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Bird Watching On The Mendocino Coast



 Black Turnstone

Black Turnstone at Glass Beach, Mendocino County, CA., Photo by Becky Bowen

The Mendocino Coast Audubon Society (MCAS) is dedicated to providing exciting learning opportunities for students, adults, and families who are interested in becoming more knowledgeable about the birds and conservation issues on California’s North coast. All education programs are free of charge for the participants due to the generous support of our Mendocino Coast Audubon Society members.

The Mendocino Coast Audubon Society since 1992 has an elementary education classroom program “Get Them While They Are Young!” which has been teaching basic bird biology and birding skills for 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students from Point Arena to Fort Bragg and inland to Anderson Valley, Comptche and Branscomb. The classes focus on the physical attributes of bird identification and the use of binoculars.


REGULAR MEMBERSHIP MEETINGS: These meetings are held the 3rd Monday of the month from September through June. Meetings are free and open to the public. Our calendar contains up-to-date information on date, time, and locations. 

CHAPTER BOARD MEETINGS: Board meetings are held on the 3rd Thursday every other month from August through May at 7:00 p.m. Members are welcome. Our calendar contains up-to-date information on date, time, and locations. Please call 707-962-0142 or email if you’ve more questions. 

FIELD TRIPS: Field trips are usually scheduled on the second Saturday of the month, September through June, to local birding hot spots. See our home page calendar for changes, additional trips, and bird walks. 

 MONTHLY BIRD WALKS: MCAS-led bird walks at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are scheduled year-round on the 1st Saturday and the 3rd Wednesday of each month. We go light-rain or shine. Please meet in the parking lot. While these walks are free, the Gardens will charge a guest fee for those who are not yet Gardens members. 


BALD HILL: This is private land bisected by a public road which ends at a driveway. Bird from the road only. Watch for raptors, especially Ferruginous Hawk; search any Canada Goose flock for other species. Tricolored Blackbirds sometimes are abundant in fall/winter.

MENDOCINO COAST BOTANICAL GARDENS: The Mendocino Coast Audubon Society holds two monthly birdwalks at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. The walk on the first Saturday of every month meets at 9AM and is geared toward novice birders. The second, which is held on the third Wednesday of the month, meets at 8AM (April through October) or 8:30AM (November through March).

MACKERRICHER BEACH STATE PARK: Continue past the ranger kiosk for about 400 feet and turn left (west) onto Mill Creek Road. Drive about 0.5 mile to the paved parking area for the 30-acre Lake Cleone. Restrooms are located here. The lake is good for wintering ducks; Osprey and Wood Duck have bred here. The 1.1-mile trail surrounding the lake may offer sightings of Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker, Black Phoebe, Hutton’s Vireo, Steller’s Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Marsh and Winter Wrens, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Wrentit, Spotted Towhee, and Purple Finch. In addition, Red Crossbill and Northern Pygmy-Owl have been seen along this trail, which is good for migrants (such as Hermit Warbler). The trail starts at the north end of the parking area.

The Laguna Point parking area is located 0.3 miles west of the Lake Cleone parking area, where a 0.3-mile boardwalk includes several viewing platforms of the rocky shoreline. Reliable sightings in Fall and Winter areRock Sandpipers, Surfbirds, Black Oystercatcher, plus Black and Ruddy Turnstones. Scoping the near ocean for alcids can be done along this walk. Rizzo’s dolphins are occasionally seen here, and harbor seals frequently bask on the offshore rocks. Exit by using Mill Creek Road back to Highway 1 and then turn left (north).

At MM 65.16, turn left (west) onto Ward Avenue and drive 0.8 miles to an unpaved parking area. This is a good location to scope the ocean. In Fall, Winter, and Spring, you may see scoters (including Black Scoters), Red-necked Grebes, and occasionally alcids. For the energetic, hiking the paved trail (called the “haul road” from the logging days) to the north for 3.75 miles takes you along the beach to Ten Mile River. This area, known as Ten Mile Beach, has Snowy Plovers and other shorebirds. Hiking along this isolated stretch of beach takes one through the Inglenook Fen Ten Mile Dune Preserve, an unusual sand dune community that contains terrestrial, wetland, and freshwater ecosystems. At its widest point, the dunes extend 0.75 mile from the beach to Highway 1 (no access). Return to Highway 1 on Ward Avenue, and turn left (north).

At Ward Avenue and Highway 1, drive north about 4.3 miles to the Ten Mile River Bridge. This bridge is being replaced by the state of California with a completion date in 2011. A small, unpaved parking area is located immediately south of the bridge on the west side of the highway. From here, you can hike to Ten Mile Beach, as described in the previous paragraph. Depending on the construction activity, the willows east of the bridge and south of the river can be good for migrants. Check the river for Common Merganser, Long-tailed Duck (in winter), shore birds and Osprey. Purple Martins have nested under the old bridge along with Cliff Swallows.

ROSE MEMORIAL CEMETERY: Once you enter the cemetery, head north toward the large banksia trees and park. These trees are wonderful winter forage for any number of warblers and tannagers. The pines along the rail road tracks frequently have Pygmy Nuthatches. If you walk along the tracks, Wrentits, various jays, finches, and hummingbirds flit about in the shrubs. There are Rails, Sora, and Marsh Wrens in the marsh along Pudding Creek.

TEN MILE RIVER TO HARDY CREEK: There are many grassy pastures along the route, beginning at MM 70.32. Look for Ferruginous, Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks, White-tailed Kites, and other raptors during migration and winter. The occasional Peregrine Falcon or Merlin can be spotted flying over the immediate coastline. There is coastal access at Seaside Beach at MM 70.70, but bird species are limited. However, Ospreys, Black Oystercatchers, Whimbrels, and migrating Wandering Tattlers can be found. In summer, scope the sea stacks from MMs 71.54 to 71.90 to view nesting Western Gulls and their chicks. Common Murres, Pigeon Guillemots, Brandt’s and Pelagic cormorants roost on large rocks from here north to Hardy Creek.

Just north of town, on the east side of Hwy 1, is the Westport wastewater treatment and recycling facility at MM 77.71. There is a viewing platform of the ponds that in the fall and winter hold various species of ducks, geese, shorebirds and a few warblers. Greater White-fronted Geese, Aleutian Cackling Geese, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Pectoral Sandpipers, Palm Warblers and an American Redstart have been found here. The facility is open Thursday and Friday, 10:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. and Saturday, 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. 

At the southwest side of Juan Creek bridge, MM 83.00, is a large turnout. This is one of the most reliable locations to scope the waters for Marbled Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, Red-throated and other loons, and murres. Purple Martins have nested in small numbers under the bridge. If one drives or walks just a short distance down the old highway to the southwest of the bridge, there is good habitat for warblers, vireos and flycatchers. Do not venture past the locked gate, as the forested canyon to the east is private property. Continuing north across the Juan Creek bridge, at MM 83.50, is a turnout high above the mouth of Hardy Creek, the last stop for this section. This cove harbors the same, offshore species as Juan Creek, as well as Ospreys. The large rock nearest the south end of the pullout has had nesting Black Oystercatchersvisible with binoculars or spotting scopes.


Black Oystercatchers

Black Oystercatchers at Little River, Mendocino County, CA., Photo by Bill Delameter

THE BLACK OYSTER CATCHER CONSERVATION PROJECT: One of four year-round shorebirds along the rocky intertidal coast of California, the Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani spends its entire life cycle along the rocky intertidal zone where it feeds on mollusks. It can be seen alone, in pairs, or in large groups. However, during the breeding season, monogamous pairs ravenously defend nesting territory above the high tide line along the mainland and sea stacks. Oystercatchers are associated with healthy, productive marine intertidal habitat, which prescribes them as an indicator species of intertidal marine health. The Oystercatcher is considered vulnerable to decline due to small global population size (10,000-12,000), low reproductive success and complete dependence on rocky intertidal shorelines. The long term goal of the Black Oystercatcher Conservation Project is to apply gainful knowledge to current conservation efforts that will preclude the need for an Environmental Species Act listing. It was listed in 2009 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as a “species of focal concern”.

BIG RIVER BREEDING BIRD SURVEY is the most adventurous and demanding of all our surveys. Participants meet at Big River before six and survey three different territories within the state park unit. There are ten stations on each route where surveyors record the birds that are seen and/or heard during a ten-minute period. Each session typically lasts until about 9:30. The variety of habitats and of birds is greater than the other surveys. The preserve is divided into three territories that run from the headlands to the old highway and back. This is a great project for those who like to hike. This count, which started in the spring of 2005, is currently conducted during the spring of of even-numbered years (2012, 2014) and during the fall of odd-numbered years (2013). Free training for this fall’s survey will be offered in September. Birders of any level of experience are invited to participate. Teams are typically made up of an experienced leader, a spotter of intermediate skill, and a note taker or time keeper with any level of experience. The fun is in the searching and the learning.

 Pelagic Cormorants

Pelagic Cormorants at Little River Headlands, Mendocino County, CA

CORMORANT MONITORING: In 2013, volunteers from Mendocino Coast Audubon Society are conducting the third year of monitoring cormorant colonies in central coastal Mendocino County. This year approximately a dozen Pelagic Cormorant colonies are being monitored as are the Brandt’s Cormorants on the islands off the Mendocino Headlands and at Kibesillah Rock south of Westport. This basic monitoring, performed primarily by local volunteers and the use of high resolution photography, has provided valuable data on the reproductive success of these cormorants that further aids in our understanding of ocean conditions as it relates to seabird nesting in Northern California. We are planning to collaborate with other groups doing surveys in Sonoma County, Del Norte County, Southern California and Oregon to assess the long-term status of the Pelagic Cormorants.

 POINT CABRILLO BREEDING BIRD SURVEY: This count, which originated in 1995, is the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society’s longest running breeding bird survey. The data gathered during that period show the gradual changes in nesting distribution that result from the spread of willow stands, the maturation of young pines, and the removal of non-native species by State Parks staff. During each odd-numbered year, volunteers conduct three surveys during May and early June. The preserve is divided into three territories that run from the headlands to the old highway and back. This is a great project for those who like to hike. The surveys start at 6:00 in the morning and end by 8:30. Volunteers with any level of experience are welcome to join our experienced team leaders in this group effort. Our next survey will be conducted in May of 2015.

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