10–26 September 2017
Amid magnificent scenery we will search for Black-footed Albatross and many other seabirds, Wandering Tattler, Yellow-footed Gull, Elegant Tern, Allen’s Hummingbird, Nuttall’s and White-headed Woodpeckers, Island Scrub-jay, Yellow-billed Magpie, Oak Titmouse, California Gnatcatcher, Wrentit, California and Le Conte’s Thrashers, Townsend’s and Hermit Warblers, California Towhee and Lawrence’s Goldfinch.
Day 1 Our scheduled flight from London to Los Angeles will be followed by a drive to Ventura Beach during which, depending on flight times, we may see our first common birds including Turkey Vulture and Mourning Dove. Night at Ventura Beach.
Day 2 Today we will take a boat trip to visit Santa Cruz Island, home to the endemic Island Scrub-jay. From the boat we will look for seabirds and may see Pink-footed and Black-vented Shearwaters and possibly the recently-split Scripps’s Murrelet. On the island we may encounter a few migrants along with Pacific-slope Flycatcher and the endemic non-migratory race of Allen’s Hummingbird. We will return to shore and drive to Buellton for an overnight stay.
Day 3 Alisal Canyon will be our first destination, primarily for Yellow-billed Magpie. At Nojoqui Falls CP we will search for Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Western Bluebird and California Towhee amongst the many common birds in this picturesque location. Heading north, we will arrive at Morro Bay in the afternoon and visit Montana de Oro SP for California Quail, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Wandering Tattler, Black Oystercatcher, Wrentit and California Thrasher. Night in Morro Bay.
Day 4 Today we will start at Morro Bay beach and then Morro Bay State Park, looking at shorebirds and waterbirds, before driving north along the picturesque, coast-hugging California Highway 1, searching for White-tailed Kite, Marbled Murrelet and the reintroduced California Condor en route. Our destination will be Marina, where we will stay for two nights.
Day 5 This is our pelagic boat trip day out of Monterey (alternative arrangements can be made for those who would rather remain ashore). Species we may encounter include Black-footed Albatross, Buller’s, Pink-footed, Short-tailed and Sooty Shearwaters, Ashy, Black and Fork-tailed Storm-petrels, Brandt’s, Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, Sabine’s Gull, South Polar Skua, Cassin’s and Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon Guillemot as well as California Sea Lion, Blue and Humpback Whales and Common and Risso’s Dolphins. Back on shore we will spend the late afternoon at Pinos Point looking for any of the oceanside shorebirds not yet seen.
Day 6 Heading north we will stop first at Moonglow Dairy for shorebirds, rails, sparrows and Marsh Wren and then at Moss Landing to search for Glaucous-winged Gull in the harbour. Next we will head east towards Yosemite NP, looking for Swainson’s Hawk en route. It is quite a long drive but we will make several stops before reaching Mariposa, on the western edge of Yosemite NP, where we will spend two nights.
Day 7 Starting early, and after looking for American Dipper en route, we will spend the whole day exploring Yosemite NP. First we will visit Glacier Point, where there are spectacular views of Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls and the excellent birding includes the possibility of Sooty Grouse, White-headed Woodpecker, Red-breasted and Williamson’s Sapsuckers, Townsend’s Solitaire and Black-throated Grey Warbler. We must keep our eyes to the skies, however, as there may be a Black Swift in with the Vaux’s and White-throated Swifts. Next we will walk one or two of the trails searching for Cassin’s Finch and Pine Grosbeak. Other species we will look for include American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. We may even encounter a Black Bear or a Coyote! In the evening we will visit a site where Great Grey Owl is fairly regular. While we are waiting there should be plenty of other good birds to see including Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mountain Chickadee and Lincoln’s Sparrow.
Day 8 We will make an early start to drive east over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, through Tuolumne Meadows and across the Tioga Pass. At various stops along the way we will look for Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagle, Black-backed Woodpecker, Clark’s Nutcracker, Brown Creeper, Townsend’s Solitaire, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco and (Slate-coloured) Fox Sparrow. The scenery can best be described as absolutely stunning! We will descend to Mono Lake, a spectacular soda lake recently saved from the water consumers of Los Angeles. Here, amongst the Tufa formations, we will look for numerous Eared Grebes, Red-necked Phalaropes, California Gulls and Brewer’s Blackbirds. Night in Mammoth Lakes.
Day 9 Before breakfast we will visit a nearby site for Greater Sage-grouse and see a hot spring. Later we will tour a variety of habitats ranging from sage brush to forests where we will look for some of the specialities of the area including Pinyon Jay, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Bluebird, Violet-green Swallow, Green-tailed Towhee and Brewer’s, Sage and Vesper Sparrows. Heading south after brunch we will divert into the White Mountains to look for Juniper Titmouse, which is right on the edge of its range here. A nearby spring is often good for migrants. Continuing south we will drop down into the Mojave Desert with its Joshua trees. There is a totally different avifauna here including Verdin, Black-throated Sparrow and Greater Roadrunner. Two nights in Ridgecrest.
Day 10 We will begin early to search the desert for Le Conte’s Thrasher and Sage Sparrow. Next we will navigate a maze of unmarked sandy tracks to find Butterbredt Spring, an oasis in this mountainous desert. The spring is a magnet for migrants, Great Horned Owl is resident and there is a slim chance of Mountain Quail. Dropping back down into the desert we will drive to California City for breakfast then visit the local migration hotspot of California City Central Park. Species seen here in the past have included summering Cackling, Snow and Ross’s Geese, Olive-sided, Pacific-slope, Grey and Willow Flycatchers, Blackburnian, Yellow, Wilson’s, MacGillivray’s, Nashville and Orange-crowned Warblers, American Redstart, Cassin’s, Plumbeous and Warbling Vireos, Western Tanager and Black-headed Grosbeak.
Day 11 Today we will head east, then turn south, stopping for breakfast en route, to reach Big Morongo, an area where we have found Anna’s, Black-chinned, Costa’s, Calliope, Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds, Vermilion Flycatcher, Summer Tanager and Lawrence’s Goldfinch on previous tours. Continuing south, we will follow the eastern shore of the Salton Sea, making stops if time permits to look through the many gulls for a Franklin’s or Laughing Gull. On reaching the south end of the sea we will check into our hotel in Brawley for a two-night stay.
Day 12 All day will be spent birding around the southern end of the Salton Sea, which will be teeming with birds. In particular we will be looking for Amerian White Pelican, Cinnamon Teal, White-faced Ibis, American and Least Bitterns, Long-billed Curlew, American Avocet, Common Ground-dove, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle and ‘Large-billed’ Savannah Sparrow as well as the speciality bird of the area, Yellow-footed Gull. Burrowing Owls can be found along the roadside close to the preserve headquarters, where we will also look for Gambel’s Quail, Abert’s Towhee and roosting Lesser Nighthawk.
Day 13 An early morning walk from our motel could produce Inca and White-winged Doves, Cactus Wren and Gila Woodpecker. We will then head west, out of the desert and into the green Cuyamaca Mountains, which are good for Wild Turkey, Band-tailed Pigeon, Phainopepla, Cedar Waxwing and Red-shouldered Hawk; the elusive Mountain Quail and Lawrence’s Goldfinch occur here too. We will stop for lunch in the picturesque town of Julian before moving on to Lake Cuyamaca, which holds a good variety of waterbirds including Wood Duck. Pygmy Nuthatch and Brewer’s Blackbird can also be found around the car park. Dropping down through beautiful forests we will rejoin civilisation on the freeway, working our way through the heart of San Diego almost to the Mexican border. The next two nights will be spent in San Ygnacio.
Day 14 We will begin the day at Otay Lakes searching for California Gnatcatcher, an uncommon and declining species. Bell’s Sparrow also occurs here as does White-tailed Kite, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, California Thrasher, Wrentit, California and Spotted Towhees and Rufous-crowned Sparrow. We will then visit a site close to the Mexican border to look for the Ridgway’s Rail and ‘Belding’s’ Savannah Sparrow. From Tijuana rivermouth we will scan through the flocks of shorebirds for Snowy Plover and probably find Caspian, Forster’s, Elegant and Royal Terns and 'Large-billed' Savannah Sparrow, a likely future split. We will end the day at Dairymart Sod Fields for White-tailed Kite, Cassin’s Kingbird and, if we are lucky, Baird’s Sandpiper or American Pipit.
Day 15 There are many great birding localities between San Diego and Los Angeles and the sites we choose will depend upon what species, if any, we have not yet seen. Consequently our journey could be via the coastal plain or the mountains. Overnight in Los Angeles.
Day 16 Depending on our flight times we may be able to fit in some birding. If so, we will visit the Palos Verdes Peninsula looking for migrants and seabirds including Black-vented Shearwater at Point Vicente. On a previous tour we recorded the first Pacific record of Black-capped Petrel here! Other possible destinations are Averill Park and Peck Park on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where Allen’s Hummingbird is resident. At some point in the morning we will return to the airport for our overnight flight to London, arriving on Day 17.
General Information The climate can vary from cold in the mountains to very hot at the Salton Sea. The pace of the tour is moderate but with some early starts. There are no special medical requirements and insects are not a major problem. Visas are required. Distances are quite long in California but the roads are good and driving is relaxed, with plenty of opportunities to stop for food and drink. Food is excluded from the tour price but is relatively inexpensive; allow about £30 per day depending on your requirements.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 9 with 1 leader, 16 with 2 leaders.