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A Report from

California, November 17th-December 2nd 2000,

Mark & Sandra Dennis


This was our second trip to the USA following three spring weeks in Texas in 1997. Subsequently, we had seen many of the species encountered and so it was easier to concentrate on the new birds. The sparrows caused the odd problem, just as they did in Texas and I thought Sibley might be enough this time. It wasn't and next time we shall take one of the specialist sparrow books. This was our first chance to try out the new Sibley in the field and we found it very good, even if every Red-tailed Hawk looks different from the last. Our trip list of 206 species was more than expected and brings our USA list to 418 species, not far short of my UK list but accrued in five weeks, not 29 years! We did not make much use of the bird alerts, partly because the phone system is worse than any other country we have visited including India. If we had rung before departing we might have seen a Green-breasted Mango (hummingbird) near San Francisco. We recommend buying a phone card if you want to use the bird alerts, otherwise, start collecting quarters now.

This report is not aimed at mainstream clean-up crews, more at people looking for a good birding holiday in some comfort and with results. We chose the time of year in order to see large numbers of wildfowl and still have reasonable weather. We also, unwittingly, went during Thanksgiving. A mistake as the campgrounds all fill up and we were very lucky to get in at El Chorro where we had to do a four night stay to ensure we had somewhere.  We chose to rent a recreation vehicle (RV), so that we were able to bird and stop anywhere, moving as we wished without the need to hunt for accommodation. It was also great to fall out of the RV at dawn and bird a couple of hours before breakfast.

The flight was from Heathrow direct on a Virgin Jumbo Jet @ £284.00 pp inc taxes (£52.00 pp). It took c10 hours each way and was excellent. Immigration was not too bad, it took about 40 minutes to clear and we were entertained by a little oriental girl ramming people with her baggage trolley when they inadvertently got in her way. The RV was from Cruise America, based in Oakland. Both were booked through Wildwings (0117 9848040) with no hitches. We insured with Direct Line and took out a supplementary insurance with Cruise America. Parking near Heathrow with Purple Parking was £72.00.

Hiring the RV: The RV cost £684.00 for the period November 18th-December 2nd. We had to stay one night in a hotel (Red Roof Inn, Burlinghame. Cheapest around at c£90 per room) as the hire company does not allow you to hire the same day you land. They also do not work Sundays so bear that in mind. We chose the Red Roof Inn on price and location. We had good first late afternoon and early next morning birding opposite the hotel. Cruise America's price includes transfers from the hotel and back to the airport upon completion of the hire.

When you get to the Cruise America depot you have to watch a video of how to work the RV and do a visual inspection before signing for it. Ours was 22' and included three double beds, a fridge and freezer. A microwave, three ring gas cooker and oven. A table, a shower, flush toilet and sink. A mains furnace and an air-conditioning unit. There was a water heater and pump and a set of checks for sewage/waste tanks, battery condition and LPG (gas) levels. You return the vehicle with empty waste tanks and whatever was in the fuel tank when you got it. Mileage has to be booked  in 1000 mile blocks for which the price varies. We had two blocks and ended up doing 1,679 miles. There is no refund for unused miles but it is better to be under than over as there is a charge per mile excess. There are other charges to consider including local tax (£50.00) and the ramifications of wrecking the RV without adequate insurance cover. If you wreck it with minimal cover you might end up paying for a new one! We took out the top insurance which was expensive (£200) and still had to pay £18.00 for a damaged vent cover (which we had damaged). My advice is to get Wildwings (or whoever) to send you the small print conditions before you hire so you can build them into your budget. You also have to leave a deposit on a credit card, refundable upon return. The RV had to be back by 11am on our last day and the flight did not go until 16.45. I would suggest dumping the RV soonest, getting to the airport and storing luggage and then taking a taxi out to bird the nearby bay. We didn't and wished we had.

We did a total of 1,679 miles in all sorts of conditions and on many small, mountain roads. We, used £200.00 worth of fuel @ 22 miles per gallon. Every petrol station allowed you to self serve and pay at the pump with a credit card. Camp sites averaged $14.00 per night, some with full hook ups, some without. Buy the campgrounds guide at Cruise America, we did not and wished we had later. The driving of the RV is simple, like a wide Ford Transit. It was automatic with cruise control. The worst roads were the freeways with their thump thump concrete sections and generally poor condition.

Weather: Fine in the south, cooler further north on the coast but fine inland. We had one storm, on the coast at Bodega Bay which rocked us to sleep as the wind and rain crashed in.

Itinerary: We had a vague idea of where we wanted to go but no concrete first (camper) night. We found, by chance, a superb state park and awoke to a lake full of birds. With hindsight we would have been a bit more thorough in the planning but overall, everything worked out well. Anyone following this itinerary should consider stopping at Del Valle near Livermore.

Nov 17th:            Red Roof Inn, San Francisco.

Nov 18th-19th:            San Luis Creek off route 152, 12 miles west of Los Banos, $15.00 per night, full hook up.

Nov 20th-21st:            Pinnacle National Monument campground off minor rd 25, 30 miles south of Hollister, $17.00 per                   night, full hook up.

Nov 22nd-25th:            El Chorro Regional Park, six miles south of Morro Bay on Cal 1. $18.00 per night, full hook up.

Nov 26th:            Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park, 20 miles south of Monterey on Cal 1 $15.00 per night, no hook up but                   showers on site.

Nov 27th:             Half Moon Bay, five miles south of San Francisco on Cal 1. $17.00. No hook up.

Nov 28th:            Doran Park Campground, Bodega Bay. $16.00. No hook up.

Nov 29th:             Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation area. $10.00. no hook up but showers.

Nov 30th:            Del Valle Regional Park, eight miles south of Livermore off interstate 580. $18.00, no electric hook                 up but water, sewage and showers. To December 1st, well located for RV return in Oakland.

Sites visited (chronologically): We used 'Birding Northern California' by John Kemper for northern sites and 'A Birder's Guide to Southern California' by Brad Schram (a Lane's guide) for the southern bits of our trip. I would recommend both books as easy to use and fairly thorough, just don't treat them as gospel on species distribution.

San Francisco Bay area: We only had time to bird a small portion of the area around our first night hotel. Lots of wildfowl and it would have been nice to have had longer to look for more 'local' birds.

San Luis Refuge Complex: A large complex of wildlife refuges within easy reach of San Luis Reservoir campground. We found the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge a bit disappointing, apart from providing good view of Tule Elk. Viewing is from an auto tour route which seemed to hold very little apart from at the 7.7 mile mark where a viewing platform was OK. A much better site was the Merced National Wildlife Refuge which had many more birds and a pretty good auto tour. At neither refuge could you walk far and bird, hence the auto tour routes. Dragging our bungalow on wheels around the tour route did flush a few of the closer birds but they soon settled and we did get good views of everything  present, especially the Snow and Ross's Geese and the many Sandhill Cranes.

Panoche Valley to Pinnacles SP: Our route south from the campsite picked its way through the Panoche Valley which was pretty good for roadside birding but no hoped for Mountain Plovers. The roads were quiet and stopping not a problem. At Pinnacles campground you are in a private wildlife sanctuary which is full of birds and animals. There is a walk to the Pinnacles monument from the camp which is worth doing and from which we saw our only Varied Thrush (a pair). The monument itself also has good birding and an information centre so it is an ideal spot for a couple of nights if you can stand the constant yatter and tapping of the Acorn Woodpeckers.

From El Chorro: The El Chorro site itself was fairly new but with good numbers of birds. It was handily placed six miles from Morro Bay to the north and ten from Oceano Beach and other sites to the south. We birded the creek at Morro Bay and the pier at Cayucos. At Morro Bay is the Sweet Springs viewpoint on the south side of the bay. A good vantage point at high tide.

Further south is Shell Beach to Oceano. There are several viewing areas (in the book) which are good. We particularly recommend walking the pool at Oceano (off Coolidge Dr). It was excellent birding. We also did a whale trip for $15.00 each from Port San Luis Pier (Avila Beach, just north of Shell Beach) We had shearwaters and auks in the three hours out (see list) but no whales, however, at $15.00 we had no complaints.

Pozo Rd: We set off for the Carrizo Plain, south-east of San Luis Obispo, but took the Pozo Road rather than route 58. Unfortunately we never got there as the Pozo Road peters out (after 20 miles!) into a dirt track. The birding along the road was good, especially the first three miles where we found Lewis's Woodpeckers looking like flycatching Jackdaws.

Big Sur - Pfeiffer-Big Sur SP: We drove California one from Morro Beach to Monterey, stopping often and including a sign posted Elephant Seal colony. Plenty to see but slow progress along winding roads. At the Pfeiffer-Big Sur SP we camped, hoping for American Dipper (described by Kemper as hard to see here) Our pitch was number 147 by the river. On the river was an American Dipper.

Monterey Peninsula/Carmel River State Beach: Did not open until 8.00am. Good but windy. Joggers and dogs kept flushing birds. Point Pinos/Crespi Pond: Good for many species, Crespi Pond private so only view from the road. Plenty of stopping points. A good sewage outlet two miles nearer Monterey on the coast road which was good for gulls and grebes. We parked on the Coast Guard Wharf (meters, need quarters but a bill changing machine available). Good birding off here, don't ignore the rocks right next to the wharf where we had Surfbird to 6'. Also go right to the end to see the Sealion colony, its well worth it.

Jack's Peak Country Park: Off route 68 just south-east of Monterey. We got Pygmy Nuthatch here quite easily in the car park left of the T junction.

Elkhorne Slough/Moss Landing: We found this by accident off California one south of Marina. We parked on a large area next to the creek and saw Thayer's Gull amongst other good birds but the fog came in and made birding difficult.

Bolinas Lagoon: A superb site off California one north of San Francisco. Plenty of roadside parking and easy viewing. Huge numbers of birds.

Bodega Bay: Loads of birds on the bay side but not much on the sea. High tide wader roosts were spectacular from the Doran Peninsula.

Sacramento Refuge Complex - Colusa Wildlife Refuge: Part of the complex and handy for the campsite nearby in Colusa. An auto route site with lots of birds. Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge: A superb place with a birder on staff who can give gen. We saw our only Bald Eagle and a pair of Hooded Merganser amongst the 20,000+ Snow and Ross's Geese. On the opposite side of interstate five are foothill farmlands which are good for raptors. There are other sections of the complex we did not have time to visit but did seek and find a large Tundra Swan herd to the north-west.

Del Valle campground/Mines Road area: A good campground south of Livermore and well placed as a last night for the RV, loads of birds around the campground and on the creek. The mines road is birded from the car and well worth doing. With hindsight, we would have started at De Valle as a first night location also.

Systematic list of birds

The list and names follow 'The North American Bird Guide', Sibley 2000. The parenthesis represent the  number of days we saw a species out of the 16 we were birding. The day list totals were:

November                                                                                                December

17th, 18th,  19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th,   29th,  30th.   1st,    2nd.

26sp  47sp  88sp 75sp  48sp  73sp  88sp  74sp  83sp 71sp  87sp  101sp 107sp  81sp   74sp  45sp

Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata: (6/16). Frequent on the coast in small numbers, especially Monterey and Bodega Bay.

Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica: (8/16). Common on the coast and often moving south in big numbers. An example of this is c1500 diver sp south in one hour at Morro Bay on November 25th, most of which were pacifics.

Common Loon Gavia immer: (8/16). Seen whenever on the coast.

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena: (5/16). Seen near Oceano Beach, off Monterey and in Bodega Bay. Only six individuals.

Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus: (3/16). Found at the sewage out fall in Monterey Bay and in Bodega Bay only. About ten individuals recorded

Eared Grebe Podiceps nigricollis: (13/16). Very common on most fresh and salt waters. Some day counts were over 150 birds.

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps: (8/16). Common on inland waters. Less common on open sea but present in bays.

Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis: (11/16). Common in all freshwater and saltwater habitats.

Clark's Grebe Aechmophorus clarkii: (1/16). The observation frequency does not reflect their status. We only looked very closely at one confiding bird, after that we lumped them but, when we got our slides back, found one to include a Clark's!

'Pacific' Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis: (1/16). One in Bodega Bay after a storm. They appear very very dark but retain the familiar shape of a Northern Fulmar.

Black-vented Shearwater Puffinus opisthomelas: (1/16). Seen on the whale trip, fairly close  and in good numbers.

Short-tailed Shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris. (1/16). One at very close range on the Avila Beach whale trip. This individual was (thankfully) at the dark end of the range.

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos: (6/16). Seen at a couple of inland refuges and in Morro Bay.

'Pacific' Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis: (7/16). Present at all coastal localities and tame on some piers.

Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus: 15/16). Common.

Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus: (7/16). As with Brandt's, common on the coast. Very Shag like with a beautiful iridescence.

Brandt's Cormorant Phalacrocorax penicillatus: (7/16). Present at coastal localities where rocky i.e. most of the sites.

American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus: (1/16). One seen well at the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge. Perhaps we should have seen more.

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias: (10/16). Common in all sorts of wet habitats and even seen on golf courses feeding on the greens.

Great Egret Ardea alba: (14/16). Common.

Snowy Egret Egretta thula: (12/16). Common.

Green Heron Butorides virescens: (2/16). Not common. Only seen in Pfeiffer-Big Sur SP on the river and in marginal vegetation in Bodega Bay.

Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax: (3/16). A good roost of 50+ at San Luis Creek campground greeted us November 19th-20th. At Bodega Bay five were on the pond at Hole-in-the-Head.

White-faced Ibis Plegadis chihi: (4/16). Present on flooded farm land at both the San Luis and Sacramento Wildlife Complexes. At Sacramento c350+ present.

Trumpeter Swan Cygnus buccinator: (2/16). A nice surprise were six which flew across Bodega Bay on November 28th going south-west. At least four were with a large Tundra Swan flock on farmland on November 30th. The birds could be seen from the minor road 162 near Glenn going east from Willows off interstate five, north of the Sacramento Wildfowl Refuge.

Whistling' Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus: (1/16). Up to 200 birds were at the site described under Trumpeter Swan. Unfortunately the birds were at some range and on private land.

Canada Goose Branta canadensis: (3/16). Feral type flocks were near Monterey and at Del Valle. At Bodega Bay eight  Aleutian Canada Geese were present briefly and at Del Valle at least one Cackling Canada Goose was present.

Brant Branta bernicla (4/16). Present in Morro Bay and Bodega Bay with good numbers at both sites. At Morro Bay the Brants are hunted from camouflaged floating hides with plastic geese trailing behind. Needless to say, the Brants there kept well away.

'Tule Goose' Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons: (3/16). Present at the inland wildlife complexes but in larger numbers at Sacramento than the more southerly preserves.

Ross's Goose Chen rossii: (5/16). Seen wherever Snow Geese were, apart from two on the beach at Carmel Beach. Easy to pick out but  due to the sheer numbers of white geese present no counts made.

'Lesser' Snow Goose Chen caerulescens: (6/16). Absolutely spectacular. At Merced Wildlife Refuge we saw c3,000 birds down, they had earlier flown over us at San Luis Refuge. At Sacramento Refuge c20,000+ were seen. Blizzard is a good term for the birds as they constantly flushed and flew, sleeting in against the foothills backdrop. We also saw odd birds along the coast including a group on the Golf Course at Point Pinos. A small number of blue-form Snow Geese were at both refuges.

'Northern' Mallard Anas platyrhynchos: (9/16). Common.

Gadwall Anas strepera: (5/16). Common enough on wetland sites including Bodega Bay.

Northern Pintail Anas acuta: (6/16). Very common on the complexes and in bays.

American Wigeon Anas americana: (7/16). Common on estuary and wildlife complex sites.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope: We came across one male in Morro Bay on November 23rd and tried, without success, to show it to a pair of very elderly birders. A breakfast stop at the southern end of Bolinas Lagoon on November 28th revealed two males together in a casual scan. Eurasian Wigeon is far easier to detect in large numbers of American Wigeon than American is in the UK.

Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata: (6/16). Common.

Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera: (6/16). Present at the wildlife complexes, especially Sacramento where up to 70 seen on November 30th.

Blue-winged Teal Anas discors: (2/16). A male was at San Luis Refuge on November 19th. Another was in Morro Bay on November 25th.

Green-winged Teal Anas crecca: (5/16). Fairly common in small numbers except at Sacramento where many.

Canvasback Aythya valisineria: (3/16). Our first group were five males and three females on San Luis Creek on November 20th. Small numbers were also seen in at both Colusa and Sacramento refuges.

Redhead Aythya americana: (1/16). Two males were at Colusa refuge on November 29th.

Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris: (5/16). Small numbers were at San Luis Creek and in Morro Bay. In the Sacramento complex birds were commoner with up to 100 present.

Greater Scaup Aythya marila: (1/16). Seen only near Inverness, Point Reyes.

Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis: (6/16). Small numbers of inland waters and present in all the sheltered bays we birded on the coast.

Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis: (2/16). At Moss Landing a male and two females on November 27th were local rarities according to the bird alert. Another imm male was in Bodega Bay on November 28th with Surf Scoter.

Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata: (7/16). Seen in all coastal areas, often close inshore.

Black Scoter Melanitta nigra: (1/16). One female in Bodega Bay, November 28th.

White-winged Scoter Melanitta fusca: (2/16). Seen only in Bodega Bay, up to five birds including one adult male.

Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula: (8/16). Seen on most waters but, despite close scrutiny, no Barrow's could be found.

Bufflehead Bucephala albeola: (15/16). Present on all waters, literally 1,000s in total.

Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus: (1/16). A male and female at Sacramento refuge gave superb views. If visiting check the first two lagoons on the left side of the long straight run on the auto route.

Common Merganser Mergus merganser: (3/16). Seen at both San Luis Reservoir and Del Valle Creek. Around 40 birds in total.

Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator: (5/16). Seen at coastal locations.

Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis: (12/16). Present in large numbers on most waters.

Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura: (15/16). Seen at most locations in small numbers. Some sites such as Morro Bay (100+), Cambria (200+), Bolinas area (200+) and Colusa (250+) must have had roosts as the numbers quoted were single flocks spiralling.

Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus: (13/16). Common and seen everywhere.

White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus: (10/16). A common bird seen regularly at the roadside. At El Chorro two pairs were resident.

Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus: (5/16). Seen frequently away from the coast in more wooded areas.

Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii: (7/16). Similar in status to the previous species.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis: (1/16). We watched an immature perched up at Pinnacles for a couple of minutes on November 21st.

'Californian' Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus: (15/16). Seen daily and often quite bold. One at oceano Beach sat on a chimney and ignored all and sundry.

'Western' Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis: (15/16). Very common, seen everywhere.

Ferruginous Hawk Buteo regalis: (2/16). Seen at El Chorro on November 22nd and near Bodega Bay, November 28th.

Rough-legged Hawk Buteo lagopus: (2/16). A single was at San Luis Creek on November 19th and another was just north of Cayuna off California one on November  22nd.

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos: (3/16). A cracking immature flew past at 100m range in the Panoche Valley on November 20th. An adult panicked the wildfowl at Colusa refuge on November 29th and an adult was over the mines road south of Livermore on December 1st.

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus: (1/16). A superb adult flushed everything at Sacramento refuge on November 30th.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus: (2/16). Seen at San Francisco on power lines opposite the hotel and at several sites between Bolinas and Bodega Bay.

Merlin Falco columbarius: (2/16). A 'taiga' race bird hunted at San Luis Reservoir on November 19th. A female was around Oceano on November 23rd.

American Kestrel Falco sparverius: (15/16). Very common.

(Prairie Falcon Falco mexicanus): Having searched many sites for this species we were advised to try the foothills west of Sacramento refuge along 'D' road. We found a distant large falcon soaring which was brown with blunt wings but too far away to see the underwing coverts.

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus: (4/16). A 'peale's' type roosted on a pylon at San Francisco on November 17th. Females were seen on November 27th & 29th, the former bird hunting over Monterey Bay and flying to within 20'. Our last bird in California was a distant bird chasing waders at the airport.

California Quail Callipepla californica: (9/16). A superb little quail which we saw at many sites in coveys of up to 100+.

Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus: (3/16). Very common at Sacramento refuge.

Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo: (1/16). A flock of 13 were at Del Valle but looked like they might follow you home if you let them..

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus: (2/16). Not very common but present inland at all the wildlife refuges, especially Sacramento.

American Coot Fulica americana: (12/16). Very common where there is water.

Sora Porzana carolina: (1/16). One was at Colusa refuge, showing briefly.

Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis: (2/16). Our first birds were in the San Luis area where two flew over the San Luis refuge. At nearby Merced refuge around 1500 were reportedly present, we saw c700. At Sacramento we found 13 near the Tundra Swan flock at Willow.

Black-bellied Plover Pluvialis squatarola: (7/16). Common enough on the coast.

Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus: (3/16). Seen singly at Moss Landing and in small numbers at Bodega Bay.

Killdeer Charadrius vociferus: (10/16). Common. On close inspection, some fields had almost three figures in the Merced region.

Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani: (5/16). Present in small numbers along the coast from Morro Bay to Bodega Bay.

American Avocet Recurvirostra americana: (5/16). Fairly frequent in suitable habitat, c250 at Bolinas. Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus: (5/16) Fairly plentiful at suitable sites.

Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca: (9/16). Present at most wetland type sites in small numbers, mostly singly.

Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes: (5/16). Seen as singles only on marshland sites.

'Western' Willet Catoptrophorus semipalmatus: (6/16). Common on the coast.

Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia: (3/16). A couple were at San Francisco opposite the hotel. Two others were in Morro Bay.

'American' Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus: (4/16). We probably under recorded them, present on most beach type areas we looked at.

Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus: (9/16): Common as singles or in roost gatherings.

Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa: (8/16). Common on the coast with thousands between Bolinas and Bodega Bay.

Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres: (4/16). Small numbers seen.

Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala: (5/16). Present in most rocky coastline situations. At Bodega Bay on November 29th at least 100 fed on debris strewn over the beach by the storm.

Wandering Tattler Heteroscelus incanus: (1/16). We saw two separate birds at Shell Beach but could find no others despite visiting many suitable sites.

Surfbird Aphriza virgata: (3/16). A single showed briefly at Shell Beach on November 23rd. One was on the Coastguard Wharf at Monterey on November 27th. At Bodega Bay, five birds fed with Black Turnstones on November 29th.

Sanderling Calidris alba: (6/16). Common on sandy beaches.

Dunlin Calidris alpina (5/16). Seen at many of the same sites as the previous species.

Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri (3/16). A few were around San Francisco and small numbers were roosting in Bodega Bay on November 28th-29th.

Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla (7/16). Present at several sites in good numbers.

Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus (5/16). Some large flocks were inland on paddies around the Sacramento complex and in smaller numbers at Merced.

'Pacific' Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus (2/16) Seen only in coastal wader flocks in small numbers.

Common 'Wilson's' Snipe Gallinago gallinago (4/16). Seen at the inland complexes in small numbers. A field near Bodega Bay had c130 birds.

Red Phalarope Phalaropus fulicaria (1/16) One at sea during the whale trip off Avila.

Bonaparte's Gull Larus philadelphia (3/16). None until Moss Landing then small numbers around Bodega Bay and up to four at Del Valle creek.

'Short-billed' Mew Gull Larus canus (4/16). Our first bird was at the Elephant Seal colony but from then on they were fairly common on the coast.

Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis (13/16). Common, more so on the coast.

California Gull Larus californicus (14/16). Common on the coast, odd ones inland.

'American' Herring Gull Larus argentatus (14/16). Common.

Thayer's Gull Larus thayeri (3/16). Our first was a classic looking first-winter at Moss Landing. At Bodega Bay we found two adults and another first-winter.

Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus (2/16). A first-winter was at San Francisco on November 18th. Another first-winter was near Avila with other gulls on November 24th.

Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens (8/16). Not uncommon on the coast,  often very approachable. We also saw some birds which were probably hybrids of both Western and Herring Gull x Glaucous-winged Gulls.

Western Gull Larus occidentalis (11/16). Common on the coast.

Heermann's Gull Larus heermanni (6/16). Common on the coast, especially south of San Francisco. At Oceano Beach car park birds come to bread.

Caspian Tern Sterna caspia (2/16). Up to four were around Morro Bay/Avila area.

Royal Tern Sterna maxima: (2/16). Not very common and only seen in small numbers in the Morro Bay area and near Cambria.

Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri (6/16). Present in small numbers along the coast. At Bolinas c300 were present in a roost.

Common Murre Uria aalge (2/16). Common at sea off Avila. Odd ones at Monterey.

Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba (1/16). Two at sea off Avila.

Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata (1/16). One at sea off Avila.

Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura (14/16). Common.

Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina (1/16). A single bird near San Luis refuge.

Rock Dove Columba livia (16/16). Common.

Band-tailed Pigeon Columba fasciata (2/16). Seen only at Pinnacles where a flock of 15 on November 21st and two, November 22nd.

Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus (2/16). Seen in the Panoche Valley and along the Mines Road.

Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus (2/16). Heard at Colusa SP and Del Valle.

Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia (1/16). At Merced refuge the owls are along the long track after the furthest lagoon, opposite a farm. There is a raised embankment full of squirrel holes to the west, we had good views of one here.

White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis (116). A flock of c350 was at Pinnacles on November 21st. These birds were only visible when we had climbed almost up to the monument and they were still fairly high then.

Anna's Hummingbird Calypte anna (7/16). Commoner than the stats suggest. Common along the coast in gardens with flowers.

Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon (6/16). Common enough by water.

Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus (8/16). Where Oaks are present, so are Acorn Woodpeckers. Large numbers occur along Pozo Rd.

Lewis's Woodpecker Melanerpes lewis (1/16). Seen only along Pozo Road where they looked like flycatching Jackdaws from afar.

Red-breasted Sapsucker Sphyrapicus ruber (1/16). One at Del Valle was a last gasp job as I had been evicted from the camper while it was cleaned!

'Pacific' Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens (2/16). Seen as singles at Montana Des Oros SP and Bodega Bay where one sat motionless on a fence post for some time.

'Pacific' Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus: (4/16). Not uncommon in the woods. Several around the El Chorro site.

Nuttall's Woodpecker Picoides nuttallii (6/16). Not uncommon and fairly easy to see.

'Red-shafted' Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus (12/16). Common everywhere.

Black Phoebe Sayornis nigricans (16/16). Seen at most sites.

Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe (1/16). One at Merced refuge on November 19th. It was listed on the sightings board and we had no trouble locating it. I have no idea of its West Coast status but presumably it was a good November bird.

Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya (7/16). Not uncommon with several on most of the seven dates recorded.

Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus (6/16). Less common than Texas where we saw many in 1997. More inland than on the coast.

Hutton's Vireo Vireo huttoni (12/16). This species looks so much like Ruby-crowned Kinglet that we certainly overlooked it for our first four days. Once we had it sussed they were found to be common everywhere.

Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri (8/16). Not uncommon but fairly shy if noisy.

'Pacific' Western Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica (15/16). Common, especially in Oak areas.

Yellow-billed Magpie Pica nuttalli (9/16). Common inland, fewer on the coast.

'California' Common Raven Corvus corax (5/16). Seen at several inland sites. They sound different to ours and seem less imposing.

American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos (16/16). Ever present.

'Pacific' Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris (3/16). Good numbers in some large inland fields.

Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor (1/16). Unexpected were several well seen at San Luis refuge on November 19th.

Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota (1/16). Also at San Luis refuge on November 19th but in a different area to the Tree Swallows.

Oak Titmouse Baeolophus inornatus (7/16). As common as the previous species.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee Poecile rufescens (9/16). Common in the woods.

'Pacific' Bushtit Psaltriparus minimus (8/16). Common.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis (1/16). Seen only at Pinnacles on November 21st.

'Pacific' White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis (6/16). Common in the woods and easy to see.

Pygmy Nuthatch Sitta pygmaea (1/16). Located with tits and warblers at Jack's Peak SP where two birds showed well in the tree tops.

Brown Creeper Certhia americana (2/16). Seen easily at Oceano Pool where up to three present. Two were also at Pfeiffer-Big Sur SP.

'Pacific' Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii (7/16). Not uncommon.

'Western' House Wren Troglodytes aedon (4/16). Not very common and quite difficult to see well. Birds were at Crystal Springs and several inland sites.

Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes (1/16). Seen only along the Sacramento river at Colusa.

'Western' Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris (3/16). Common in the marshes of the inland refuges.

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus (1/16). One at Pfeiffer-Big Sur SP.

Wrentit Chamaea fasciata (3/16). Common at Pinnacle and at El Chorro.

Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa (3/16). Scarce. Seen in Panoche Valley at Oceano Pool and in Pfeiffer-Big Sur SP.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula (10/16). Common in wooded areas.

'Western' Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea (2/16). One was at El Chorro on two dates.

Townsend's Solitaire Myadestes townsendi (1/16). One with Western Bluebirds in the Panoche Valley.

Mountain Bluebird Sialia currucoides (1/16). A trio along the Panoche Valley showed very well. We did drive past another group of probables along the Mines Rd but could not stop.

Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana (7/16). Fairly common at many sites.

Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius (1/16). A real treat were a male and female at Pinnacle on November 21st. A striking species

'Western' American Robin Turdus migratorius (10/16). Some big post roost flocks were at Bolinas and especially Del Valle where several hundred flew over leaving c50 to feed up on berries.

'Pacific' Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus (5/16). Not uncommon in the wooded campsites.

Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos (11/16). Seen mostly as roadside singles.

California Thrasher Toxostoma redivivum (2/16). Seen at Pinnacles where they run around on the roads. Also one was along the Mines Rd on December 1st.

European Starling Sturnus vulgaris  (16/16). Common.

American Pipit Anthus rubescens (5/16). Not uncommon in damp fields.

Phainopepla Phainopepla nitens (2/16). Seen along the Del Valle approach road and along the Mines road.

Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum (1/16) Only seen at Del Valle where they were queuing up to strip berries.

'Pacific' Orange-crowned Warbler Vermivora celata (1/16). Two were around Oceano Pool.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata (16/16). Very common.

Townsend's Warbler Dendroica townsendi (7/16). First seen at El Chorro, then frequent in wooded sites on the coast.

Hermit Warbler Dendroica occidentalis (1/16). Two at Jack's Peak with Pygmy Nuthatch.

'Western' Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas (2/16). Seen only at El Chorro and Oceano Pool.

'Pacific' Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus (4/16). Secretive and probably overlooked but common enough when encountered and usually with the following species.

California Towhee Pipilo crissalis (14/16). Common and present at most sites.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow Aimophila ruficeps (2/16). Seen in the Panoche Valley and along the Mines Rd where common.

(Bell's) Sage Sparrow Amphispiza belli (1/16). One of the coastal race at Pinnacles.

'Pacific' Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis (4/16). Common inland and it is likely that we saw many more although it is impractical to stop and check every sparrow flock.

Vesper Sparrow Pooecetes gramineus (1/16). One at Colusa refuge, November 29th.

Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus (2/16). Fairly common in the Panoche Valley and at Pinnacles campground.

'Pacific' White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys (16/16). Very common. We also saw the 'taiga' form.

Golden-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia atricapilla (16/16). Very common.

'Pacific sooty' Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca (3/16). A superb sparrow, present in small numbers at Pinnacle and Montana Des Oros SP. We saw both the sooty and thick-billed forms.

'California' Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia (12/16). Common but skulking.

Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii (2/16). Seen at only San Francisco, Pinnacles and Oceano Pool.

Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis (11/16). Common at wooded campgrounds. All appeared to be of the 'Oregon' form.

Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta (11/16). Common.

Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater (3/16). Not many seen but, as with other 'blackbirds' we didn't try too hard.

Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus (1/16). Seen only at Merced.

Tricolored Blackbird Agelaius tricolor (4/16). We put the effort in to find a few and then others were seen by chance, mostly at refuges.

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus (10/16). Probably commoner than the stats suggest but you just stop bothering to look at this group after a few days. Bicoloured birds were not uncommon.

Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus (16/16). Very common.

'Pacific' Purple Finch Carpodacus purpureus (2/16). Only female/immatures seen.

House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus (11/16). Common.

Lesser Goldfinch Carduelis psaltria (10/16). Common.

American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis (3/16). Seen early in the trip but became more elusive.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus (14/16). Common.

Other stuff

Bat sp: Two types, one poss Townsend's.

Sea Otter Enhydra lutris: Common along the coast.

River Otter Lutra canadensis: One at Colusa refuge.

Coyote Canis latrans: Three seen, lots heard.

Bobcat Lynx rufus: One superbly tame animal at Pinnacles.

Raccoon Procyon lotor: A couple seen.

California Ground Squirrel Citellus beecheyi: Common.

Merriam Chipmunk Eutamias merriami: One at Pinnacles.

Western Grey Squirrel Sciurus griseus: Common.

Blacktail Jackrabbit Lepus californicus: Seen at Bodega Bay.

Tule Elk Cervus nannodes: Seen at San Luis refuge.

Mule Deer Odocoileus hemionus: Common at Pinnacles, also seen elsewhere.

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta: Several, El Chorro.

Monarch Danaus plexippus: Hundreds seen, especially Oceano pool area.


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