The Santa Cruz County Birding Year California, USA
Birding month text by Randy Wardle
Images by Pete Sole
This page stores one year of the terrific birding email notes that Randy Wardle sent to mbb for Santa Cruz county. The notes describe some of the bird species that birders can expect to find in Santa Cruz county, including their locations. This is not a comprehensive list of bird species and species locations. Rather, it is a fun informal description of where to look and what to find by month.
Many thanks to Randy for researching, writing up, and allowing the reposting of his notes. Also, thanks to Lois Goldfrank and Alex Rinkert for contributing their local birding lore to Randy's original notes.
The new year has begun and so has the spring migration for some bird species in Santa Cruz County. Watch for Allen's Hummingbirds, which will be returning in early January. Many Anna's Hummingbirds and Bushtits begin nest building, while other species such as Great Horned Owls, doves and pigeons can be seen tending active nests. Many resident breeding birds such as Hutton’s Vireos and Dark-eyed Juncos begin singing more frequently this month.
January is a good time to look for Red-breasted or rarer Red-naped or Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, or a hybrid. Though quite rare, winter is when there is the best chance of finding a Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Other rare flycatchers such as Hammond’s, Dusky, and Pacific-slope occasionally overwinter as well. Tropical Kingbirds can also be found in places like the Watsonville Sloughs or lakes and marshes on the mid-county coast.
While this winter has been a bit slow, rare warblers can still turn up. American Redstart, Nashville, Black-and-white, Hooded, Hermit, Wilson’s, Black-throated Gray, Palm, and MacGillivray’s, and Northern Waterthrush have all been found in January in recent years. Watch for many of these where there are flowering Eucalyptus.
This month is also a good time to listen for owls. Great Horned, Barn, Western Screech, and Northern Saw-whet are the most widespread. Northern Pygmy is more difficult to find, but some reliable places to try are Rancho Del Oso and headquarters at Big Basin State Park. In some places, such as the fields near Wilder Ranch State Park, Long-eared and Short-eared Owls have sometimes been seen as well.
January is a good time to look for ducks. All the regulars can be found now in the sloughs and waterways providing an instructive opportunity to compare male, female, and immature plumages. Rarities such as Eurasian Wigeon are worth looking for in lakes and sloughs near Watsonville. With diligence and some luck, all three scoter species can be spotted in January off the coast. Snow, Ross’s, Greater White-fronted, and Cackling Geese are more likely to be seen now than later in the winter. Don't forget to keep checking College Lake for an occasional Tundra Swan.
This month is also a great time to study the gulls near Harkins Slough and at creek and river mouths. Lots of Mew Gulls are around now, along with Herring, Iceland, and perhaps even a Glaucous Gull or one of the several Lesser Black-backed Gulls found recently. Both Black-legged Kittiwakes and Laughing Gulls have been spotted in January, too. If you want to take the next step, this is a good time to begin learning how to identify hybrid gulls. A gull study field trip will be offered by the Santa Cruz Bird Club this month.
Don't forget to keep an eye on the weather forecast. Even though this winter has begun slowly, some storms should be on the way. Watch for interesting birds that may be blown ashore along the coast when the storms arrive.
The start of a new year brings excitement at the prospect of new county birds and, perhaps, even some lifers, too. May this be your best birding year ever!
February has arrived and there is an abundance of bird activity throughout Santa Cruz County. Anna's Hummingbirds and Bushtits are nesting now, and the first Dark-eyed Juncos and other cavity nesters may begin nest building this month as well. Allen's Hummingbird numbers continue to grow and Rufous begin to arrive. Brandt's Cormorants are showing breeding plumes now and are starting nests at places like the Cement Ship. Also look for white flank patches on Pelagic Cormorants as they too may start gathering nesting material for nests along the cliff faces of the north coast.
Tree and Violet-green Swallows are the first to arrive on their breeding grounds and Northern Rough-winged, Cliff, and Barn are not too far behind.
Among warblers, in February Black-and-White Warblers and Palm Warblers have been found fairly regularly in places like Bethany Curve Park and along the railroad tracks to the north of the Homeless Garden. All of the rarer wintering warblers—Black-throated Gray, Nashville, Tennessee, American Redstart, Yellow, and Hermit to name a few—are still possible this month. While Yellow-rumped and Townsend's are still common, Orange-crowneds will continue to be sparse in the lowlands until numbers increase toward the end of the month with the arrival of spring migrants.
While some species are arriving and others linger, some species may begin leaving this month. Varied Thrush are still locally abundant in some areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains, but they may begin to thin out by the end of the month. Loggerhead Shrikes seem to be scarcer after February. There are almost no sightings of Ferruginous Hawks after February until fall migrants begin passing through in September. But keep an eye out for a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker; definitely not common but there are more sightings in February than any other month.
While there may be fewer sightings of Snow and Ross’s Geese this month, more Brants will be seen flying along the coast, and there’s still a chance for a Tundra Swan in places like College lake or the fields near Pajaro Dunes.
Offshore, Marbled Murrelets and Rhinoceros Auklets can be spotted, and there is still a chance for all three scoters. Along north coast beaches and river mouths like Aptos Creek, there are often good numbers of Herring and Iceland Gulls and a storm may blow in a Black-legged Kittiwake or two.
February can sometimes be a stormy month so continue to watch the weather forecast and be ready to search for any rarities that might get blown ashore. This is also a good time to clean your feeders to help prevent the spread of diseases among bird species.
I hope you will be able to get out in the field often this month to see many of the great species this county offers. Good Birding!
March has arrived and so has the first big month of spring migration here in Santa Cruz County. While many of our Fall/Winter migrants start leaving this month, many of the Spring/Summer species will begin to arrive.
Among those departing this month are Say's Phoebe, usually among the earliest wintering birds to depart. Burrowing Owls will mostly be gone by month's end. Ducks and gulls will still be around, but many like American Wigeon start leaving soon, others as well by the end of the month.
Among passerines, there will be more and more singing as the month goes on. Species like Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow will often sing on sunny days near the end of the month before they leave for the season.
Those species arriving by the middle of this month include Warbling Vireo, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Wilson’s Warbler and Hooded Orioles, followed at the end of the month by Bullock Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Kingbirds, Grasshopper Sparrows and a few Chipping Sparrows. All 5 species of swallows should also be here by the end of March. Up at Loma Prieta, watch for Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and House Wrens as they also return.
Seabird migration increases significantly this month. Among shorebirds, Western Sandpipers and Short-billed Dowitchers will be coming by mid-March, followed by Long-billed Dowitchers. Along the coast, at places like Terrace Point and El Jarro Point in the mornings and evenings, watch for flocks of Brant, Bonaparte’s and Mew Gulls flying up the coast. There are still a number of Mew's now but by the end of the month there will only be a few. Surf Scoter migration north gets underway in March, sometimes in flocks of hundreds, while it is still possible to find Black and White-winged Scoters offshore in places like Waddell and Scott Creek beaches in the north county and Sunset Beach in south county. Continue to watch for Black-legged Kittiwakes at creek and river mouths and on the north coast, especially during and after storms. Also look for Pigeon Guillemots which should start appearing near their traditional nesting sites. Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants are sporting breeding plumes now and continuing to build their nests.
Breeding activity increases considerably compared to January and February. Many birds begin building nests in March. Some breeding behavior to watch for include Pygmy Nuthatches excavating holes, Bushtits busily constructing their nests, and Canada Geese forming pairs. Coinciding with the start of breeding season, work on the Santa Cruz County Breeding Atlas II picks up this month as atlasing begins under the direction of Alex Rinkert. This is a five-year study of the birds that breed in our county. If you would like to participate by gathering this important information, there will be several trainings in the next couple of weeks.
March should be an exciting month to be birding in the county. I hope you have many opportunities to get out in the field to enjoy as many species as you can find.
It's April, spring is in full bloom, and migrants are arriving every day to Santa Cruz County. During this month there will be a major migratory movement of many species, on land and at sea.
On land, Pacific-slope Flycatchers have already made their appearance, and they will be followed this month by Western Wood-Pewees, Ash-throated and Olive-sided flycatchers. Swainson's Thrushes will also return in the next few weeks. Most swallow species have already arrived, but watch for Vaux's Swifts which will be arriving in April. Purple Martins, usually arriving in late March, should be at Loma Prieta and maybe Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve this month. Also be on the lookout for Bank Swallows at some of the coastal lagoons.
Among warblers, while Orange-crowned and Wilson's are present in greater numbers, be on the lookout this month for Yellow Warblers, and more Black-throated Gray and Hermit Warblers. Yellow-rumped and Townsend's Warblers will remain with us in April, now sporting their vibrant breeding plumage.
As for sparrows, Grasshopper and Chipping Sparrows will be singing from grassland at Wilder Ranch State Park and UCSC, but by the end of the month most of the Lincoln's, Fox, White-throated and wintering “crowned” Sparrows will be gone for the summer.
One of the best places to watch migrating landbirds this month is at Loma Prieta. There you can often find Lazuli Bunting, Western Tanagers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, large numbers of warblers and Rufous Hummingbirds migrating. Black-chinned Sparrows may return to breed in recently burned chaparral.
Scoping out to sea along the coast this month you can see thousands of migrating Pacific Loons as well as many Red-throated and Common Loons heading up the coast. Flocks of Brant, Surf Scoter, phalaropes, terns, shearwaters, Alcids, gulls (especially Bonaparte's), jaegers, and others will also be on the move. Some of the best places to seawatch are along the north coast at El Jarro Point and turnouts near Scott's Creek and Waddell Beach. In south county, scoping out to sea from Pelican Point at Pajaro Dunes can be productive as well.
Migrating shorebirds such as Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, and Western Sandpiper will be increasing this month. Look for them mostly in south county at Pajaro Dunes along lower Watsonville Slough and at College Lake. Along the rocky shoreline watch for Wandering Tattlers, larger groups of Black Turnstones and colorful Surfbirds in breeding plumage. Look for them at places like Black Point, along West Cliff Drive, Terrace Point and at Wilder Ranch. Overhead, Caspian Terns will become more numerous and at the end of the month there should be some Elegant Terns joining them. There is also a chance of finding a Franklin's Gull in some of the plowed fields along the north coast this month and at College Lake if the water levels are favorable, and at the Care Park water treatment plant.
While most of our wintering duck and gulls will have left by the end of April, you may start seeing Canada Geese with young goslings showing up in places of the county where they breed. Brandt’s Cormorants already have eggs in some nests and now that Pigeon Guillemots have arrived, look for them to begin nesting along the rocky cliffs and under the Santa Cruz Wharf. In fact, April should find many species in the midst of breeding as spring continues. Watching for specific behaviors of breeding such as courtship rituals, carrying nesting material and nest building, and carrying food for a mate or young adds to the excitement of bird watching this time of year. To make these breeding observations count toward a larger effort, consider becoming involved with field work for the Santa Cruz County Breeding Bird Atlas II. Contact Alex Rinkert at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
April is a very exciting month to be birding in the county with much to see every time out in the field. I wish you good birding!
May is here in Santa Cruz County, most of our spring migrants have arrived by now, and nesting activity for most species has begun in earnest. Along the coast, many Western Gulls begin building nests this month, while Canada Geese, Mallards, and Pied-billed Grebes are already among those to be seen escorting small groups of young on the water. On land, other species from Bushtits to Crows are already working hard to feed their demanding chicks.
Seabird migration is still going strong during the first week or two of May. Offshore, loons will still be migrating north, mostly Pacific Loons now, and there will still be some flocks of Brant, Scoters, Common Murres and other alcids continuing to move up the coast. This is a good time to look for Red-necked Phalaropes as well as the possibility of Red Phalaropes offshore and near coastal lagoons in places like Younger and Corcoran Lagoons, and along the lower Watsonville Slough and Shorebirds Pond in Pajaro Dunes. Caspian and Elegant Terns are back now and there is a possibility for Common, Least, and Black Terns along the coast this month. Black Skimmers also remain a possibility in the county throughout May. While the last of our wintering gulls will be gone this month, there is a chance of finding an occasional Franklin’s Gull, especially in plowed fields on the north coast.
Along the shore, where birding should remain good for the first two weeks of May, you can still look for Wandering Tattlers, Surfbirds, and Black Turnstones, though they will almost all be gone by the end of May. And don't forget to check out College Lake with your scope this month as it continues to drain for many species of shorebirds.
Most Rufous Hummingbirds have migrated through the county by early May, but a few may still be found in the next week or two up at Loma Prieta. Early May is also the time when a migrating Black-chinned or Calliope Hummingbird could appear.
While our regularly occurring migrant flycatchers have arrived, such as Pacific-slope, Olive-sided, Ash-throated, and Western Wood Pewees, there are also records for some of the rare ones in May. Keep an eye out for Willow, Hammond’s, Dusky, and Gray Flycatchers throughout the county and especially on the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains for the latter three this month. Although Tropical Kingbirds have already left, Western Kingbirds continue to move through the county. Warbling Vireos are numerous now in the county, and some Cassin’s are scattered around, mostly in the mountains, and keep an eye out for the possibility of a Red-eyed Vireo which occasionally appear in May. Though less numerous than in years past, the first Black Swifts should return to the county this month. Look for them at places like Moore Creek Preserve and Wilder Ranch.
This month is a good time to look for breeding Yellow, Hermit, MacGillivray’s, and Black-throated Gray Warblers. A few migrant Nashville are possible as well. Also look for the less common Yellow-breasted Chats this month in riparian areas.
While most of our wintering sparrows have left by now, there are still sparrows to search for in May. Grasshopper Sparrows can be found at Moore Creek Preserve, Chipping Sparrows near Litchfield Ln., and Black-chinned Sparrows in burned areas near Loma Prieta are all possibilities.
Western Tanagers and Lazuli Buntings have arrived but should soon be seen in greater numbers and in more locations as the month progresses. May is a month when a few Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks turn up.
Although many of our wintering species have migrated away and most of our spring migrants have already arrived, there are still good chances to find vagrant warblers, flycatchers, and vireos in the county, especially during the last week of May. So get out into the field as often as you can this month. You never know what rare species you might find! Good Birding!
June has arrived in our county and because migration is a year-round event, there are plenty of birds to search for this month. Early June is a great time to look for “Eastern” and other vagrants at hotspots on the coast and also in the mountains. Rarities such as Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Indigo Bunting, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak sometimes turn up in June as do some warbler species like American Redstart, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, and Northern Parula. Willow Flycatchers often appear in places such as the Pajaro Valley wetlands and river corridor, Bethany Curve, Natural Bridges and Lighthouse Field at this time of year, so it’s good to review their field marks in preparation. Another bird that is present in June but seldom reported is Common Poorwill, particularly around Loma Prieta.
The last spring migrant Cedar Waxwings will pass through in the first two weeks of June. Will any breed at Pajaro Dunes this year as they did in 2016 and 2018? Western Kingbirds are considered late as June goes on, though a few may still be found. By the end of the month, Allen's Hummingbirds will be seen in lower numbers, while the first fall migrant Rufous Hummers will start to arrive. It’s easy to watch lots of different species of swallow babies being fed now, but also keep an eye out for migrating or dispersing Purple Martins, as they are sometimes seen at places like Terrace Point, Natural Bridges, and in Watsonville. And Black Swifts are possible now. Watch for them foraging with swallows in the afternoons on the north coast at places like Moore Creek Preserve, Wilder Ranch, and Sand Hill Bluff.
Along the coast, more Sooty Shearwaters and Elegant Terns can be seen as the month progresses. The large flocks of Brant heading north are tapering off as are the Loons, although a few lingering individuals will remain close to shore, often in alternate plumage. Pigeon Guillemots are plentiful and Marbled Murrelets can be seen with a spotting scope off the Waddell Bluffs. All three cormorant species will have young now, and you can look for their nests along the cliffs on the Old Cove Landing Trail at Wilder Ranch, the cement ship off Seacliff State Beach, and the Eucalyptus groves at Pinto and Schwan Lakes. Watch for Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons nesting in these groves as well. Black Oystercatchers can also be found nesting now at Wilder Ranch, Davenport, and elsewhere where there are scree piles at the base of sea cliffs. Watch for the very first fall migrant shorebirds as they begin arriving at the end of the month. Also keep an eye out later this month for returning Heermann's Gulls as they begin to move in for the summer, and June is still a good month to look along the coast for Black Skimmers.
Among ducks, Mallards, Wood Ducks and Common Mergansers can be seen shepherding flocks of young during the month, though some females will still be sitting on nests. At Shorebirds Pond, you may see Gadwall raising young ones this month as well. Also, keep an eye out for occasional winter duck species that may be summering near the Pajaro River mouth. As June progresses, male Mallards and Wood Ducks will gather and molt.
Since June is the peak of the breeding season, some birds are still building nests, some are feeding young in the nest, some have already fledged young and are getting ready to parent another brood, and some post-breeders will be getting ready to leave by the end of the month. With so much breeding activity and the continuing possibility of finding some rarities, June promises to be an exciting month to get out in the field as much as possible. I wish you good birding!
July has arrived, it's the middle of summer, and there is a lot of birding activity in our county. Many species are still actively breeding and some are even raising a second brood. There seems to be recently fledged young everywhere and lots of juveniles can be heard begging for food from their parents. Many bird fledglings will be dispersing from their natal grounds during the month.
Watch for Loggerhead Shrikes and Western Meadowlarks in area grasslands this month as they presumably disperse from breeding locations outside the county. Also keep an eye out for post-breeding dispersants such as Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Western Tanagers, Lazuli Buntings, Bullock's Orioles, and many others that may turn up in areas where they do not breed. Continue to watch for Purple Martins at places like Terrace Point, Natural Bridges, Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve and Watsonville, and also for Black Swifts on the north coast at Moore Creek Preserve, Wilder Ranch and Sand Hill Bluff. July is also a good month to listen at dusk for Common Poorwills up at Loma Prieta. Are there any Tricolored Blackbirds breeding in the county this year? They have most recently bred at the quarry in Wilder Ranch and at Last Chance Road in Swanton, but the county's breeding population seems to be dwindling.
As July progresses, Wood Ducks begin congregating at Neary Lagoon. All of the duck species are now molting into eclipse plumage around the county and it is getting more difficult to distinguish the sexes.
Fall shorebird migration picks up throughout the month. Look for adult golden-plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Red Knots, phalaropes and other rarer migrants along coastal rocky shores and area beaches. Black Turnstones and Surfbirds should also start returning this month. During July, Sooty Shearwaters become more numerous as do Heermann's Gulls, Brown Pelicans, and Elegant Terns. Toward the end of the month be sure to start watching for Least and Common Terns at creek and river mouths in the county. Also by late July, fledgling Common Murres from breeding colonies to the north will start floating into county waters. Pigeon Guillemots will also begin fledging, as will Marbled Murrelets. Juveniles of these two species are often confused with each other so you will need to be careful when identifying them.
Between all the breeding activity, the dispersing of many species, and the beginning of Fall migration of shorebirds along the coast, there is plenty to look for in July. I wish you much success and good birding this month!
It's already August, and although it still seems like the middle of summer, many of the breeding birds in our area will be leaving and winter species arriving by the end of the month as fall migration picks up. Many rarities have turned up in Santa Cruz County through the years in the month of August.
Yellow Warbler migration ramps up this month and Townsend's Warblers will return near the end of August along with the possibility of finding vagrant "Eastern" warblers like American Redstart, Tennessee, Black-and-white, and more. The first fall sightings of Northern Waterthrush may be in August as well.
This is a good month to be alert for Willow Flycatchers in many places including Bethany curve, Antonelli Pond, Natural Bridges, Lighthouse Field and Quail Hollow Ranch. Watch for them fly-catching and giving their soft "whit" calls. Western Kingbirds will be passing through and watch for a vagrant Eastern Kingbird which have sometimes shown up in August. Other flycatchers like Ash-throated will be mostly gone by the end of the month. Also watch for returning Loggerhead Shrikes this month.
Now is a good time to watch carefully for Black-chinned Hummingbirds. It might prove helpful to familiarize yourself with their husky “tchew" call to help identify them. Look for them at places on the Westside, including Bethany Curve. While Purple Martins will be mostly gone by months end, you will see large congregations of migrating swallows, especially early in the morning at places like Quail Hollow Ranch and Loma Prieta. Speaking of Loma Prieta, how late do Black-chinned Sparrows stay? Will any be found after the first week of August? There is still time to look for Black Swifts on the north coast at Wilder Ranch, Sand Hill Bluff and Moore Creek Preserve. White-breasted Nuthatches have sometimes been found in August at Quail Hollow Ranch, and a Summer Tanager may be found on the Westside. Also watch for the return of Cedar Waxwings this month, while it's still a fine time for a Rose-breasted Grosbeak to show up at a feeder.
Offshore, August is a great time for Black-footed Albatross, Long-tailed Jaeger and Arctic Tern. Closer to shore, large numbers of Sooty Shearwaters and Elegant Terns are expected during the month. Evening feeding frenzies along the mid-county coast can be quite spectacular. Watch carefully for possible Black-vented or Pink-footed Shearwaters among the thousands of Sooties. Also look for Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers this month chasing gulls and terns just offshore. August is a good month to look for Common and Least Terns at creek and river mouths, Corcoran Lagoon, or in the Watsonville Slough system. A Black Tern might even be found at one of the sloughs or College Lake. Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes, sometimes in large numbers, can be found this month too at places such as lower Watsonville Slough and Shorebirds Pond at Pajaro Dunes. Red Phalaropes are much less common and are more likely to be found further offshore. Also watch along the coast for fledged Pigeon Guillemots, which look very much like juvenile and winter Marbled Murrelets but have dusky underparts and different structure.
Along the shore this month watch for growing numbers of Black-necked Stilts, Avocets, Marbled Godwits, Willets, and Snowy, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers. There is also a chance of finding a Pacific Golden-Plover. A Lesser Sand-Plover was even found a few years ago on the beach at Pajaro Dunes. Will another one come through our area this fall? Watch for an occasional Ruddy Turnstone in among groups of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds. Both dowitcher and yellowleg numbers will be increasing this month and watch for the return of Wilson's Snipe, which haven't been seen since April. Large numbers of juvenile shorebirds begin showing up in August and this month is a great time to look for Pectoral, Baird's and Semipalmated Sandpipers in the Watsonville Slough system as muddy banks are exposed by receding water. At these same locations, look carefully for a Solitary or Stilt Sandpiper, or perhaps something rarer such as a Ruff or Buff-breasted Sandpiper.
This month also marks the return of some wintering duck species. Among those arriving this month will be Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, and Green-winged Teal.
August is a very exciting month as fall migration picks up and we say goodbye to many of our summering species and welcome back many of our wintering ones, while watching closely for rare migrants that may make their way through our county. So get out in the field as many times as possible this month. You never know what may turn up! I wish you good birding!
September has arrived and so has the anticipation and excitement of finding some rarities during one of the best months for fall migration in Santa Cruz County. There should be a lot of bird activity all month long on land and at sea.
Many of our wintering landbirds will return this month: Ruby-crowned Kinglets, American Pipits, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Merlin, Fox and Lincoln's Sparrows, Red-breasted Sapsuckers, and about the third week of September the White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows will be making their way back to your feeders! Although Hooded Orioles, Olive-sided Flycatchers and Western Wood-Pewees will be mostly gone by the end of the month, wintering Western Meadowlarks start arriving in good numbers.
September continues to be a good time to look for Willow Flycatchers and Black-chinned Hummingbirds at Bethany Curve and other Westside hotspots. Also watch for Northern Waterthrush at predictable places like Antonelli Pond and the Butterfly Pond at Natural Bridges. This month is also the peak of Yellow Warbler migration. More and more Townsend's Warblers will be arriving as well. Be on the lookout for Hermit and Black-throated Gray Warblers as well as rarer species that might be flocking with them such as Black-and-white, Tennessee, Blackpoll, Chestnut-sided, Virginia, American Redstart and more. You may also want to listen this month for nocturnal flight calls from species like Swainson's Thrush in the hour before sunrise. If you're up that early and the weather is warm, you might want to drive up to Loma Prieta and try for Common Poorwills.
Be on the lookout for the return of wintering Burrowing Owls at UCSC and Swanton Pond. September is also a good time for raptor migration over the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Watch especially for Broad-winged Hawks and others over Moore Creek Preserve, the Wilder Ranch uplands, and along Highway 129 in the Pajaro Valley.
September is also a great month to go offshore on a pelagic trip to see birds not typically seen from land. Storm-petrels, South Polar Skuas, murrelets and many more are out there. Several species of boobies have been seen recently in the Monterey Bay and one could turn up on a pelagic trip.
Shorebird diversity will be at its highest this month. As the south county sloughs begin to see lower water levels and more mud, continue to look for Baird's, Pectoral, and Semipalmated Sandpipers as well as rarer species such as Ruff or Buff-breasted Sandpipers.
Although most Pigeon Guillemots will be gone by the end of September some of the first winter gulls begin arriving: Herring, Mew, Iceland, and Western x Glaucous-winged. Evening feeding frenzies just offshore should continue with Elegant Terns, Brown Pelicans, Sooty Shearwaters and maybe even Black-vented Shearwaters should they push north. There is a chance of seeing rarer terns such as Common and Least at creek and river mouths. Corcoran Lagoon has a nicely developing sandbar where terns have been seen roosting recently.
While most species have finished breeding, there is still some activity by species breeding into fall. Late breeders include towhees, finches and goldfinches, Pied-billed Grebes and a few others. Please record any breeding confirmations you come across for the atlas. And, don't forget the Monterey Bay Birding Festival will have field trips, lectures, and workshops from September 27-30. There will be a number of outings to choose from as well as some great speakers this year.
September is one of the most exciting months of the year to be out birding as fall migration heats up. Get out in the field as much as possible and see if you can add a few new life birds to your list! I wish you good birding!
It's October and the fall migration is in full swing as many species are continuing to move through or into the county. Gone for the summer now are the Hooded Orioles and most of the Black-headed Grosbeaks. The last Swainson's Thrushes are passing through, but be on the watch as Hermit Thrushes are returning.
Many warblers are still on the move. September saw a number of Yellow Warblers in most of the coastal hotspots. Watch for more returning Townsend's and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and for Palm Warblers on the coastal bluffs of the north coast. Continue to be on the lookout this month for rare warblers along the coast in places like Antonelli's Pond, Natural Bridges, Schwan Lake, Neary Lagoon and Pajaro Dunes. Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, Tennessee, Virginia and American Redstart have already been seen, but more surprises are still likely to be found.
The “crowned sparrows” have arrived and look for their numbers to grow this month as they make their way into your yards to gobble up all your seed. Be on the watch for unusual sparrows migrating through the area this month at places like the Homeless Garden, Antonelli's Pond, and weedy fields on the north coast.
Cedar Waxwing and Western Meadowlark flocks are becoming more frequent as are Ruby-crowned Kinglets, so don't be too quick to call that little green and yellow bird a Hutton's Vireo. Watch for Tropical Kingbirds at Struve and Watsonville Sloughs where small numbers overwinter.
In the county’s waterbodies watch for the return of more duck species. Shovelers, teal, wigeon, and pintail have started to arrive, and Hooded Mergansers are not too far behind. Also look for Pectoral Sandpipers and other rare shorebirds as the high water in the Watsonville sloughs hopefully recedes this month.
Hawk migration continues this month over the hills. You may still be able to see numbers of them from places like Moore Creek and upper Wilder Ranch Trails on warm afternoons.
Finally, along the coast, watch for an increase in wintering gull species: Mew, Glaucous-winged, Herring, and Iceland to name a few.
If you haven't yet had a chance to go on a Pelagic Trip to look for offshore species that can't be seen from land, October is still a great month to get on board. High shearwater diversity and potential for Short-tailed, Manx, Black-vented, and maybe something rarer is still a good possibility. This has been a good season for Tufted Puffins as well. Debi Shearwater still has a couple of trips planned in October with discounted fares for Santa Cruz Bird Club members. More info is available at www.shearwaterjourneys.com. Monterey Seabirds also has outings planned for this month. Check them out at www.montereyseabirds.com.
October looks to be a very good birding month in the county, so get out with your binos to as many of the area hotspots as you can. Good luck and good birding!
It's November and even though fall migration is slowing down, there are still many species of birds to watch for this month. The peak of landbird migration has past, but waterbird migration is still moving well throughout the month. November has a long history of rarities, so keep checking the coastal vagrant traps for late eastern warblers, rare flycatchers, and more. Flowering Eucalyptus in Santa Cruz, Capitola, Pajaro Dunes, and elsewhere may harbor late tanagers and orioles as well. It's also time to look for irruptive species such as Varied Thrush, Red Crossbill, and perhaps Evening Grosbeak.
Scan fields along the north coast for Tricolored Blackbirds, and look for uncommon raptors such as Merlin and Peregrine Falcon, and possibly Ferruginous Hawk. This is a good time to search for Burrowing Owls at some of the few places where they have been found in recent years: Swanton Pond, Wilder Ranch, UCSC, and Pajaro Valley High School.
Late fall is a good time to study sparrows. Watch for our rarer wintering sparrows, Swamp and White-throated. Coastal Wilder Ranch offers a good variety of sparrow species, but also look along quiet country roads like Merk Road and Peckham Lane. November has historically been a good time to find longspurs, pipits, and Horned Larks in the county. Try looking for them in plowed ag fields along the north coast.
Geese and ducks are coming back now in good numbers. Some species have already arrived but many diving ducks such as Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and Hooded Merganser are some who come later. Look for them at Baldwin Creek mouth, the San Lorenzo River, the Watsonville slough system, and College Lake when it fills up after the rains begin. Also scan playing fields and sloughs for Cattle Egrets which are often found in the month of November.
On the ocean, November is the peak of loon migration, and stops along the coast, especially early in the day, may have 1000s of Pacific Loons and lesser numbers of the other loon species streaming down the coast, together with movements of our large and small grebes. Surf Scoters become numerous, and scanning the coastal waters with a scope can sometimes produce the rarer White-winged or Black Scoter, especially along the south county coast between Seascape and Zils Road.
November is also a good time to study returning winter gulls. Numbers of Iceland (remember Thayer's has been lumped into Iceland Gull), Herring, Glaucous-winged, and Mew will continue to grow through the month. Visit coastal creek mouths, San Lorenzo Park, and Pinto Lake City Park for a diverse selection of gulls.
There are many good birds to see this month so grab your binos and scope and get out in the field as much as you can. Good luck and good birding!
Be on the lookout for late migrant or over-wintering orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks, flycatchers, and warblers which are sometimes found in early December. Least, Dusky, Hammond's, and Dusky-capped Flycatchers have all been found in December, as well as Summer Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and the occasional oriole. Over 20 species of warblers have turned up in past Decembers. Check coastal hotspots like Natural Bridges SB, Ocean View Park, and Lighthouse Field SB, especially where there is flowering or fruiting plants such as Eucalyptus, ivy, and other exotics. Bethany Curve hosted a Black-and-white Warbler the past few winters, and may be doing so again; one was seen there this November.
All of the regular duck species can be found now in the county’s waterbodies and ocean, and some rarities may be around as well. Along the coast Long-tailed and Harlequin are rare but possible, and scan for White-winged and Black Scoters among the many Surf Scoter flocks. Check places like Wilder Ranch SP and West Cliff Drive along the mid-county and north coast, and Manresa, Rio Del Mar and Sunset SB on the south county coast. Inland, be on the watch for Eurasian Wigeon which may be sighted among American Wigeon flocks at College Lake and the sloughs in Watsonville. Most species of geese can be found in the Pajaro Valley this time of year, along with rare Tundra Swans which might get blown coastward.
As for sea-watching along the coast, Black-vented Shearwaters are around in small numbers. Be sure to check the coast for birds that may have been blown ashore after winter storms. Now is a good time to search for Rhino and Cassin's Auklets. Seascape Park offers a nice vantage point where one may scan for alcids, scoters, and Red-necked Grebes, and Marbled Murrelets. Gulls are plentiful right now; watch for Glaucous Gulls which are occasionally spotted in December at river and creek mouths.
Finally, coming up on Saturday, December 15th, is the annual Santa Cruz Christmas Bird Count. Last year, we had 174 species on count day and 181 species during count week. Everyone's help is greatly desired and appreciated. If you are interested in participating, please contact Eric Feuss at email@example.com or call him at 831-477-0280.
There should be lots of great opportunities to bird this month, so get out there as much as you can! Happy Holidays and Good Birding!