Tuesday, 2 October 2012

California, September 2012 - Point Reyes

After our three day break in San Francisco we headed north to the Point Reyes National Seashore Reserve. The reserve is situated approximately a two hour drive north from San Francisco airport, and provides a range of habitats from coastal cliffs, bays, lagoons, prairie and scrub to Douglas fir forest, freshwater marsh and riparian woodland. With the range of habitats available two days in not really sufficient to cover the area, but that was all we had.

Black Phoebe

Point Reyes lighthouse is situated at the extreme western point of the Point Reyes peninsular. En route to the lighthouse there are several good birding locations in the form of clumps of cypress trees, scrub and farmland. The clumps of vegetation are known as Historic Farms, with each one designated with a letter, A, B, C etc. During migration times these are all worth a check. At the lighthouse there are several more clumps of cypress trees that are also worth checking for migrants. In addition, the sea is always worth checking for seabirds and passing whales, the viewing area at the lighthouse is a famous location for watching Gray Whales migrate.

Western Bluebird

During our stay the mornings were fairly cool and breezy with low cloud present, but as this cleared during mid to late morning the days became much warmer and warbler activity increased. The lighthouse and the various historic farms produced some good migrant birds including Black Phoebe, Western Bluebird, Yellow and Townsend's Warbler, and a Blackpoll Warbler, which apparently is a good bird for the area, Pacific Slope Flycatchers, Western Wood-pewee, Warbling Vireos, Savannah Sparrows and an influx of Red-breasted Nuthatches. The telephone wires on the approach to the lighthouse were good perches for American Kestrels, Coopers and Red-tailed Hawks. Scanning fields can produce some good waders, but I failed on that score, but did get some good views of Tule Elk. This sub-species was formerly extinct from the area but has been re-introduced and is now doing very well, with numbers increasing to several hundred from the few that were once remaining in California.

Tule Elk

During our stay we based ourselves around Inverness, in the Motel Inverness. I was lured to this location because when I looked through the window I could see a chalk board with a bird list on it, but once we had checked in I noted that the list was woefully out of day. Despite this I was glad that we chose this place to stay, since it overlooked an area of inter-tidal marsh, which in itself produced some good birding. During our stay I recorded Townsend's, Yellow and Orange-crowned Warblers, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Anna’s Hummingbird in the motel grounds. Raptor wise the site was also very good with Red-tailed, Red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawks all recorded, along with Osprey, Northern Harrier, Turkey Vulture, Peregrine Falcon and several White-tailed Hawks. At low tide there were several areas that were good for waders, although a scope was essential from the accommodation, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least and Western Sandpipers were recorded, in addition Snowy and Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons were present. Three American Pelicans flying over one morning were an unexpected bonus.


Several good beaches are located along the western shoreline, we stopped at Drake’s Beach which is located on the southern edge of the western peninsula and Limantour Beach, which is located mid-way down the west coast. Birding was very good both on the beaches and the sea, Surf and Black Scoter, Pacific and Common Loons (Divers), Eared and Red-necked Grebes were recorded, and on the beaches California, Mew, Ring-billed, Heermann’s and Western Gulls were roosting with Marbled Godwits, Hudsonian Whimbrels and many Sanderling. Several Harbour Porpoises were also feeding off shore.

Acorn Woodpecker

Bear Valley Visitors Centre is a good place to start since it will give you up-to-date information from the site. We called in a couple of times and were rewarded with excellent views of Acorn Woodpecker, Oregon Junco, Black Phoebe and California Quail.

California Quail

At the extreme south, Port Reyes Bird Observatory is located. It is well worth a visit since you can get the opportunity to see birds in the hand, whilst I was there they caught Pacific Slope Flycatcher, Song Sparrow and Warbling Vireo. The site is also good for birding and I recorded Spotted Towhee, Wrentit, several more Pacific Slope Flycatchers, Warbling and Hutton’s Vireos, White-crown Sparrow and more White-tailed Kites. This is also a good area for Winter Wren, the Pacific Coast population of Winter Wren has recently been split apparently, I will check that out at some point. I was also given details of a site off Olena-Bolinas Road, which consists of a small patch of woodland leading to the Bolinas Lagoon. The site produced some good birding despite me being there late in the morning; in the wood several Townsend's Warblers, Pine Siskins, Wrentits, Hutton’s Vireos and one Common Yellowthroat were present. On the lagoon Long-billed Curlews, Hudsonian Whimbrels, Long-billed Dowitchers and hundreds of Least and Western Sandpipers were present.

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