California has a great climate and plenty of wildlife and September is the perfect time for seabirds as well as some key mammals.This tour is focused on four main areas – Monterey Bay for its abundance of marine life, the Panoche Valley for Bobcats and arid speciality birds, Sequoia NP for Black Bears and Yosemite National Park for stunning scenery and many great birds. The beauty of this itinerary is the distances travelled are quite small, allowing plenty of time to savour the wildlife.
Monterey Bay offers some of the most impressive marine life in the world and at this time of year both cetaceans and seabirds are at peak numbers. We shall have excellent chances of seeing Humpback Whales, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Dall’s Porpoise, Rhinoceros Auklet, Cassin’s Auklet, Buller’s Shearwater, Black-footed Albatross and of course the wonderful Sea Otters. We shall take two whale watching boat trips during our stay here and if we have a little luck, even the mighty Blue Whale is a real possibility at this time of year. Birding around Monterey Bay and the Big Sur coast offers first class birding on the doorstep too with shorebirds such as Surfbird, Black Turnstone and Black Oystercatcher as well as species like Wrentit, Black-throated Grey Warbler and maybe California Condor!
The Panoche Valley is certainly a hotspot for Bobcats. We shall also search for speciality birds such as Greater Roadrunner, Say’s Phoebe, Yellow-billed Magpie and more. On one day we shall visit the beautiful Sequoia National Park where we shall target Black Bears which can often be seen very well at this time of year as they begin to feed on Autumn fruits. Our final four nights will be spent in the dramatic mountain backdrop of Yosemite NP and Mono Lake where numerous woodpeckers and other woodland birds await us. We have a great chance of finding the wonderful Great Grey Owl and second chance of Black Bear too!
This is quite simply a fantastic tour packed with wildlife with great photographic opportunities and a small maximum group size of just eight people!
DAYS 1 – 4
MONTEREY BAY & BIG SUR
Once arrived at San Francisco airport, we shall take the short journey south to Monterey Bay where we shall be based for four nights. Designated in 1992, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a protected marine area offshore of California’s central coast. It encompasses a shoreline length of 276 miles and 4,601 square nautical miles of ocean. The sanctuary contains impressive kelp forests and one of North America’s largest underwater canyons close inshore. An incredible 34 species of marine mammals and more than 180 species of seabirds and shorebirds have been recorded. During the next three days we shall explore this wonderful area concentrating on finding the speciality birds of the area as well as taking two morning whale watching boat trips where as well as impressive pods of dolphins and small groups of whales we shall also find plenty of seabirds! Target species at this time of year will be Humpback Whale, Blue Whale, Pacific White-sided Dolphin, Risso’s Dolphin, Dall’s Porpoise as well as flocks of Buller’s Shearwaters, Pink-footed Shearwaters, Rhinoceros Auklet, Cassin’s Auklet and Black-footed Albatross.
We shall also enjoy some time photographing the wonderful Sea Otters just a stone’s throw from our accommodation. A visit to explore the Big Sur coast may reveal California Condor, Wrentit, California Quail, Townsend’s Warbler, Black-throated Grey Warbler and California Thrasher as well as commoner species such as Acorn Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, American Robin, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Warbling Vireo, Wilson’s Warbler and Pygmy Nuthatch. Overnight Monterey Bay
DAYS 5-6 MONTEREY BAY & PINNACLES NP
After some final birding around Monterey Bay, targeting any species that we may be missing, we shall then travel inland to the Pinnacles NP and Panoche Valley. The Panoche Valley is a remote part of California that gets few visitors except from birders. The flat basin of Panoche Valley is grazed by cattle and most of the land is private property, so birding is from the roadside, but the roads are very quiet here, so we shoud enjoy some good
birding. We shall stop at various points in this bird rich area and be alert for some of the key species such as Greater Roadrunner, Say’s Phoebe, Burrowing Owl and Yellow-billed Magpie in particular, but the list of possible species is long and includes many special species. We hope to find : Golden Eagle; Prairie Falcon; Oak Titmouse; Rock Wren; Western Bluebird; Phainopepla, Lark Sparrow and Western Meadowlark.
On day 6 we shall be looking specifically for Bobcat in the early morning and the early evening. There is a very healthy population of this beautiful cat and we have an excellent chance of a sighting. Overnight Hollister
DAY 7 SEQUOIA NP
After a final early morning looking for Bobcat if we need to, we shall then travel to the beautiful Sequoia National Park.The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees, but it is Black Bears that shall be our main target. At this time of year there is an excellent chance of seeing a number of bears as they venture out of the forests in search of fruits and can allow some great photography opportunities! Of course, we shall also be keeping an eye on the birds too with numerous possibilities including woodpeckers and owls. Overnight near Sequoia NP
DAYS 8 & 9
For many, the next few days will be the highlight of the tour as we venture into the famous Yosemite National Park. The scenery in the park is truly stunning and this makes the birding all the more memorable. We shall leave the Sequoia NP relatively early in the morning in order to maximise our time in Yosemite. We should arrive in Yosemite in time for lunch and we can check into our accommodation which is based just outside the park, literally surrounded by huge granite peaks. We shall spend the afternoon exploring the Glacier Point area with its spectacular views of Half Dome. Birding here can be excellent with possibilities of Blue Grouse, Lewis’s Woodpecker, White-headed Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsuckers, Townsend’s Solitaire, Mountain Quail and Fox Sparrow. White-throated Swifts and Vaux’s Swifts should be in the skies above and there is always a chance of a Black Swift in with them. Other species in the area include: Hermit Thrush, Red-breasted Nuthatch and both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. In the evening we will enjoy a good meal under the clear starlit skies and get a good night’s sleep before a full day of exploration on the following two days. During our time in Yosemite we shall be targeting key species within the park and beyond. One of these species is the hugely impressive and highly sought after Great Grey Owl, which can be tricky, but with perserverance at the start and end of the day, we may get lucky on one of the favoured meadows within the park. Other tricky species we shall try for nclude the Black-backed Woodpecker and Pine Grosbeak. Of course there are plenty of other commoner species that will keep our attention and we shall enjoy some great views of, such as: Pileated Woodpecker, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Hermit Warbler, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, Western Tanager, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Song Sparrow and American Dipper. Overnight Yosemite
DAYS 10 – 11
On day 10, we shall travel east over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, through Tuolumne Meadows and across the Tioga Pass. Here we have an excellent chance for Clark’s Nutcracker. We will descend to the huge Mono Lake for lunch. Here, amongst the Tufa formations, we will look for Black-necked Grebes, Red-necked Phalaropes, California Gulls, Sage Thrashers and Brewer’s Blackbirds. Our time in the park will undoubtedly be special with the scenery and the birds, but of course we may also encounter some mammals that may include Coyote, Racoon, numerous Chipmunk species. The following day will be spent exploring this area further and if time allows, we may take a visit to a site for Greater Sage Grouse and possibly Common Poorwill. Overnight Lee Vining
We shall enjoy our last morning birding around Mono Lake or you may just wish to enjoy the morning at leisure. We shall then make the 6 hour journey back to San Francisco where we take an afternoon flight back to the UK arriving the next day.