California – Day 2 (July 27): Portola Redwoods and Half Moon Bay

After a restful night’s sleep, we headed into the coastal redwood forests for our first real taste of California landbirding. On our way up to our first location, we stopped at a random pullout along the road, to see if we could nab some common species before even reaching our first spot.

Upon stepping out of the car, Common Ravens and Steller’s Jays made themselves apparent, with several calling individuals of each species. A little pishing brought in a couple of Hutton’s Vireos (including one carrying food), and several Chestnut-backed Chickadees, my first life bird of the day and definitely a very cool species to see.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Before leaving we noted a calling Hairy Woodpecker and Red-shouldered Hawk. An Olive-sided Flycatcher flew by, just as one was sounding off on a distance ridge.

Soon after, we reached our first ‘real’ location of the day, Portola Redwoods State Park. I had planned to visit this spot a couple of days later for Marbled Murrelet, but with not much going on, had decided to come on this day too, just to get a feel for the location.

We decided to walk the Sequoia Trail for Vaux’s Swift, a species that had recently been reported at this location. No sign of the Vaux’s anywhere, but we did encounter upwards of fifteen species on this short hike, including Wilson’s Warbler, ‘Oregon’ Dark-eyed Juncos, Pileated Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, more Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and my life Pacific Wren.

Pacific Wren

We then checked out the bridge we would be using as a vantage point for watching and listening for murrelets, just to get a feel for the spot when we came back in the dark. We would never return to this location, and you’ll find out why in the next day’s post, but the birds and the beauty of the park made our visit well worth it.

An Acorn Woodpecker was calling from that area as well.

On our way out, we opted to bird the park entry road to see if we could conjure up a few more targets. We quickly nailed California Towhee in a shrubby area that borders the forest, and got great looks as a pair foraged in the vicinity.

We then came to an open area of dense shrubs and grass and it didn’t take long until I heard the distinctive trill of a Wrentit. With a little patience I was able to obtain nice views of this very cool species, as a pair foraged in the shrubs along the road.


Also in this area were a few Lesser Goldfinches, Western Scrub- and Steller’s Jays. Black Phoebe, a calling ‘Red-shafted’ Northern Flicker, and a Red-tailed Hawk were likewise present.

Red-tailed Hawk

As we were leaving a group of three adult Band-tailed Pigeons flew over, accompanied by a single juvie. The young bird sat on a nearby wire for a while before moving on. We later saw what was (presumably) the same group further down the road.

Band-tailed Pigeon

Just before the turnoff for the coast, we made one more stop along the entry road, enjoying more Wrentit song as well as our first Anna’s Hummingbirds and Spotted Towhees of the trip.

We then made our way back to Half Moon Bay, grabbing a quick bite to eat at Sam’s Chowder House (highly recommend it!) along the water. While eating we noticed a couple of Pine Siskins, as well as a number of Brewer’s Blackbirds, Heermann’s Gulls, and my first two Elegant Terns of the trip.

After lunch we headed over to the Johnston Pier, the point of departure for our pelagic the next day. Here we noted our first Snowy Egret, Red-throated Loon and Willets of the trip, as well as many of the common coastal species seen the day before. Upwards of 140 Elegant Terns were present on the nearby breakwater.

Pelagic Cormorant

Western Gull

Up until this point, I had failed to find any rockpipers in the harbor area, which were my main targets. That all changed upon arriving at the next stop as we circumnavigated the harbor. Here I was able to pick out 24 Black Turnstones and 8 Surfbirds on the outer breakwater of the harbor. Tattler remained elusive, but I’m sure one must’ve been moving about in the same area, just too well-camouflaged to notice at distance.

Other highlights in the harbor area included 8 flyby Marbled Godwits, a Surf Scoter, and more great looks at Elegant Tern and Heermann’s Gull.

Heermann’s Gull (a very neat species!)

One-footed Western Gull

We ended up turning in pretty early, in anticipation of the next day’s pelagic.


This entry was posted in California - July/August 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to California – Day 2 (July 27): Portola Redwoods and Half Moon Bay

  1. Helen says:

    Awesome pics, Alex! I am so jealous of all you are seeing. So happy for you! –Helen

  2. Charlie says:

    Very nice photos and thanks for taking the time to put this together. I am learning a lot from it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s