Friday, 12 October 2012

California, September 2012 - Monterey Bay Area


After five days away from the coast, it was time to head back, this time to the south of San Francisco to Monterey Bay. As I mentioned in a previous post I had booked another pelagic out of Monterey Bay with Shearwater Journeys on 28th September 2012 and wanted to have a few days birding the area, either side of that trip, and before we headed home. The journey from Yosemite to Monterey Bay was a long one so we stopped several times on the way, the most interesting stop being a cattle chase called Lasgolity Chase, along Highway 140. 

Horned Lark
At Lasgolity Chase my attention was drawn to a small flock of larks feeding on the ground, which on closer inspection turned out to be Horned Larks. These birds are totally different to the pinkish coloured birds, with broad black bibs that I have been seeing in south-eastern Turkey over the last few years, but they still have the yellow throat and bib, and brownish mantle and back typical of Horned Larks. 

Horned Lark

Interestingly in the heat of the day they spent most of their time feeding in the shade of the metal bars of the gates, rarely stepping out into the full sun...only I was doing that! Whilst watching the Horned Larks, two Western Meadowlarks wandered into view and an American Kestrel hunted from the overhead cables. 

Western Meadowlark


Scanning the horizon produced several raptor species which included a passing Swainson’s Hawk, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawks, two Golden Eagles and a column of Turkey Vultures that numbered well over 100 birds, a spectacular sight. As we continued on a Mountain Lion casually wandering across a meadow caused me to make a hasty U-turn.

Column of Turkey Vultures

We arrived in Monterey in the late afternoon, and after checking into our hotel headed out for a walk to see the bay. Our accommodation was close to the beach and overlooked a small lake and conservation area. American Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, Canada Geese, Heermann’s and Western Gulls, a Green Heron and three Black-crowned Night-Herons were present on the lake. 

Elegant Tern

In the Harbour Elegant Terns patrolled the tide line, and Common and Pacific Loons fed offshore. In the harbour Black Turnstones were roosting on the harbour edge, Belted Kingfishers fed from yacht masts, Great Egrets fed from floating kelp and a Pigeon Guillemot was in the harbour. But it wasn’t just birds that were on show in Monterey Bay, sea mammals were abundant. 

Californian Sea Lions
Bull Californian Sea Lion
Californian Sea Lion and Brandt's Cormorant

A large colony of California Sea Lions are resident on a pier at the harbour entrance, four bulls were in a stand off, making themselves tall and dominant and barking at each other. Harbour Seals were left to sleep on exposed rocks in what looked to be extremely uncomfortable positions. 

Harbour Seal
Our favourites were the Sea Otters, they were floating around the harbour occasionally diving and hunting for crabs, and when it was time to sleep, wrapping themselves in kelp before nodding off. 

Black Turnstone

Seventeen mile drive is the coastal road around the headland that leads to Carmel by-the-sea. It costs $9.75 to access but your ticket is valid for the whole day, so you can come and go as you please. The beaches around the road can be quite busy with both birds and people and dog walkers throwing sticks into the middle of flocks of waders for their dogs to chase was extremely irritating. 

Hudsonian Whimbrel

Nonetheless birding was excellent, Sanderling were the most numerous species, we the supportinmg cast including Hudsonian Whimbrel, Willet, Black-bellied Plover, Black Turnstone, Western Sandpipier, Dunlin and a very obliging Snowy Plover. 

Juvenile Snowy Plover

This bird was a juvenile, as can be seen by the still speckled crown.

Snowy Plover
A Buff-bellied Pipit was a nice find, a species I had not yet encountered on this trip and another Glaucous-winged Gull was on the beach at Carmel. Scanning out to sea produced both Long-tailed and Parasitic Jeagers, Sooty and Flesh-footed Shearwaters and a Short-billed Dowitcher roosting on the kelp.

Buff-bellied Pipit
Andrew Molera State Park is located to the south of Monterey along Highway 1 on the Big Sur. It is widely regarded as one of the best birding areas in the region, and despite arriving in the middle of the day there was still much to see. From the car park we took the track towards the campsite and immediately stumbled across a mixed flock of birds that included Bushtit, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Townsend Warbler, Hutton’s Vireo, Downy Woodpecker and Chestnut-backed Chickadee. 

Hutton's Vireo
Continuing along the track towards the sea we passed the campsite where cheeky California Ground Squirrels kept a close eye on our movements, darting back into their burrows if we approached too close. 

Californian Ground Squirrel

Birding was tough in the dense scrub but eventually Spotted Towhee, Black-chinned and Savannah Sparrow, Bewick’s and House Wrens, California Towhee and Nuttall’s Woodpecker were seen, and whilst looking for the passerines we picked out roosting Great Horned and Barn Owls. 

Great Horned Owl

At the mouth of the river that flows through the site Green-winged Teal and Pintail were recorded, whilst Golden Eagle, White-tailed Kite, Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawk and a Peregrine Falcon were recorded overhead. All in all it was an excellent days birding despite most of it being shrouded in low cloud, our first of the trip!

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