Brian and Pat Wetton joined the Birdfinders tour to California in September 2011. It was ably led by James Smith and Martyn Kenefick. Other participants were Michael Baker, Adrian & Christine Blagden, Craig Constance, Christine Daley, David Griffiths, Anne Lansdown, Owen & Monica Marks, Arthur Pitcher, John & Aline Roberts, Barry Skelton and Roger Terrell. We personally saw 260 species of which 50 were new to us.


8th Sept       Flew United Airlines via Chicago to LA and then on to Ventura

9th Sept       Across the Santa Barbara Channel to Santa Cruz Island (SC) & then to Buelton

10th Sept    Alisal Canyon (AC), Nojoqui Falls (NF) & Montana de Oro (MO) ending in Morro Bay (MB)

11th Sept    Morro Bay (Strand & State Park) and Big Sur (BS) to Monterey

12th Sept    Monterey Bay (MT) pelagic and Point Pinos (PP) & Monterey 

13th Sept    Moonglow Dairy (MD) & Elkhorn Sough (ES), Moss Landing (MS) & San Luis Res. (SL) to Mariposa

14th Sept    Merced Valley (MV) to Yosemite Nat. Park (YM) (inc. Glacier Pt. McGurk Meadow & Wawona)

                      and return to Mariposa

15th Sept   Merced Valley to Yosemite (inc. Tamarack Flats, Tuolumne Meadow & Tioga Lake),

                      Mono Lake (ML) and Mammoth Lakes

16th Sept    Owens River (OR), Mammoth Hot Springs (HS) & White Mts (WM) (inc. Cedar Flats &

                      Bristlecone Pine Forest) to Ridgecrest

17th Sept    Mojave Desert (MD), California City (CC) & Butterbredt Springs (BB) to Ridgecrest

18th Sept    Big Morongo (BM) (inc. Covington Park) & Salton Sea (SS) to Brawley

19th Sept    Salton Sea, Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge (SB), Calipatria Fields (CF) & Brawley 

20th Sept    Brawley River (BR), Fig Lagoon (FL), Laguna Mts (LM) (inc. Kitchen Creek & Green Valley),

                      Julian & Cuyamaca Lake (CL) and San Ysidro

21st Sept    Otay Lakes (OL), Tijuana River (TJ), Dairy Mart Sodfields (DM) and San Ysidro

22nd Sept    Point Loma (PL) and Laguna Mts Nat. Park the return to Julian and LA

23rd Sept    Air Canada flight from LA to Heathrow via Toronto

Site Profiles:

Santa Cruz Island:

The largest island in the Channel Islands National Park. Accessible via boat from Ventura Harbour. Prisoners' Harbour area of the island comprises shingle shore with small marsh behind and coastal scrub and woodland below rocky bluffs.

Alisal Canyon:

South east of Buelton, this river valley has riverine woodland and rocky flanks with scrub and pasture.

Nojoqui Falls:

A State Park with areas of parkland and woodland south of Buelton.

Montana de Oro:

On the coast south of Morro Bay, this State Park has a wooded creek, coastal heath and a rocky shore with offshore islets.

Morro Bay:

The Strand Beach has mudflats and sandy banks whilst the State Park has coastal scrub and saltmarsh.

Big Sur:

An area of scenic coastline along the coast road south of Monterey. Included are W H Hearst State Beach and the Elkephant Seal haul-out at Piedras Blancas. Inland at the southern end are grassy hills with areas of exposed rocky crags.

Monterey Bay:

Debi Shearwater runs organised pelagic cruises out of Monterey into the large Bay on the Pacific coast where large numbers of seabirds and cetaceans are to be found on migration.

Point Pinos:

A rocky coastline near Monterey.

Moonglow Dairy:

Inland from Monterey, this intensive dairy allows access to birdwatchers to the tracks through its cattle pastures and its slurry pools alongside the following site.

Elkhorn Sough:

A lowland river with fringing marshes adjoining Moonglow Dairy.

Moss Landing:

A river estuary and beach with backing dunes on the north of Monterey Bay.

San Luis Reservoir:

Between Monterey and Mariposa, this large reservoir in an otherwise arid hinterland attracts large numbers of waterbirds.

Merced Valley:

An incised valley along the approach-road to Yosemite with shallow rapids and wooded cliffs plus a few grassy openings in the adjoining pine woodland.

Yosemite National Park:

Contains spectacular areas of high sierra with exposed rocky mountain tops, some snow covered, such as viewed from Glacier Point. Other areas are forested with pines such as behind the visitor centre at Glacier Point, along McGurk Trail and on Tamarack Flats. Also meadows at McGurk Meadow and Tuolumne Meadow and lakes such as Tioga Lake. Tioga Pass was our highest point at 11,000 feet. 

Mono Lake:

A large shallow lake with tufa formations along its shore and sage scrub hinterland.

Owens River:

South of Mammoth Lakes and in an arid area, this river is a magnet in the early morning for Greater Sage Grouse coming to drink. The surrounding rocky bluffs  also attract birds of the sage scrub habitat.

Mammoth Hot Springs:

Also south of Mammoth Lakes is an area of hot volcanic springs in a rocky valley. Observation points provided along the valley top provide good vantages for scanning the area for denizens of the screes and crags.

White Mountains:

East of Bishop, the White Mountains contain stunted pine woods, ancient Bristlecone Pine forest and mountain grasslands. It has some species of birds not found further west (eg Juniper Titmouse).

Mojave Desert:

A huge area of desert and semi-desert scrub, we visited an area near California City to find specialities such as Le Conte's Thrasher and other birds of sage scrub.

California City Park:

This park with lakes and irrigated grassland acts like an oasis attracting some interesting water birds and passerines on migration.

Butterbredt Springs:

Another oasis with a spring-fed small wood in an otherwise arid upland north-west of California City.

Big Morongo:

This State Park has a canyon and a marsh but our interest was in the hummingbird feeders at the car park and the adjacent Covington Park grassland with large trees.

Salton Sea:

A huge inland sea caused by flooding of a river but gradually being reduced by evaporation and abstraction for the intensive arable farming in its hinterland. It is a magnet in an otherwise arid region especially for shorebirds. Being located near the Mexican border it attracts some species of birds more associated with that country (eg Yellow-footed Gull).

Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge:

An irrigated area of scrub and trees in an otherwise arid area attracts some specialities (such as Gambel's Quail and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher). There is also a roost of nighthawks and owls.

Calipatria Fields:

Irrigated fields south of the Salton Sea attract large numbers of shorebirds and egrets.

Brawley River:

A wooded valley on the outskirts of Brawley in an otherwise arid area. Has specialities such as Cactus Wren and Gila Woodpecker.

Fig Lagoon:

On route west from Brawley, this small lake attracts some waterbirds. Also birds in the surrounding scrub.

Laguna Mountains:

The hills between Brawley and San Diego contain dry scrub with interspersed valleys with streamside woods (such as Kitchen Creek and Green Valley). There are also some areas of more extensive pine forest (such as Laguna Mountains National Park).

Cuyamaca Lake:

Near Julian, this lake and its fringing marsh can be viewed drom roadside pull-outs. Julian is renowned for its apple pies and Birdwatchers Centre with hummingbird feeders.

Otay Lakes:

An area of small lakes and coastal sage scrub inland from San Diego. The scrub contains the speciality California Gnatcatcher. On route to San Diego, grassland should be checked for Horned Lark, Roadrunner and, Cassin's Kingbird.

Tijuana River:

The river estuary forms the boundary with Mexico. It has extensive shingle and sand banks, mudflats and a shingle and sand beach on the Pacific shore. It holds large numbers of feeding and roosting shorebirds. Accessed from Tijuana Beach, the only downside for the birdwatcher is the continuous drone of helicopters on border patrol.

Dairy Mart Sodfields:

Also on the border with Mexico, this is an area of irrigated turf cultivation where birds are attracted to the temporary pools and wet grassland.

Point Loma:

A rocky promontory north of San Diego offering good sea-watching. Beware however it doesn't officially open until 9am and access earlier may incur eviction or even a fine!

Birds Recorded (see Itinerary for key to sites):

Species No days Max Sites
Pacific Diver 2 3 MO,MT
Pied-billed Grebe 6 20+ various
Black-necked Grebe 2 100+ SL,ML
Western Grebe 5 5 Ventura,ES,SL,SS,FL
Clark's Grebe 3 5+ Ventura,ES,SS
Black-footed Albatross 1 20 MT
Northern Fulmar 2 20+ Sta Barbara,MT
Pink-footed Shearwater 2 50 Sta Barbara,MT
Sooty Shearwater 4 400 Sta Barbara, MO,MB,MT
Ashy Storm Petrel 1 4 MT
Double-crested Cormorant 10 n/c various
Brandt's Cormorant 6 n/c SC,MO,MB,BS,MT,PP,PL
Pelagic Cormorant 3 n/c MO,BS,MT
Neotropical Cormorant 1 1 FL
American White Pelican 4 30+ MO,MB,MS,SS
Brown Pelican 10 200+ various
Snowy Egret 8 10+ various
Great Blue Heron 10 20+ various
Great White Egret 9 100+ various
Cattle Egret 3 200+ MD,SS,CF,FL
Species No days Max Sites
Green Heron 3 2 MB,SS,BR
Black-crowned Night-Heron 7 5+ various
White-faced Ibis 4 500+ CC,SS,CF,FL
Canada Goose 5 10 various
Cackling Goose 1 1 CC
Ross's Goose 1 2 CC
Wood Duck 2 4 AC,CL
American Wigeon 1 4 SL
Gadwall 2 6 SL,FL
Green-winged Teal 1 2+ SL
Mallard 9 50+ various
Northern Pintail 2 15+ SL,SS
Blue-winged Teal 4 5 SL,OR,SS,CL
Cinnamon Teal 1 6 SL
Northern Shoveler 2 20+ SL,SS
Redhead 1 1 SL
Ring-necked Duck 1 1 SL
Surf Scoter 1 1 BS
Bufflehead 1 1 SL
Red-breasted Merganser 1 2+ SS
Species No days Max Sites
Ruddy Duck 2 100+ SL,CL
California Condor 1 1 BS
Turkey Vulture 13 500+ various
White-tailed Kite 3 7 SL,BR,OL
Bald Eagle 1 1 YM
Golden Eagle 3 5+ BS,YM,BB
Northern Harrier 5 3 ES,ML,SS,BR,OL
Sharp-shinned hawk 6 2 various
Cooper's Hawk 2 2 CC,OL
Red-shouldered Hawk 3 3 NF,MB,OL
Swainson's Hawk 1 1 CC
Red-tailed Hawk 14 20+ various
Osprey 4 3 MB,SS,FL,CL,OL
American Kestrel 10 10 various
Merlin 1 1 CL
Prairie Falcon 2 1 YM,SS
Peregrine Falcon 6 2 various
Sooty Grouse 1 3+ YM
Greater Sage Grouse 1 20+ OR
Gambel's Quail 2 10 SB,BR
Species No days Max Sites
California Quail 4 50+ AC,MO,MB
Wild Turkey 3 30+ AC,LM,Julian
Clapper Rail 1 1 TJ
Virginia Rail 2 2 ES,BM
Sora Rail 2 2+ ES,FL
Common Gallinule 1 1 FL
American Coot 5 500+ SL,CC,SS,FL,CL
Black Oystercatcher 4 10+ SC,MO,PP,PL
Black-necked Stilt 3 40+ SS,FL
American Avocet 3 50+ SS,FL
Pacific Golden Plover 1 1 TJ
Grey Plover 4 30+ MB,SS,TJ
Semipalmated Plover 4 20+ MB,ES,SS,TJ
Killdeer 8 12+ various
Snowy Plover 2 50 SS,TJ
Marbled Godwit 4 100+ MB,MT,ES,MS,TJ
Hudsonian Whimbrel 5 20+ SC,MB,PP,ES,TJ
Long-billed Curlew 3 10+ MB,ES,TJ
Greater Yellowlegs 3 10+ ES,OR,SS
Lesser Yellowlegs 1 2+ SS
Species No days Max Sites
Spotted Sandpiper 7 2+ various
Willet 6 100+ various
Wandering Tattler 2 1 PP,PL
Ruddy Turnstone 2 1 SS,TJ
Black Turnstone 3 30+ SC,BS,MT,PP
Surfbird 2 6+ SC,BS
Short-billed Dowitcher 2 10+ MB,TJ
Long-billed Dowitcher 2 100+ SS,TJ
Sanderling 2 30+ MB,TJ
Western Sandpiper 5 100+ MB,BS,ES,SS,TJ
Least Sandpiper 6 100+ MB,BS,ES,SS,TJ
Baird's Sandpiper 3 5 MB,ES,SS
Pectoral Sandpiper 2 3 SS,DM
Dunlin 1 2 TJ
Stilt Sandpiper 1 2+ SS
Red-necked Phalarope 7 1000+ various
Grey Phalarope 1 200 MT
Wilson's Phalarope 2 40 MB,SS
South Polar Skua 1 2 MT
Pomarine Skua 3 8 Sta Barbara,MT,PL
Species No days Max Sites
Arctic Skua 3 6 MT,TJ,PL
Long-tailed Skua 1 1 MT
Heerman's Gull 7 500+ various
Ring-billed Gull 5 6 MB,MT,MS,TJ
California Gull 8 100+ varous
American Herring Gull 2 2 BS,SS
Yellow-footed Gull 1 5+ SS
Western Gull 7 1000+ various
Laughing Gull 1 10+ SS
Franklin's Gull 1 1 SS
Sabine's Gull 1 8+ MT
Caspian Tern 2 20+ SS
Royal Tern 4 10+ SC,MB,TJ,PL
Elegant Tern 4 20+ MB,MT,MS,TJ
CommonTern 3 20+ MT,MS,SS
Forster's Tern 6 6+ MB,MT,ES,SS,FL,TJ
American Black Tern 2 50+ SS
Common Guillemot 2 500 MT,MS
Pigeon Guillemot 3 2 MO,BS,MT
Marbled Murrelet 2 2+ MO,BS
Species No days Max Sites
Cassin's Auklet 1 20+ MT
Rhinoceros Auklet 1 80+ MT
Tufted Puffin 1 1 MT
Feral Pigeon 13 100+ various
Band-tailed Pigeon 4 20+ AC,BS,LM
Mourning Dove 11 20+ various
Collared Dove 7 30+ various
White-winged Dove 1 2 BR
Inca Dove 1 2 BR
Common Ground-Dove 2 5+ SS,SB,BR
Greater Roadrunner 3 3 SS,OL
Barn Owl 2 1 CC,SB
Great Grey Owl 1 1 YM
Northern Pygmy Owl 1 2+ YM
Burrowing Owl 2 10+ SS,CF
Lesser Nighthawk 1 3 SB
Vaux's Swift 1 5+ YM
White-throated Swift 4 20+ AC,YM,ML,CL
Anna's Hummingbird 8 20+ various
Costa's Hummingbird 2 2+ HS,BM
Species No days Max Sites
Black-chinned Hunmmingbird 2 1+ SC,BM
Broad-tailed Hummingbird 1? 1? BM
Rufous Hummingbird 2 5+ BM,LM
Allen's Hummingbird 2 1+ SC,BM?
Belted Kingfisher 1 1 MB
White-headed Woodpecker 2 2+ YM
Acorn Woodpecker 4 10+ SC,AC,NF,BR,LM
Gila Woodpecker 2 1 BR
Red-breasted Sapsucker 1 2+ YM
Williamson's Sapsucker 2 2 YM
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 1 1 BM
Downy Woodpecker 3 1+ AC,MD,OL
Hairy Woodpecker 2 1 NF,YM
Nuttall's Woodpecker 5 2 AC,NF,BB,BM,LM
Northern Flicker 4 1+ SC,NF,YM,LM
Pileated Woodpecker 1 H YM
Olive-sided Flycatcher 1 1 CC
Western Wood-Pewee 5 2+ YM,CC,BB,BM,LM
Willow Flycatcher 1 2 BB
Grey Flycatcher 1 1 WM
Species No days Max Sites
Pacific Slope Flycatcher 1 1 BB
Saye's Phoebe 4 3+ OR,CC,OL,LM
Black Phoebe 13 6 various
Vermilion Flycatcher 1 2 BM
Ash-throated Flycatcher 1 2 FL
Cassin's Kingbird 1 4 OL
Western Kingbird 1 1 FL
Horned Lark 4 20+ SS,OL,LM
Barn Swallow 8 20+ various
Tree Swallow 1 1 SB
Violet-green Swallow 3 20+ AC,YM,CL
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 2 10+ CC,CL
Sand Martin 1 1+ CL
Cliff Swallow 1 50+ El Centro
Cactus Wren 1 2 BR
Rock Wren 1 2+ HS
Marsh Wren 1 1 ES
Bewick's Wren 6 2+ SC,AC,MB,CC,BM,LM
House Wren 1 1 OL
American Dipper 2 2 MV
Species No days Max Sites
Northern Mockingbird 4 10 OR,BM,SS,BR
Sage Thrasher 2 15+ ML,OR
California Thrasher 2 2+ AC,MB
Le Conte's Thrasher 1 2 MD
Western Bluebird 6 10 various
Mountain Bluebird 1 15+ WM
Townsend's Solitaire 1 6 YM
American Robin 2 20 YM
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 1 CC
Verdin 3 3 BM,SB,BR
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher 1 2 OL
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 3 3+ SB,BR,OL
California Gnatcatcher 1 2 OL
Bushtit 5 20 SC,AC,NF,BM,LM,OL
Wrentit 2 2 AC,OL
Mountain Chickadee 6 20+ MV,YM,WM,BM,LM
Chestnut-backed Chickadee 2 2 MO,BS
Oak Titmouse 3 6+ NF,MO,BM,LM
Juniper Titmouse 1 2 WM
Pygmy Nuthatch 2 10+ WM,LM
Species No days Max Sites
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 10+ YM
White-breasted Nuthatch 5 2 NF,WM,BM,LM
Brown Creeper 3 2 YM,WM
Phainopepla 1 1 CL
Loggerhead Shrike 3 2 MD,SS,FL
Common Starling 13 100+ various
Island Scrub Jay 1 10+ SC
Western Scrub Jay 7 20+ various
Steller's Jay 5 20 BS,YM,LM
Pinyon Jay 1 30+ HS
Clark's Nutcracker 2 20 YM,HS
Black-billed Magpie 1 5+ OR
Yellow-billed Magpie 1 6+ AC
American Crow 14 100+ various
Common Raven 11 30+ various
House Sparrow 10 10+ various
Hutton's Vireo 3 5 SC,AC,NF,LM
Cassin's Vireo 1 1 CC
Warbling Vireo 3 2+ SC,WM,LM
Blackburnian Warbler 1 1 MO
Species No days Max Sites
Orange-crowned Warbler 7 4+ various
Nashville Warbler 2 2 YM,OL
Yellow Warbler 9 3+ various
Chestnut-sided Warbler 1 1 CC
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3 20+ YM,WM
Townsend's Warbler 4 2 NF,YM,OL
Hermit Warbler 2 10+ YM
American Redstart 1 2 CC
Northern Waterthrush 1 H BM
Common Yellowthroat 4 3+ MB,ES,CC,OL
Wilson's Warbler 4 3 MO,YM,CC,BM
Western Tanager 4 5+ NF,CC,BM,BR
Fox Sparrow 1 4 YM
Song Sparrow 8 10+ various inc.SC
Brewer's Sparrow 2 2 OR,LM
White-crowned Sparrow 6 2+ various
Dark-eyed Junco 6 10+ various
Savannah Sparrow 5 2 MB,MD,BM,SS,OL
Belding's Savannah Sparrow 1 1 TJ
Large-billed Savannah Sparrow 1 1 SS
Species No days Max Sites
Sage Sparrow 2 20+ OR,MD
Chipping Sparrow 2 20+ BM,LM
Clay-coloured Sparrow 1 1 LM
Vesper Sparrow 1 2 BM
Lark Sparrow 3 10 CC,BM,BR
Spotted Towhee 1 2 MO
California Towhee 5 4 AC,MO,MB,BM,OL,PL
Green-tailed Towhee 1 3 OR
Abert's Towhee 2 1 SB,OL
Black-headed Grosbeak 1 2+ BM
Lazuli Bunting 2 5+ CC,BM
Yellow-headed Blackbird 2 5 ML,SS
Red-winged Blackbird 5 200+ MD,SS,FL,OL
Bi-coloured Blackbird 2 10+ MD,FL
Tri-coloured Blackbird 1 10+ MD
Western Meadowlark 2 3 OR,FL
Great-tailed Grackle 5 20+ Ventura,MB,SS,BR
Brewer's Blackbird 10 100+ various
Brown-headed Cowbird 8 50+ various
Purple Finch 1 10+ MO
Species No days Max Sites
Cassin's Finch 1 1 YM
House Finch 11 20+ various
Lesser Goldfinch 5 5+ AC,CC,BM,Julian,LM
American Goldfinch 2 50 MB,MT

Other Species Recorded:


Black Bear, Coyote, Racoon, Striped Skunk (dead), California Ground Squirrel, Belding's Ground Squirrel, Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, White-tailed Antelope-Squirrel, Douglas Squirrel, Western Grey Squirrel, Least Chipmunk, Lodgepole Chipmunk, Yellow-bellied Marmot, Black-tailed Jack Rabbit, Desert Cottontail, Elk, Black-tailed Mule Deer, Sea Otter, Northern Fur Seal, California Sea-Lion, Northern Elephant Seal, Harbour Seal, Humpback Whale, Short-beaked Common Dolphin, Risso's Dolphin, Northern Right-Whale Dolphin, Northern Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Dall's Porpoise


Western Sagebrush Lizard, Desert Spiny Lizard, Red Coach-whip Snake, Snapper Turtle, Northern Pacific Tree Frog, Sierra Tree Frog


California Sister, Common Buck-eye, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, West Coast Lady, Satyr Comma, Coronis Fritillary, Monarch, California Dog-face, Orange Sulphur, Common Sulphur, Marine Blue, Juba Skipper, Umber Skipper, Sandhill Skipper, Sonoran Skipper, Small White

Other Insects:

Lavender Dancer, Variegated Meadowhawk, Blue-eyed Darner, Western Pondhawk