Trip reference number: California

Trip Operator: Speyside Wildlife

Wildlife Watching in California

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A four centre hotel-based tour of the Monterey and Point Reyes coasts, plus Yosemite National Park. Hawk, shorebird and whale migration, plus rare forest and desert birds. Includes minibus transport and two whalewatching boat trips.

Our first full day features local birding at coastal estuaries where shorebird passage is well underway. Many species are on show at sites like Moss Landing and Moonglow Dairy – White and Brown Pelicans are the largest birds here, dwarfing the assorted godwits, yellowlegs, sandpipers and plovers. Alongside are Elegant Terns, Long-billed Curlew, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet. As well as wader and waterbirds, there is a brilliant variety of raptors and landbirds here and we may see over a hundred species on our first day!In September Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has fantastic numbers of whales, dolphins and birds, and we’ve two boat trips lined up: our first half-day whalewatch may include Humpback Whale, Orca, Dall’s and Risso’s Dolphins, or even mighty Blue Whales. Our second day-long voyage will concentrate on the huge variety of seabirds in the area – these include Red Phalarope, Pomarine Jaeger, South Polar Skua, Cassin’s and Rhinoceros Auklets, Ashy, Black and Fork-tailed Storm Petrels to name a few. Amongst the thousands of Sooty Shearwaters we shall look for Buller’s and Pink-footed Shearwater, and with luck a Black-footed Albatross may come sailing across our wake. Local birder Debi Shearwater, has pioneered pelagic birding tours from Monterey and with over 25 years experience, she’ll make sure we won’t miss a thing!Dramatic California Condors are now back and soaring over Pinnacles National Monument. We’ll look for these, the largest bird in North America, in this inspiring landscape of volcanic spires and chaparral. Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Canyon Wren and Phainopepla are present as well and west coast specialties include Yellow-billed Magpie, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Wrentit, California Thrasher and Lawrence’s Goldfinch.Birding the beautiful Big Sur coastline south of Monterey, we’ll look for species found along the rocky shores like Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, Surfbird and Wandering Tattler. Stars of the show are sure to be the delightful California Sea Otters that frequent the tangle of kelp beds in the coves and bays.

We visit Yosemite National Park after the Labor Day crowds and we’ve two full days to enjoy this stunning landscape. We’ll search for Red-breasted and Williamson’s Sapsucker, Black-backed, White-headed and Acorn Woodpeckers, amongst many others. We may even encounter Coyote, Black Bear or Great Gray Owl, but perhaps the natural landscape will be the highlight – the giant Sequoia trees have to be seen to be believed and then there are the spectacular waterfalls and the mighty granite peaks of Half Dome and El Capitan.

Birds of the high mountains may include Mountain Chickadee, Blue Grouse, Townsend Solitaire, Clark’s Nutcracker and Steller’s Jay, before we arrive at Lee Vining, next to Mono Lake, for the next three nights.Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes on the North American Continent. It is an ancient soda lake and Mark Twain called it ‘the Dead Sea of California’. In reality, it houses one of the richest ecosystems on the earth and holds large concentrations of Eared Grebes and migrant phalaropes. The eastern scarp of the Sierra Nevada rises dramatically and we explore a starkly different habitat of sagebrush, Jeffrey and Pinyon Pine. Many birds are found here including Pinyon Jay, Sage Thrasher, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Green-tailed Towhee and Mountain Bluebird. At Bridgeport Lake there are huge numbers of wildfowl that may attract Bald Eagles as well as Prairie Falcons and we’re sure to visit the historic deserted town of Bodie – the miners and townfolk have long gone, but the Sage Grouse remain!

Birding is rich at Point Reyes National Seashore, with over 450 species recorded at this migration hotspot. We shall sample the estuaries, windswept beaches, coastal grasslands and thickets that have made this a world-renowned preserve. There is a large staging of Western and Least Sandpipers and coastal scrub should hold Chestnut-backed Chickadees, California Quail, California Towhee and migrant passerines like Hutton’s Vireos, Hermit and Townsend Warblers.Our last full day will be at the Marin Peninsula, north of San Francisco, and the aptly named Hawk Hill. Raptor migration is at a peak and, given favourable weather conditions, large numbers of accipiters, buteos, harriers and falcons pass south over Golden Gate Park. Amongst the Merlins, Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks we may encounter Swainson’s or Ferruginous Hawk. If the winds are wrong, we’ll still have the view over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco!

This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website

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Speyside Wildlife