Many of Santa Cruz County’s birding locales are not widely known. Some have been mentioned in various bird-finding publications, or have become famous for a time by virtue of a visiting rare bird, but this is the first comprehensive guide prepared by local birders. We describe most of the county’s better birding sites, including 83 areas ranging in size from a few acres to over 20,000 acres. These have relatively easy, public access, and provide a cross section of local birds and habitats. Of course there are other nooks and crannies not covered; adventurous birders will discover these for themselves. A number of sites described here have received only limited attention from birders; even active local birders will read about areas that are new to them. All too often we birders visit the same handful of locations time and again, while other interesting ones are left under-birded. For example, only about one third of our 83 sites have received regular coverage recently from multiple birders. We hope this guide will help to broaden birding coverage in the county.
We group birding sites into five regions: the Mid-County Coast, the North Coast, the Mountains, the Pajaro Valley, and Monterey Bay. Each region is covered by a series of detailed descriptions, followed by more abbreviated accounts of “other sites” that include small but still interesting areas, selected additional “birdy roads,” places with limited access, or simply places that have not yet been birded much.
Each detailed site description has introductory information, directions to get you to there, and advice on the birding. Local specialties, uncommon species, and others of special interest are mentioned, but some of the more common and representative “usual suspects” are also included to help characterize the bird life at each place. A section on where to find county “specialties” (Appendix A) will help birders in their search for certain target species.
There are a few things that will make this guide work better for you. One is a good county road map. We recommend the AAA maps published by the California State Automobile Association. Their “Santa Cruz – Capitola” map covers all of Mid-County Coast region, as well as the San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley. The “Monterey Bay” map covers the entire county at a smaller scale and shows nearly all the county roads mentioned in this guide. Getting your compass bearings will help, too: remember that the mid-county coast faces south, not west. Distances along roads are given as odometer readings from specified starting points. Remember that mileages on your odometer may vary slightly from the odometers we used to prepare these accounts.
The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book, by Tom Taber (9th ed., 2002, The Oak Valley Press, San Mateo, CA), is an excellent compendium of park trail maps and other access information. Detailed maps of trails and other access points in the state parks are available at most parks and local outdoor sports shops and are highly recommended for birders visiting those areas. In addition, most parks post trail maps near their headquarters and at main trailheads.
Birders planning to camp at a state park or state beach should make reservations well in advance, especially from May through September and for weekends throughout the year. Santa Cruz County’s coastline is a popular destination for many tourists and visitors. Birding at many coastal areas is often most rewarding during the first part of the morning, when other visitors are few. Please use discretion when birding near private residences, so future birders will also be welcome.
We trust that common sense will be used while visiting the sites described here. Thus we have not mentioned many basic issues related to birding safely and personal safety in the field. Site-specific recommendations are made for some sites, but it goes without saying that one should carry water while hiking, avoid poison oak, check for ticks, and stow valuables out of view in cars.
The Santa Cruz Bird Club has been a central feature of the county’s birding community since 1956. All are welcome to join, and members and non-members alike are welcome to come on the Bird Club’s field trips and to attend informative programs at its regular meetings. Members receive the excellent newsletter, The Albatross. Membership and activities information is available on the Bird Club website at www.santacruzbirdclub.org, which also provides many other resources about local birds and birding, and it is frequently updated.
The local birding list server Monterey Bay Birds (MBB) offers an excellent way to keep tabs on recent sightings. Instructions to join the list are here: http://www.santacruzbirdclub.org/listserv.html. Please report rare birds or other interesting observations to MBB or to David Suddjian, county bird records keeper, at: email@example.com, or 801 Monterey Ave., Capitola, CA 95010.
A current annotated bird list for Santa Cruz County is here: http://www.santacruzbirdclub.org/chlists.html. Don Roberson’s Monterey Birds (2nd ed., 2002, Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society), about neighboring Monterey County has a wealth of information that will help birders in Santa Cruz County, too. Sales information is found here: http://montereybay.com/creagrus/MtyBirds2d.html
We heartily encourage birders to adhere to the American Birding Association’s Code of Birding Ethics. Avoid undue disturbance of birds and habitat, especially during the nesting season. Nesting Snowy Plovers are especially vulnerable in this county, and birders should strictly observe all beach closures or other limitations of access that are intended to protect them. Please make only judicious and conservative use of recorded calls on tapes or CDs to attract territorial birds, especially owls.
Correspondence about this guide and about birding in the county is welcome. Contact David Suddjian (firstname.lastname@example.org).