There are two approaches to this large, permanent lake north of Watsonville. Smaller Pinto Lake City Park is at the south end, and larger Pinto Lake County Park is at the north end. The county park has trails along the lake shore and through coast live oak, willow, and eucalyptus trees, and a small boardwalk provides views of the lake and wetlands. The city park has an expansive view of the lake. There are picnic tables and restrooms at both parks, and a public boat launch at the city park. The county park boasts the most variety, but the city keeps producing good birds, too, especially from late fall through winter.
Directions. Take the Airport Blvd exit off Hwy 1 and drive east 2.0 miles to Green Valley Rd. Turn left on Green Valley; after 0.5 mile watch for the city park on the left (a small fee is possible on some weekends). The county park entrance (no fee) is 1.1 miles beyond the city park, also on the left side of Green Valley Rd.
Birds. The upland and aquatic habitats support an impressive array of birds. Various ducks appear in winter. Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, and Great Egret nest in a rookery in the tall eucalyptus trees south of the county parkís little boardwalk trail, and American Bittern nests in the marsh. At any season a thorough search will turn up six species of herons and allies. Sora and nesting Virginia Rail and Common Moorhen frequent the county parkís wetlands, along with Pied-billed Grebe, Marsh Wren, and Common Yellowthroat. In the fall of dry years the lake level may drop to expose mud margins in the county park that are attractive to migrating shorebirds.
Red-throated and Common loons sometimes occur on the lake during winter, and so may any of the county's grebes (but Red-necked is occasional, and Horned is rare). American White Pelican (best seen from the city park) appear any time, most regularly in fall and winter. Osprey, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon are frequently observed. Check for visiting geese, including Rossís and Snow, at the city park. Five species of swallows fly about in spring and early summer, and Tree and Violet-green also occur in winter. The city park provides a good study of wintering Ring-billed, Mew and Herring gulls.
The county parkís upland habitats attract diverse land birds: Red-shouldered Hawk, Allenís Hummingbird, Acorn, Downy, and Nuttall's woodpeckers, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Hutton's Vireo, Townsend's Warbler, California Thrasher (sometimes easy to view along the edge of the big lawn), Wrentit, Purple Finch, and assorted sparrows. Careful searching may reveal fall and winter vagrants.