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Courtesy of James P. Smith

As a frequent leader of this tour one of the most consistent questions that I’m asked is, “Do you ever get bored of leading the same trip?”, and I always answer…“no”. This year’s tour of California was a perfect example as to why and being the 11th straight year that I’ve led it, it proved to be full of surprises not least of a which was a Red-billed Tropicbird on the very first day of the trip! That was a massive start to the trip and a species that we may struggle to find again in future! The tropicbird paved the way to several other new birds for the tour including a very-early Golden-crowned Sparrow in the high desert near Cedar Flats and several, beautiful Orange Bishops in a fabulous reserve in deepest Los Angeles towards the end of the tour. It wasn’t all about the birds however, and this tour comes with magnificent scenery and huge variety of habitats. We recorded our first ever Hammerhead Shark in the Santa Barbara Channel, a pod of Orcas in Monterey Bay, a Horned Lizard and an unidentified scorpion in the deserts of California City. The slightly later timing of the tour also brought some big surprises including a huge gathering of around 45 Brown Boobies off the Tijuana River Mouth and no less than 36 Neotropic Cormorants at the Salton Sea. It’s hard to imagine that the latter was major rarity in California until just a few years ago! The slightly later dates also benefited our dedicated pelagic in Monterey Bay where we recorded our first Short-tailed Shearwaters and Fork-tailed Storm-petrels in over ten years! The day before the pelagic saw great excitement as we watched about four California Condors cruising above the magnificent coastline of Big Sur. Some species were admittedly hard to find, and both Great Grey Owl and Mountain Quail once again eluded our checklists this year but overall we did very well indeed for seeing key California species such as California Gnatcatcher and Lawrence’s Goldfinch.

The tour enjoyed wonderful group camaraderie throughout although some of the inner city driving was admittedly a little stressful at times! In this respect, and for his accomplished co-leadership throughout the tour, Neal Roberston deserves a special word of thanks for his input and as does Jean Jacques Gozard who helped in many ways behind the scenes. Also special thanks to David Hughes for providing a superb photo gallery from what proved to be a superb tour. September 2016 will see us running the tour on similar dates (11th–27th September) to 2015 with the hope of repeating some of the successes encountered on that tour.

Good birding

James P. Smith

Northfield, MA, USA

Pacific Loon Horned Grebe
Black-footed Albatross Northern Fulmar
Pink-footed Shearwater Short-tailed Shearwater
Ashy Storm-petrel Red-billed Tropicbird
Neotropic Cormorants Wandering Tattler
Long-billed Curlew Pectoral Sandpiper
Red-necked Phalaropes Red Phalarope
Cassin's Auklets Sabine's Gull
Burrowing Owl Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Island Scrub-jay Yellow-billed Magpie
Mountain Chickadee Red-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Sparrow Bell's Sparrow
Tricoloured Blackbird Lawrence's Goldfinch
Horned Lizard Island Fox
Hammerhead Shark
Inyo Valley
South Tufa
Half Dome, Yosemite
California Thrasher

California Thrasher