San Diego to Sierras
June 23 - July 2, 2001
110 degrees at the Salton Sea, and only 45 degrees one morning at Lake
A nine-day trip through
California led by Henry Detwiler to see as many western species of birds as we could.
213 species total (bird list at bottom of page)
Click on thumbnail pictures for full-sized shots.
The birding adventure started at 6:30AM
on Saturday morning when I picked up David at his motel. Our first
stop was in the Tijuana Valley, where we found a pair of Blue Grosbeaks
and lots of Bullock's Orioles. The Black-vented Oriole never
appeared at Smuggler's Gulch, but we did get awesome looks at Wrentits,
California Towhees and White-tailed Kites. At San Elijo Lagoon we
tracked down the California Gnatcatchers and a most cooperative
California Thrasher. And then it was east over the Laguna
|We made a short stop to
visit Joe Morlan and his bird sanctuary in Jacumba. While
talking to Joe and Lonna, we watched Lawrence's Goldfinches and
Tricolored Blackbirds feeding and flitting about. Once we hit
the Imperial Valley, it wasn't long before we found our first
Burrowing Owls, including some youngsters. We spent a while
looking for a Fulvous Whistling Duck before we retired to the
Calipatria Inn and dinner.
|On Sunday morning we again searched
in vain for the Fulvous Whistling Duck, but did find Bronzed Cowbird, a
Barn and a Horned Owl, Yellow-footed Gulls, Wood
Stork, and Lesser Nighthawks. We explored the bubbling mud pots before heading
north along the seashore. The heat was becoming pretty oppressive
by the time we reached the north end of the sea (110 degrees).
Caspian Tern & Black-necked Stilts
Snowy Plover at Salton Sea
|Off of Ave 76 we saw thousands of stilts, avocets, gulls, and
waders. A pair of Snowy Plovers and several Brant rounded out the
After stocking up on camping grub we drove up into the San
Jacinto Mountains, where we added to our montane bird list:
California Quail, Pinyon Jays, Pygmy Nuthatches, Oak Titmice, and
Black-headed Grosbeaks. At our campground up at the top of Black
Mountain we heard a band of Common Ravens carrying on, and soon saw
what was exciting them--a Golden Eagle. The next morning we awoke
to a chorus of birds, and among others, David located White-headed
|On the way north to Monterey
we spotted a pronghorn antelope with a giant rack. We pulled into
Monterey in rainfall and failing light, so our coastal birding had to
wait a day. Early on Tuesday morning we got excellent looks at
the Black Oystercatcher and Western Gulls off Point Pinos.
Black Oystercatcher at Monterey
Red Fox at Point Pinos
|The oystercatchers got really
riled up when a red fox came trotting by. Offshore we watched
Sooty Shearwaters skimming the wave tops. A Pacific Loon was an
unexpected surprise for this date in June. Low tide afforded us
excellent looks at anemones, sea urchins, and a starfish.
|Off of Fisherman's Wharf we
had beautiful looks at Pigeon Guillemot, Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorant,
and California Sea Lions. At the Carmel River we picked up
Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Swainson's Thrush.
Young/female California Sea Lion
Redwoods--Andrew Molera St Park
|We headed south along the
beautiful coastline to Big Sur, and at Andrew Molera State Park saw our first
California Redwoods, and our only Hutton's Vireo. Further
south still, we spotted both Vaux's and White-throated Swifts, a
Peregrine Falcon, Purple Finches, and more White-tailed Kites.
|Late in the afternoon we hiked to the mouth of
the Big Sur River, where it empties into the Pacific Ocean. A
small raft of Surf Scoters bobbed in the swells. The
chilly afternoon air encouraged me to move quickly, and we
headed back 'home' for a late dinner. On the way to the Sierra
Nevada Mountains the next day, we got excellent looks at a Loggerhead
Shrike and Yellow-billed Magpies in the Sacramento Valley.
Big Sur - south of Monterey
Fearless Birding Guide
Otter at Monterey
|We met a fellow birder,
Cheri Pillsbury, in Foresthill for dinner, and then followed her
high up along Mosquito Ridge Road for a night of owling, finally reaching the Big Trees
State Park. David and I walked along a beautiful trail with
towering firs and pines. The melodic flute-like notes of
Hermit Thrushes serenaded us as the darkness settled around
dog-like hooting & barking shattered the silence and was
repeated several times. David glimpsed one of the Spotted
Owls as it flew into a fir quite close-by, and we all got
very nice looks at it. Then, perhaps in response to our
pygmy owl whistles, it flew to a tree directly overhead.
Excellent looks! We camped at
Live Oak Flats, and listened to the faint, low hoots of the Flammulated
Owl before drifting off to sleep.
|Squaw Valley Ski
Resort, at about 8500', was abloom with yellow coneflowers and
these fine blue types. Bird life was typical of the high
alpine country, and included White-crowned Sparrow, Green-tailed
Towhee, Mountain Chickadee, and Clark's Nutcracker.
|But the target bird for
this trip was the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, which we finally
spotted close to the ridge seen in this
picture. Other really nice surprises were a Rock Wren,
Mountain Bluebirds, Pine Siskins, Cassin's Finches, and a Pine
Grosbeak. By the time we descended 2000' on our cable-car ride, it
was late afternoon.
Dave at Squaw Valley
At 9:00PM we finally found a camping
area not overrun by mosquitoes south of Lake Tahoe. The next
morning when we packed up and left it was 45 degrees! In the
of Kit Carson Pass, David got really excellent looks at the
Townsend's Solitaire, and we enjoyed the first Aspen groves of our trip.
Avocet & California Gulls at Mono Lake
|We continued on to Lee
Vining and Mono Lake, where we watched the first of the returning
Wilson's Phalaropes snapping up brine flies in mid-air.
California Gulls were also there by the thousands. Northeast
of Mono Lake we found our only Juniper Titmice.
|Sage is a predominant
feature in the Owens Valley, which lies east of the Sierra Nevada
Range. Three of the specialty birds here are Sage Sparrow,
Sage Thrasher, and Sage Grouse. After a bit of scouting, we
were able to turn up all three of them!
Sage and the Sierra Nevada Range
American Avocet - Crowley
|Crowley Lake provided us with a number of fine
birds. Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows were abundant, and after
a couple of hours of searching, we met up with a Sage Grouse hen and
two of her "grouselets". In the lake and along the shore were
Ruddy Ducks, Redheads, early Buffleheads, and this American
|A detour up to the Kern Valley Nature Conservancy
Preserve provided more excellent looks at Lawrence's Goldfinches
and a beautiful male Black-chinned Hummingbird. The shedding
cottonwoods had lined all the trees in this grove with a fuzzy
White-tailed Kite at Smuggler's Gulch
Our final day ended where we started--in San Diego. We
heard the Bell's Vireo, got fine looks at Elegant Terns, and
watched this beautiful White-tailed Kite through the scope.
We missed a few birds, but overall it was a most productive and
excellent whirlwind trip. Congratulations David!