Tours: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, Wyoming, Birding Ecotours (Worldwide)
2023 California – Complete California
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Challenging
Group Size Medium Group
California conjures up visions of sun-drenched landscapes, scenic mountain vistas, the blue Pacific, and expansive deserts. The birds are no less spectacular, with everything from Black-footed Albatross to Lawrence’s Goldfinch. We’ll start in the San Francisco Bay area and journey to Bodega Bay for a day of shorebirds and migrants. Some of the specialties of this rich area include Surfbird, Black Turnstone, Wandering Tattler, and Black Oystercatcher.
Our songbird searches may yield views of Townsend’s Warbler, California Towhee, Wrentit, and Cassin’s Vireo. Next on our route are the Sierras to look for Swainson’s Hawk, Acorn Woodpecker, and the endemic Yellow-billed Magpie. Sooty Grouse, Mountain Quail, Great Gray Owl, Black-backed and White-headed Woodpeckers, Williamson’s and Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Pine Grosbeak, and Hermit Warbler are just a few of the species that we will seek in Yosemite National Park.
The Mono Lake region may yield Greater Sage-Grouse, Sage Thrasher, Gray Flycatcher, American Dipper, Pinyon Jay, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Mountain Bluebird. We will look for Greater Roadrunner, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, and California Thrasher in the arid lands near Monterey. Our next adventures will be TWO pelagic trips. First is a trip into world-famous Monterey Bay that is bisected by a huge submarine canyon twice the size of the Grand Canyon. We will cruise the bay and the adjacent offshore waters in search of shearwaters, Ashy and Black Storm-Petrels, and Humpback Whales. We will hope for a rarity such as Tufted Puffin or Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, then scan the coastline for Marbled Murrelet.
Our next trip takes us further offshore to the Albacore Grounds. Some of the many species that we will search for are Scripps’s Murrelet, Sabine’s Gull, Arctic Tern, Blue Whale, and Bairds’ Beaked Whale, plus Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed Jaegers. We may also see Black-vented Shearwater, South Polar Skua, Northern Fur Seal, and the intriguing Ocean Sunfish. Our continued journey south will put us in California Condor country, and we will spend time looking for this spectacular species brought back from the brink of extinction. Our targets near Los Angeles will be California Gnatcatcher, Allen’s Hummingbird, and Black-vented Shearwater.
We’ll take a boat trip to Santa Cruz Island for the endemic Island Scrub-Jay and the Santa Cruz Island races of Bewick’s Wren, Allen’s Hummingbird, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Turning our sights inland, we’ll search the deserts for LeConte’s Thrasher and other residents. The tour begins in San Jose and concludes in Los Angeles.
We will take a maximum of seven participants. On rare occasion we may extend the maximum to ten participants.
See the separate itinerary for full details about the Salton Sea Extension.
Duration: 14 days
Group Size Limit: 4 – 8
Date: 07 September – 20 September 2023
Start: San Jose, CA
End: Los Angeles, CA
US$6631 per person sharing assuming 4 – 8 participants
Single supplement: US$1015
We can run the same trip at a price similar to the larger group price for 2 tour participants, if they rent their own vehicle and pay for fuel – please e-mail [email protected] for details.
- Guiding fees
- Entrance fees
- All transport while on tour
- Domestic and International flights
- Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts
- Alcoholic drinks
- Personal insurance
- Laundry Service
The tour begins in San Jose, California, where we plan to arrive by about noon. We’ll spend the day birding in and around Bodega Bay and Point Reyes. A wide variety of passerines and shorebirds is possible, but is heavily dependent upon the weather. Overcast and foggy skies can produce large passerine fallouts at Point Reyes.
Other species to look for include Tricolored Blackbird and American and Pacific Golden-Plovers. Additional shorebird possibilities include Baird’s, Western, Least, Semipalmated, Stilt, and Pectoral Sandpipers, and hopefully something Asian, such as a Ruff!
Marin Headlands Hawk Watch
We will spend the morning around Bodega Bay and then head southward, with perhaps a stop at the Marin Headlands Hawk Watch. Here we may see a variety of raptors including Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Red-tailed, and Red-shouldered Hawks, White-tailed Kite, Prairie and Peregrine Falcons, and hopefully a Golden Eagle.
Central Valley, Sierra foothills, and Yosemite National Park
This will be a travel day. We will start by heading toward the Central Valley to look for Swainson’s Hawk and Yellow-billed Magpie, which is a California endemic. Western Bluebird and the comical Acorn Woodpecker are a couple of likely candidates in the Sierra foothills. Late afternoon and evening birding will be near the entrance to Yosemite National Park for owls and montane species such as Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-headed Woodpecker, and possibly American Dipper. We’ll do a dusk search for Great Gray Owl.
Yosemite National Park
The entire day will be spent birding in Yosemite looking for species including Sooty Grouse, Northern Goshawk, Mountain Quail, Black-backed, White-headed, Pileated, and Hairy Woodpeckers, Williamson’s and Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Hermit, Nashville, and MacGillivray’s Warblers, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, and Cassin’s Finch. It may be difficult to keep our eyes on the birds, as the scenery is truly spectacular.
Evening birding will be at Mono County Park looking for Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sora, Virginia Rail, Eared Grebe, and Red-necked Phalarope.
Overnight: Lee Vining
Birding the Sierras
Our day will be spent in the sage and woodlands east of the Sierras. We will start early with a visit to Crowley Lake for Greater Sage-Grouse, Prairie Falcon, Sage Thrasher, Bell’s Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow, and Gray Flycatcher. A special visit will be made to Aspendell to look for Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.
Birding in the woodlands and other areas around Lee Vining can produce Lewis’s Woodpecker, the beautiful Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds, Green-tailed Towhee, and Pygmy Nuthatch. We’ll go out in the evening to search for owls and Common Poorwill.
Overnight: Lee Vining
Yosemite to Monterey Bay
Morning birding in Yosemite will be for any species that we may have missed yesterday. Then we head westward toward Monterey Bay, with a stop en route to look for Spotted Dove and any rarities that may be on the hotline.
Ano Nuevo and Monterey Bay
We will start on the coast north of Santa Cruz with a visit to Ano Nuevo to look for Black Swifts that nest in shoreline caves. We then turn our attention to searching for passerines that may include a variety of warblers such as Wilson’s, MacGillivray’s, Townsend’s, and possibly Hermit.
We’ll return to the habitat that fringes Monterey Bay to look for Snowy Plover, Baird’s Sandpiper, and rock-loving shorebirds including Black Oystercatcher, Surfbird, Wandering Tattler, and Black Turnstone. Additional opportunities include migrating flocks that may contain Violet-green Swallow and Vaux’s (pronounced VOX’ iz) Swift.
Monterey Bay Pelagic
The first of our two scheduled pelagic trips will take us into world-famous Monterey Bay. Monterey Bay is bisected by a huge submarine canyon twice the size of the Grand Canyon. This geography allows for rich and diverse wildlife to be viewed within a short distance of land. Potential species include Pink-footed, Buller’s, Sooty, and Black-vented Shearwaters, Black and Ashy Storm-Petrels, all three jaegers, South Polar Skua, Arctic Tern, Cassin’s and Rhinoceros Auklets, and Marbled and Scripps’s Murrelets.
We will hope for a rarity such as Tufted Puffin, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Streaked, Wedge-tailed, and Manx Shearwaters, Laysan Albatross, or a tropicbird. Blue and Humpback Whales are a distinct possibility, as are four additional species of cetaceans.
For the full species list of this and the next day’s pelagic trip, click on the following: www.shearwaterjourneys.com.
We’ll do some evening birding on shore looking for species not seen on the previous day.
Albacore Grounds Pelagic
Today we will again join Shearwater Journeys for our second pelagic trip, this time to the Albacore Grounds. This trip typically goes further offshore than yesterday’s Monterey Bay trip, giving us chances for additional species. The albacore trip is a specialty trip, being 12 hours long, as compared to yesterday’s 7.5-hour trip.
Here are some highlights from a previous mid-September trip: “Monterey seabirds and marine mammals delighted and thrilled folks on the Shearwater Journeys’ offshore albacore trip. Some of the more exciting birds of the day include Brown Booby, Manx Shearwater, Scripps’s Murrelets, Sabine’s Gulls, Arctic Terns, Blue Whales, and Bairds’ Beaked Whales, with Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed Jaegers putting on an amazing show to the delight of all! A few more highlights were Black-vented Shearwater, South Polar Skua, Cassin’s Auklet, Northern Fur Seal, Humpback Whale, and the spectacular Ocean Sunfish”.
More Birding around Monterey Bay
We will bird the Watsonville area on the edge of Monterey Bay with our sights set on some of the common birds of this area, including Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-necked Stilt, and American Avocet. A stop in the oak woodland could yield California Quail, Wrentit, Anna’s Hummingbird, California Towhee, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Hutton’s and Cassin’s Vireos, and Chestnut-backed Chickadee.
Searching for Condors
Today we journey southward along Highway 1 in search of California Condors that inhabit the area. We will spend ample time searching the sky for this spectacular species brought back from the brink of extinction, although we are not guaranteed of seeing them. Our afternoon drive will take us to Ventura, with additional birding stops for migrants en route.
Boat to Santa Cruz Island
Departure for a full-day trip to Santa Cruz Island for the California endemic Island Scrub-Jay and the Santa Cruz Island races of Bewick’s Wren and Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Royal Tern and Black-vented Shearwater are possible on the boat trip to the island, as are Blue and Humpback Whales.
San Joaquin County and the Los Angeles Basin
We will head east to southern San Joaquin County in search of LeConte’s Thrasher. Dependent upon our previous sightings during the tour, we may also bird Mount Pinos in search of Calliope Hummingbird, Mountain Quail, and Black-chinned Sparrow. If this is not necessary, we will continue to the Los Angeles Basin where we will look for Spotted Dove, Allen’s Hummingbird and, time permitting, California Gnatcatcher.
Overnight: Long Beach or Redondo Beach
For those participating in just the Complete California Tour, we’ll arrive in Los Angeles for departing flights from Los Angeles International Airport, where the tour ends. Or, you can continue on with the Salton Sea Extension for some additional exceptional birding.
COMPLETE CALIFORNIA TOUR
7-20 September 2012
Top 10 lists are voted upon by the participants at the completion of each tour.
1 – Northern Pygmy-Owl – this bird was seen well at Mount Pinos, for a nice long period of time. Good looks at owls are hard to beat.
2 – Laysan Albatross – a single bird was observed numerous times during the second pelagic trip into Monterey Bay, along with several Black-footed Albatrosses.
3 – Island Scrub-Jay – a California endemic, found only on Santa Cruz Island. Several were seen.
4 – Spotted Owl – an after dinner owling trip produced a pair in Los Padres National Forest. One of the owls was seen exceedingly well.
5 – Yellow-billed Magpie – another California endemic. “We watched two Yellow-billed Magpies harass an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk and chase it off. After a couple of minutes the hawk returned and made several attempts to kill one of the magpies.” What a show!
6 – Mountain Quail – this elusive species was seen and heard several times on the tour. They were seen very well at Los Padres National Forest, picking grit from the roadside.
7 – California Condor – Big Sur yielded SEVEN Condors, soaring along scenic cliffs that overlook the Pacific.
8 – LeConte’s Thrasher – great looks at a species that is often difficult to find, especially outside of its breeding season.
9 – Ridgeway’s Rail – an adult with two young was observed at the Palo Alto Wetlands.
10 – Great Gray Owl – one was found in Yosemite National Park after searching several locations. This is always an exciting bird to see.
Will we do any birding the first day?
Yes! We have birding planned if time allows and everything is on schedule.
How should I dress for the tour?
Check the weather for the destination as close to your departure date as possible, and dress accordingly for your comfort level. You can also review our What to Bring page for more information.
Besides clothes, what do I need to bring?
There are many items the will be useful to you while on a Bird Treks tour. We have put together our list of recommendations on the What to Bring page.
What language are tours conducted in?
Our tours are all conducted in English, but we do have some experience working with client that don’t speak English well – Some English would be needed for safety reasons. In locations where another language is predominately spoken, a native guide may accompany the tour.
Can you help me book flights?
Yes, we will always try our best to help with anything at all! We’re here to serve you. However, it is usually easier if you book your flight through your own travel agent as we can’t always get the best deals from your particular country. But we will help whenever needed!
Can you book accommodation for us the night before the tour starts or the night the tour ends?
While Day 1 is usually a travel (arrival) day, and the last day of the tour is usually also a travel day (departure), many people do like to arrive early and/or leave late. We can indeed book extra nights before and after the trip, and we in fact recommend you let us book them, as it avoids confusion and allows us to book the accommodation that is most convenient for the tour.
NOTE: Most often it is the same hotel or lodge that you use on the first night of the tour, but in some instances, it could be an airport hotel or an accommodation establishment where the guide is staying.
Do you provide trip insurance?
No, we do not. We find that it is better for trip participants to purchase their own medical, trip cancellation, and baggage insurance through their own insurance provider in the country they reside in. We expect all tour participants to have comprehensive insurance, and we encourage everyone to send us a copy of their insurance documents.
Are meals included?
For most tours, meals are included in the tour price. This may include a hotel-provided breakfast, or guide-provided box lunches. For dinners, we strive to find interesting and delicious local restaurants – this allows us to give back to the local economy, and find exciting new place to eat.
Will I get seasick on the boat?
Most people will not get sick, although you should take precautions if you are prone to motion sickness, as the weather can dictate how rough the ride will be. There are various remedies sold at local pharmacies which can help relieve motion sickness and will make your trip more enjoyable.
Can I take the Extension Tour without doing the main tour?
You may participate in the 5-day extension with the regular 15-day tour or take either tour separately. Simply tell us your preference: 5 days, 15 days, or the full 19 days.