A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Slice of California: Seabirds, Condors, and Island Scrub-Jay 2021

September 7-16, 2021 with Chris Benesh & Tom Johnson guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
We enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience with California Condors when we came upon a couple feeding on a coyote carcass. These two were soon joined by a few others arriving on scene. Such majestic birds. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

The 2021 Slice of California Tour was unlike any previous ones and almost didn’t happen. Extensive fires in the Sierra Nevada caused a statewide closure of the National Forest lands, preventing us from visiting many of the areas on the itinerary. Fortunately, we were able to cobble together an alternative slice, this one running roughly north-south instead of east-west. This new offering was re-named SLICE OF CALIFORNIA: SEABIRDS, CONDORS, AND ISLAND SCRUB-JAY. And while it was regrettable to miss out on the Sierra experience, the tour turned out to be a wonderful experience overall, with many terrific highlights.

Things started off pretty much like they would on the normal slice, with some birding at the south end of San Francisco Bay that provided a nice mix of shorebirds and ducks, along with a few western oak specialists and a Ridgway’s Rail. We also had a great pelagic trip out of Half Moon Bay where we saw a good variety of seabirds and marine mammals with the help of Malia Kai De Felice and Chris Hayward. The birds were great but it was the Humpback Whales that ended up stealing the show with their bubble netting and lunge feeding antics.

From here, we headed down the coast of San Mateo County birding a few rocky coastal spots for shorebirds and cormorants, and then some riparian areas for landbirds. Wandering Tattler, Black Turnstone, and Surfbird were among the highlights while Pacific Wren, and Hutton’s and Red-eyed Vireos kept us entertained along Gazos Creek. Farther south, we birded around Moss Landing, with its masses of blackbirds, including plenty of Tricolored Blackbirds. Spinning phalaropes, foraging shorebirds, and dive-bombing Peregrine Falcons kept us enthralled. Our second morning found us birding along the Tassajara Road, looking for, but only hearing, Mountain Quail in the appropriate habitat outside of the national forest. But there were some other treats there as well with a nice mix of oak woodland species including several woodpeckers, scrub-jays, Oak Titmice, and bluebirds. Then it was on to the spectacular coastline of Big Sur with its sweeping vistas and tall groves of coastal redwoods.

Our next morning found us heading to Pinnacles National Park where we scoped out a hillside favored by roosting condors. Sure enough, a bit of scanning produced several sightings of birds perching in tall gray pines. As the morning warmed up, wings opened up and soon the condors took flight. Soon we were off to Bickmore Canyon on the La Gloria Road, in search of Bell’s Sparrows, Lawrence’s Goldfinches, and other chaparral species. As we headed in, we passed a meadow where a couple of Turkey Vultures were feasting on a Coyote carcass. If only they were condors, we thought. Further along in the canyon, we came across a few wet spots that had visiting Bell’s Sparrows and lots of Lawrence’s Goldfinches. Such good fortune! But it came time to head back the way we had come. Shortly after Tom’s van passed the meadow with the coyote carcass, I got an excited radio call from him stating that two California Condors were right at the side of the road! I hurried my van alongside and watched in amazement these two marvelous animals. That is, until the CalFire truck came blazing up behind us, sounding its horns and whistles while we scrambled to get my van more completely out of the way. Fortunately, the condor shot continued for a bit longer and we all had breathtaking views! Then it was on to Ventura.

Our boat ride crossing the Santa Barbara Channel on the way to Santa Cruz Island provided us with a second mini-pelagic. In addition to multitudes of Common Dolphins, we had some really nice studies of Black-vented Shearwaters on the crossing. The island itself was a treat, and the Island Scrub-Jay put on a great show for us showing easily and well. We were able to watch them gathering acorns from the local oaks. Additionally, we had some nice sightings of the endemic Island Fox (relative of the mainland Gray Fox), and a few other migrant bird species. All in all, a beautiful day. Our final morning of birding took us south to the California Lutheran University, a patch of coastal cactus scrub and chaparral that produced the desired California Gnatcatcher and a small number of Cactus Wrens, as well as a surprise Yellow-breasted Chat. Calleguas Creek nearby was a good spot to track down a final target, Scaly-breasted Munia.

We could not have pulled it off without the help of all of you. We are so grateful that you were willing to scrap the existing itinerary and do the north-south slice with us. Thanks to all of you for making the trip a success! Good birding all!

—Chris, on behalf of Chris and Tom

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)

Field Guides Birding Tours
One of the first specialties of the trip was California Towhee, well captured by Nancy Buck on our first morning of birding.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)


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

SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)

One seen at Princeton Harbor on the start of the boat trip and another three at Moss Landing.

Field Guides Birding Tours
One of the more iconic species of the chaparral, we had a terrific study of this Wrentit at Pillar Point Harbor. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)

Three were at Pescadero Marsh and another was in Aptos Creek.

Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

MOUNTAIN QUAIL (Oreortyx pictus) [*]

We were so close with this one. Try as we might we could not get eyes on some birds that were calling directly below us along the Tassajara Road.

CALIFORNIA QUAIL (Callipepla californica)

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis)

A lone bird was at Moss Landing near Jetty Road.

WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

CLARK'S GREBE (Aechmophorus clarkii)

Nice scope view of one at Coyote Point.

Field Guides Birding Tours
This Pygmy Nuthatch came in close to check us out along the coast north of Half Moon Bay. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

BAND-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas fasciata)

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

Apodidae (Swifts)

VAUX'S SWIFT (Chaetura vauxi)

One was seen well offshore in the Santa Barbara Channel on our way to Santa Cruz Island.

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)


ALLEN'S HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus sasin)

Good scope views on our final morning in Ventura County.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

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

We saw this one in a rather bizarre spot. It was foraging at the edge of a concrete breakwater off of the Coyote Point Marina with no cover in sight.

Field Guides Birding Tours
This stakeout Western Screech-Owl was a real treat at the McClellan Ranch in Santa Clara County. Photo by Paul Beerman.

COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)

Our only one was at Charleston Slough near Palo Alto.

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)

AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)

Hundreds of these elegant waders were at the south end of San Francisco Bay.

Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus bachmani)

Some great studies of this species at Pillar Point and later elsewhere along the coast. We also saw a bird in the Ventura Harbor that appeared to be a hybrid with American Oystercatcher.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Wonderful close study of our first one at Coyote Point.

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

Field Guides Birding Tours
We had a wonderful study of a few Semipalmated Plovers at Coyote Point on our first day of birding. Photo by Paul Beerman.
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)

As happens from time to time, this species is currently (2021) under consideration to be split from the Old World populations.

LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)

An impressively large sandpiper well seen along the coast.

MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)

Nearly a lookalike to the Long-billed Curlew but differing in an entirely different bill structure.

BLACK TURNSTONE (Arenaria melanocephala)

Seen at several rocky coastal sites along with those at Coyote Point.

SURFBIRD (Calidris virgata)

Good studies of this species along the San Mateo coastline and another small group was at the Ventura Harbor.

SANDERLING (Calidris alba)

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)

Three of these were at Moonglow Dairy on our visit there, looking a bit like overgrown Least Sandpipers.

Field Guides Birding Tours
The rocky San Mateo coastline proved productive for Wandering Tattlers. This one photographed by Paul Beerman was quite confiding.

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)

A couple of these were in Pescadero.

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

Some fantastic views of close birds at Moonglow Dairy.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)


Close views of at least three of these in Pescadero and another at the harbor in Ventura.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)

Field Guides Birding Tours
Here is the super cooperative Pacific Wren we sighted along Gazos Creek. Photo by Paul Beerman.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)

Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)

SOUTH POLAR SKUA (Stercorarius maccormicki)

This one was at the limits of viewing on our HMB pelagic trip.

POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)

The largest of the jaegers, we had several on the HMB pelagic and a couple of additional birds in the Santa Barbara Channel.

PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)

A few were seen while in inshore waters off of Half Moon Bay on our pelagic.

LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)

Five seen on our pelagic trip including our first one that was right in near the harbor. This species is typically scarce so close to shore.

Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)

COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)

MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)

Careful scanning produced three birds just south the the harbor on our HMB pelagic.

CASSIN'S AUKLET (Ptychoramphus aleuticus)

Frustrating for most, there were three quick encounters with this species on our pelagic trip as we were crossing into the deep waters of Pioneer Canyon.

Field Guides Birding Tours
This Red-eyed Vireo was a big surprise to see along Gazos Creek and guide Tom Johnson was right on it to get it well documented.

RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)

Some great studies of this puffin-sized alcid, some showing off their horn to good effect.

TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)

It was a great trip for this species with three different sightings during the pelagic trip.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)

About seven sightings in total, this elegant species migrates primarily offshore.

BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

There was a lone first cycle bird hanging out on the beach with the huge tern gathering.

HEERMANN'S GULL (Larus heermanni)

One of the more distinctive gulls seen in the west.

RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)

WESTERN GULL (Larus occidentalis)

CALIFORNIA GULL (Larus californicus)

Field Guides Birding Tours
One of the several Black-footed Albatrosses seen on our pelagic trip. Photo by Paul Beerman.

CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)

COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)

Several sightings along the coast with an impressive concentration of fifteen at Rio Del Mar beach.

FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)

ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)

A few seen on the crossings to/from Santa Cruz Island.

ELEGANT TERN (Thalasseus elegans)

An amazing large flock of this species was at the Rio Del Mar beach.

BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)

A big flock of 72 skimmers were loafing around on the mudflats at Charleston Slough. This species expanded its range into San Francisco Bay in the past couple of decades.

Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

A few sightings along the coast in San Mateo County with birds in breeding plumage.

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)

Field Guides Birding Tours
Once we got further offshore on our pelagic trip, we saw a good number of Pink-footed Shearwaters such as this one photographed by Chris Benesh.
Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)

BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS (Phoebastria nigripes)

What a terrific experience seeing these majestic birds so well on the pelagic trip.

Oceanitidae (Southern Storm-Petrels)

WILSON'S STORM-PETREL (Oceanites oceanicus)

It didn't stick around for long, but this white rumped species made a pass by the boat. Unlike the Black Storm-Petrel, this species breeds in the southern hemisphere.

Hydrobatidae (Northern Storm-Petrels)

BLACK STORM-PETREL (Oceanodroma melania)

Small numbers of these were seen and some came close to the boat.

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

NORTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialis)

Several motley birds were seen, most in brownish-gray plumage. In heavy molt, birds were nearly finished with molt of primaries and primary coverts and scattered wing coverts.

PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER (Ardenna creatopus)

This was the second most common shearwater species seen on the Half Moon Bay pelagic.

BULLER'S SHEARWATER (Ardenna bulleri)

Only a couple of these elegant shearwaters put in an appearance.

SOOTY SHEARWATER (Ardenna grisea)

This was the most common species of shearwater seen offshore.

SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER (Ardenna tenuirostris)

Few species can blend in as well as this species mixed in with Sooty Shearwaters. The tiny bill, steep forehead, slightly bowed wings, and a detectably different flight style allowed us to pick out a few over the course of the day that were confirmed with photos.

Field Guides Birding Tours
There were quite a few Common Murres seen during the pelagic, including these. Photo by Paul Beerman.

BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER (Puffinus opisthomelas)

Some good sightings of the warm water, inshore species on our way across the Santa Barbara Channel.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

BRANDT'S CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax penicillatus)

This was the really common species seen at many coastal locations.

PELAGIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)

Smaller numbers of this pencil-necked species seen as well, with a good number at Pescadero.

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Taxonomic note: Not reflected on this list, but Double-crested is now in the genus Nannopterum, while Brandt's and Pelagic are now in the genus Urile.

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

There were a few big flocks at the south end of San Francisco Bay, e.g. Charleston Slough.

BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

Field Guides Birding Tours
We were fortunate to encounter three different Tufted Puffins on the trip, including this one that Paul Beerman captured in flight.

SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)

GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)

A couple of these were seen in Ventura Harbor by most. This is another species that has expanded its range northward in California in recent decades.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

CALIFORNIA CONDOR (Gymnogyps californianus)

This was the standout highlight for many on the trip. Our visit to Pinnacles NP yielded some fine scope views of stretching and flying birds, but it was the few that discovered the coyote carcass in Bickmore Canyon that provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing this magnificent species up close!

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

One was at Pescadero State Beach and a couple more were at Santa Cruz Island.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus)

A couple of these elegant birds were seen along the coast.

Field Guides Birding Tours
A group of lunge-feeding Humpback Whales provided the top highlight of our pelagic trip off of Half Moon Bay. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)

One seen near Pescadero was something of a surprise.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

Most interesting of the few seen was one a few miles offshore in San Mateo County.

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Two were seen out on Santa Cruz Island.

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

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Strigidae (Owls)

WESTERN SCREECH-OWL (Megascops kennicottii)

We had great scope views of the stakeout bird at the McClellan Ranch Preserve in Santa Clara County.

GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus) [*]

One was hooting at our hotel in Half Moon Bay.

Field Guides Birding Tours
During the pelagic, we also caught sight of a few Steller's Sea Lions. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.
Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

Harbors seemed to be the place to see this species as two were at the Coyote Point Marina and another was in Ventura Harbor.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

ACORN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes formicivorus)

Seen at several places with oaks including out on Santa Cruz Island.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER (Dryobates nuttallii)

We had several nice studies of this oak loving western species beginning at Coyote Point.

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

Several sightings including a dramatic flyby at the Moonglow Dairy near Moss Landing.

Field Guides Birding Tours
While at Moonglow Dairy, we witnessed a couple of Peregrine Falcons zooming in to harrass the shorebirds gathered there. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus sordidulus)

Our only one was at Coyote Point on the first day of the tour.

PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER (Empidonax difficilis)

A couple of these were seen along the coast. In addition birds were seen on Santa Cruz Island which might belong to the Channel Islands breeding subspecies insulicola.

BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

CASSIN'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus vociferans)

Two of these were present at the California Lutheran University on our last full day.

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

HUTTON'S VIREO (Vireo huttoni)

WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)

A couple of these were on Santa Cruz Island.

RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus)

One popped up in front of us along Gazos Creek in southern San Mateo County. This a rare visitor to the west.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Heermann's Gulls are one of the most attractive of the larger gulls, and good numbers grace the California coast in the Fall. Photo by Paul Beerman.
Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

A few of these were seen driving through San Benito County near Pinnacles as well as on the drive back to the Bay Area.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)

ISLAND SCRUB-JAY (Aphelocoma insularis) [E]

They don't get too much more endemic than this one, found only on Santa Cruz Island.

CALIFORNIA SCRUB-JAY (Aphelocoma californica)

YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica nuttalli) [E]

Another wonderful California endemic, we had a couple of nice encounters with this species in Monterey and San Benito Counties.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)


Field Guides Birding Tours
A tiny fraction of the mass of Elegant Terns gathered at Rio Del Mar State Beach that sadly were being disturbed by an ignorant tourist walking right through the roosting flock. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

OAK TITMOUSE (Baeolophus inornatus)

Our best views of this species were at the McClellan Ranch and in San Benito County.

Alaudidae (Larks)

HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris) [*]

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

Small numbers were present in several coastal areas.

Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)

BUSHTIT (Psaltriparus minimus)

Sylviidae (Sylviid Warblers, Parrotbills, and Allies)

WRENTIT (Chamaea fasciata)

A wonderful and taxonomically curious species that we encountered in several areas of chaparral. It has been placed in several different families over the years and is currently part of an expanded Old World family Sylviidae.

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

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

We spent a little time talking about how vocalizations of White-breasted Nuthatch. Birds on our tour route sound different than birds the two distinct groups further east and have been discussed as potential splits in recent years.

PYGMY NUTHATCH (Sitta pygmaea)

We had a couple of encounters with this tiny species in San Mateo County. Mostly a bird of the higher mountains, there is a coastal population in central California living near sea level.

Certhiidae (Treecreepers)

BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)

One along the Tassajara Road was the only one encountered.

Field Guides Birding Tours
A few of the Black-vented Shearwaters that we encountered in the Santa Barbara Channel on our way out to Santa Cruz Island. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.
Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHER (Polioptila californica)

A pair of these were present in the chaparral at the California Lutheran University on the final full day of the trip.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

PACIFIC WREN (PACIFICUS GROUP) (Troglodytes pacificus pacificus)

Great looks at this little sprite along the Gazos Creek Road in southern San Mateo County.

BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)

CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)

We encountered five of these in the cactus strewn hillside above the California Lutheran University. This coastal population has become seriously threatened through loss of habitat. Interestingly, birds in Ventura County are part of the southwestern deserts clade rather than the more isolated coastal group found further south.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

CALIFORNIA THRASHER (Toxostoma redivivum)

It ended up that the only one encountered was the singing bird seen along the highway in Big Sur.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

Field Guides Birding Tours
The star attraction of our visit to Santa Cruz Island, the Island Scrub Jay. This species is found only on Santa Cruz Island. Photo by Paul Beerman.
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)

SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus)

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Estrildidae (Waxbills and Allies)

SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA (Lonchura punctulata) [I]

After a bit of searching, we tracked down a couple of these established exotics along Calleguas Creek in Ventura County. This species is sometimes called Nutmeg Mannikin.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)

PURPLE FINCH (WESTERN) (Haemorhous purpureus californicus)

Good studies of three birds at Pillar Point Harbor.

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

Field Guides Birding Tours
A Pacific-slope Flycatcher seen out on Santa Cruz Island. There is an endemic subspecies breeding on the Channel Islands, but it is impossible to determine whether or not this might be one rather than a migrant from the mainland. Photo by Paul Beerman.

LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)

LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH (Spinus lawrencei)

After a furtive group at Pinnacles NP we had an amazing show of some enjoying a puddle party in Bickmore Canyon.


A couple of groups encountered along the coast north of Half Moon Bay.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)

DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis)

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

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

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

Terrific studies of quite a few birds along the La Gloria Road coming to water. This nominate subspecies is quite striking in appearance.

Field Guides Birding Tours
In addition to the endemic bird species and subspecies, there are some other endemics on the Channel Islands. The most charismatic of these is the Island Fox. This cheeky one was patroling the area near the dock in search of neglected backpacks to investigate and pillage. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

CALIFORNIA TOWHEE (Melozone crissalis)

RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW (Aimophila ruficeps)

A couple of these were seen in the chaparral above the California Lutheran University.

SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus)

Icteriidae (Yellow-breasted Chat)


One popped up in the chaparral at the California Lutheran University that was a complete surprise at that location.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Field Guides Birding Tours
After securing our main targets on Santa Cruz Island, a few of us went looking for one of the less sought after ones, an endemic scorpion known as Catalinia thompsoni, found on three adjacent islands (Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa). Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius tricolor)

Some furtive views around Pigeon Point early on and then some great studies of a lot of them at Moonglow Dairy.


BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)

A few of these were at the Ventura Harbor.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

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

Field Guides Birding Tours
A composite image of Paul Beerman's photos of a California Gnatcatcher that we encountered. One of the images captures the distinctive tail pattern characteristic of this species.

BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)

One seen while we were looking for Mountain Quail along the Tassajara Road.

TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)

A few seen at coastal spots in San Mateo County.

HERMIT WARBLER (Setophaga occidentalis)

One came in to drink at a pool in Bickmore Canyon.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)

Several of these were seen at a few coastal areas on the tour.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana)

A couple of these were found on Santa Cruz Island.

LAZULI BUNTING (Passerina amoena)

One showed up briefly near Pescadero in San Mateo County.


BRUSH RABBIT (Sylvilagus bachmani)

DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)

Field Guides Birding Tours
One of the several Cactus Wrens seen in Ventura County while searching for gnatcatchers. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)

MERRIAM'S CHIPMUNK (Tamias merriami)

This is the species of chipmunk that occurs along the Tassajara Road.

CALIFORNIA GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus beecheyi)

EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)

This species was seen at Coyote Point and is an established non-native species in California.


Seen along the Tassajara Road. This is the native tree squirrel of California.

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN (Tursiops truncatus)

A few were seen near the Ventura Harbor as we departed on our way to Santa Cruz Island.



Some of the animals seen in the large gathering in the Santa Barbara Channel appeared to be of this species.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Here is the Scaly-breasted Munia that put on a show for us at Calleguas Creek. Photo by Paul Beerman.

RISSO'S DOLPHIN (Grampus griseus)

We came across a single pod of about five of these pale dolphins with their really tall dorsal fins.

HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)

A tremendous showing of this species on our boat trip out of Half Moon Bay. We were treated to several whales lunge feeding close by. What a sight!

GRAY FOX SP. (Urocyon littoralis)

Better known as Island Fox, this small species is found only on a few of the Channel Islands.

SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)

Really close look at this species on Jetty Road in Moss Landing.

CALIFORNIA SEA LION (Zalophus californianus)

STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)

A few were seen near the buoys on our pelagic trip out of Half Moon Bay.

Tom Johnson's highlights from the Slice of California Tour.

HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)

A few of these seen loafing on rocks along the coast.

MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus)

The few seen are part of the black-tailed deer complex that range in the coastal mountains of the west

Totals for the tour: 183 bird taxa and 18 mammal taxa