9 Great California Coastal Birding Sites

9 Great California Coastal Birding Sites

Published: 08/29/2013

The famed Farallon Islands serve as one of the most vital seabird breeding locations in the United States south of Alaska. While the Farallones are closed to visitors, whale watching, shark cage diving, and other tour boats regularly offer cruises to and around the islands. Although the Farallones’ total land area is only 0.16 square miles, 13 different species—250,000 individual birds—breed here, including the largest colonies of Brandt’s cormorants and western gulls found anywhere. These islands also contain 40 percent to 50 percent of the world population of ashy storm-petrels, a declining species with a breeding range restricted to California and Baja. More info:  farallones.org/ and http://www.sanfranciscowhaletours.com/


Greater yellowlegs near Elkhorn Slough. Photo by Franco Folini/Flickr Creative Commons

5. Elkhorn Slough State Marine Reserve

Moss Landing

Access reserve via Highway 1

Some of the very best birdwatching in the western United States happens in Elkhorn Slough, located on Monterey Bay near the charming town of Moss Landing. Thousands of bird lovers visit this IBA each year to see the more than 340 species that stop or reside here year-round, including several rare and endangered species, such as the western snowy plover. At the north end of the reserve, Kirby Bay offers a boat ramp, plus a wheelchair- and stroller-accessible boardwalk for continued exploration along the slough. Rarities spotted here have included the white-faced ibis, tufted duck, long-eared owl, and yellow-billed loon. More info: http://elkhornslough.org


6. Point Lobos State Marine Reserve 

Carmel Bay

Enter 3 miles south of Carmel

Known as a place of spectacular beauty that inspires art and poetry, Point Lobos juts out south of Carmel Bay on California’s Central Coast and offers varied habitats, including oaks and pines, coastal scrub and meadows, rocky cliffs, sand coves, and offshore islands. Park enthusiasts know that the diversity of habitats at Point Lobos means that it has a long and diverse checklist of birds. However, all of the rocky shores and islets of Point Lobos offer an especially good place to view migrant and wintering shorebirds, such as wandering tattlers, surfbirds, and black turnstones, as well as black oystercatchers, which nest there. More info: http://pointlobos.org/


7. Morro Bay State Marine Recreation Management Area/State Marine Reserve

Morro Bay

Access from Highway 1, exit Los Osos - Baywood Park offramp

Another prime birdwatching location is the Morro Bay Estuary, in San Luis Obispo County. A worldwide highlight for avian lovers takes place every January during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, when the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival celebrates myriad species of birds returning to the area. Easily sighted birds include a variety of pelicans, gulls, terns, and shorebirds, including western snowy plovers along Morro Strand State Beach. Visit Morro Rock where two pairs of peregrine falcons nest annually, alongside gulls and even canyon wrens. Just south of Morro Bay, stop and hike or camp at Montana de Oro State Park and walk along the spectacular bluff trail. There you can observe black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, loons and cormorants, tidepools, and sea otters, and perhaps a glimpse of a whale offshore. More info: http://www.mpatlas.org/mpa/sites/7641/


The island scrub-jay is endemic to Santa Cruz island. Photo: Jeff&Amy/Flickr Creative Commons

8. Anacapa Island State Marine Reserve/State Marine Conservation Area

Channel Islands

Visit via Island Packers, Ventura

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