown Pelicans, a Snowy Plover (a first ABA sighting) and Elegant Tern (another lifer) put in a stunning appearance. Also, a lone White-crowned Sparrow fed among the wild flowers at our feet.
Another early rising got us to our boat, Checkmate, at a dock in Monterey Bay to begin our first pelagic trip with the now famous Debi Shearwater (a character in the film The Big Year). Very early in the trip we were surrounded by hundreds of dark birds called Sooty Shearwaters (lifers) in a feeding frenzy on the surface of the water. The smell of the ocean and the sight and sounds of the whirling birds exhilarated all of us. We had a hard time deciding whether to put our binoculars or our cameras to our eyes. What a treat that was!
As a member of the crew began to throw kernels of popcorn into the air, other birds vied for our attention including many Western Gulls in a variety of plumages and Ashy Storm-Petrels in great numbers, with a lesser number of Brown Pelicans and a few of one of our target birds, the Black-footed Albatross (lifer). Flyovers of Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, the Long-tailed Jaeger (a target bird), South Polar Skua, Black Storm-Petrel, Buller’s Shearwater, and Sabine’s Gull added to the life lists of many of us. An added attraction was the appearance of several of the friendly Risso’s Dolphin.
With our feet firmly on solid ground again, we wandered along the Monterey waterfront and the nearby shore with the surf breaking loudly on the rocky shore and a few wildflowers to lend dignity to the scene. Here I picked up two life birds, Surfbird and Black Turnstone, along with an old friend Black Oystercatcher.
Through some weird scheduling of Shearwater Journeys, we returned for a second pelagic trip early the next morning. While the huge flocks of Sooty Shearwaters were gone, I did add Cassin’s Auklet, and Pink-footed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters to my life list.
Next morning, we departed from the hotel to drive to Big Sur on our second quest for the elusive California Condor. If any were present they were shrouded in the heavy fog covering the coast and their perches. Deprived of the condors, we ventured down the famous Pacific Coast Highway, stopping to observe in bright sunlight a sizable colony of California Elephant Seals lolling on the sand near the surf. A few of the adolescent males were tussling with each other instead of sunbathing. Since we were on a high cliff, we did not get very close to them. After a long drive punctuated by stunning views of sea and sky, we arrived in Ventura to rest for our next adventure.
Not much rest since we had to be at the dock early to board the passenger ferry to one of the Channel Islands, Santa Cruz, the largest of the eight islands making up the group. This island was inhabited for hundreds of years but now, according to the last United States census, the population stands at two. The National Park Service owns 24% of the island and the Nature Conservancy holds the rest, and both are gradually returning the island to its natural condition. Our group along with a few others disembarked at Prisoners Harbor, named thus because forty convicts were sent from Santa Barbara with livestock to start a farm. The experiment failed but what happened to the convicts is shrouded in mystery. This was part of the Mexican government’s attempt to populate the area with Mexicans. While there are a few buildings at the landing used by the Park Service, once they were out of sight the only sights and sounds were that of nature, except that of the heavy equipment being used to remove exotic trees and the preparing of a wetland near the landing.
While most of the birds are the same as those found on the mainland, the Island Scrub-Jay is found nowhere else. A small group of them seemed curious about us or perhaps they were looking for a handout, which was frowned upon by our Park Service guide. One jay, however, refused to take no for an answer and followed us for quite a while. Several other species attracted our attention, especially an Allen’s Hummingbird sipping nectar from tall flowers and a female Lazuli Bunting feeding on grass seeds in the middle of the road. We also had good views of Western Kingbird, Blackpoll Warbler, and Red-eyed Vireo.
Following a dry streambed, we wandered down to the shore where a number of species were enjoying the sun, water, and sand. We were afforded very good views of the shore of the island. As we returned to the landing to re-board the ferry, we could see Devil’s Peak, rising some 2450 feet above the sea. Boarding at the same time was a group of school children, whom we neither saw nor heard while we were on the island. While looking back at the islands as we sped toward the mainland, a few unidentified dolphins followed us for a while.
Getting up early (again) we pointed the van to the east to the desert around Maricopa to track down another target bird and another lifer, Le Conte’s Thrasher. The bird proved elusive for a good while, heard but not seen, until it finally decided that we would not go away until it cooperated. This it did for several minutes by sitting on top of sagebrush and sang and sang. While seeking the thrasher, we were pleasantly surprised to find a pair of Burrowing Owls, as curious about us as we were about them. They, however, had no binoculars and cameras to record the event.
Our search for the California Condor led us to Mount Pinos in a roundabout way. Just short of our left turn at a crossroads, the police had blocked the road because of an accident and refused to let us slip quietly by. We therefore had to make a lengthy and time-consuming detour on our last day of the regular tour. Low clouds once more threatened to hide the bird from our view. The clouds lifted enough for some of us to see a condor fly directly over the van. I was among those who did not see it. Then our eagle-eyed leader spotted some whitewash on the side of a cliff some distance away. Through our scopes we saw the elusive bird sitting on a ledge. We drove around a curve to get a little closer, and we were witness to an unbanded juvenile flapping its wings as if it were going to sail away any minute. However, as long as we were there, it just kept exercising.
Having found the condor, we drove further into the mountains looking of the other uncooperative bird, the Mountain Quail. We had gone to a number of spots all through the mountains looking for it only to be told that it “was there yesterday.” However, all was not lost. Sitting on a branch of a pine tree right beside the road was another life bird for most of us, the Northern Pygmy-Owl. As exciting as this was, the thrill was doubled when a second one joined the first and began their afternoon preening ritual. So who cares about the lowly Mountain Quail that would not follow the Great Gray Owl’s lead? While these two sightings provided us with much to talk about and toast once we got to our nice hotel in Rondo Beach, not far from the Los Angeles airport, we also saw a number of other birds including Townsend’s Solitaire and White-headed Woodpecker. While every day brought its share of excitement, the last day of the regular tour was outstanding.
Chapter Four: The Salton Sea
Saying an early goodbye to our friends at the airport, the few of us left headed eastward from Los Angeles to spend a few days at the Salton Sea. This was the other feature of the state I had wanted to see for many years. But we had a few side trips before the main event. First we stopped at Bayshore Drive in Newport to look for another California endemic and lifer for me, the California Gnatcatcher. We thought we had found it, but that was too easy; it was only the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that we have at home. But our persistence paid off because finally our target appeared and allowed us very nice looks. Relaxing just a bit we turned toward the tidal bay on the other side of the road and found Marsh Wren, Belding’s, a subspecies of Savannah Sparrow, and Light-footed Clapper Rail, a subspecies of Clapper Rail.
A little farther down the drive we saw many aquatic species including Royal Tern, Red Knot, and Reddish Egret before reaching our hotel in Anaheim on the banks of the Santa Ana River. Shortly after we checked in to the hotel we squeezed through a fence to gain access to the river just to see what was there. While the water level was low, it was enough to support a Great Blue Heron or two, several Mallards, and a pair of Wood Ducks in brilliant plumage. As a bonus, a few exotic Nutmeg Mannikins were feeding on grass seeds on an island in the middle of the river.
Before we left the next morning we checked the area again. The same birds were still there, but the few mannikins became a flock thirty-five to forty. Too bad we couldn’t add them to our list since they are not officially recognized by the American Birding Association. The Salton Sea lay east of the San Jacinto Mountains that sheltered a number of target birds. While none of the birds we saw were new to us, they nonetheless were well received, including Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Nashville Warbler, Black-throated Sparrow, and a goodly flock of Lawrence’s Goldfinches. Alas, no Mountain Quail crossed the road.
In late afternoon, after driving through the Imperial Valley, another agricultural area with date-palm groves and various huge fields of vegetables, we finally caught a glimpse of the Salton Sea. We drove parallel to it in the distance for quite a while, and then turned sharply east to its shores. It was shocking to see how small it is now in comparison to its original size, as evidenced by a wide swath of barren ground leading to a diminished body of water. Some of the area now is a dumping ground for materials used in road construction. Of course, the water is being withdrawn to irrigate the crops of the Imperial Valley, depriving the wildlife and people of a great natural phenomenon. While the sea might be smaller than it should be, it still harbors a great many water and shorebirds, including Black Terns, Caspian Terns, Mew Gulls, and Yellow-legged Gulls (lifer), the latter visitors from Mexico, found in the US only at the Salton Sea. Then we settled into our hotel in Brawley, less than twenty miles from the Mexican border.
The next morning we began our “Salton Sea Day,” stopping at various points at the sea’s edge or near it. Our earliest prolonged stop was at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, where we found Sora, Virginia Rail, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and several Sandhill Cranes. Then, at the edge of the sea, were so many birds on the water, flying above it, or hunting along the shoreline that we could not count all of them. This sight alone was worth all the driving to get here. Among the birds we identified were large numbers of Brown Pelicans and equal numbers of Double-crested Cormorants, Laughing Gulls, a couple of Franklin’s Gulls, and a number of wading species.
Before we made our second visit to the wildlife headquarters, we felt lucky to see several Burrowing Owl families and several Greater Roadrunners. On the grounds of the headquarters were Abert’s Towhee, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Common Ground-Dove, Gambel’s Quail, and a roosting Lesser Nighthawk. As we headed for Obsidian Butte a pair of Yuma Clapper Rails (still a sub-species) were relatively easy to see at the edge of a marsh. Salton Sea was the hottest place on the entire trip, and therefore we returned to the hotel for a brief siesta before heading out again.
Another of my “must-find” birds was the Costa’s Hummingbird, which I saw in captivity in the Desert Museum of Tucson, but did not count because it was not wild. Driving around Brawley until we found a house with hummingbird feeders in the front yard, we stopped to see if any birds were around. We probably looked like burglars or peeping Toms to the neighbors, but our sole interest was in finding this and possibly other flying gems. Not only did the Costa’s show up and perform for us, but so did the Anna’s and Black-chinned. By the way, the owners of the house had all the blinds drawn as if they welcomed people to look at the birds in their yard.
The lure of the sea drew us toward it again, but on the way we found two other prized birds, the Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. Arriving at Red Hill Landing, we were nearly overwhelmed by the number of aquatic birds swirling around the area and sitting on the water. Added to our list of previously sighted birds were Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers and American Avocets. At what was called the boat launch, we added a nicely dressed Snowy Plover just as the sun was setting over the western shore of the sea. We then returned to Brawley for our last night at the Salton Sea.
Early in the morning we revisited the hummingbird feeders to get better looks in sunlight at the Costa’s and any new birds that might show up. Several of the Costa’s did indeed show up with their splendid purple gorget and head gleaming in the morning sun. A Broad-tailed Hummingbird flashed its rose-colored gorget as it flitted from feeder to feeder. Before heading west again we swung by several stops along the sea to say farewell. At the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR we spotted a roosting Barn Owl and two Lesser Nighthawks. Back at Obsidian Butte a Neotropic Cormorant was the last new bird we saw on the sea.
Instead of merely driving back through the San Jacinto Mountains, we stopped as the occasion demanded. In Idyllwild County Park during a thunderstorm we got good looks at a Black-throated Gray and several Hermit Warblers. At another stop we marveled at a beautiful full rainbow over the mountains.
Then we hit the dreaded freeways once more on our way to Chinatown in Los Angeles to a very good Chinese meal and a restful sleep before boarding our plane in the morning. With my camera packed away out of reach, I watched out the window as we circled around Los Angeles and then out over the Pacific Ocean to turn east again right over San Diego, the San Jacinto Mountains, and the Salton Sea, as we climbed to 30,000 feet over the United States and home.
Many thanks to Jason Horn for his guiding us through this marvelous experience; the trip and this essay would not have been possible without him, and neither would the 267 species and 35 life birds I saw. Also thanks to Barbara and Peter Hunsberger, Thrya Sperry and Dick Martin, Paul Ruvido, and Jay Huner for their fellowship during the trip.
Some information was supplied by Wikipedia and other web sites.
Favorite species of the COMPLETE CALIFORNIA and SALTON SEA tour,
conducted 14 September - 1 October 2010,
as voted upon by the participants & leader.
- Tufted Puffin
- California Condor
- Black-backed Woodpecker
- MacGillivray’s Warbler
- White-headed Woodpecker
- Mountain Quail
- Greater Sage-Grouse
- Williamson’s Sapsucker
- Black-throated Sparrow
- Virginia Rail
Complete California and Salton Sea Extension
Tuesday, 14 September – Friday, 1 October 2010
Leader: Jason Horn
Day 1. Tuesday 14th September. After meeting everyone the night before in San Jose, we started our first day by heading to Palo Alto. Here we had many types of birds including shorebirds, waders, and ducks. One of the highlights of our visit was a close up view of the endangered California Clapper Rail that stood in the open as it foraged along the grassy edge. Other highlights included Oak Titmouse, Anna's Hummingbird, and White-tailed Kite. After too brief of a visit we headed toward Point Reyes National Seashore. Along the way we encountered Golden Eagle and Peregrine Falcon. Once at Point Reyes we found our first of many California Quail feeding along the side of the road. We first headed to Tomales Bay State Park. Here we had excellent views of Wrentit, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and the recently split Pacific Wren. While eating lunch on the beach we added several new species to the trip list including a very curious Botta’s Pocket Gopher. After lunch we walked a nearby trail and flushed a roosting Barn Owl. On this trail we encountered a large feeding flock. In this flock we found Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Western Tanager, Hermit Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Hutton's Vireo, and Pacific-slope Flycatcher. After our visit to the park we headed to the Tule Elk Reserve. On the way there we found Tricolored Blackbird and Bicolored Blackbird, which is the race of Red-winged Blackbird that lacks the yellow line on the wing. After reaching the reserve we quickly found many large bull Elk defending their harems. After leaving the reserve we found a Bobcat sitting in a field. We then birded a little more of the point before heading toward Bodega Bay for the night. Along the way we spotted a Broad-winged Hawk and had a Great Horned Owl being mobbed by Common Ravens.
Day 2. Wednesday 15th September. After an early start we headed to the docks for our first pelagic trip with Shearwater Journeys. On the way out of the harbor we had two Surf Scoters and one White-winged Scoter. Once we got on the ocean we were constantly surrounded by birds. With this high level of bird activity the trip never became boring. We were fortunate to have a very nice day with lots of birds and mammals. We had close and prolonged looks at most of these birds. Bird highlights included Black-footed Albatross feeding beside of the boat, large numbers of jaegers including all three species, South Polar Skua, Xantus’s Murrelet, Tufted Puffin, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Buller's Shearwater, and brief views of a Cook's Petrel seen by part of the group. Mammal highlights included Blue Whale, Humpback Whale, Dall's Porpoise, and Orca.
Day 3. Thursday 16th September. Today we had some early morning birding around Bodega Harbor before breakfast. In the harbor we found Common Loon, Brant, and both scoters again. In the scrub around Bodega Head we found another Bobcat and "Sooty" Fox Sparrow. Along the harbor we found more migrants including Western Wood-Pewee and Orange-crowned Warbler. After breakfast we headed our way toward Yosemite National Park. We first stopped at Petaluma Wetlands for Pacific Golden-Plover. We got close views of these birds along with many others including Great-tailed Grackle, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Bonaparte's Gull. Along the way we stopped for Western and Clark's Grebes and had a nice comparison of both side by side. After entering the park we went to a nearby stream to see American Dipper. It put on a nice show as it fed and sang it's way along the stream. Next we went to a nearby meadow to look for Great Gray Owl and other interesting birds. Here we found Nuttall's Woodpecker and Red-breasted Sapsucker. The only owl we had at this area was a calling Great Horned Owl.
Day 4. Friday 17th September. We started out early to get to the park before it was crowded. Our first stop of the morning was a meadow where we tried to find Great Gray Owl to no avail. After leaving the meadow we stopped at Sentinel Dome where we had two young Northern Goshawks hunting together in the large pine trees. Next we headed to Glacier Point where we ran into some birders who were watching a group of Sooty Grouse. We got close up views of three grouse that sat quietly as we happily watched. While talking to the other birders we learned that they had a Great Gray Owl earlier at McGurk Meadow. With this information we headed back toward the meadow. On the way there we encountered a covey of Mountain Quail that crossed the road and worked their way up the hillside. After arriving at the meadow we searched for the owl. We saw a large bird flying over part of the meadow, but some trees blocked the view. After seeing this bird, a Common Raven flew to the area and started to call in protest of this bird's presence. We tried to locate the bird but we were unable to find it. The only thing we found were two feathers from the owl. After some searching we decided to try for some other birds. On the walk out we found three Pine Grosbeaks feeding in some low bushes along the trail. After enjoying the grosbeaks we headed back to Glacier Point to look for some more birds and have a relaxing lunch while enjoying the incredible scenery. After lunch we worked our way across the park on the way to the Mono Lake. Along the way we found some nice birds including Green-tailed Towhee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red Crossbill, Clark's Nutcracker, and Fox Sparrow. We also made stop to see American Pica, which is a cute little mammal that lives among boulder fields.
Day 5. Saturday 18th September. Before breakfast we did some birding around town. At some hummingbird feeders we found a Black-chinned and several Rufous Hummingbirds. After breakfast we headed to Bodie Ghost Town. Along the way we stopped to see Black-billed Magpie, Sage Thrasher, Sage Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow, Pinyon Jay, and Rock Wren. After arriving in the area of the Ghost Town we found Prairie Falcon, Vesper Sparrow, and Mountain Bluebird. After a lot of scanning we were lucky to find two Greater Sage Grouse that were crossing the road. We drove beside the birds and watched one as it fed at close range. After watching the bird for quite a while we decided to work our way back for lunch. After lunch we went to Mono Lake County Park. Here, among the thousands of Eared Grebes and California Gulls, we found a juvenile Sabine's Gull, a Bonaparte's Gull, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. In the afternoon we headed to the pine forest to look for some new birds. We tried a new location for a Black-backed Woodpecker that was given to me by my friend Wes Fritz. Here we found Cassin's Finch and a juvenile Lewis's Woodpecker, but there was no sign of the woodpecker. After dinner we headed out and saw and heard several Common Poorwills.
Day 6. Sunday 19th September. We got an early start to try for Black-backed Woodpecker. After intense searching we were fortunate to find a beautiful male that showed well as he called and fed in a nearby dead tree. Thanks to Wes for the information for this difficult species. After birding the pine forest we went to the South Tufa Area on Mono Lake and found Western Kingbird and Loggerhead Shrike. In the afternoon we went to Virginia Lake. On the way there we had a fly-by Black Swift; unfortunately it was a poor look. After birding this area we headed back for some more time along the lake. At Mono County Park we saw a Brant, Virginia Rail, and most of the birds we saw the previous day. After watching the sunset over the lake we headed in for diner.
Day 7. Monday 20th September. After a discussion with the group we decided to get up very early and try for the Great Gray Owl again. We drove back through the park and arrived at a meadow were the bird had been seen for several days. At this meadow we saw no sign of the owl. While looking for the owl a large Black Bear appeared out of the forest and was obviously upset that we were standing in its path. After it swatted a nearby branch, I decided to try our luck at McGurk Meadow. After getting up early, I just didn't feel like fighting the bear over the rights for the meadow. At McGurk, some of us saw the owl fly out of the meadow. After the initial sighting we tried to relocate the bird. It was seen very briefly as it flew off into the forest. After we gave up we headed back out to Glacier Point where we found several White-headed Woodpeckers. They put on quite a show as they came in and fed at close range. After this sighting we departed for Fresno to find Spotted Dove. It did not take too long to find one, but they were moving around a lot. So it took awhile to find one that would sit still. Off to Watsonville.
Day 8. Tuesday 21st September. Today we drove down the coast to Big Sur in search of California Condor. After searching for some recently reported Condors, we headed to a known spot where we found four birds. We watched these birds as they moved around on the sea cliffs. It was impressive to see these huge birds at such close range. At one point we had one bird sitting only a few yards away. It was an incredible view of such a critically endangered bird. After we had our fill of these fantastic creatures we worked our way up the coast. We stopped for a group of Vaux's Swifts. While watching the swifts we found our first California Thrasher for the tour. Back near Watsonville we birded the Elkhorn Slough area. This area is rich in wildlife. Even with unfavorable weather we found many nice birds. Highlights included Snowy Plover, Elegant Tern, Glaucous Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, and a huge group California Sea Otter.
Day 9. Wednesday 22nd September. Today’s destination was Pinnacles National Monument. On the way we saw another Bobcat crossing the road, Wild Turkey, Lark Sparrow, and Yellow-billed Magpie. At a wet area we saw over a hundred Lawrence's Goldfinches and other birds coming in to drink. At Pinnacles National Monument we saw "Bell's" Sage Sparrow, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Canyon Wren, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and another California Condor. On the way back we had our fourth Bobcat of the trip. We next birded along the Monterey Waterfront. Here we found Black Oystercatcher, Surfbird, Black Turnstone, and I saw a flyby Wandering Tattler that refused to come out from behind the rocks. After dinner we tried for some owls. At the first stop we had a Spotted Owl that did not show well and we heard a Northern Saw-Whet Owl. At the next stop we heard very vocal Northern Pygmy-Owl and Western Screech-Owl before we were questioned by a friendly police officer. After the officer left, the birds fell silent and we decided to call it a night.
Day 10. Thursday 23rd September. Today we had our second pelagic with Shearwater Journeys, this time to the famous Monterey Bay. As always it proved to be very productive, even compared to the fantastic trip out of Bodega Bay. We had many of the same species along with a few new ones. As with the other pelagic, we had nice weather and good views of most birds and mammals. Bird highlights included Short-tailed Shearwater, Least Storm-Petrel, 4-5 Tufted Puffins, and Red Phalarope. Mammal highlights included Risso's Dolphin, Northern Right Whale Dolphin, Pacific White-sided Dolphin, and Humpback Whale.
Day 11. Friday 24th September. In the mourning we went to Santa Cruz and birded the
waterfront. Here we found Pacific Loon, Red-throated Loon, Surfbird, Tufted Puffin, and
Pigeon Guillemot. After leaving this area we made our way south along Pacific Coast Highway.
We could not resist stopping to see another California Condor. This one was flying around and
eventually landed in a giant Redwood Tree. It was neat to see these two ancient life forms
together. As we made our way south we stopped at an Elephant Seal colony that had many
females and young. In the surf, the young males practiced fighting in preparation for being a
beach master one day.
Day 12. Saturday 25th September. In the morning we headed to Santa Cruz Island. The Pacific Ocean was very calm; it was almost like being on a pond. Because it was so calm you could see birds sitting on the water from a great distance. With the lack of wind the birds were not moving very much. On the way over we saw two distant Black-vented Shearwaters. Once we got to the island we landed at Prisoner Cove. Here we found most of the resident birds of the island, the main attraction being the Island Scrub-Jay. We saw several of these birds as they slowly foraged around the riparian area. Other birds of interest included Blue-winged Teal, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Allen's Hummingbird, Hooded Oriole, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow. On the return trip we saw a few more Black-vented Shearwaters sitting on the water with Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters.
Day 13. Sunday 26th September. In the morning we drove to Maricopa to look for Le Conte's Thrasher. We were lucky enough to find several pairs. We managed to get excellent views of this sometimes difficult bird. After enjoying the thrashers, we made our way toward Mount Pinos. On the way we made stops for Horned Lark and four more California Condors that came flying directly overhead. At another location we found a beautiful male Williamson's Sapsucker that flew in and gave us quite a show. At Mount Pinos we saw many of the common highland species. One of the highlights was the "Large-billed" Fox Sparrow that was feeding on blue berries along the road.
The Complete California Tour ended on the morning of Day 14 and the Salton Sea Extension began . .
Day 14. Monday 27th September. After breakfast we headed to the Palos Verdes Peninsula to look for California Gnatcatcher. At the first location we could hear a California Gnatcatcher but it would not show itself. We did manage to find a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher instead. We also had Cactus Wren, Rufous Hummingbird, and Allen's Hummingbird. Next we headed to Bolsa Chica where we found Royal Tern, "Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, several Red Knots, and many other shorebirds. Then we went to Newport and birded Bayshore Drive. In the dry scrub we found a pair of California Gnatcatchers. In the tidal area we spotted a Curlew Sandpiper among the other shorebirds and in the marsh we found Marsh Wren, "Light-footed" Clapper Rail, and more "Belding’s" Savannah Sparrow. After Newport we headed back to Bolsa Chica where we found two Reddish Egrets.
Day 15. Tuesday 28th September. We headed to San Jacinto Wildlife Area. On the way we found Cattle Egret and White-faced Ibis. In the wetlands at San Jacinto Wildlife Area, we found Wilson's Snipe, Sora, Wilson's Phalarope, Redhead, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, and many other wetland birds. In the surrounding area we found Willow Flycatcher, MacGillivray's Warbler, Cassin's Kingbird, and two Merlins, including one dark morph bird. Next we headed to the south end of the Salton Sea where we found many new birds including Abert's Towhee, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Common Ground-Dove, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Greater Roadrunner, Gambel's Quail, and Burrowing Owl. On the Salton Sea we saw Black Tern, Laughing Gull, and Yellow-legged Gull.
Day 16 Wednesday 29th September. All day was spent exploring the Salton Sea and surrounding areas. We started at Obsidian Butte. Here we had large numbers of birds, there were flocks as far as you could see, with Brown Pelican and Double-crested Cormorant being the dominant species. Good numbers of gulls and terns filled the air and the shoreline was crowded with other species of waders and shorebirds. It certainly is a sight to see so many birds concentrated in this desert oasis. Next we headed to Red Hill Landing where we found a large number of shorebirds including Wilson's Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, and American Avocet. Here we encountered the "Large-billed" Savannah Sparrow, a subspecies that is found only in southern California and nearby Mexico. At the boat launch we found Snowy Plover, Gull-billed Tern, Bonaparte's Gull, and Neotropical Cormorant. With the heat building we opted for lunch and a siesta. Later in the afternoon we headed up the east side of the sea. We made a few stops for land birds and were lucky to find some migrants. One of the better birds we found was a Gray Flycatcher that showed off as it fed it the shadows of a small stand of Mesquite Trees. We finished the day at Bombay Beach were we watched a beautiful sunset.
Day 17. Thursday 30th September. We started the day in town where we added Gila Woodpecker to the trip. After checking out the migrant spot again we headed to the Wister Unit. At the entrance we found a nice male Red-naped Sapsucker. In the wetlands we found American Bittern, Virginia Rail, and "Yuma" Clapper Rail. After lunch in a shady spot, we headed to the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge where we saw seven Sandhill Cranes. From here we decided to bird our way back through the San Jacinto Mountains. Just outside of Palm Desert we stop for Black-throated Sparrow. This beautiful little bird gave us quite a show as it moved around right in front of us. In the mountains we encountered many of the same species that we saw earlier in the tour. In one large flock of birds, we found a beautiful Nashville Warbler.
Day 18. Friday 1st October. After a good night’s sleep, we made our way to the airport and the conclusion of the tour. We saw a lot of good birds on this trip and had excellent views of just about all of them. Hopefully everyone enjoyed their time in beautiful California and left with fond memories of the birds they encountered.
Favorite birds of the COMPLETE CALIFORNIA TOUR,
conducted 15 - 28 September 2007,
as voted upon by the participants & leader.
- CALIFORNIA CONDOR - Several were seen flying out of Pinnacles National Monument but the best sighting was on the road to Mt. Pinos where a lone bird was found feeding on road kill.
- Le Conte's Thrasher - A very cooperative bird posed for pictures and sang in the scrub near Maricopa.
- Greater Sage-Grouse - Several were seen outside of Bodie State Park.
- Great Gray Owl - A lone bird was seen in the Wawona area of Yosemite National Park.
- Island Scrub-Jay - Easily found on Santa Cruz Island.
- Mountain Quail - A large covey was found just off Tioga Pass Road near Lee Vining.
- Black-footed Albatross - Several were seen on both Monterey Bay pelagic trips.
- Flesh-footed Shearwater - Several were seen on both Monterey Bay pelagic trips.
- Barn Owl - A lone bird at Bodega bay sat in a tree and gave excellent daytime views.
- Yellow-billed Magpie - Many birds were seen in the Pinnacles area.
September 15-28, 2007
Trip Report by Jason Horn, Tour Leader
First morning of the tour, Mary Ann and Peter Marchetti and I headed to Palo Alto and Mountain View Baylands for a few hours of birding before Les Eastman arrived. At Palo Verde we started birding at the duck pond with close-up views of coots, grebes, several species of ducks, California Gull, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and two immature Little Blue Herons, a fairly uncommon bird for the area. As we explored farther we had good views of Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Red-necked Phalarope, and many other shorebirds, an experience that would be repeated throughout the tour. One of the highlights of the morning was a very cooperative ‘California’ Clapper Rail (an endangered subspecies) that came into the open and posed for our enjoyment. Other highlights included close views of Vaux's Swift, Cinnamon Teal, and American White Pelican. This morning we encountered thousands of birds and had a nice introduction to what California birding has to offer. After picking Les up at the airport we headed north to Bodega Bay. En route we had nice views of San Francisco Bay as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. At Bodega Bay we had good numbers of water and shorebirds that included some of our first West Coast specialties such as Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, and Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants. Some other specialties included Tricolored Blackbirds coming in to roost at a small wetland. But one of the highlights of the day was a beautiful Barn Owl that was perched in the open. We watched the owl for quite a while as it was being mobbed by Chestnut-backed Chickadees. What an excellent way to end the first day!
Day two we birded the Point Reyes Peninsula. Starting at Tomales Bay State Park, we quickly had excellent looks at a Wrentit, another West coast specialty. In the park we birded the forest and found Band-tailed Pigeon, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Hutton's Vireo, and Wilson's and Townsend's Warblers, to name a few. We then found our way to the Tule Elk Reserve where we saw many Elk. After enjoying the Elk herd we headed to Abbott's Lagoon for more views of waterfowl and shorebirds. The best shorebirds we found were a Dunlin and two Baird's Sandpipers. After leaving the peninsula we headed to a nearby marsh where we had close but brief views of a Virginia Rail. We finished the day around the park headquarters where we had two more specialties. A family of California Towhees and a covey of California Quail put on quite a show right in the parking lot.
Day three we got to experience the joy of California rush hour traffic as we made our way to Bolinas Lagoon. At the lagoon we had large numbers waterfowl, gulls, and shorebirds that were occasionally displaced by the passing of a Bald Eagle. Here we encountered our first Elegant Terns and a large Harbor Seal nursery, to everyone's delight. We made a few stops on the way to Yosemite, one of which yielded Virginia Rail and Sora. Once at Yosemite we were delighted to find a very cooperative Red-shouldered Hawk and a pair of American Dippers that put on an excellent show as they fed along a small mountain stream. After tearing ourselves away we headed to a nearby location to look for Great Gray Owl. At this area we were unable to locate a Great Gray but we did find a Cooper's Hawk and a Long-eared Owl. The Long-eared was a surprise because they are not that common at this altitude.
Day four we were up early for another attempt for the Great Gray Owl. Just as we were about to give up, Peter spotted one as it came out of the tall grass carrying a vole! The bird landed on the same perch that the Long-eared Owl was on the night before. The owl then moved to the top of a small bush where it sat for a while before it disappeared into the forest. This was an experience that will not be soon forgotten. We headed toward Glacier Point where we found Pileated Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, White-throated Swift, and a few other mountain birds. The majestic view of the Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point Overlook was breath taking--Wow! After leaving the point we worked our way into the valley. We birded the area below Bridal Vail Fall where we found a beautiful Great Horned Owl being mobbed by a group of Steller's Jays. We made our way through the park to the Mono Lake area where we concluded our day at Mono County Park. Here we saw a large number of California Gulls, Eared Grebes, and Red-necked Phalaropes on the lake. We were delighted by several Red-breasted Sapsuckers, a Black-billed Magpie, and a few other nice birds.
Day five was a cold and very, very windy day, but we made the best of it and set out to bird the sheltered areas. We checked the area around the Bodie Ghost Town. On the way to Bodie we found a nice group of birds that included Say's Phoebe, Sage Sparrow, Pine Siskin, and Spotted and Green-tailed Towhees. In the Bodie area, I spotted a very distant Greater Sage-Grouse. After everyone saw the speck in the scope, we set out across the sagebrush for a closer look. We slowly worked our way toward the location and found ourselves extremely close to what turned out to be a flock of about 15 grouse! These birds put on a nice show as they worked their way through the sagebrush. After this fantastic experience we returned to the road and quickly found a large flock of Mountain Bluebirds. We headed back to Mono County Park and had a MacGillivray's Warbler and a male American Redstart. Nearby a Bobcat crossed the road right in front of the van. In town we found Rufous Hummingbird, Steller's Jay, Cassin's Finch, and Pine Siskin coming to feeders. All in all we had a fairly good day considering the less than optimal weather conditions.
Day six we got an early start to a large burn area to look for Black-backed Woodpecker before breakfast. This morning the winds had subsided and the burn area was alive with the sounds of woodpeckers. We spent two hours searching this area during which I heard only one Black- backed Woodpecker call. I was unable to locate the bird, but I tracked down several Northern Flickers and 60+ Hairy Woodpeckers. It was an incredible experience to see so many woodpeckers in such a small area! On our way back to breakfast we learned that the Tioga Pass through Yosemite was closed due to an early snowstorm. We revisited the feeders in town and saw several Rufous Hummingbirds. We also birded some areas below the pass that produced a Western Tanager and a covey of Mountain Quail. We watched them as they crossed the road and worked their way up the hillside. After having our fill of the quail we headed up the road where I saw a Black Swift barreling down the hill trying to escape the wintry weather. I quickly turned around and tried to chase it down, but it was just too quick, hence the name Swift? The return trip through the park was quite different than our previous passage. The summer setting was transformed to a winter wonderland with snow-laden trees and several inches covering the ground. We saw several close Clark's Nutcrackers before we departed. We stopped in Fresno and had several Spotted Doves, a bird that is becoming increasingly difficult to find in California. In the Central Valley we stopped at Mendota Waterfowl Management Area where we had close views of breeding Western and Clark's Grebes, plus White-faced Ibis and Caspian Tern.
Day seven we headed to Monterey to go on our first of two pelagic trips with Debra Shearwater Journeys. During the debriefing of ship rules we had a first-year Sabine's Gull in the harbor. What a nice way to start the trip! We had a beautiful calm day with close and excellent views of most species. Species seen on the trip included: Black-footed Albatross, Sooty Shearwater, Short-tailed Shearwater (first one for the season), Buller's Shearwater, Pink-footed Shearwater, Flesh-footed Shearwater (very brief), Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Ashy Storm-Petrel, Black Storm-Petrel, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, South Polar Skua, Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, and Rhinoceros Auklet. Also seen were Humpback Whale, Northern Right Whale Dolphin, Pacific White-sided Dolphin, Dall's Porpoise, California Sea Lion, Harbor Seal, and Sea Otter. After the pelagic we made a short visit to Point Pinos to see Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, and Wandering Tattler.
Day eight we went to Pinnacles National Monument. We stopped at Paicines Reservoir where we had Bald Eagle, Wilson's Snipe, Baird's Sandpiper, Cassin's Kingbird, Western Kingbird, and many others. Also along the road we found a Prairie Falcon and several endemic Yellow-billed Magpies. Upon arriving at Pinnacles we found three more target birds: Oak Titmouse, Nuttall's Woodpecker, and FIVE California Condors! Other highlights included Golden Eagle and Pacific-slope Flycatcher. After leaving Pinnacles we went in search of California Thrasher and Lawrence's Goldfinch. Both birds showed nicely, especially the flock of goldfinches that was coming in to drink at a small spring.
Day nine began in Santa Cruz with close views of Elegant Tern and distant views of Marbled Murrelet. We then proceeded to Ana Nuevo State Park were we had better views of Marbled Murrelet and added Elephant Seal to the trip. In the afternoon we birded the Moss Landing area where we had large numbers of shorebirds, among which we found Ruddy Turnstone and Red Knot. In the inlet we had a group of about 80 Sea Otters all swimming and feeding together.
Day ten was our second pelagic trip. This time during the debriefing we found a female Harlequin Duck in the harbor. We had another calm day at sea with many of the same species. Highlights included 20 South Polar Skuas, excellent and prolonged views of Flesh-footed Shearwater as it followed the boat, and a breaching Humpback Whale. As we returned to the harbor we were greeted by a Pigeon Guillemot and the same Sabine's Gull that we saw at the start of the first pelagic.
Day eleven, a stop at Moss Landing yielded close views of five Snowy Plovers and a first-year Parasitic Jaeger sitting on the beach. We worked are way down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. Today was mostly a travel day with some birding along the way.
Day twelve we traveled with Island Packers Tour to Prisoner's Cove on Santa Cruz Island. On the way out we found several Black-vented Shearwaters. After arriving at Prisoner's Cove we quickly located the main target bird, the endemic Island Scrub-Jay. We also saw many of the endemic subspecies including Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Orange-crowned Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and Allen's Hummingbird. On the island we found Hooded Oriole, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Lazuli Bunting. On the return trip we saw hundreds of Common Dolphins, Risso's Dolphin, Minke Whale, and two Blue Whales.
Day thirteen we went to Maricopa to look for Le Conte's Thrasher. We quickly found a cooperative pair of thrashers, along with Greater Roadrunner and Sage Sparrow. After the nice thrasher show we headed toward Mount Pinos. We found a Grasshopper Sparrow, many Lark Sparrows, and two California Condors that were just finishing their breakfast that consisted of a road-killed Black-tailed Jackrabbit. The one condor was in the company of several Common Ravens that were dwarfed by its presence. This bird allowed for a close approach until a passing car caused it to take off and circle by our van. It was a real treat to see such a critically endangered species at such close range. At Mount Pinos we found Lewis's Woodpecker, White-headed Woodpecker, and Townsend's Warbler, just to name a few.
The final morning we went to the Palo Verde Peninsula where we saw Cactus Wren and several California Gnatcatchers. This was our final specialty of the tour before we departed for the airport and our plane ride home.