A Field Guides Birding Tours Report


September 13-22, 2022 with Chris Benesh guiding

After the fires of 2021 closing the national forests of northern California, it was wonderful to return to running the Slice of California tour in an East-West direction. Aside from a handful of birds that proved elusive, we managed to see most of our targets and enjoyed some wonderful landscapes along the way. We started off in the Bay Area, birding the edge of San Francisco Bay and finishing the day in Half Moon Bay. The following day we were off on a pelagic trip along with Tom Johnson and his Slice group. The seas were relatively calm and we saw a nice mix of species highlighted by a few Tufted Puffins, several Black-footed Albatrosses, some wonderful Sabine’ Gulls, and a big raft of storm-petrels. We had one more day along the coast seeking out a few more coastal specialties.

The following morning we headed off to Livermore and birded along Mines Road. The morning started off with some wonderful Yellow-billed Magpies. Conditions were really dry there, but we did squeak out Bell’s Sparrow, Greater Roadrunner, and a few Lawrence’s Goldfinches. Around this time, ex-typhoon Merbock was making its way down from Alaska and parking itself off of the California coast. This brought cooler temperatures and rain to the Sierra. Our morning at Calaveras Big Trees marked the start of it, though we did manage some nice views of White-headed Woodpeckers there. We had some terrific luck at the Bear Valley Ski Area where we connected with a nice covey of Mountain Quail.

The rains continued overnight and to our surprise, enough snow had fallen at high elevations to close Highway 108, our route across the Sierra and Lee Vining. After some logistical scrambling, it was decided that we would take Highway 4 across instead, and thankfully the road conditions were decent there and we arrived in Lee Vining without incident. We connected with our first Red-breasted Sapsucker along the way, and marveled over the massive number of birds at the Bridgeport Reservoir.

The next morning we spent taking in sunrise at the South Tufa of Mono Lake and seeing several of the sagebrush specialty birds of the area. Then after breakfast we tracked down Pinyon Jays and Williamson’s Sapsucker in the Jeffrey Pine Forests south of the lake. Then in the afternoon we toured the ghost town of Bodie. While we didn’t see our intended Greater Sage-Grouse, we did get in our 10,000 steps! Fortunately, there was another grouse in the cards, by way of three Sooty Grouse that showed well for us near Lundy Lake on our way back to Lee Vining. Our final day was spent traveling back across the Central Valley, this time crossing over the recently re-opened Sonora Pass, where we managed great views of Clark’s Nutcrackers, and then on to a rewarding American Dipper sighting just before the rains started up again, and finally a bunch of Lewis’s Woodpeckers along the eastern edge of the valley.

Thanks to all of you for making the tour such an easy and enjoyable one. I look forward to seeing you all again on future birding adventures and wish you all good health and great memories.


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)

Seen at scattered locations from the San Francisco Bay area to the Mono basin.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

A single bird was at Mono Lake seen from the county park.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)


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

SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)

One of two were near/in Pillar Point Harbor.

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)

RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

MOUNTAIN QUAIL (Oreortyx pictus)

Wow, this was such a great experience taking in the flock of birds were encountered near the Bear Valley Ski Area in the Sierra. This species can be challenging to find, owing in part to its preference for habitats with dense understories.

CALIFORNIA QUAIL (Callipepla californica)

Our best views came at the Bridgeport Reservoir this year.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo) [I]

Our only ones were north of Sonora on our way to the Calaveras Big Trees.

SOOTY GROUSE (Dendragapus fuliginosus)

Thanks to a tip from Tom Johnson we had great late afternoon looks at three of these near the Lundy Lakes beaver ponds. A widespread but elusive species.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis)

WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

CLARK'S GREBE (Aechmophorus clarkii)

A small number seen including near Coyote Point and near Half Moon Bay.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

BAND-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas fasciata)

Great views of this species at Coyote Point County Park and a few at the Purisima Creek Redwood Preserve and the Calaveras Big Trees.

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)

Rebecca spotted our one and only Greater Roadrunner at we were driving down Del Puerto Canyon!

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri)

A couple of these were visiting feeders at the El Mono Motel in Lee Vining.


RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus)

This species was also seen at the El Mono Motel.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)

AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)

Many thousands of these were present at the southern end of San Francisco Bay.

Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus bachmani)

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)

LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)

MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)

BLACK TURNSTONE (Arenaria melanocephala)

This rocky coastal species was seen at Coyote Point and on the breakwater at Pillar Point Harbor.

SURFBIRD (Calidris virgata)

We had a fortunate encounter with six of these on the pelagic trip hanging out on a breakwater.

SANDERLING (Calidris alba)

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

Good views of this and the next species on our pelagic trip.

RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)


Thankfully we connected with one at Coyote Point on our first day.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)

Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)

POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)

PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)

LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)

Just a single bird was seen on the pelagic trip.

Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)

COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)

This was the most common species of alcid seen on the pelagic trip as many breed nearby on the Farallon Islands.

MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)

Great looks at a couple of pairs of birds inshore near Half Moon Bay. This species breeds locally in tall conifers located in the mountains that separate the coast from the bay.

CASSIN'S AUKLET (Ptychoramphus aleuticus)

This species can be tough to see well as they are shy of boats. But we did eventually find a few that showed well for us.

RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)

TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)

It was a good showing of this species with at least three to four different birds seen.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)

HEERMANN'S GULL (Larus heermanni)

RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)

WESTERN GULL (Larus occidentalis)

CALIFORNIA GULL (Larus californicus)

CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)

FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)

ELEGANT TERN (Thalasseus elegans)

BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)

A flock of some 50 birds was at Charleston Slough at the south end of the bay.

Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

Our only one was on the pelagic trip.

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)

Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)

BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS (Phoebastria nigripes)

Oceanitidae (Southern Storm-Petrels)

WILSON'S STORM-PETREL (Oceanites oceanicus)

Not sure how many saw this one in the huge raft of storm-petrels, but it was in our photos.

Hydrobatidae (Northern Storm-Petrels)

ASHY STORM-PETREL (Hydrobates homochroa)

A small number were seen but outnumbered about 30:1 by Black Storm-Petrel on our pelagic.

BLACK STORM-PETREL (Hydrobates melania)

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

NORTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialis)

PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER (Ardenna creatopus)

BULLER'S SHEARWATER (Ardenna bulleri)

Only a single bird seen this time around.

SOOTY SHEARWATER (Ardenna grisea)

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

BRANDT'S CORMORANT (Urile penicillatus)

Fantastic views of this species alongside the Double-crested on the harbor breakwater.

PELAGIC CORMORANT (Urile pelagicus)

Best views were those hanging out at Coyote Point.

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)

GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)

Our only one was at Coyote Point Harbor.

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Similarly, there was one hiding out at Coyote Point.

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)

A couple of big flocks as we were crossing the central valley.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

Osprey numbers are increasing in San Mateo County and we saw two birds there. Another was at Mono Lake where they nest.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus)

GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)

A couple seen with one on Mines Road and another at the Bear Valley Ski Area.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

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

SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni)

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Strigidae (Owls)

GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus) [*]

One was calling outside the hotel in Half Moon Bay.

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus thyroideus)

RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus ruber)

We connected with a couple of these, one at Silver Creek on our alternate route over the Sierra, and another at Mono Lake County Park.

LEWIS'S WOODPECKER (Melanerpes lewis)

After a frustrating tease by a pair of high flying birds over Mines Road we had great looks at several on Rock River Road in the Central Valley.

ACORN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes formicivorus)

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER (Dryobates nuttallii)

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER (Dryobates albolarvatus)

After hearing several around us, Mark spotted our first in the tall conifers at Calaveras Big Trees. Whew!

NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

PRAIRIE FALCON (Falco mexicanus)

One made a couple of passes at the South Tufa at Mono Lake.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus sordidulus)

A couple of these were at Mono Lake County Park.

HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER (Empidonax hammondii)

PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER (Empidonax difficilis)

Some nice views of this species in coastal areas of San Mateo County.

BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

HUTTON'S VIREO (Vireo huttoni)

CASSIN'S VIREO (Vireo cassinii) [*]

WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

One seen along the coast was a rarity for San Mateo County.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

PINYON JAY (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)

Several flocks of this gregarious species seen south of Mono Lake and at Bridgeport Reservoir, though most seemed to be headed off somewhere else.

STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)

CALIFORNIA SCRUB-JAY (Aphelocoma californica)


YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica nuttalli) [E]

Great views along Mines Road and a few more in the Central Valley.

CLARK'S NUTCRACKER (Nucifraga columbiana)

After several quick flyovers, we had great views of this species at Sonora Pass feeding on pine cones.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli)


OAK TITMOUSE (Baeolophus inornatus)

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis)

A female plumaged bird at the South Tufa of Mono Lake was rare for the area.

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)

BUSHTIT (Psaltriparus minimus)

Sylviidae (Sylviid Warblers, Parrotbills, and Allies)

WRENTIT (Chamaea fasciata)

Regulidae (Kinglets)


Sittidae (Nuthatches)

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)

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

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

PYGMY NUTHATCH (Sitta pygmaea)

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus) [*]

CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus) [*]

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

PACIFIC WREN (PACIFICUS GROUP) (Troglodytes pacificus pacificus)

MARSH WREN (PALUDICOLA GROUP) (Cistothorus palustris paludicola)

BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)

Cinclidae (Dippers)

AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

CALIFORNIA THRASHER (Toxostoma redivivum)

Nice encounter with this long billed species along Mines Road.

SAGE THRASHER (Oreoscoptes montanus)

One seen in the good sagebrush habitat near the South Tufa area.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)

MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD (Sialia currucoides)

TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE (Myadestes townsendi)

First seen at the Bear Valley Ski Area and another was at Sonora Pass.

SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus) [*]

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum) [*]

Ptiliogonatidae (Silky-flycatchers)

PHAINOPEPLA (Phainopepla nitens)

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)

PURPLE FINCH (WESTERN) (Haemorhous purpureus californicus)

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)

LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH (Spinus lawrencei)

Good views of this species in Del Puerto Canyon at Adobe Springs.


Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)

BREWER'S SPARROW (Spizella breweri)

LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)

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

DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis)

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (ORIANTHA) (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha)

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

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

Most of the birds seen in San Mateo County were this local resident population.

SAGEBRUSH SPARROW (Artemisiospiza nevadensis)

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

VESPER SPARROW (Pooecetes gramineus)

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

CALIFORNIA TOWHEE (Melozone crissalis)

GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE (Pipilo chlorurus)

Our only one turned out to be one hanging out at the Bear Valley Ski Area.

SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus)

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

A few were present at the South Tufa area of Mono Lake.

WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius tricolor)

It took us a while but we eventually got decent scope views of several hanging out in a mixed blackbird flock along Highway 1.


BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER (Geothlypis tolmiei)

We managed to squeak out one at Mono Lake County Park on the final day of the tour.

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

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

BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)

We managed to see one at the Calaveras Big Trees.

TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)

Several sharp looking birds seen along the coast in San Mateo County.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana)

BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus melanocephalus)

Most had departed but one was still at Calaveras Big Trees.



BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)

LEAST CHIPMUNK (Tamias minimus)

MERRIAM'S CHIPMUNK (Tamias merriami)

LONG-EARED CHIPMUNK (Tamias quadrimaculatus)

YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT (Marmota flaviventris)

CALIFORNIA GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus beecheyi)


EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis) [I]


CHICKAREE (Tamiasciurus douglasii)

RISSO'S DOLPHIN (Grampus griseus)

Nice views of several of these distinctive grayish colored whales with tall dorsal fins.

HARBOR PORPOISE (Phocoena phocoena)

COMMON MINKE WHALE (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

One seen by some on the pelagic trip.

HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)

COYOTE (Canis latrans)

CALIFORNIA SEA LION (Zalophus californianus)

STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)

Good views of several perched on a buoy on the pelagic trip.

NORTHERN FUR SEAL (Callorhinus ursinus)

SOUTHERN FUR SEAL SP. (Arctocephalus townsendi)

HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)

MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus)

Totals for the tour: 204 bird taxa and 22 mammal taxa