A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Slice of California: Seabirds to Sierra I 2022

September 8-17, 2022 with Tom Johnson guiding

Our pelagic trip from Half Moon Bay was a star-studded affair. In order of appearance: Alvaro Jaramillo gives us a pre-departure briefing; Brown Pelicans; Brandt's and Double-crested cormorants; Surfbirds; Pillar Point; Tufted Puffin; Sooty Shearwater; Readying the chum; Black-footed Albatross; Guadalupe Fur Seal; Black Storm-Petrel; Ashy Storm-Petrel; big flock of Black Storm-Petrels with Ashy and Wilson's mixed in; Risso's Dolphins; pelagic birders in action; Rhinoceros Auklets; Common Murre; Parasitic Jaeger; California Sea Lion.

Our out-and-back early autumn journey across California connects a magical diversity habitats from sea level to over 9,500' in elevation. This year we had a fruitful road-and-boat trip that featured such highlight birds as Mountain Quail, Greater Sage-Grouse, Ridgway's Rail, Black-browed Albatross, Black Storm-Petrel, Tufted Puffin, Black-backed Woodpecker, Lewis's Woodpecker, Pinyon Jay, Yellow-billed Magpie, Bell's & Sagebrush sparrows, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Tricolored Blackbird, and many more. The mammals were great, too, with Guadalupe and Northern fur seals, Risso's Dolphins, Humpback Whales, and a broad diversity of squirrels.

We met near San Francisco airport and began birding along the western side of San Francisco Bay, finding thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl and classic California birds like Nuttall's Woodpecker and Oak Titmouse. Heading east, we traversed the Diablo Range in search of California specialties in the form of Yellow-billed Magpie, California Thrasher, and Lawrence's Goldfinch. On the western flank of the Sierra Nevada, we walked through a grove of massive Giant Sequoias that harbored White-headed Woodpecker and Red-breasted Sapsucker, and climbed up to high elevation where we tracked down a remarkably cooperative covey of coveted Mountain Quail. Crossing over the smoke-draped mountains, we stopped here and there to peruse mixed flocks for Thick-billed Fox Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, Hermit Warbler, and Cassin's Finch—and Sonora Pass offered us a memorable show from the Clark's Nutcrackers. The Mono Lake area was simply superb, from the otherworldly tufa formations on the lake itself to Black-backed Woodpeckers in burned forest and huge flocks of Pinyon Jays cruising over Sagebrush Sparrows and Juniper Titmice. While in the Mono area, we also visited the mining town of Bodie and said hello to its resident Greater Sage-Grouse, and we took a bit of an extension to the Bishop area to study the canescens subspecies of Bell's Sparrow. Returning westward across the state, we finished up the tour in the Half Moon Bay area. Our pelagic trip introduced us to a great diversity of seabirds and marine mammals in nice, smooth ocean conditions. We found Tufted Puffins, Black-browed Albatrosses, three species of jaegers, swarms of storm-petrels, several species of alcids, and more—and marine mammals like Risso's Dolphins and jughandling Guadalupe Fur Seals added spice to the trip. Rounding out our time on the outer coast, we found additional specialty birds such as Wrentit, Tricolored Blackbird, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and Hutton's Vireo, and even saw a few rarities like Tropical Kingbird and Orchard Oriole.

Thank you for spending part of your September birding (and eating delicious food) with me in California - I hope the videos and photos below help you remember the adventure!


One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)

Common around the Bay Area; we also saw 250 at Bridgeport Reservoir.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

Three were at the Nob Hill Pond.

CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)

Small numbers along the southwest shore of San Francisco Bay and Bridgeport Reservoir.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

Hundreds on San Francisco Bay and at Bridgeport Reservoir.

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

About 900 were at the south end of Bridgeport Reservoir.

AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)

A few were with other ducks at San Francisco Bay; we also saw 15 at Bridgeport Reservoir.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)

Common and widespread.


About 30 were at Bridgeport Reservoir.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)

Common with other dabbling ducks, including 140 at Bridgeport Reservoir.

Mountain Quail put on an amazing show on the high elevation slopes of Bear Valley. Video by guide Tom Johnson.

REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

13 were with other ducks at Bridgeport Reservoir.

SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)

Just two close to shore at Half Moon Bay.

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)

Two widely scattered sightings; 55 at Bridgeport Reservoir plus 7 along the coast at Pescadero.

RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Six were in a roadside pond in Mono County.

Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

MOUNTAIN QUAIL (Oreortyx pictus)

During our first afternoon of searching for this species, we found a big covey at Bear Valley and had extended views of these secretive birds. A highly desired mountain chicken for several folks in the group!

CALIFORNIA QUAIL (Callipepla californica)

We caught up to this relatively common quail at several locations scattered from Half Moon Bay all the way to Bishop.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)

One flock of nine paraded around a pasture on Mines Road.

GREATER SAGE-GROUSE (Centrocercus urophasianus)

As we walked into the middle of the historical mining town of Bodie, a female sage grouse wandered around foraging. Eventually she walked right across one of the town's streets and melted back into the sage desert. Amazing views!

SOOTY GROUSE (Dendragapus fuliginosus)

We birded Lundy Lake slowly on a hunch, and as the afternoon turned into evening, we found a female grouse with two mostly grown juveniles strolling along the roadside. We watched these uncommon and inconspicuous birds at length using the van as a blind.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

We saw about ten between Bridgeport Reservoir and a pond in the Central Valley.

EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis)

Thousands peppered the surface of Mono Lake, a globally significant feeding and resting location for the species.

WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

Most of ours were at Bridgeport Reservoir but we did see some along the outer coast near Half Moon Bay, too.

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This Wrentit posed atop shrubs near Half Moon Bay. Photo by group member Paul Koker.

CLARK'S GREBE (Aechmophorus clarkii)

We first saw these paler relatives of Western Grebes at Coyote Point Park. It was also interesting to compare them directly to Western Grebes at Bridgeport Reservoir and on our Half Moon Bay pelagic trip.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Common around people and in agricultural areas.

BAND-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas fasciata)

Our first views were near San Francisco in the eucalyptus trees of Coyote Point Park; later we saw a few more in the Sierra Nevada and along the coast at Gazos Creek.

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

Quite common along the coast and around San Francisco Bay, always near people.

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

Outnumbered by collared-doves on our route though we still found these native doves in several locations.

Apodidae (Swifts)

WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Aeronautes saxatalis)

We enjoyed swirling flocks of these swifts at New Melones Lake and on the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada at Mud Lake.

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)


The common hummingbird that we found in many locations, particularly along the coast and in the Bay Area.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

RIDGWAY'S RAIL (SAN FRANCISCO BAY) (Rallus obsoletus obsoletus)

It took searching a few locations before we tracked down this big, beautiful rail along a channel at LaRiviere Marsh. We watched it at close range as it fed, bathed, and generally ignored us.

VIRGINIA RAIL (Rallus limicola) [*]

We heard one calling at Charleston Slough.

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

Particularly numerous at Bridgeport Reservoir where I estimated 600 birds.

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This Sabine's Gull was a surprise sighting along the edge of San Francisco Bay at Mountain View. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

BLACK RAIL (Laterallus jamaicensis) [*]

We heard two of these extremely secretive marshbirds calling from saltmarsh habitat along the edge of San Francisco Bay.

Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

Two were on the flats at the south end of Bridgeport Reservoir.

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)

These elegant, slender shorebirds were quite common along the edges of San Francisco Bay, and we found them at a few other locations as well.

AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)

Thousands covered the shorelines and mudflats of San Francisco Bay.

Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus bachmani)

Our first sighting of two birds came at Coyote Point Park; later, we saw a few more along the rocky shores of the outer coast.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)

Dozens in non-breeding plumage were scattered between Millbrae, Coyote Point, and Half Moon Bay.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

We found dozens along the western edge of San Francisco Bay.

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

Most of ours were at San Francisco Bay, Mono Lake, and Bridgeport Reservoir.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)

One at Coyote Point Park plus two flybys along the coast at Half Moon Bay.

LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)

Small numbers dwarfed the other shorebirds in San Francisco Bay.

MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)

Hundreds joined the flocks of avocets and other shorebirds in San Francisco Bay.

BLACK TURNSTONE (Arenaria melanocephala)

Three showed off along the water's edge at Coyote Point Park; later we saw more at the beginning and end of our pelagic trip.

SURFBIRD (Calidris virgata)

Six were on the rocks at Pillar Point Harbor during our pelagic trip.

STILT SANDPIPER (Calidris himantopus)

The juvenile we found at the Nob Hill Pond in San Mateo County was a big rarity for the county and got the local birders a-twitchin'. The species is a bit more expected in Santa Clara County (just to the south).

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

We saw hundreds mixed in with other shorebirds.

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

Good scope views of big flocks at several shorebird spots along San Francisco Bay.

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We admired this Ridgway's Rail in a ditch at LaRiviere Marsh on San Francisco Bay. Photo by group member Paul Koker.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)

About 80 were on the mudflats at Bayfront Park in Millbrae.

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

We studied (and heard!) hundreds up close at Charleston Slough and the Nob Hill Pond.

WILSON'S PHALAROPE (Phalaropus tricolor)

About 45 were swimming and dashing around at the southernmost end of San Francisco Bay.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

We compared this species to Wilson's Phalarope at the south end of San Francisco Bay. We also saw dozens with the Eared Grebes at Mono Lake and a few dozen on our pelagic trip.

RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)

Small numbers were offshore on our pelagic trip.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

We saw two at Coyote Point Park.


One of these uncommon migrant shorebirds showed off nervously along the edge of the marina at Coyote Point Park.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

The common yellowlegs we saw in the Bay Area and also in Mono County.

WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)

Hundreds were in San Francisco Bay, mixed in with the Marbled Godwits.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)

Just one at Bridgeport Reservoir.

Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)

POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)

We saw about a dozen of these big, stocky jaegers offshore on the pelagic trip. Several showed long, rounded "spoons" in their tails.

PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)

Just a few close to shore and offshore during our Half Moon Bay pelagic.

LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)

An immature bird was offshore during our pelagic trip.

Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)

COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)

These auks were a constant offshore presence during the pelagic trip.

MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)

This was one of the first species we sought out in the inshore waters of Half Moon Bay during our pelagic trip - about five bobbed along and dove close to the boat.

CASSIN'S AUKLET (Ptychoramphus aleuticus)

We tallied about 17 of these rotund alcids during the pelagic trip.

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Townsend's Warblers anchored mixed songbird flocks in the creek valleys south of Half Moon Bay. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)

About 165 on the pelagic trip, including some with small rhino horns close to the boat.

TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)

It was a great surprise to find not 1 but 4 of these uncommon alcids during our pelagic trip.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)

We had good views of migrants offshore during our pelagic trip where they were more or less expected. Much less expected was the juvenile that circled around the Coast Casey Forebay near Mountain View on San Francisco Bay - an exciting local rarity!

HEERMANN'S GULL (Larus heermanni)

Dozens were along the outer coast including in Pillar Point Harbor.

RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)

Most of ours were at San Francisco Bay and Bridgeport Reservoir.

WESTERN GULL (Larus occidentalis)

Quite common along the outer coast.

CALIFORNIA GULL (Larus californicus)

The most widespread gull we saw - on the outer coast, in San Francisco Bay, and even east of the Sierra Nevada (where they nest at Mono Lake).

GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)

It was a bit early in the season, but we did find two arriving migrants from the north - one at Nob Hill Pond and another in Half Moon Bay.

CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)

One flew over at the southern end of San Francisco Bay.

FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)

Just two sightings in the southwestern portion of San Francisco Bay.

ELEGANT TERN (Thalasseus elegans)

Our best views were along the outer coast at Half Moon Bay; another flock was on the move at Coyote Point Park.

BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)

We enjoyed a max count of 58 birds at Charleston Slough in Mountain View.

Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

Singles were along the outer coast at Half Moon Bay and Pescadero.

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)

One flew by at the beginning of our Half Moon Bay pelagic trip.

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

One was at Coyote Point Park.

Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)

BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS (Phoebastria nigripes)

We saw at least 10 of these massive tubenoses off the continental shelf edge on our pelagic trip.

Oceanitidae (Southern Storm-Petrels)

WILSON'S STORM-PETREL (Oceanites oceanicus)

One flushed off the water with a large flock of mostly Black Storm-Petrels during our pelagic trip.

Hydrobatidae (Northern Storm-Petrels)

ASHY STORM-PETREL (Hydrobates homochroa)

On our pelagic trip, we pieced together scattered sightings of these smaller dark storm-petrels. It was particularly helpful to compare them with the large Black Storm-Petrels.

BLACK STORM-PETREL (Hydrobates melania)

Almost 500 on our pelagic trip off Half Moon Bay, including over 400 in a single flock that flushed up off the water. A few individuals bounded past quite near to the boat.

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

NORTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialis)

Three individuals during our pelagic trip.

PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER (Ardenna creatopus)

On our pelagic trip, it took a little while to get good views, but then we found lots—over 150 of these nonbreeding visitors from the South Pacific.

BULLER'S SHEARWATER (Ardenna bulleri)

One of these handsome gray-and-white shearwaters cruised past the back of the boat during our pelagic trip.

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Sooty Grouse wandered along a gravel road at the edge of the Mono Basin during an evening outing. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

SOOTY SHEARWATER (Ardenna grisea)

Plenty of dense flocks of these slender, dark seabirds during our pelagic trip; over 1000 total.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

BRANDT'S CORMORANT (Urile penicillatus)

Ours were along the outer coast between Half Moon Bay and Pescadero. We had some good comparisons with other cormorants at Pillar Point Harbor.

PELAGIC CORMORANT (Urile pelagicus)

We saw ten at a distance at Coyote Point Park; later, we had better views of 20 at Pescadero State Beach.

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

The most widespread cormorant of the tour (and most common cormorant during our travels around San Francisco Bay).

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

We saw dozens in many spots around San Francisco Bay; over 100 were at Bridgeport Reservoir.

BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Very common in San Francisco Bay and along the outer coast; over 800 in Pillar Point Harbor.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

A common wader on the coast and inland.

GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

Scattered singles between the outer coast, San Francisco Bay, and the Central Valley.

SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)

Dozens in the marshes and flats around the edge of San Francisco Bay.

GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)

One was at Coyote Point Park.

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)

A handful fed on the flats at Coyote Point Park and roosted in the marsh at Charleston Slough.

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)

We saw some distant flocks at Bridgeport Reservoir.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Common and widespread, even at high elevation at Bear Valley.

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

Scattered sightings all the way from the coast inland to Pinecrest Lake and Mono Lake.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus)

We saw these elegant, hovering raptors on three occasions—once at LaRiviere Marsh and twice south of Half Moon Bay over coastal fields.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

A few sightings in open habitats from Half Moon Bay east to Bodie and Bridgeport.

SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)

One of these small hawks circled overhead at Cascade Creek Campground in the Sierra Nevada.

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

Five sightings, mostly of juveniles. One of the best looks was the bird that perched up in a bare tree at Bear Valley.

A female Greater Sage-Grouse strolled right through the middle of the historic mining town of Bodie. Video by guide Tom Johnson.

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Three were keeping an eye on the mass of birds at the south end of Bridgeport Reservoir.

RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (ELEGANS) (Buteo lineatus elegans)

We saw these colorful hawks frequently to the west of the Sierra crest, including a striking whitish (dilute-plumaged) individual near Pigeon Point.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Common and widespread.

Strigidae (Owls)

GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus)

We heard one hooting outside our hotel in Sonora and later saw two perched up on the limestone tufa formations at Mono Lake.

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

We saw these familiar predators on opposite sides of the state - at Lundy Lake and Half Moon Bay.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus thyroideus)

A female showed briefly at the Donnell Vista.

RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus ruber)

We enjoyed these sapsuckers at Calaveras Big Trees, Bear Valley, Donnell Vista, and Lundy Lake.

LEWIS'S WOODPECKER (Melanerpes lewis)

After seeing a few distant birds in the eastern Central Valley, we had close flight views of two birds at the edge of a big oak-dotted pasture.

ACORN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes formicivorus)

We saw these high contrast woodpeckers at many spots with oaks, including Mines Road and all around our hotel in Sonora.


We did a little bit of "over the river and through the woods" looking for this one, but we eventually found a pair of these scarce birds in a burnt section of forest south of Mono Lake.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

One was at Mono Lake County Park.

NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER (Dryobates nuttallii)

Fairly common in areas with oaks in the Bay Area and along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada.

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

Quite common in higher elevation forests, especially in the burnt area south of Mono Lake.

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The Mountain Quail were so nice, they needed to be featured twice in this trip list. Group member Paul Koker caught this quail atop a large rock during our observations at Bear Valley.

WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER (Dryobates albolarvatus)

We enjoyed great looks at these fabulous woodpeckers at Calaveras Big Trees SP and even on the large rocks at Donnell Vista.

PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)

One climbed around on the sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees SP.

NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)

Numerous sightings of these western red-shafted birds across the state.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

Scattered individuals in open habitats from the coast all the way inland to Bodie.

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

One was perched atop a utility tower at Coyote Point Park.

PRAIRIE FALCON (Falco mexicanus)

A close flyby at Bridgeport Reservoir put a lot of ducks and shorebirds into the air.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus sordidulus)

Migrants were at the Bridgeport Reservoir Marina and Mono Lake County Park.

PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER (Empidonax difficilis)

Extended views of this greenish Empidonax along Gazos Creek near the coast. We were fortunate to see the distinctive tail-lifting behavior of the species.

BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)

Common at the edge of water.

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

Most of ours were in open pasturelands inland, but we did see one at Pigeon Point along the coast, too.

TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)

We tracked down this continuing vagrant as it sat on a fence at a farm in Half Moon Bay.

WESTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus verticalis)

A late migrant made a brief appearance on the tufa towers at Mono Lake.

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

HUTTON'S VIREO (Vireo huttoni)

One accompanied a mixed flock in a willow grove along the coast at Half Moon Bay.

WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)

Migrants were with mixed flocks at Del Puerto Canyon, Cascade Creek Campground, and Mono Lake County Park.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

We saw these open land songbirds at the eastern edge of the Central Valley and also perched on tufa at Mono Lake.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

PINYON JAY (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)

We saw flocks of up to 120 birds on multiple occasions east of the Sierra Nevada. The sagebrush and pines south of Mono Lake were particularly good for sightings of these intelligent, nomadic birds.

STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)

These dark, crested jays were heard and seen commonly in forests in the Sierra Nevada.

CALIFORNIA SCRUB-JAY (Aphelocoma californica)

We found these noisy, inquisitive jays commonly along the coast and in oak forests west of the Sierra Nevada.

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We rarely see Juniper Titmice on this tour, but we lucked into some this time—and it was exciting to see these admittedly drab songbirds so far away from juniper trees in the scrub south of Mono Lake. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.


As we cruised the highways east of the Sierra Nevada, these striking, long-tailed birds were obvious in many roadside locations.

YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica nuttalli) [E]

We saw about ten of these handsome California endemic corvids on Mines Road south of Livermore.

CLARK'S NUTCRACKER (Nucifraga columbiana)

Wow - these amazing, distinctive birds were in the high mountains and also around the Mono Basin. During our stroll around Sonora Pass, we saw about ten individuals flying by and landing to feed on pine seeds at close range.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

Particularly common along the coast and in the Bay Area.

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Common across the state, with the highest density in the Sierra Nevada and in the Mono Basin.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli)

These white-eyebrowed chickadees anchored many of the songbird flocks in the high elevation sections of our route.


We found the gray-flanked coastal population (barlowi) west of San Francisco Bay and then tracked down chestnut-sided birds (rufescens) along the west slope of the Sierra Nevada.

OAK TITMOUSE (Baeolophus inornatus)

We watched these oak specialists at feeders near Cupertino, along Mines Road, and on the west flank of the Sierra Nevada.

JUNIPER TITMOUSE (Baeolophus ridgwayi)

It was quite surprising to see three of these gray titmice in open sagebrush and rabbitbrush near Mono Lake. This species began irrupting out of juniper habitat across the West in fall/ winter 2022-23, so we might have seen some of the early stages of that movement.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

A flock of 25 moved past at Mono Lake.

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

Small numbers were overhead in the mountains; then we saw about 200 circling around Bridgeport Reservoir.

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

Common and widespread, with the biggest flocks at LaRiviere Marsh and Bridgeport Reservoir.

Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)

BUSHTIT (Psaltriparus minimus)

Our best views were of the flock at Alviso Marina on our final day of birding.

Sylviidae (Sylviid Warblers, Parrotbills, and Allies)

WRENTIT (Chamaea fasciata)

Excellent views of this little chaparral gnome at Half Moon Bay. He even snuck out in the open to sing for a few minutes.

Regulidae (Kinglets)


A few of these tiny sprites were at Calaveras Big Trees and Cascade Creek Campground.

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)

Lots in the Sierra Nevada; particularly common at Calaveras Big Trees where we tallied 23 birds.

WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (INTERIOR WEST) (Sitta carolinensis tenuissima)

Just a few in pine forests in the Mono Basin.

WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (PACIFIC) (Sitta carolinensis aculeata)

This was the subspecies that we found throughout most of the tour, from the coast east across the Sierra Nevada.

Field Guides Birding Tours
We persisted and eventually found some Lewis's Woodpeckers at the eastern edge of the Central Valley. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

PYGMY NUTHATCH (Sitta pygmaea)

Ours were in flocks close to the coast and also in the burn south of Mono Lake.

Certhiidae (Treecreepers)

BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)

Super views of numerous individuals creepin' at Calaveras Big Trees.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

A few were scolding from within mixed flocks of songbirds at widely scattered locations.

PACIFIC WREN (PACIFICUS GROUP) (Troglodytes pacificus pacificus)

This tiny brown bird jumped around on the ground at Calaveras Big Trees; later we heard another at Gazos Creek.

MARSH WREN (PALUDICOLA GROUP) (Cistothorus palustris paludicola)

We heard a few; later we caught a glimpse at Alviso Marina.

BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)

These slender wrens of dense cover were with mixed flocks, most common around the Bay Area.

Cinclidae (Dippers)

AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)

We spotted one in the rocky cataracts of the Clark Fork of the Stanislaus River in the Sierra Nevada.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Most common near people, though our biggest single flock was at the relatively isolated Mono Lake South Tufa site.

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

CALIFORNIA THRASHER (Toxostoma redivivum)

One showed briefly along Mines Road; later we caught up with a showy pair in the chaparral above New Melones Lake.

SAGE THRASHER (Oreoscoptes montanus)

We tracked down a group of 7 moving through the desert scrub south of Mono Lake at the same spot where we saw the Sagebrush Sparrows.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

Two were at Charleston Slough.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)

Small foraging flocks popped up at many spots along our route, with great views at Coyote Point Park, Mines Road, and Clark Fork.

MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD (Sialia currucoides)

These elegant migratory songbirds were in flocks of 10-18 at Bear Valley and in the Mono Basin.

TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE (Myadestes townsendi)

Our first was at Calaveras Big Trees. Later we saw two more flying by and perching up briefly at Sonora Pass.

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

We only saw these familiar thrushes in the mountains.

Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)

One was at Mono Lake County Park.

Ptiliogonatidae (Silky-flycatchers)

PHAINOPEPLA (Phainopepla nitens)

These odd, crested songbirds perched up near clusters of mistletoe at Mines Road and near New Melones Lake.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Common around people.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator)

Two of these big, uncommon finches called and then perched up on the tall treetops above the forest service bathrooms at Bear Valley.

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Commonly seen in flocks from the coast east to the Mono Basin.

PURPLE FINCH (WESTERN) (Haemorhous purpureus californicus)

One called and perched up briefly in the willow and pine grove near the base of Pillar Point at Half Moon Bay.

CASSIN'S FINCH (Haemorhous cassinii)

We bumped into these montane finches regularly from the high Sierra Nevada east to the Mono Basin.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Black Storm-Petrels gave us repeated opportunities to study their flight style during the pelagic trip off Half Moon Bay. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

These small, bouncy finches were at Bear Valley and Sonora Pass.

LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)

Small flocks and singles were along the coast of San Francisco Bay and even at high elevation at Bear Valley.

LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH (Spinus lawrencei)

A flock of 15 of these nomadic, tinkling finches crowded around some of the only flowing water we found in Del Puerto Canyon.


Flocks of up to 25 along the coast near Half Moon Bay.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)

Migrant flocks were feeding near the Bear Valley ski area and in the burn south of Mono Lake.

BREWER'S SPARROW (Spizella breweri)

We had our best looks at these drab, thin sparrows around Mono Lake - the one that sat up at the South Tufa site was close and fantastic.

LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)

Two flushed off the road at Del Puerto Canyon; a third showed very well on the lawn at Mono Lake County Park.

FOX SPARROW (THICK-BILLED) (Passerella iliaca megarhyncha)

These were the gray and brown Fox Sparrows with stout bills that we saw in thickets in the Sierra Nevada.

DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis)

Common nearly throughout our route in forested areas. "Oregon" subspecies group.

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)

A migrant was near Bridgeport Reservoir.

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (NUTTALLI) (Zonotrichia leucophrys nuttalli)

Four of these coastal residents were along the coast at Pillar Point.

SAGEBRUSH SPARROW (Artemisiospiza nevadensis)

Three of these streak-backed "Sage Sparrows" were in the desert scrub at Mono Lake. We put in a special effort to compare this species to the closely related (and very similar) Bell's Sparrow.

BELL'S SPARROW (BELLI) (Artemisiospiza belli belli)

Brief views of a skulky individual in Del Puerto Canyon - since we didn't see this one well, we set out to get a better view of the Mohave subspecies near Bishop.

BELL'S SPARROW (CANESCENS) (Artemisiospiza belli canescens)

After having a fleeting experience with the nominate subspecies at Del Puerto Canyon, we took an early morning drive to Bishop and had wonderful views of these "Sage Sparrows" on BLM land. This canescens subspecies is grouped with Bell's Sparrow but in some ways seems like an intermediate population between nominate Bell's and Sagebrush.

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

Small numbers along the shore of San Francisco Bay and the coast plus a few on the south side of Mono Lake.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

Most of our sightings were along the edge of San Francisco Bay and on the outer coast.

CALIFORNIA TOWHEE (Melozone crissalis)

A common songbird in parks and suburbs in the Bay Area and along the coast.

Field Guides Birding Tours
We caught up with this Pacific-slope Flycatcher along Gazos Creek south of Half Moon Bay. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW (Aimophila ruficeps)

Two snuck around near the Lawrence's Goldfinch flock at Del Puerto Canyon.

GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE (Pipilo chlorurus)

These beautiful sparrows were a bit shy but eventually showed well at a few spots in the Sierra Nevada.

SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus)

Scattered in thickets and forest from the Bay Area up to the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

Two were mixed in with Brewer's Blackbirds and starlings at the Mono Lake South Tufa.

WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)

The biggest group we saw was 15 at the Rock River Road Pond in the eastern Central Valley.

ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius)

The one we saw feeding in the bottlebrush tree at Moss Beach was a continuing vagrant.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Most of the flocks we saw were along the coast near Half Moon Bay.

TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius tricolor)

After a few flyby flocks on the coastal trail south of Half Moon Bay, we tracked down a male that lingered on a utility wire for a nice look. These blackbirds breed inland and some flocks migrate to the coast in fall to spend the winter.


A juvenile was mixed with other migrant songbirds at Bear Valley; 10 more were at the farm pond where we saw the Tropical Kingbird in Half Moon Bay.

BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

Very common both on the coast and east of the Sierra Nevada. Max count was about 250 near Bridgeport Reservoir.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

Small numbers of these plain warblers were with mixed songbird flocks in the Sierra Nevada and along the coast.

NASHVILLE WARBLER (RIDGWAYI) (Leiothlypis ruficapilla ridgwayi)

One was at Bear Valley and two more were at Cascade Creek Campground - in mixed flocks both times.

MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER (Geothlypis tolmiei)

We had encounters with four of these skulking warblers in the Sierra Nevada but it was quite tough to get a good look.

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

We heard a few calling along San Francisco Bay; two popped up in front of us at Pillar Point Harbor, too.

Field Guides Birding Tours
This juvenile Stilt Sandpiper was a rare bird for San Mateo County (here with Northern Shovelers, Greater Yellowlegs, and Black-necked Stilt). Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

Migrants were scattered across our entire route, with several sightings concentrated along the coast.

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)

These migrants were quite common in the conifer forests of the middle and high elevations of the Sierra Nevada.

BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)

We found at least five individuals mixed in with songbird flocks at Cascade Creek Campground and Donnell Vista in the Sierra Nevada.

TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)

These stunning wood-warblers showed off their green, black, and yellow plumage in flocks along the outer coast.

HERMIT WARBLER (Setophaga occidentalis)

With some effort, we found a single bird in a migrant flock of songbirds at Cascade Creek Campground.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)

A common warbler of dense waterside thickets, seen both inland and along the coast.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana)

Small numbers of migrants were found in songbird flocks across the state.

LAZULI BUNTING (Passerina amoena) [*]

We heard the buzzy flight calls of this bunting several times at Cascade Creek Campground.



This was the highland bunny we found in the Mono Basin.

DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)

The smaller rabbit we saw around the South San Francisco Bay lowlands.

BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)

At least one sighting in the open country of the Mono Basin. The roadkill jackrabbit we saw below Sonora Pass was a White-tailed (a range-restricted species in California).

LEAST CHIPMUNK (Tamias minimus)

These were the common small chipmunks we saw around the Mono Basin.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Wandering Tattler was one of the many migrant shorebirds we sought out along the shores of San Francisco Bay. This one was at Coyote Point County Park. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

LONG-EARED CHIPMUNK (Tamias quadrimaculatus)

A few sightings in the Sierra Nevada including at Calaveras Big Trees SP.

LODGEPOLE CHIPMUNK (Tamias speciosus)

We saw this montane species in the Sierra Nevada at Bear Valley.

YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT (Marmota flaviventris)

The groundhog-like critter that we saw along the roadside in the Sierra.

CALIFORNIA GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus beecheyi)

Common in open areas in many parts of the state, including Bodie.


This is the mountain squirrel that looks like a giant chipmunk.

EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis) [I]

Seen at Coyote Point Park near San Francisco.


These large bushy-tailed squirrels were at middle elevations in the mountains.

CHICKAREE (Tamiasciurus douglasii)

These noisy squirrels scolded us frequently in the Sierra Nevada, particularly at Calaveras Big Trees SP.

RISSO'S DOLPHIN (Grampus griseus)

Good views of these large, blunt-headed oceanic dolphins on the pelagic trip.

HARBOR PORPOISE (Phocoena phocoena)

A few of these inconspicuous cetaceans cruised by during our pelagic trip.

HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)

A couple sightings of these widespread mid-sized whales during our pelagic trip.

COYOTE (Canis latrans)

Seen several times east of the Sierra Nevada, including two animals hunting in a meadow along the road to Bodie.

CALIFORNIA SEA LION (Zalophus californianus)

Common inshore and offshore on our Half Moon Bay pelagic trip.

Since we had such a nice encounter with this relaxed and hungry Ridgway's Rail, I thought I'd share a video of a few moments of the sighting. Video by guide Tom Johnson.

STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)

At least one big, blonde male showed nicely on a buoy offshore from Half Moon Bay in comparison with California Sea Lions.

NORTHERN FUR SEAL (Callorhinus ursinus)

We saw these dark brown fur seals "jughandling" offshore. They live on the Farallon Islands and range north to the Bering Sea, and are the typical fur seal seen in this area.

GUADALUPE FUR SEAL (Arctocephalus townsendi)

We had some great views of these oddball visitors from the south during our pelagic trip; the dog-like faces and extent of fur on the flippers helped us to separate them from the more common Northern Fur Seal.

HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)

A few were around the, well, harbor at Half Moon Bay.

MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus)

These were the deer we saw along the way - coastal Black-tailed Deer (west of the Sierra Nevada) and bigger interior Mule Deer (east of the Sierra Nevada)

Totals for the tour: 213 bird taxa and 22 mammal taxa