California 2006, Continued

(Page One)

July 27th – It was now necessary for very early starts as the high daytime temperatures resulted in low bird activity for most of the day. A drive up Kelso Valley Road started with grassland where we encountered Burrowing Owls and 13 Greater Roadrunner. Further up the road the habitat changed to Joshua Trees, which are loved by the noisy and smart Cactus Wrens.


Greater Roadrunner        &        Cactus Wren

Also present in the Joshua Trees were Black-throated Sparrow and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. After a siesta we spent the evening on Fay Ranch Road and had brief views of a Phainopepla. Sat near the open grassland we waited for dusk and just as the light was going a Lesser Nighthawk was spotted flying very low up the road straight towards us. Two flew around the car for a few minutes before disappearing off over the fields.


Black-throated Sparrow        &        Ladder-backed Woodpecker

July 28th – another very early start saw us heading into the Mojave Desert stopping first at Red Rock Canyon, where the only birds of note were a pair of nest building Cactus Wren with a rather more obliging White-tailed Antelope Squirrel.

Cactus Wren

White-tailed Antelope Squirrel

Heading south we turned onto Jawbone Canyon Road and soon came across a Desert Tortoise in the middle of the road.

Desert Tortoise

Leaving Nicola with her new friend we crossed the road and explored the sandy wash between the water pipes. First we came across a male Sage Sparrow, to our surprise a thrasher started calling from a bush nearby. Just what we were looking for, a Le Conte’s Thrasher, after showing briefly it dropped to the floor and started running around the sage bushes.


Sage Sparrow        &        Le Conte's Thrasher

We then headed for California City and on the way spotted a Prairie Falcon eating prey on a pylon on Neuralia Road. Further down the road we found a great pair of Burrowing Owls that showed well.


Prairie Falcon

Burrowing Owl

Around the golf course at California City the only new birds for the holiday were Great-tailed Grackle and Horned Larks.


Acorn Woodpecker

July 29th – On a walk around the nature trail at Kern River Preserve we were rewarded with views of a female Summer Tanager and two Barn Owls. Further up the valley we stopped at Scodie Park and located a wonderful feeding pair of Hooded Orioles in one of the Fan Palms. Acorn Woodpeckers were abundant around the park, and feeding amongst the Red-winged Blackbirds were six of the endemic Tricolored Blackbird.


Hooded Oriole

Tricolored Blackbird

After another siesta we visited the Trail of 100 Giants, whilst walking around the massive Redwood trees we managed to find a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets. On the way back down the scenic valley we had a Golden Eagle fly overhead and a tarantula scurried across the road with Nicola in hot pursuit.



July 30th – We left Kern Valley, heading west we came across a flooded field near Taft with approximately one thousand feeding White-faced Ibis and two Cattle Egrets. Whilst we were admiring the spectacle a Green Heron flew from an irrigation pond and Nicola found a Grasshopper Sparrow down the dirt track.


White-faced Ibis        &        Green Heron

Double-crested Cormorant        &        Pelagic Cormorant

Arriving at the Pacific coast we soon saw the very common Heermann’s Gull, Pigeon Guillemot, Brown Pelican, Brant's, Pelagic and Double-creasted Cormorant at Shell Beach. Moving north along the coast we stopped at Montana de Oro State Park and found on the rocky coast three Wandering Tattlers amongst a small flock of Black Turnstone.  

Brown Pelican


Wandering Tattler        &        Sea Otter

Sea Otter

Reaching our destination, Morro Bay we checked in at our motel and spent the afternoon at Morro Rock watching the adorable Sea Otters in the harbour mouth, also present were 2 drake Surf Scoters, Common Loon and a smart Canyon Wren was found in the sea wall. A stroll at dusk overlooking the bay produced nine early returning Royal Terns with the numerous Caspian and Elegant Terns.  


Caspian Tern        &        Elegant Tern

Canyon Wren

July 31st – Another look back at the Sea Otters when Margaret saw a distant Black Skimmer flying over the bay and out to sea. Leaving Morro Bay we had seven Snowy Plover (Kentish) at San Simeon State Park before stopping on the coast north of San Simeon seeing a Surfbird and 24 Hudsonian Whimbrel.


Hudsonian Whimbrel        &        Snowy Plover


Surfbird        &        Hudsonian Whimbrel

But the main attraction here was the 50+ massive Elephant Seals lying on the beach these were young males which argued frequently, whilst out to sea a Humpback Whale was tail slapping. Our next four nights were at Watsonville.  

Northern Elephant Seal

August 1st – Meeting Sanctuary Cruises at 10.30am in Moss Landing harbour we departed in search of whales. The sea conditions were rougher than expected but once we were over the continental shelf we started to see hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters, one South Polar, two Pomarine and two Arctic Skuas. When the captain spotted a pod of 10+ Pacific White-sided Dolphins and these smart animals rode the bow briefly before continuing with their hunt.


Pacific White-sided Dolphin

We travelled further out seeing two small flocks of adult Sabine’s Gulls when we finally caught up with a travelling Humpbacked Whale. Unfortunately some of the party were by now feeling a bit under the weather!  As we started to head back to land we saw 8 Black-footed Albatross and 20 Pink-footed Shearwaters.


Black-footed Albatross


Pink-footed Shearwater        &        Sabine's Gull

Halfway back the captain spotted some activity on the skyline, shortly after there was a pod of six playful Killer Whales around the boat. Everyone soon felt better, as the pod that included a magnificent male performed magically. One female even came spy hoping towards us before swimming directly under our feet, what a fantastic end to a great trip.



Killer Whales

August 2nd – Today we had a look at the coast at Monterey seeing Black Oystercatcher and more Red-necked Phalarope, Wandering Tattler, Heermann’s Gulls, Sea Otters and some California Sea Lions. A visit to Jacks Peak Regional Park produced Pygmy Nuthatch and Hutton’s Vireo.


Black Oystercatcher        &        Heermann's Gull


Pygmy Nuthatch        &        Hutton's Vireo

August 3rd – Starting at some roadside pools north of Moss Landing we had 2 Redheads, Ruddy Turnstone, Long-billed Dowitchers with a Red-shouldered Hawk watching from a tree stump.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Next we visited Salinas River Wildlife Refuge where the lagoon held a large mixed flock of Terns that contained three Black Skimmers. Two of these superb birds gave great views as they flew in low over the water skimming before settling into the flock.

Black Skimmer

On a walk around Elkhorn Slough the only birds of note were a feeding flock of Forster’s Tern and two roosting Great-Horned Owls.


Forster's Tern

August 4th – As we approached the end of the holiday this was our last move as we headed to Point Reyes. At Santa Cruz we visited the Natural Bridges and Antonelli Pond seeing 2 Surfbirds, 4 White-tailed Kites, 3 Green Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Wilson’s Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. After a disappointing walk at Ano Nuevo we then tackled San Francisco travelling over the famous Golden Gate Bridge.


Wilson's Warbler


White-tailed Kite        &        Common Yellowthroat

August 5th – The Lighthouse at Point Reyes was a beautiful place to start the day with thousands of Guillemots nesting below, Rock Wrens, White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows singing from the slopes, Peregrine and Turkey Vulture flying overhead.


Turkey Vulture

Whilst hiking on the nature trail to Indian Beach the thick wood produced Pacific-sloped Flycatcher and a fly over Osprey. A lagoon at the beach provided most interest with several male Common Whitetail dragonflies flying around and a stunning male Widow Skimmer, which appeared and perched right next to us.

Widow Skimmer

Walking up the dirt track we found a clearing, which was busy with bird activity including Warbling Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush and at least four Allen’s Hummingbirds feeding from flowers.


Allen's Hummingbird

The bird observatory is situated on the south of Point Reyes and is ideal habitat for Wrentit, which were quite common, also seen were Purple Finch.



August 6th – Arrived at Sausalito for our trip to the Farallon Islands with Shearwater Journeys. After two hours sailing on a beautiful sunny and calm day we arrived at the large seabird and sea lion colony. The main target bird was spotted straight away flying over one of the islands, a Tufted Puffin. On the sea were several small Cassin’s Auklets in the hundreds of Pigeon Guillemots and Common Murre (Guillemots). After seeing a few Puffins flying over two were spotted on the water in front allowing the boat closer we achieved great views.

Tufted Puffin


Cassin's Auklet        &        Pigeon Guillemot

Out to the Continental shelf with some popcorn we searched for shearwaters but only a couple Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters were seen. However we did have Rhinoceros Auklet, Northern Fulmar, 7 Humpback Whales, another male Killer Whale (I thought these were quite rare to see here) and a distant pod of Risso’s Dolphins.


Humpback Whale        &        Sooty Shearwater

On the way back a short stop at Five Brooks resulted in two Olive-sided Flycatchers, Bushtit and Chestnut-backed Chickadee, back at our cottage after dark a Great Horned Owl perched in the tree above the door with up to three young heard calling.


Turkey Vulture        &        Chestnut-backed Chickadee


August 7th – On the last day we went to Bodega Bay where we had great views of Northern Harrier and Turkey Vultures. From Doran Park there was a flock of c500 Elegant Terns, ten Surfbirds and two Red Knot.


Northern Harrier

At Tomalas Bay was a flock of 20 Surf Scoter and 7 Wild Turkeys on the roadside. We finished with a visit to Olema Marsh where a fantastic California Quail kept lookout from a sign. When a noisy flock of five Purple Martins flew over, these brought the trip list to 220 species of which 79 were lifers.


California Quail

August 8th – Time to go, a Barn Owl was seen as we drove to the airport for the long journey home.

Mark Breaks

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All Images taken by Margaret, Nicola and Mark Breaks, Copyright - © Breaks Bird Photography