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A Report from

Birds and other Natural Wonders: California and Surroundings, 12 April to 3 May 1997,

Stephen Poley


This is the report of a trip by camper to Southern and Central California, plus the spectacular canyons of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. The trip was partly for birds and partly general natural history.

This report may be of particular interest to readers who:

·       are considering touring with a camper,
·       want to do a birding trip with small children or family members less interested in birds,
·       want to combine birds with other natural wonders.


I did this trip with my wife Madelène and my 18-month old son Alex. Madelène is interested in the countryside and nature generally, but with no special interest in birds. We therefore planned the trip as a general interest tour, based mainly on the scenic highlights, with birding stops on the way. The only place we went solely for birds was the Salton Sea. Even so, we managed to see a respectable number of both birds and mammals besides much else.

Mainly because of Alex, we decided to do the trip in a camper, or Recreational Vehicle (=RV) as they call it in North America. We bought a package with flight, 22-foot camper (=7 metres) and one night hotel from Hotelplan. Holland International has an almost identical package, and other operators probably do too.

Our camper was hired from El Monte. We can recommend them - we were impressed by the design and condition of the camper, and also the helpfulness and efficiency of their staff. Driving the camper was somewhat nerve-wracking for the first couple of hours, due to the sheer size of it, but I got used to it pretty quickly after that.

We decided not to book any campsites in advance. This was definitely the right decision: it meant more flexibility, and we never had any significant problems finding a site - only Joshua Tree National Park was full, and we found another site only a few miles away. (Note however that sites are much fuller in the summer.) The only thing we would do differently is to book a site for the last night: getting a site on a Friday evening near Los Angeles can be tricky.

We drove 5000 km in three weeks: quite a lot, but it still allowed a good amount of time for sightseeing and birding. The distances given below are the actual distances we drove, including detours for shopping and sightseeing.

Although children under 2 can fly free if you carry them on your lap, having a child on your lap for 10 hours doesn't bear thinking about, so we booked an extra seat for Alex. We were rather concerned about coping with him on the flight, but the outward flight went really well. He spent most of the trip running around the aircraft and playing with other children - fortunately no-one seemed to mind. The return night flight wasn't quite as smooth, but it still went much better than we had feared.

We paid just under fl 7000 ($ 3500) for the package and spent just under fl 5000 ($ 2500) in America. We didn't try hard to economise, but didn't do anything particularly extravagant either.

Routine: to start with we reduced the time-difference by getting up very early in the morning. We generally tried to stop at least a couple of hours before sunset, to make it easier to find a campsite and to give Alex the chance to play in the campsite before it got dark. Also it meant we could eat outdoors. Most campsites have picnic tables, and except in the mountains the temperature was ideal.

Would we recommend a camper to other birders? For a group of fanatics whose only interest is a maximum-length bird-list, perhaps not. Driving is (slightly) slower in a camper, narrow dirt roads are less accessible and the overhead of cooking, cleaning and making up beds probably greater than checking into a hotel. However, for anyone even slightly interested in comfort and aesthetics, we would certainly recommend it. Waking up somewhere like O'Neill Park surrounded by bird-song beats any motel, while Salton Sea and Death Valley are a lot more bearable when you have cold drinks and ice-cream always available! With small children, a camper is definitely more convenient than a car and motels.



Small children

Our experience would suggest it's not worth bringing many toys: Alex was far happier playing with other things most evenings (like taps, light switches, toilet rolls ....) Do however bring two or three favourite toys as reassurance for the first couple of nights.

Small children (and some adults) often suffer pain in the ears during take-off and landing, due to the air-pressure changes. We had heard that it helps to give them nose-drops (a simple salt solution) before each take-off and landing. It certainly seemed to work for Alex.

Commercial campsites usually have playgrounds for children; park campgrounds usually don't.

Weather and Season

There's no single good season for all the places on our route: the low deserts are best in early spring, the high mountains in summer, while one can best do pelagic trips in late summer/autumn. On the whole we found April a pretty good time to go.

The weather was generally dry and sunny, with some cloud and a little rain in Utah and snow at Bryce. The low deserts were hot (and Salton Sea very hot), the coast cool and Sequoia National Park and Bryce were cold. For the rest it was generally pleasantly warm.

Day-to-Day Reports

12 April     Amsterdam - Los Angeles

Flew with Martinair from Schiphol to Los Angeles. Taxi to Figueroa hotel. Western gull and American kestrel on the way (well, you have to start somewhere!).

13 April     Los Angeles - O'Neill Park    56 miles / 90 km

Sightseeing in the downtown area of Los Angeles. Picked up the camper from El Monte in the afternoon and drove to O'Neill Park. This is on the edge of the Santa Ana mountains, north of San Juan Capistrano - take the El Toro Road turn-off (the S18) from the I-5 and follow El Toro road inland until you pick up the signposts. The route is described in detail in Holt. It is an excellent place for the first night - close to LA (90 minute drive), nice campsite, fairly good birds.

In/over the campsite: Black-shouldered kite, Nuttall's woodpecker, White-breasted nuthatch, Plain titmouse, California ground-squirrel etc.

14 April     Dorothy May sanctuary, Santiago Oaks, Mt Palomar    122 miles / 195 km

Visited the Dorothy May sanctuary (also given in Holt). Good place to warm up on some of the commoner birds, as they have bird feeders and you can get very close. Also good view of Pacific-slope flycatcher (which was split from Western flycatcher by someone who found the Empidonax flycatchers too easy) our only Golden-crowned sparrows of the trip, and our only definite Band-tailed pigeons.

Then on to Santiago Oaks park, where it was too hot for many birds, but persistent searching for one singing bird was rewarded with good views of Western Tanager.

Then on to Mt Palomar. As we were tired, we decided to stop at the Rancho Corrido campsite on Highway 76 a little way before the mountain itself. Quite unexpectedly it turned out to be good for birds. The highlight was all three goldfinches: American in the middle of the site, Lesser by the river, and a pair of Lawrence's by the site office.

15 April     Mt Palomar, Lake Henshaw, Anza-Borrego    76 miles / 122 km

Did some birding on the way up Mt Palomar - Black-headed grosbeak, Lazuli bunting etc. After visiting the famous Mt Palomar telescope (for many years it was the largest in the world) went on to Lake Henshaw. Some grebes and cormorants - worth stopping, but not worth going out of your way for. Then took the S22 eastwards. The scenery changes dramatically in just a few miles, and drops down spectacularly to the Anza-Borrego desert. Not much time for birding, but couldn't miss the Verdins and Antelope ground squirrels at the visitor centre. Night at the Borrego Palms campsite. Wonderful views of Hale-Bopp comet and of the stars, especially after the moon set.

16 April     Anza-Borrego Desert     28 miles / 45 km

Did a part of the Borrego-Palms trail. Good views of Black-throated sparrow and Phainopepla. Heard a Canyon wren singing, though we didn't know it at the time, as we hadn't yet found a tape. Very attractive song, rather like a slowed-down European Woodlark.

Decided to have a quiet day. Did some shopping in the little town of Borrego Springs, and nearly stepped on three Cactus wrens by the Post Office. Went on to Yaqui Well. The campsite there has no facilities whatever, and is free. It was also extremely peaceful.

Yaqui Well was not as good for birds as Holt suggests, but it was still worth visiting. Virginia's warbler was a good find, a Brewer's sparrow permitted close examination and four Summer tanagers flew over. Highlight was the spectacular display of a White-winged dove, leaning far forwards and throwing its wings and tail up to show off the white flashes.

17 April     Yaqui Well to Salton Sea    102 miles / 164 km

Checked out the northern end of Yaqui Pass road, which Holt gives as being an area for thrashers. We found no thrashers, but did have an excellent view of a roadrunner sitting, unexpectedly, in the top of a small tree.

Then we drove along the "Erosion Route" (along the S22), a leaflet about which we had found in the visitor centre. It is a geologically fascinating area, even if you know very little about geology.

We then drove down to the Salton Sea. Paradiso e Inferno - tremendous birding but hot enough to keep Dante happy, even in April (nearly 40° C). By chance we turned up Poe Road (given in Holt) while looking for somewhere to stop for lunch. This was a good spot, and so was the Wildlife Refuge at the north end of Vendel Road. By this time however the heat-haze was so intense it was getting hard to identify anything. Bannister Road, running east from Vendel Road, was also a very good area, with hundreds of egrets, Whimbrel, Long-billed curlew, White-faced ibis etc.

Ramer Lake is supposed to be good, but the only bird of note we found was an Abert's towhee, flushed from scrub by the railway track. Wrong time of day, of course. After a small detour in Calipatria to see the world's tallest flagpole, we went on to the campsite at Red Hill landing. The campsite is not especially noteworthy for the facilities (although the laundry is free!) but it certainly is for the birds: Brown and White pelicans, Clarks grebe, Cinnamon teal, Gull-billed tern, both species of Dowitcher sufficiently close to identify with confidence etc etc. Anyone doing a purely birding trip to California should spend at least a couple of nights here. Puzzlingly however, there were almost no land migrants.

18 April    Salton Sea, Palm Springs, Morongo Valley    124 miles / 200 km

A visit to the Wildlife Refuge headquarters at the west end of Sinclair Road produced some distant views of Black skimmers, and the rest of Sinclair Road good views of Burrowing owl. We then drove to Palm Springs and visited Palm Canyon. The palm trees were nice, but it wasn't worth it for the birds.

An astonishing sight at the north end of Palm Springs is the immense San Gorgonio wind farm. With violent gusts of wind trying to blow the camper off the road, the sight of 4000 windmills - dimly visible through flards of mist blowing off the San Jacinto mountains - put one in mind of Dante again. Or possibly H.G. Wells.

We stopped for the night at the Roadrunner campsite at Morongo Valley. Nothing to recommend it except for being (a) cheap and (b) close to Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.

19 April         Big Morongo, Joshua Tree    90 miles / 145 km

In the spring migration, Big Morongo is one of California's hot spots, as evidenced by the fact that by 9 a.m. the car park was overflowing with birders from all over southern California. Unfortunately we were all to be disappointed. As I had suspected at Salton Sea, the migration was unusually late this year. A few Nashville warblers were about the only migrants present. However the breeding Vermilion flycatchers and Cooper's hawk were much appreciated. The breeding Brown-crested flycatchers were briefly seen just before we arrived but unfortunately declined to show themselves again.

Spent the afternoon in Joshua Tree National Park. This is mainly impressive for its scenery and vegetation, but we found a Ladder-backed woodpecker and two Gambel's quails by Barker's dam and also a Scott's oriole along the road.

20 April     Joshua Tree to Kingman (AZ)    219 miles / 350 km

For the next week we more or less abandoned birds and concentrated on the scenery. Today we drove through the Mojave desert to Lake Havasu and Kingman. A potentially good spot on this route is the Bill Williams River reserve, just East of the Parker Dam. It boasts a list of 288 species. However we didn't want to take the camper up the rough and narrow dirt road into the reserve without information about road conditions (like: can we turn round?!), which wasn't available because the reserve headquarters are closed on Sunday.

21 April     Kingman to Flagstaff via Meteor.     267 miles / 430 km

Highlights today were a pair of Pronghorn antelope along the I-40, breeding Western bluebirds in the woods west of Flagstaff and Meteor Crater itself - the best preserved meteor crater in the world. Stopped at the KOA campsite in Flagstaff, a nice wooded campsite that produced Chipping sparrow and Pygmy nuthatch.

22 April     Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Page     235 miles / 378 km

Hardly any birds: this day was all about the Grand Canyon. However the drive from there north to Page is scenically also most impressive. California condors have now been introduced at the Grand Canyon, but we didn't see them.

23 April     Page to Bryce Canyon (UT)     177 miles / 285 km

An early morning walk produced 25 Franklin's gulls over the lake. From Page to Bryce the country gets higher and greener, and we had some rain. The pond at Ruby's Inn, near the entrance to Bryce, produced 8 Yellow-headed blackbirds, and in Bryce itself the colony of the very rare Utah prairie dogs had awoken from hibernation. For the rest it was another scenery day, although it was invisible for a while after we arrived at Bryce thanks to a heavy snowstorm! Bryce is at around 2600 metres, and April is a bit early to be visiting it. It was worth it though - for us Bryce has the most remarkable scenery of the entire trip

24 April     Bryce to Zion     109 miles / 175 km

The top end of Bryce was closed by the snow, so we had to go without Clark's Nutcracker and any other high-altitude species. So on to Zion, which is also scenically most impressive. Found a Gray Vireo while waiting to go through the tunnel. (Incidentally it had two wing-bars, as shown in the National Geographic guide, not one as in Peterson.) There was a male Lucy's warbler, and a probable female, by the Virgin River just next to the visitor centre.

25 April     Zion to Las Vegas (NV)     180 miles / 290 km

The wooded surroundings of the South campsite proved quite productive: Red-shafted flicker, Downy woodpecker, Ladder-backed woodpecker (in somewhat unexpected habitat), and a group of Evening Grosbeaks. A short walk up the Watchman trail had musical accompaniment from another Canyon wren.

Then it was a long and mainly birdless drive to Las Vegas. An exception was the (nearly new) Quail Creek reservoir. At first sight this looked pretty dead, but a bit of searching produced a Franklins gull, eight Common loons in attractive breeding plumage and a group of no less than 400 Eared grebes.

At Las Vegas we stayed at the KOA campsite in the city. Surprisingly even this produced a new bird for the trip: Black-chinned Hummingbird. Spent the evening visiting the city (and no, we didn't go gambling!)

26 April     Las Vegas, Hoover Dam to Death Valley     240 miles / 386 km

After a short visit to the immensely impressive, if largely birdless, Hoover Dam, we drove northwards to Amargosa. This "village" has a total population, as far as we could determine, of about 2 pairs of people, 1 pair of Western kingbirds and 1 pair of Gray flycatchers. Then on to Furnace Creek in Death Valley.

27 April     Death Valley to Isabella Lake     190 miles / 306 km

Being an isolated oasis in a large desert, I had hoped that Furnace Creek would produce a few migrants. In fact the only new bird was a Belted Kingfisher which I startled on the golf course (it startled me as well). Also there was a White-faced ibis and a Pied-billed grebe, and a suspiciously tame Roadrunner.

After this, a long drive through very impressive scenery to Owens Lake (almost dry, no birds) and on to a campsite at Isabella Lake (wet, some birds) at the south end of the Sierra Nevada.

28 April     Isabella Lake to Sequoia National Park     188 miles / 303 km

After adding Blue grosbeak to the list we drove on to Sequoia National Park. The drive up to the South entrance has an enormous number of sharp turns and was a long and tiring drive in the camper. Certainly any camper longer than ours (22 feet) would do better to take the North entrance. We camped at the Lodgepole campsite. This is not officially open in April (it is at an altitude of 2000m) but if you can find a space that isn't still covered in snow, you're allowed to camp free of charge. It was one of the nicest camp sites of the trip. Visited the Giant Forest, which includes the world's largest living organism: the immense "General Sherman" sequoia tree.

29 April     Sequoia National Park to Gilroy     224 miles / 361 km

Went for a sunrise walk around the "Trail for All People" a little way south of the Giant Forest. This runs around a small meadow in the forest and was very productive for birds: White-headed woodpecker, Pileated woodpecker, Fox sparrow, Golden-crowned kinglet, Mountain chickadee etc. It also produced an uncomfortably close encounter with two black bears! Fortunately they decided that they could find something better to eat than some rather chewy tourists.

Then drove on to Gilroy, on the Highway 101 north of Monterey. The Highway 152 east of Gilroy turned out to be good for Yellow-billed magpie - we saw at least nine of them, in ones and twos. (This is California's only endemic bird species). Here, the passerine migration seemed to have finally got into full swing, with large numbers of swallows.

30 April     Monterey and surroundings     100 miles / 161 km

From Gilroy we drove to the coast and found a few waders at Moss Landing. Here we also found the signpost to Elkhorn Slough, a reserve about 6 km inland from Moss Landing. This is a rich area; we found 50 species in a leisurely 2-hour walk, including Black-shouldered kite, Chestnut-backed chickadee, Bushtit, Pacific-slope flycatcher and some new waders and ducks. Note: it is closed Monday and Tuesday.

The next stop was the famous 17-mile drive at Monterey. The entrance fee is steep (over $7) but it produced black and velvet scoters, all three cormorants, Heerman's and Glaucous-winged gulls, and some sea-lions. Then we went on to Point Lobos, where we had better views of the sea-lions and distant views of sea otter.

For the night we drove on to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This didn't produce any new birds, but the campsite is remarkable - in the middle of a forest of enormous trees.

1 May     San Simeon, Morro Bay, Lopez Lake     148 miles / 238 km

Big Sur was mainly good for the scenery, but at a stop at a beach near San Simeon we also had good views of Elephant seals. Since the population started growing strongly on the offshore islands, a few new colonies have established themselves on the mainland; apparently this is a recent one.

Morro Bay (specifically the area around Morro Rock) was fairly good for birds, but produced no new ones. We did however have a very close view of a sea otter.

Stopped the night at Lopez Lake, south-east of San Luis Obispo. (From highway 101, drive through Arroyo Grande, and then it's signposted). Nice campsite, quite good birds. A late walk produced Great horned owl and Barn owl.

2 May     Devereux Slough, Point Mugu     169 miles / 272 km

Stopped briefly at the tourist trap of Solvang - good place for coffee and cake, by the way. There were a good number of buteo's passing through; most appeared to be red-tailed, but at least one was a red-shouldered. Then on to Devereux Slough, near Santa Barbara (from Highway 101, take Stoke Road and turn right at the end). Good spot - Cinnamon teal, Red-necked phalarope etc - though a talk with a local birder suggested that the list of birds given by Holt is misleading or outdated.

Stopped for the night at Point Mugu. Even though we arrived early, at about 3 o'clock, the campsite was officially full (Friday evening!), but they seem to keep a few spaces free for foreign visitors who have to hand the camper back in LA the following day. Not a great site, but a good place to stop for the last night, enhanced by a large group of Cedar waxwings. Rounded off with a paddle in the sea (icy cold!) and a bit of sea-watching.

3 May     Los Angeles     63 miles / 101 km

Returned the camper (80 minute drive back to the hire station), took the free shuttle bus to the airport and flew home.



A Field Guide to Western Birds, Roger Tory Peterson (2nd edition)

Field Guide to the Birds of North America, National Geographic Society (2nd edition)

In general, Peterson is better for quick identification of the majority of species (eg all the warblers are on two plates, compared to thirteen for the NGS guide) but NGS is better for many of the more difficult species. I gather there is now a newer edition of Peterson available.

A Birder's Guide to Southern California, Harold Holt

Recommended, although some of the maps could be improved, and some of the species reports are either optimistic or outdated.


The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals (Chanticleer Press 1980)



Rand-McNally city map: Los Angeles & vicinity

Rough Guide to California (1996)

.... and this probably the best all-round guide, with additional information on accommodation and nightlife. Also covers Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

Verenigde Staten - Zuidwest, ANWB.

Also covers the other states, but very little detail.

Travel Reports

Jan Vermeulen: California and South-eastern Arizona, 15 April - 1 May 1990

Wim ten Have: California, 19 July - 19 August 1996


Most of the National and State Parks, and some of the Regional Parks, have checklists of the birds and mammals. They are well worth getting. Sometimes they are free, otherwise they cost around 50 cents. Do ask for them if you can't see them - the free ones are sometimes kept behind the counter, so that they are only taken by people who are really interested.

At Bryce we managed to find a tape of bird songs for "Canyon Country". The selection was a bit odd (who needs the call of white-throated swift?) and the commentary pretty ghastly, but it helped to identify a few birds. A couple of other parks said they were considering stocking bird-song tapes; if enough people ask for them, perhaps they will actually get around to doing it!

We also picked up a few tips from the Compuserve California forum.

Systematic list of Birds

Based on the list in Holt; differences from the National Geographic Guide are indicated, as are some alternative common names.  
Red-throated loon (diver) Gavia stellata 2/5: 1 at Point Mugu
Pacific loon Gavia pacifica 1/5: three groups each of 12-15 birds along the Big Sur coast.
Common loon Gavia emmer 25/4: 8 in breeding plumage at Quail Creek;
1/5: 4 in various plumage, Morro Bay.
Pied-billed grebe Podilymbus podiceps 20/4: 1 at Lake Havasu
27/4: 1 at Furnace Creek golf course
30/4: 1 at Elkhorn Slough
Eared grebe (=black-necked grebe) Podiceps nigricollis 25/4: 400 at Quail Creek
Common at Salton sea
Smaller numbers at several places
Western grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis Common along coast
15/4: 10's at Lake Henshaw 20/4: 200 Western/Clarks grebes at Lake Havasu
25/4: 50 Western/Clarks grebes at Quail Creek
Clarks's Grebe Aechmophorus clarkii 18/4: 4 pairs at Salton sea
American white pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos 18/4: 20 at Salton Sea
Brown pelican Pelacanus occidentalis 18/4: 5 at Salton Sea
Common along the coast
Double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus Small numbers at most lakes and along the coast
Brandt's cormorant Phalacrocorax penicillatus Common along the coast
Pelagic cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus Fairly common along the coast
Great blue heron Ardea herodias Fairly common in all wet areas
Great egret Casmerodius albus Fairly common along the coast and seen on four occasions inland
Snowy egret Egretta thula Fairly common at Salton sea and along the coast
Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis 17/4: 300 at Salton sea
Green-backed heron Butorides striatus 18/4: 1 at Salton sea
30/4: 1 at Elkhorn Slough
2/5:  1 at Devereux Slough
Black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax 17/4: 2 at Salton Sea
1/5: 1 at Morro Bay, 1 at Lopez Lake
2/5: 4 at Devereux Slough
White-faced ibis Plegadis chihi fairly common at Salton Sea (20+)
27/4: 1 at Furnace Creek
Canada goose Branta canadensis 24/4: 3 along the I-89 (Utah)
Mallard Anas platythynchos small numbers in most wet areas
Pintail Anas acuta 30/4: 1 at Elkhorn Slough
Cinnamon teal Anas cyanoptera 17/4: 5 pairs at Salton Sea
2/5: pair at Devereux Slough
Shoveler Anas clypeata very common at Salton Sea
Gadwall Anas strepera 30/4: 4 at Elkhorn Slough
Ring-necked duck Aythya collaris 24/4: 1 by the I-89 (Utah)
Lesser scaup Aythya affinis 18/4: 1 at Salton Sea
Black scoter Melanitta nigra 30/4: at least 5 out of a mixed group of scoters, 17-mile drive
Surf scoter Melanitta perspicillata small numbers at several places along the coast
Red-breasted merganser Mergus serrator 30/4: 1 at Moss Landing
1/5: 2 at Morro Bay
Ruddy duck Oxyura jamaicensis Very common at Salton Sea
Turkey vulture Cathartes aura Fairly common to common almost everywhere
Osprey Pandion haliaetus 17/4: 1 at Salton Sea
21/4: 1 over I-40
29/4: 1 at San Luis reservoir
Black-shouldered kite Elanus caeruleus 14/4: 1 at O'Neill Park
30/4: 2 at Elkhorn Slough
Northern harrier Circus cyaneus 17/4: 2 at Bannister Road
27/4: 1 in Death Valley
29/4: 1 along highway 152
Sharp-shinned hawk Accipiter striatus 22/4:  1 at Grand Canyon
Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii 19/4:  1 at Big Morongo
Red-shouldered hawk Buteo lineatus 2/5:    1 at Solvang, 1 at Devereux Slough
Red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis Fairly common in coastal region
American kestrel Falco sparverius 1 or 2 seen on most days
Gambel's quail Callipepla gambelli 16/4:  1 on Borrego Palms trail
19/4:  2 at Joshua Tree (Barker Dam)
California quail Callipepla californica Common at Lopez Lake; fairly common elsewhere in W. California
Turkey (introduced) Meleagris galloparvo 2/5: 7 at Lopez Lake. According to the park staff, this is a self-sustaining population which has spread from an introduction elsewhere in California.
Virginia rail Rallus limicola 19/4:  1 heard at Big Morongo
American coot Fulica americana Fairly common
Black-bellied plover (=Grey plover) Pluvialis squatarola 17/4:  1 at Salton Sea
30/4:  1 at Moss Landing
Snowy plover (=Kentish plover) Charadrius alexandrinus 17/4:  2 at Salton Sea

Semipalmated plover Charadrius semipalmatus 17/4:  4 at Salton Sea
1/5:    1 at San Simeon
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus Fairly common
Black-necked stilt Himantopus mexicanus Fairly common at Salton Sea; small numbers on three other days
American avocet Recurvirostra americana 17/4:  4 pairs at Salton Sea
Greater yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca 15/4:  pair at Rancho Corrido
30/4:  1 at Elkhorn Slough
2/5:    1 at Devereux Slough
Lesser yellowlegs Tringa flavipes 30/4:  1 at Moss Landing
Willet Catoptrophorus semipalmatus Common at Salton Sea
30/4:  a few at Elkhorn Slough
2/5:    a few at Point Mugu
Spotted sandpiper Actitis macularia 17/4:  1 at Salton Sea
30/4:  2 at Elkhorn Slough
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 17/4:  approx 10 at Bannister Road
Fairly common along coast
Long-billed curlew Numenius americanus 17/4:  approx 10 at Bannister Road
Marbled godwit Limosa fedoa 17/4:  2 at Salton Sea
30/4:  2 at Moss Landing
Ruddy turnstone Arenaria interpres 30/4:  1 at Elkhorn Slough
Sanderling Calidris alba fairly common at Salton sea
1/5:  12 at San Simeon
Western sandpiper Calidris mauri common at Salton Sea
a few along the coast
Least sandpiper Calidris minutilla several at the Salton Sea
a few at Elkhorn Slough
Dunlin Calidris alpina 1 at Salton Sea
a few at Elkhorn Slough
Short-billed dowitcher Limnodromus griseus Dowitchers were common at Salton Sea and Elkhorn Slough. At Salton Sea I managed to pin down a couple of each of these notoriously similar species.
Long-billed dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus See above.
Red-necked phalarope Phalaropus lobatus 2/5:  2 at Devereux Slough
Bonaparte's gull Larus philadelphia Fairly common at Salton Sea; a few on the coast
Franklin's gull Larus pipixcan 23/1:  25 at Page
25/1:  1 at Quail Creek
Heermann's gull Larus heermanni 30/4: 2 first-year birds along 17-mile drive
Ring-billed gull Larus delawarensis Fairly common at Salton Sea
California gull Larus californicus Several at Salton Sea, a few along the coast
Herring gull Larus argentatus A few along the coast
Western gull Larus occidentalis Abundant along the coast
Glaucous-winged gull Larus glaucescens Singles at 17-mile drive and Morro Bay
Gull-billed tern Sterna nilotica Several at Salton Sea
Caspian tern Sterna caspia Several at Salton Sea and Elkhorn Slough; 1 at Point Mugu
Common tern Sterna hirundo Groups of terns (10's) at Salton Sea and Elkhorn Slough were probably mixed Common and Forster's terns; however the only ones close enough for certain ident­ifi­cation were 1 Common tern at Salton Sea and 3 Forster's terns at Elkhorn Slough.
Forster's tern Sterna forsteri See above.
Black skimmer Rynchops niger 18/4:  about 40 at the Wildlife Refuge headquarters, Salton Sea
Common murre (=Guillemot) Uria aalge 1/5:  1 at Big Sur
Rock dove
Columba livia Common in every town
Band-tailed pigeon Columba fasciata 14/4:  2 at Dorothy May sanctuary
White-winged dove Zenaida asiatica 16-17/4:  at least 3 at Yaqui Well, including one displaying
Mourning dove Zenaida macroura Common almost everywhere
Common ground-dove Columbina passerina 16/4:  1 on the southern edge of Borrego Springs
17-18/4: a few around Salton Sea
Greater roadrunner Geococcyx californianus Seen on 4 days in desert areas
Barn owl Tyto alba Heard at Lopez Lake
Great horned owl Bubo virginianus Heard at Lopez Lake
Burrowing owl Athene cunicularia Fairly common at Salton Sea (at least 7 along Sinclair Road)
Lesser nighthawk Chordeiles acutipennis 17-18/4:  4 at Red Hill Landing
26/4: 2 at Furnace Creek
White-throated swift Aeronautus saxatalis Seen on 8 days; largest number 100+ at Zion. Also common in the canyons of downtown Los Angeles.
Black-chinned hummingbird Archilochus alexandri 26/4:  1 at the KOA campground, Las Vegas
Anna's hummingbird Calypte anna Small numbers almost every day in California; not in the other states.
Costa's hummingbird Calypte costae 16-17/4: 2 at Yaqui Well
19/4:  1 at Big Morongo
19/4:  1 at Joshua Tree (Barker Dam)
Belted kingfisher Ceryle alcyon 27/4:  1 at Furnace Creek golf course
Acorn woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus Common in California (except the deserts)
Ladder-backed woodpecker Picoides scalaris 19/4:  1 at Joshua Tree (Barker Dam)
24/4:  1 at Zion
Nuttall's woodpecker Picoides nutalli 13-14/4:  1 at O'Neill Park
14/4:  1 at Dorothy May sanctuary
3/5:   1 at Point Mugu
Downy woodpecker Picoides pubescens 25/4: 1 at Zion south campsite
3/5:   1 at Point Mugu
Hairy woodpecker Picoides villosus 29/4: 1 at Sequoia National Park
White-headed woodpecker Picoides albolarvatus 29/4: 1 at Sequoia National Park
Pileated woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus 29/4: 1 at Sequoia National Park
Northern flicker Colaptes auratus 25/4: pair displaying at Zion;
singles on three other days
Western wood peewee Contopus sordidulus 17/4: 1 at Borrego Springs
Pacific-slope flycatcher (split from Western flycatcher Empidonax dificilis) 14/4: 1 at Dorothy May sanctuary;
30/4:  1 at Elkhorn Slough
Gray flycatcher Empidonax wrightii 26/4:  1, probably 2, at Amargosa
Black phoebe Sayornis nigricans Fairly common except in deserts
Say's phoebe Sayornis saya 20/4:  1 near Lake Havasu
Vermilion flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus 19/4:  1 pair at Morongo Valley (regular nesting site)
Ash-throated flycatcher Myiarchus cinerascens Seen on four days in a variety of habitats
Cassin's kingbird Tyrannus vociferans 2/5: nesting near Santa Barbara
Western kingbird Tyrannus verticalis Fairly common everywhere except (oddly?) along the coast
Horned lark Eremophila alpestris 27/4: 1 in Death Valley
Tree swallow Tachycineta bicolor 27-28/4: about 9 at Isabella Lake;
30/4:  1 at Elkhorn Slough
Violet-green swallow Tachycineta thalassina Generally fairly common; abundant along coast in May.
N. rough-winged swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis Small numbers on four days
Cliff swallow Hirundo pyrrhonota Generally fairly common; nesting on London Bridge in Havasu City; abundant along coast in May.
Barn swallow Hirundo rustica Small numbers on four days
Steller's jay Cyanocitta stelleri Abundant at Sequoia National Park; small numbers at four other locations
Scrub jay Aphelocoma coerulescens Common in California; small numbers in Arizona and Utah.
Yellow-billed magpie Pica nuttalli 29/4: At least 9 along highway 152 east of Gilroy.
American crow Corvus brachyrhynchos Common
Common raven Corvus corax Very common and widespread
Mountain chickadee Parus gambeli 29/4: many heard at Sequoia National Park (though hard to see)
Chestnut-backed chickadee Parus rufescens 30/4: 2 at Elkhorn Slough
Plain titmouse Parus inornatus 13-14/4: fairly common in Santa Ana mountains;
2/5: a few at Lopez Lake
Verdin Auriparus flaviceps Fairly common in the Californian deserts
Bushtit Psaltriparus minimus 14/4: a few at Dorothy May sanctuary
30/4: a few at Elkhorn Slough
White-breasted nuthatch Sitta carolinensis 1 or 2 seen on four days
Pygmy nuthatch Sitta pygmaea 22/4: 2 at KOA campsite, Flagstaff
Brown creeper Certhia americana 28/4: 1 at Sequoia National Park
Cactus wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus 16/4: 1 on the Borrego Palms trail and 3 near Borrego Springs Post Office.
Canyon wren Catherpes mexicanus Heard singing on four occasions
Bewick's wren Thryomanes bewickii Nesting at Yaqui Well; singles seen at three other places
House wren Troglodytes aedon Fairly common
Golden-crowned kinglet Regulus satrapa 29/4: 2 in Sequoia National Park
Blue-gray gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea 16/4: 2 at Borrego campsite
Black-tailed gnatcatcher Polioptila melanura 16-17/4: a few in Anza-Borrego Park
Western bluebird Sialia mexicana Seen on four days
American robin Turdus migratorius Common, locally abundant
Northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottus 1 or 2 seen on most days
Cedar waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum 19/4: 3 at Big Morongo;
2/5: at least 20 at Point Mugu
Phainopepla Phainopepla nitens Common in Anza-Borrego; smaller numbers elsewhere in the California deserts
Loggerhead shrike Lanius ludovicianus 17/4: 1 on the eastern edge of Anza-Borrego
Sturnus vulgaris Far too common
Hutton's vireo Vireo huttoni 15/4: 1 at Rancho Corrido
Gray vireo Vireo vicinior 24/4:  1 near eastern entrance to Zion
Orange-crowned warbler Vermivora celata 16/4:  1 at Yaqui Well;
30/4:  1 at Gilroy
Nashville warbler Vermivora ruficapilla 16-17/4:  1 at Yaqui Well;
19/4: 1 at Big Morongo (more reported by other birders)
Virginia's warbler Vermivora virginiae 16/4:  1 at Yaqui Well
Lucy's warbler Vermivora luciae 24/4:  male and probable female, by south entrance to Zion
Yellow-rumped warbler Dendroica coronata 15/4:  2 at Rancho Corrido;
24/4:  1 at Zion;
29/4:  4 at Sequoia National Park
Black-throated gray warbler Dendroica nigrescens Small numbers at four different locations
Common yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas 1-3 seen on five days
Wilson's warbler Wilsonia pusilla 14/4:  4 at various spots in Santa Ana mountains
Western tanager Piranga ludoviciana 14/4:  1 male in Santiago Oaks park
Summer tanager Piranga rubra 17/4:  4 at Yaqui Well
Black-headed grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus 1 or 2 seen on five days
Blue grosbeak Guiraca caerulea 28/4:  3 males at Isabella Lake
Lazuli bunting Passerina amoena 15/4:  1 on Mount Palomar;
25/4:   1 at Zion
Rufous-sided towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus 19/4:  2 at Big Morongo;
24/4:  1 at Zion;
3/5:    1 singing at Point Mugu
California towhee (split from Brown towhee Pipilo fuscus) Fairly common in California
Abert's towhee Pipilo aberti 17/4:  1 at Ramer Lake
Rufous-crowned sparrow Aimophila ruficeps 15/4:  2 near Lake Henshaw
Chipping sparrow Spizella passerina 21-22/4: at least 2 in Flagstaff;
30/4:  1 at Big Sur
Brewer's sparrow Spizella breweri 16/4:  1 at Yaqui Well
Black-throated sparrow Amphispiza bilineata 15-17/4: fairly common at Anza-Borrego;
18/4:  1 at Palm Canyon
Sage sparrow Amphispiza belli 27/4:  3 in Death Valley
Grasshopper sparrow Ammodramus savannarum 2/5:  heard singing near Santa Barbara
Fox sparrow Passerella iliaca 29/4:  at least 2 at Sequoia National Park
Song sparrow Melospiza melodia A few seen inland; common along the coast in the last few days.
Golden-crowned sparrow Zonotrichia atricapilla 14/4:  6 at Dorothy May sanctuary
White-crowned sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis Fairly common in California; a few elsewhere
Dark-eyed junco Junco hyemalis Fairly common, especially at Sequoia National Park
Red-winged blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus Widespread, locally common.
Western meadowlark Sturnella neglecta Fairly common around Salton Sea
Yellow-headed blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus 23/4:  8 at pond by Ruby's Inn, Bryce Canyon
Brewer's blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus Very common in California
Great-tailed grackle Quiscalus mexicanus Fairly common around Salton Sea and at Furnace Creek
Brown-headed cowbird Molothrus ater Seen at four locations in California
Northern oriole Icterus galbula Fairly common
Scott's oriole Icterus parisorum 19/4: 1 singing at Joshua Tree
House finch Carpodacus mexicanus Common in California, less so in Arizona.
Lesser goldfinch Carduelis psaltria 1 or 2 seen on four days.
Lawrence's goldfinch Carduelis lawrencei 14/4: pair at Rancho Corrido;
19/4:  1 at Big Morongo;
28/4:  1 at Isabella Lake
American goldfinch Carduelis tristis 14/4:  1 at Rancho Corrido;
25/4:  14 at Zion;
30/4:  1 at Elkhorn Slough
Evening grosbeak Coccothraustes vespertinus 25/4:  10 at Zion south campground

House sparrow

Passer domesticus

Common in towns and villages


188 Species in Total!

Systematic list of Mammals:

Western Pipistrelle

Pipistrellus hesperus

26/4  2 at Furnace Creek (identification not 100% certain)

Brush rabbit

Sylvilagus bachmani

2/5  2 at Point Mugu

Desert cottontail

Sylvilagus audobonii

16/4  1 at Yaqui well

Black-tailed jack rabbit

Lepus californicus

16/4  3 at Borrego Palms, 2 at Yaqui Well

Lodgepole chipmunk

Eutamias speciosus

29/4  1 at Sequoia National Park

Antelope ground squirrel (= white-tailed antelope squirrel, =desert chipmunk)

Ammospermophilus leucurus

Fairly common at Anza-Borrego

Rock squirrel

Spermophilus variegatus

24/4, 2 at Zion Canyon

California ground squirrel

Spermophilus beecheyi

Common in western California

Mohave ground squirrel

Spermophilus mohavensis

17/4, 1 along Highway 62 in the Mohave desert

Round-tailed ground squirrel

Spermophilus tereticaudus

16/4  1 at Yaqui well

Utah prairie dog

Cynomys parvidens

23/4  Colony at Bryce (about 8 animals seen)

Western grey squirrel

Sciurus griseus

Fairly common in mountain woodlands


Canis latrans

20/4  1 near Lake Havasu
21/4  1 dead along I-40 near Kingman
23/4  1 at Page

Gray fox (found dead)

Urocyon cinereoargenteus

1/5 Lopez Lake, road traffic casualty

Black bear

Ursus americanus

29/4  2, Sequoia National Park

Striped skunk (found dead)

Mephitis mephitis

2/5 Devereux Slough, road traffic casualty

Sea otter

Enhydra lutris

30/4  4, Point Lobos
1/5,  1, Morro Bay

California sea lion

Zalophus californianus

30/4  10's, 17-mile drive and Point Lobos

Harbour seal

Phoca vitulina

30/4  10's, Point Lobos

Elephant seal

Mirounga angustirostris

1/5  100+, San Simeon

Mule deer

Odocoileus hemionus

21/4  1 near Flagstaff
23/4  6, Bryce Canyon
25/4  2, Zion Canyon


Antilocapra americana

21/4  2 along I-40

22 Mammal Species in total.

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