South-eastern Arizona &
north-central California

24th July - 14th August 2001

See photo page here

Simon Woolley and Julia Casson

We had both been to North America before, but never together, and never on a 'pure' birding trip. I had read about the wonders of Arizona's late summer 'second spring' for years, and was keen to try for maximum hummingbird diversity, along with breeding activity in many other species. Once we had priced up flights, it became clear that it was an attractive option to add on an extra week in California, primarily for pelagic birding and mammal watching, but also to pick up some endemics and near-endemics, Pacific coastal passerines and waders.


The flights with United Airlines from London to Phoenix (via Washington, and, as it turned out, LA as well…..), Phoenix to San Francisco, and San Francisco direct to London, all with United, cost a total of £480 each plus tax, which I think represents a huge bargain. The extra flight to San Francisco, and the 'open jaw' nature of the transatlantic flights only cost us about £60 extra each! We booked these flights through ebookers.

Ground transport

We umm-ed and ahh-ed about this for some time. We weren't keen to camp under canvas for three weeks. Should we get a car and book motels, or get some sort of RV or motor-home? The former would be easier to drive over distance, but might be a bit dodgy on rougher tracks. Also, the comfort of motels, A/C at night and showers was attractive! However, we were keen to be birding as early as possible each day, so the RV option looked attractive. But we had visions of vast lumbering Winnebagos, and were unimpressed. What about a VW type camper van? I searched around on the internet, and quite quickly found two suitable companies offering VW Westfalia rental (that's the kind with the extending roof). This seemed to be perfect compromise, so we went for it and booked. We used Roamin' Holidays for Arizona, and California Campers for California - only to find out the two companies were in joint venture and we were really talking to the same people in each case!

A good idea? On balance, yes! The vans were easy to drive (though do try and specify manual transmission - we had automatic in California and it was not good news), spacious, versatile on, shall we say, less good roads, and comfortable to cook and sleep in. We did feel like old hippies at times, especially in California, but we could live with that!


Once we'd decided on a VW van, accommodation became less of a problem, since (in Arizona at least) it wasn't high season, and most of the campsites were virtually empty. The standard charge for a non hook-up Forest Service site is $10, payable in an honesty box on site. We paid $15 for electric hook-up near Tucson, and camped for free once or twice in pulloffs on public land. Showers are rather few and far between on these campsites, as are toilets beyond the 'pit' version - but your standards soon lower, you get better at hand-washing clothes, and you become a past master at nabbing the odd shower when you can - e.g. the tactical $5 day use permit at Patagonia Lake State Park followed by showers in the lavish washroom block!

Perhaps inevitably, we did crack two or three times, and booked in to a motel for a complete hose down. Motel prices vary from the cheap to the surprisingly pricey - do shop around and, if booking ahead, make noises about it being too much - the operator often 'miraculously' finds you a 'special' rate for the very night you want to stay. Basically it's a fairly cut-throat market, and out of season, I suspect you could almost name your price.

The situation in California was rather different. August is high season on the coast, and camp sites get very full early in the day. We made the error of not booking ahead, and we did waste quite a bit of time trying to sort this out once in California. The advice has to be, book ahead, even if you're camping. If you're motelling it, definitely book ahead at this time of year, especially at weekends.


This has to be split into two :


Hot in the deserts! Very hot! It regularly reaches 110°C in the Sonoran desert, and it cools to little over 90°C at night. This sort of heat is appalling, even if you're used to Israel or Morocco in spring. And don't let anyone kid you with this 'dry heat' business - at this time of year, the air is quite humid, coming as it does from the Gulfs of Mexico and California. All this humidity, of course, triggers thunderstorms, the so-called Arizona monsoon. Each afternoon, huge thunderheads build up over the hills and roll down onto the plains, soaking small areas with intense rainfall, but leaving immediately neighbouring areas dry. These spectacular, but localised electrical storms are a real feature of the region at this time of year, and offer welcome relief from the heat.

The key approach to avoiding the heat, however, is to climb the hills, the so-called 'sky islands' of SE Arizona. A whole series of discrete ranges of mountains rise up from the flat plains, and each one is distinctly different in topography, climate, and of course, birds. What they share, however, is a cool microclimate! As you climb the roads up the hills or into the canyons, you can see the vegetation changing with every mile. The best example is Mt. Lemmon on the outskirts of Tucson - you start off in baking desert with saguaro cacti, climb through mesquite thornscrub, into juniper scrub, into oak/juniper woods, into mixed oak-pine forest, and end up in boreal-type conifer forest with alpine meadows, all within about an hour and a half! By climbing to 9500 ft, the temperature drops dramatically, and it is genuinely cold at night. We used this tactic almost every day. The added advantage is, of course, that by visiting all these different habitats, you get maximum bird diversity.

A side point - you get a fantastic sense of these belts of forest on each range being islands of habitat trapped in time - as the climate gets wetter (over, say 15,000 years), the (say) juniper forest will presumably descend the hills, spread across the plains, and (say) Bridled Titmice from the Huachucas will meet their long lost cousins from the Santa Ritas, whereas now, they are separated by non-Titmouse friendly desert. What will happen when they meet? Inter-breeding? Or are the birds so genetically isolated (already?) that they won't? Could they be species already? The joys of taxonomy and vicariance island biogeography……


Much cooler! Along the coast (where we were almost exclusively), the main potential problem is fog. This is caused by moist air cooling over the very cold offshore water, the same water that drew us to California in the first place for pelagic seabirds. The fog can be clear by 8.30am, or it can linger into the afternoon - it comes and goes in any one place, too. Pot luck, really. Just pray that it clears offshore by the time you go on boat trips! Offshore, the wind tends to pick up a bit in the afternoon (sea breezes), which can give slightly choppy conditions, but it really shouldn't be too bad at this time of year. Rain is rare in California in the summer months.

Birding information

As ever, the key to success is excellent gen. For Arizona, we used the superb A Birder's Guide to Southeastern Arizona, by Richard Cachor Taylor (1995), published by the ABA in their Lane Birdfinding Guide series. It's a really well designed book, spiro-bound with a tuck in back flap to keep your place, lots of very clear maps, tear-out trail maps for several of the canyons, and brilliant status text and tables for all the special species in the back, plus full lists of mammals, butterflies and other groups. We highly recommend this excellently produced book. In addition, we had trip reports from Bob Self and Katie Hoff (1991, Jim Frazier (1995), Alex Lees (May 2001) & Mark Lawlor (1993), plus itineraries/reports from 2 or 3 commercial bird tour companies to suggest routing. We also had tons of site gen. and maps, leaflets etc. from Dave Hawkins (Norfolk), contacted courtesy of Chris Mills.

In California, our primary source was Kemper's (1999) Birding Northern California. Although we only used a small proportion of the book, we found it clear, accurate and entertaining, though not as readable as Taylor's Arizona guide. In addition, Todd Newberry of Santa Cruz was fantastically helpful on e-mail and in person, and we had further information from Mark Lawlor (1993), Mark and Sandra Dennis (2000), the Monterey Bay Whale Watch web site, Don Roberson's Monterey County site, Joe Morlan's California pages, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory site, and the Bodega/Sonoma County Audobon Society page.

On both legs, our primary bird book was, of course, David Sibley's fantastic new North American Bird Guide (2000), backed up ably by the older, less accurate and taxonomically retro National Geographic guide. We used no tapes or recordings.

South-eastern Arizona
24th July - 7th August 2001

24th July

After delays, cancelled flights and a re-routing via Los Angeles, we finally arrived in Phoenix at close to midnight, and walked out of the terminal into suffocating heat - still 95°C+! We were shuttled quickly to our Motel, and we tried to sleep - with only some success….

25th July

The traditional 'first look from the hotel balcony' turned up Northern Mockingbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Gila Woodpecker and White-winged Dove - not bad for three minutes in a concrete blast furnace! After our rep. arrived with our VW camper van and showed us how to make all the gadgets work, we were off (via a supermarket), and heading (A/C on full blast) for our first stop, Dudleyville, on the lower San Pedro river. We resisted the temptation to stop and look at every bird on the way, judging they'd almost all be common ones that we'd pick up later. Dudleyville was very quiet and rather warm by the time we got there, but produced the goods, in the form of 1 or maybe 2 Mississippi Kites soaring over the cottonwoods. Dudleyville and the surrounding area is just about the only half-reliable location in the state for the species, and we were lucky to connect relatively easily. We also saw our first Lesser Goldfinches, Hooded Oriole, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Western Kingbirds (even a pair at the nest - which we didn't see again!), Vermilion Flycatchers, House Finches and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. Also, a major target bird got nailed - Roadrunner!

We headed swiftly south after lunch to Aravaipa Canyon, where Common Black-hawk was a possibility. Sadly, we found none, but made up for it with a Zone-tailed Hawk perched up, American Kestrel, and our first Cactus Wrens, Curve-billed Thrashers and Purple Martins, and what turned out to be our only two Gilded Flickers of the trip. Heading south again, we had a ringtail Northern (=Hen) Harrier by the road. We arrived late afternoon at the Catalina State Park campsite just north of Tucson, and swiftly found such goodies as Phainopepla, Lesser Nighthawk, Lark Sparrow, Abert's Towhee, and the very local Rufous-winged Sparrow. The night brought two vast Sonoran Toads out a-hunting, and Julia surprised a Tarantula in the toilet block!

26th July

We birded the campsite first thing, turning up new species such as a singing Plumbeous Vireo, several Pyrrhuloxias, Bewick's Wren, Black-headed Grosbeak, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Bullock's Oriole, Cooper's Hawk, a pair of Broad-billed Hummingbirds using a feeder set up outside someone's RV, and brief views of what I suspected was, and later, in retrospect, turned out to be, a Black-chinned Sparrow.

En route to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, we had our first Gambel's Quails, plus another Roadrunner, and very brief views of Black-necked Stilt from the busy Ina Road bridge over a dry river bed. Once at the Museum, we saw plenty of wild birds in and around the excellent landscaped desert ecology exhibits, including Purple Martin, Verdin (one at the nest) and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. All three of these turned out to be very elusive subsequently. We also had what turned out to be among our best views of Canyon Wren. This species was a surprise contender for 'bird of the trip' - gorgeous looking and with an absolutely lovely song, seemingly designed to resonate off rocks and cliffs. The Museum was also really excellent for butterflies, notably Gulf Fritillary, Pipevine Swallowtail, Queen, Viceroy, and the brilliantly gothically-named Funereal Mourning Cloak. That puts 'Meadow Brown' in the shade! Not seen here, but much in evidence elsewhere in the mountains of Arizona, was the huge and quite fantastic Two-tailed Swallowtail.

It was now getting hot (well, even hotter!), and we took the standard advice of heading uphill. We ploughed across Tucson as fast as we could, and found the Catalina Highway without difficulty. Molino Basin seemed good for a break, and duly turned up Summer and Western Tanagers, Canyon Towhee, Bell's Vireo and our first Cassin's Kingbirds. Above this point, the road was undergoing major construction, and so we were rather constrained in terms of where we could stop and when we could ascend, travelling as we had to in pacecar-led convoys for two long stretches. So we decided to head for the top and come down slowly tomorrow. We camped at the Spencer campsite, which was very quiet (birdwise), although it did produce Yellow-eyed Junco and Steller's Jay.

27th July

It was distinctly COLD this morning, especially at the very top of the road by the ski area. I suppose we were at 7,500 ft. Bird diversity was quite low in the pine woods, but we did get some good quality, with Cordilleran Flycatcher, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, House Wren, Yellow-rumped Warbler (our only ones of the trip), Pygmy Nuthatch, 'Red-shafted' Northern Flicker, Brown Creeper and Spotted Towhee. The feeders at the (closed) restaurant were good for hummers, with a pair of Magnificent and at least one Black-chinned to add to another 10 or so Broad-tailed.

Heading downhill, we passed though the first convoy area for a quick stop at Rose Canyon. It was so good that we ended up staying almost three hours! The best area was the trail along the stream flowing down to the (artificial) fishing lake - both diversity and turnover were high. The best bird was undoubtedly a cracking Red-faced Warbler, one of our premier target species for the trip, but it was ably supported by such good birds as Hepatic Tanager, Grace's, Black-throated Grey and Hermit Warblers, and many White-breasted Nuthatches, plus Western Bluebird, Chipping Sparrow, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Plumbeous and Bell's Vireos and a Pine Siskin.

We rechecked Molino Basin on the descent, picking up Mexican Jay and another Roadrunner, and then headed on down into the scorching plains to head south.

En route, we had our first Chihuahuan Ravens, a small flock of White-throated Swifts, and a superb Coyote right by the road. The campsite at Bog Springs, on the western flank of the Santa Ritas, produced our first Bridled Titmice before dusk.

28th July

It was up early and into the famous Madera Canyon, our first possible site for three major target species - Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Painted Redstart. We kicked off with several Acorn Woodpeckers, and were soon scoring with Western Wood-pewee, Hermit Thrush and two more Red-faced Warblers, but it became clear that woodland birding here was going to be more tropical than temperate in style - wait for ages, then it all comes at once! We soon had our first (of at least 4) Painted Redstarts - just as good as expected! We found Dusky-capped Flycatchers high up in the light pine woods above the switchback on the Hopkins Fork trail. Plumbeous Vireos appeared common, and we also turned up a Hutton's Vireo - like a Goldcrest on steroids! A Cooper's Hawk slipped off into the woods, and Julia picked up a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher perched quietly on a treetop branch - a cracker indeed.

We were about to give up on our third species as we returned (tired) to the foot of the trail - we were at least 200m below the reputed start of the 'trogon territory'. But a flash of red lit up the trees, and there was a stunning female Elegant Trogon. We were ecstatic, but imagine how much more so when she flew to a big old Arizona Sycamore tree and entered an apparent nest-hole! Five minutes later, in came the male, and we spent a good half hour watching these near mythical birds coming and going, quite unconcerned, right by the trail! A supporting cast of Black-throated Grey Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco, White-breasted Nuthatch and Magnificent Hummingbird made this a morning to remember.

The heat of the day is definitely not the time to bird Florida Wash, but we had no real option - so in I went! It was appallingly hot and very birdless. The only species I could pin down was Botteri's Sparrow, although a singing male Varied Bunting brightened up lunch back at the road.

It was time to travel, and we were soon heading fast south to Nogales. In fact, we overshot our turn and almost ended up in Mexico! But eventually we found the right road, and, in humid and thundery conditions, had our first (of three) visits to Kino Springs, an excellent wetland site set in a grassy golf course. At the first pond, we quickly saw Green Heron, a cracking (and calling) adult Gray Hawk, a male Common Yellowthroat, 2 Lucy's Warblers, at least 3 male Western Tanagers, Red-winged Blackbird, Black Phoebe, 2 male Blue Grosbeaks, Pied-billed Grebe, and a family of American Coots. The second pond held fewer birds, but the quality was high, with 4 Tropical Kingbirds at their most reliable US site, a group of Vermilion Flycatchers, a juvenile Great Blue Heron and a pair of Hooded Orioles.

It was time to find a campsite - Patagonia Lake State Park was full up with fishermen and boaters in RVs - yuk. We were better off out of it, and found a nice quiet roadside spot in the hills above Patagonia for the night. It was a wet one, but at least there were no flash floods!

29th July

We picked up Rufous-crowned Sparrow on the drive down to Patagonia, and then headed straight for the famous Patagonia roadside rest stop, in search of Rose-throated Becards. Unfortunately, just as we arrived, so did an Arizona State Probation Service chain gang, intent on strimming the verges for 1/2 a mile north and south of the parking area! Not ideal for birding…. There was absolutely no sign of the Becards, nor of their supposedly conspicuous nests (no-one else had seen them either), but we did find a Summer Tanager, White-throated Swift, 2 Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and a brief Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
We cut our losses and headed for the Paton's yard in central Patagonia (which is not a big town).

Unfortunately, the heavy overnight rain had caused the Sonoita Creek to rise somewhat, and we didn't trust our van to make it. The bed is very treacherous (gravel and sand), and if you can't see where the rocky/concrete bits are, you could be in trouble. We decided against it, and headed down to the more southerly crossing to see if it was any better there. It wasn't - and there was a car stuck in the middle! We gave the two guys trying to extricate it a lift back to Patagonia, though not before watching a smart juvenile Thick-billed Kingbird on the wires, and seeing our first Black-bellied Whistling-duck flying by.

By now, we felt like we were wasting the day a bit, and headed back to Patagonia Lake for some guaranteed good birds. The lake and the trail from the east end of the car park didn't disappoint - Neotropical Cormorant, a superb singing Yellow-breasted Chat, Warbling Vireo, Northern Beardless-tyrannulet, Bridled Titmouse, several Yellowthroats, and, best of all, rather distant but good views of a Least Bittern in the reeds. A Great White Egret was an extra bonus.

Next it was back to Kino Springs - it had just been so good yesterday! Waiting for us was another Great White Egret - a small arrival overnight? Other new birds were 2 juvenile Gray Hawks, 8 Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, Cliff Swallow, Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow, Killdeer, an American Black Vulture, a surprise female Yellow-headed Blackbird, and a pair of Lazuli Buntings.

And onwards towards the Huachucas. A brief lunch stop near Sonoita turned up singing Grasshopper Sparrows, and we picked up Swainson's Hawk closer to Sierra Vista. We saw our only rattlesnake en route - but sadly could not avoid killing it as it raced out of the roadside grass. Bump-bump - a dreadful feeling.

We headed straight for Carr Canyon, and made our way (slowly) up the rough road to the Reef Townsite campground. This is a lovely spot, set among pine woods and open areas recovering from forest fires some years ago, and covered with aromatic Manzanita bushes. A brief evening walk before dinner was well worth the effort - the crippler was undoubtedly a Prairie Falcon soaring with Turkey Vultures, but we also had a juvenile Eastern Bluebird (of the distinctive Mexican form), Northern Flicker, many Western Wood-pewees, American Robin, lots of Yellow-eyed Juncos and at least one Spotted Towhee.

30th July

It was a cold night, and when we set out at 6ish it was still distinctly chilly - we were at 9,500 ft, after all! The birds soon started flowing - several singing Greater Pewees, 2+ Virginia's Warblers in scrub, a flyover Band-tailed Pigeon, and two birds we didn't see again - a single Strickland's Woodpecker, and a highly distinctive Buff-breasted Flycatcher. In addition, we had a Painted Redstart, several Steller's Jays, Grace's Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Hutton's Vireo, Broad-billed Hummingbird and the same species as yesterday evening. It was a lovely place, and hard to leave, but Miller Canyon beckoned….

We easily found the Beatty's house in Miller Canyon, and settled down by their red hummingbird feeders to see what turned up. Hummingbird numbers were very low at feeders everywhere in SE Arizona this year - locals were attributing this not to some catastrophe for the hummers, but to the fact that there was plenty of 'wild' food this year, so the birds were much more dispersed and less reliant on artificial feeders. Nevertheless, we soon had Black-chinned and Anna's feeding. For variety, we were advised to walk up to the 'photo station' feeders, much more attractively placed on the hillside. Here, the numbers were higher too, and the diversity was amazing - many Black-chinned, 2+ Broad-tailed (the males wings make a distinctive whirring sound as they fly), another Anna's, 2 Rufous (both very aggressive), 2 Magnificent, a massive Blue-throated, a Broad-billed, and best of all a female Violet-crowned. 8 species in less than half and hour! Also around the Beatty's were good stocking fillers like Black-headed Grosbeak, Black-throated Gray Warbler and Western Tanager.

Ramsey Canyon is just a short drive from Miller Canyon, and we were soon parked up at the Nature Conservancy visitor centre. Inside, we were faced with the somewhat surreal sight of two nuns with binoculars, reporting a sighting of a Mountain Lion chasing Wild Turkeys just up the Canyon! We didn't hang about - but then nor did the Mountain Lion (or the Turkeys). I have to confess to not being a huge fan of the Canyon - it just seemed not a patch on Madera or Carr Canyons to me. Nevertheless, we did see the endemic Ramsey Canyon Leopard Frog, Acorn Woodpecker, 3 Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers and (best of all) the female Berylline Hummingbird close to her nest high above the visitor centre. There seem to have been fewer than 10 previous breeding records in the USA, so we felt privileged - later reports suggested that at least one young Berylline fledged successfully.

We headed back up to Carr Canyon for the night - hummered out. Unfortunately, a group of obnoxious teenagers had decided to wreck the atmosphere of the campsite with much beer, a boogie box and various shouts of 'woooo!', 'yeah!' and possibly 'alright!'. Quite how 'people' like these derive pleasure from listening to Britney Spears at volume 11 is beyond me. Heavy rock, yes; Britney, no. Luckily, we had the option of driving up to the second campsite - we took it…..

31st July

The campsite produced similar birds to the day before, and we quickly headed down the hill and north to Fort Huachuca where, after signing the necessary forms for the entirely humourless sentry at the gate, we were on the army base and birding the extensive, bird-rich grasslands. We were delighted to find Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Meadowlark, Botteri's Sparrow, several Blue Grosbeaks, 100+ Violet-green Swallows, Lark Sparrow, 'Mexican' Mallards and both Canyon and Abert's Towhees.

Up at Scheelite Canyon, we rapidly found another calling male Elegant Trogon right by the access road, as well as more Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers. The canyon itself was wonderfully evocative - narrow, densely vegetated and humid. Sadly, we could not find any Spotted Owls (although the tour group that followed us up the canyon did find them). Compensation came in the form of 2 more Red-faced Warblers, Canyon & Bewick's Wrens, Plumbeous and Hutton's Vireos and further Western Tanagers and White-throated Swifts.

We headed east for the afternoon, spending some time doing the touristy bit at Tombstone. It was rather bird free, although we did have a Hooded Oriole in Boot Hill cemetery (favourite epitaph : "Here lies Lester Moore / Four slugs from a .44 / No Les / No more". Brilliant.)

We spent the last part of the afternoon at the San Pedro house, by the San Pedro river - much too hot for many birds (apart from Say's Phoebe and a few Black-chinned Hummingbirds), but it was good to do a recce for tomorrow. Luxury tonight - showers, washing and A/C at the Thunder Mountain Motel.

1st August

Back at the San Pedro House for dawn, we had the best morning's birding of the trip so far. We had three new species (Common Ground-dove, Scaled Quail and Black-throated Sparrow), but the key was the diversity and quality of birds. Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Loggerhead Shrike, 12 Lesser Nighthawks feeding in broad daylight, Chipping Sparrow, Say's Phoebe, many Vermilion Flycatchers, Ladder-backed and Gila Woodpeckers, American Kestrel, Swainson's Hawk, Lazuli Bunting, Lucy's and Yellow Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat and Brown-crested Flycatcher made this a day to remember, in a lovely, tropical-feeling spot. Sadly, no Green Kingfishers had been seen since at least February - never mind!

We quickly checked the more southerly river crossing, at Hereford Bridge - it was well worth it. A cracking male Indigo Bunting headed the list, along with Swainson's Hawk, Summer Tanager and Yellow Warbler.

It was time to head east to the Chiricahuas, but en route we did an outright twitch to a supposedly reliable site at 10th Street Park in Douglas for Inca Dove, which we had so far missed. The gen. was spot on, and we had four without getting out of the van!

It was a fair old drive to Portal, and we hardly stopped en route - it was hot, and we only saw a few Chihuahuan Ravens from the car. Once we'd got to Portal and found a campsite in Cave Creek, we enjoyed some late afternoon birding along the canyon, turning up our fourth Elegant Trogon (another male), Black Phoebe, Acorn Woodpecker, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (heard only - it's the squeaky rubber ducky again) and best of all a perched Golden Eagle low down on the rocks above the road.

2nd August

Another excellent morning in the field. We did the 'desert loop' as detailed in the Lane guide, and scored heavily. We were clearly on the same route as the tour group we'd met yesterday at Scheelite Canyon - their leader was most generous in letting us join his group for some good birds. Almost the first birds in the valley were five White-tailed Kites (an adult and four youngsters) - this is a scarce bird in Arizona, and a very rare breeder indeed. Mind you, we actually saw the birds in New Mexico - although the adult kindly crossed the road to get on our AZ list!

We were surprised to see about 12 Lark Buntings - early August is distinctly early for this non-breeding visitor. Scott's Oriole and Cassin's Sparrow finally fell, but we had only brief views of our main target bird, Bendire's Thrasher. As we were to discover, all thrashers are really hard at this time of year - they're much easier in February-March, when they're singing. Other birds along State Line Road included Cactus Wren, Swainson's Hawk, Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Meadowlark, Lark Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher, a ringtail Northern (=Hen) Harrier, Say's Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Roadrunner and American Kestrel. The Willow Tank by the dump at the southern end of the road looked good, and produced Red-winged Blackbird, Green Heron and American Coot.

We decided to get to Big Thicket before it got too hot - this was our final chance for Crissal Thrasher. We settled down at the feeders at Dave's house on Crissal Lane (with the tour group again!), and quietly waited. We heard Crissals calling, but would they show? No…. The feeders were bedecked with birds, though - our first Western Scrub-jay, Curve-billed Thrasher, Black-throated Sparrow, several Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias, House Finch, no fewer than 40 Gambel's Quails at once, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and very brief views of a Violet-crowned Hummingbird.

The Spofford's yard in Portal was extremely disappointing, given the write-ups it widely receives - no hummers at all, and just a Canyon Wren, a House Wren and Black-headed Grosbeak by way of back-up.

It was time to head uphill for the afternoon, and we took the Silver Creek Road to Paradise. The dry hillsides along here, so well-known for Black-chinned Sparrow and Juniper Titmouse, were very, very quiet. Only a flock of Chipping Sparrows and a second Western Scrub-jay at the cemetery enlivened the heavy heat. We spent an hour watching the feeders at the George Walker House, and despite plenty of common passerines, Black Phoebe, Magnificent, Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds, we saw no Juniper Titmice. Apparently the young had yet to fledge, and the adults were only visiting the feeders two or three times a day. We returned down the hill for the night back in Cave Creek Canyon, where we saw a Grey fox hunting a Cottontail Rabbit.

3rd August

We decided to give the Silver Creek Road another hour before heading for the high mountains - it was worth it! We managed to find several Black-chinned Sparrows quite quickly - confirming our earlier, untickable views at Catalina State Park - including at least two singing males. Once more, we were thinking the same way as the tour group, and it was nice to be able to find a bird they needed for a change! Together, we turned up our only Rock Wren of the trip, an early migrant Nashville Warbler, a Virginia's Warbler, Say's Phoebe, Rufous-crowned and Black-throated Sparrows, a female Bullock's Oriole and another Crissal Thrasher - but heard only!

Paradise Cemetery was rather livelier today, and within minutes we had found the required species - a pair of Juniper Titmice. This meant we could skip Paradise proper, and head straight up to the high Chiricahuas, via Onion Saddle. Our first proper stop was at Barfoot Junction, and it turned out to be a good choice. Almost immediately, we had 4+ Red Crossbills overhead, and it then became apparent that a decent-sized mixed feeding flock was using the pines by the junction. Mexican Chickadee is the major target species in the Chiricahuas - it is the only truly accessible site for the species in the USA. We quickly and easily found 3 birds, along with our first two Olive Warblers, at least 6 migrant Hermit Warblers, a couple of Grace's Warblers, Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatches (plus Red-breasted, heard only), Brown Creeper and Steller's Jay. An excellent spot!

Barfoot Park was quiet, with no sign of Zone-tailed Hawk, or any other raptors - just a couple more Grace's Warblers. Rustler Park, however, was rather better. We hiked up the hill from the end of the road, and were soon seeing more good birds. Another 2 Olive Warblers, 4+ Mexican Chickadees, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Broad-tailed and Magnificent Hummingbirds and many butterflies, including Painted Ladies and Camberwell Beauty (known in North America as Mourning Cloak - more goth lepidoptery!).

The best bit was yet to come, however, just above the car-park. I heard some branches cracking among the bracken in the burn area downhill, and stopped to look, expecting a deer. A black deer? BLACK BEAR! Julia came hurrying down just in time to see the animal lumbering noisily off downhill - it was about half grown, so our first thought (after WOW!) was, where's Mum? We checked all around, rather nervously, but with no result. So we did what you're supposed to do - make yourself obvious, be noisy and make sure she doesn't mistake you for something edible. What a great animal.

By now we were well into the afternoon, and it was heating up, so we drove down the far side of the mountains, and spent the rest of the afternoon in the Chiricahua National Monument, with its fantastic rock formations. Birds were quite thin on the ground, but did include a Zone-tailed Hawk in the foothills.

4th August

We failed to find any Montezuma Quails around the meadow by the campsite at Chiricahua NM, although we did see a Plumbeous Vireo and another Black-throated Grey Warbler. It was now time to leave the hills behind, and head down to the town of Willcox in the plain.

Willcox is not an attractive place, unless you happen to be a wader. We checked two roadside pools to the east of town before heading in to the main 'golf course' ponds, and scored well, with 250+ Wilson's Phalaropes, 4 Black-necked Stilts, 5 American Avocets, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Western, Least and Spotted Sandpipers, Killdeer, a flyover wader that called like a Pectoral Sandpiper, but might just have been a Baird's, 3 Eared (=Black-necked) Grebes, Pied-billed Grebe, Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, Swainson's Hawk, Northern (=Hen) Harrier, a single Tree Swallow among other hirundines, a group of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Meadowlark and 2 Scaled Quails, which showed very well.

It was time to head back west, via Patagonia, where, as hoped, the river had dropped (a bit!) and was eminently crossable. The Paton's yard was excellent - 2 Violet-crowned, Black-chinned, Broad-billed and an Anna's Hummingbird, plus 4 Inca Doves (see, we needn't have gone to Douglas Park!), Yellow Warbler and our only Bronzed Cowbirds. The Sonoita Creek Reserve was a bit hot and humid, but we did see Cooper's Hawk, Phainopepla, Vermilion Flycatcher and Warbling Vireo.

We couldn't resist another look at Kino Springs, and it again turned up trumps. Within seconds of arriving, Julia pinned down a female Green Kingfisher on the reeds by the clubhouse pond - another major target nailed! We saw much the same birds as before, plus extra Lazuli Buntings, a Ruddy Duck, and at least 2 Ash-throated Flycatchers in the dry area between the ponds.

With rain threatening, we headed beyond Nogales to Pena Blanca lake and the campsite, where we had Common Ground Dove, and heard a Common Poorwill before dark.

5th August

The big target today was Five-striped Sparrow, in one of its very few accessible US haunts - the famous California Gulch. Be warned - just the drive to the final 'road' turn-off west of Pena Blanca takes at least 3/4 of an hour, and the road from there on is painfully rocky and slow. We were somewhat nervous of going too far in, without being sure if anyone else would turn up all day, so we parked up and hiked. By 7.30, it was already hot - by 8.30, it was really hot! But we reached the gulch OK, and walked down the final steep hill into a lovely, lush little valley. And within seconds, there was a singing Five-striped Sparrow on the hillside! Excellent stuff, backed up by a singing Indigo Bunting, 4 Varied Buntings, a male Hooded Oriole, and Canyon Wren, and on the way to and from the car, 2 Yellow-billed Cuckoos, 3 Ash-throated Flycatchers, 2 Nashville Warblers, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (only our second), Lucy's Warbler and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Now it was REALLY hot, and we were relieved to reach the van and drive back east to Nogales.

We checked the sewage ponds from the fence, although they remained technically closed - a small flock of Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, large numbers of Red-winged Blackbirds, and a flock of distant flyover White-faced Ibis were the highlights.

We headed back up to Tucson for a rather longer look at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum - it really is an excellent place. Wild birds were few (still no Costa's Hummingbird) - although we had several Cactus Wrens and 2 Verdins.

We camped once more at Catalina State Park. Before dusk, at least 8 Lesser Nighthawks were hawking overhead, and we had Rufous-winged Sparrow in song, Bewick's Wren and Abert's Towhee. After dark, we could hear a Great Horned Owl calling from some impenetrable thicket!

6th August

The hottest day yet - appalling from about 8.30 onwards! Much the 'usual' birds around the campsite, plus Verdin, 2 Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and Lark Sparrow.

In Tucson, we checked various urban wetland sites - Roger Road ponds turned up 2 juvenile Night Herons, Song Sparrow and another Inca Dove. Sweetwater Ponds held a male Wilson's Warbler, plus Yellow Warbler, Killdeer, Cinnamon Teal and our only Common Moorhens of the trip. The Ina Road bridge was rather good - a White-faced Ibis, 30+ Black-necked Stilts, Western Sandpiper and more Killdeers, and there was a single Wilson's Phalarope at the I-10 gravel pits. Now stinking hot. We drove north towards Phoenix, stopping only at the Western Sod turf farm (a turf farm, in a desert…think about it) - many Killdeers, a few Western Sandpipers and a Roadrunner - and Arizona City Lake. Arizona City is a 'plastic' 'active adult' 'community' in the middle of nowhere, with an artificial boating lake. Amazingly, it hosted Black-necked Stilt, and, desperately sheltering from the sun under a boating pier, a Neotropical Cormorant and a very out of place female American Wigeon!

By now, the heat was just unbelievable, and we headed for Phoenix and A/C. The temperature reportedly reached 114°F in Phoenix today - insane. Why do people choose to live in such an infernal cauldron of searing heat?

Significant dips? Not many! Of species we didn't later see in California, we might have seen Common Black Hawk, Harris's Hawk (Sweetwater and Roger Road ponds are supposed to be a good stake-out), Wild Turkey, Montezuma Quail, perhaps an owl or two, Burrowing Owl (though we had negative gen. from more than one site), perhaps a White-eared, Lucifer or other Mexican hummer species, Rose-throated Becard, Crissal Thrasher (grrrr), MacGillivray's Warbler, maybe Evening Grosbeak, and…….that's about it! Not quite a clear-up - but not far off.

So, for Arizona, that was that, birdwise at least. Fantastic, in a word! Easy to follow gen, great birds and exciting landscapes made for a cracking first part of our trip. Next day, we caught the morning flight to San Francisco - California, here we come.

7th - 14th August 2001

7th August

The plane arrived from Phoenix at lunchtime, and once we'd met up with Tom Brouillette (co-owner of California Campers) and done the paperwork on van no. 2 (this one was white and (drat) had automatic transmission), we were off and birding. We wanted to get close to Monterey by the evening, so we headed straight for the coast at Half Moon Bay, and headed south on Highway 1.

There was quite bad coastal fog, and our only real stop for birds was at Pescadero, where we had quick looks at the littoral zone and the freshmarsh. Not bad for a first stop! Plenty of Brown Pelicans, Western and Heermann's Gulls (as there were everywhere along the coast), a Western Grebe offshore, a few Brandt's Cormorants, 2 Red-shouldered Hawks, California Quail, many Brewer's Blackbirds, both Great White and Snowy Egrets, Caspian Tern, a redhead Common Merganser (=Goosander), and many American Crows. First prize, however, went to the almost complete line-up of much-wanted Pacific waders on the rocky shore : Surfbird, Willet, Black and Ruddy Turnstones and (my personal top target for California) a sole Wandering Tattler.

Closer to Monterey, we had Pied-billed Grebe and a Ruddy Duck, and then headed up to Laguna Seca raceway to camp - very quiet, so long as it isn't a race weekend!

8th August

There had been no time-zone change between Arizona and California, but being so much further west, the sun got up a good bit earlier, so we had the luxury of another hour or so in bed - especially as there was dense fog until an hour after dawn! It soon started burning off, however, and after nailing Western Bluebird, Oak Titmouse and California Towhee at the campground, and seeing another covey of California Quail, we got ourselves down to Monterey Bay Harbour for our first of our two planned pelagics.

This trip was pre-booked with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, and was not specifically aimed at birders, but the plan was to see the commoner inshore birds before Sunday's 'proper' pelagic, and to concentrate on mammals. On both counts, the trip succeeded. The boat pulled out at 8.30am, and at once we were seeing California Sealions, Harbour Seals, Sea Otters, Pigeon Guillemots, Pelagic and Brandt's Cormorants in among the canopy of the offshore kelp forest. Slightly further out, we saw masses of Common Murres (=Guillemots), Elegant Terns, several hundred Sooty Shearwaters, 3+ Pink-footed Shearwaters, 2 Northern Fulmars, (weirdly) 2 Great White Egrets heading west, and (best bird) about 15 Black-footed Albatrosses, some close to the boat. A Leatherback Turtle showed very briefly off the stern of the boat.

But, inevitably and wonderfully, the cetaceans stole the show. Even a group of 6 Risso's Dolphins was vastly outperformed by two species of great whale. We started off with a very brief Humpback, to be followed by prolonged views of at least 6 magnificent Blue Whales, shallow diving and sounding within 50 feet of the boat. Soon afterwards, we located some more co-operative Humpbacks, and soon had excellent views. We even had both Blues and Humpbacks blowing together at one point! But what we wanted, of course, was 'friendly' Humpbacks - and we found some! A group of 10 or so very active animals started investigating the boat to within just a few feet, spy-hopping, fluke-waving, head-slapping and (at last) breaching almost clear of the water. Absolutely astonishing stuff. Final estimates were of about 14 Blue Whales and at least 20 Humpback Whales.

It was going to be pretty hard to beat that, though back on shore, en route to the Big Sur coast, we had further goodies, such as Surfbird, Wandering Tattler, Hudsonian Whimbrel and Belted Kingfisher.

The campsite on the Big Sur was a bit crowded, but still had Steller's Jay and our first Dark-eyed Juncos of the trip.

9th August

The fog had rolled in again, and visibility was not good. We started out at Andrew Molera State Park - not very exciting habitat, and too many campers (and weird old hippies playing guitar (badly) in the car park). Watching the surfers at the beach was fun, though. We picked up new landbirds like Wrentit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker and Vaux's Swift (which can be hard to find, we were told), plus White-tailed Kite, Bushtit, several Wilson's Warblers, Black Phoebe and Warbling Vireo. Offshore, we had 3 Western Grebes, Double-crested Cormorant and (best of all) a small flock of Surf Scoters.

We were keen to have a go for the reintroduced California Condors, and our best tip was Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, a few miles to the south. Unfortunately, the fog remained low, and we had no real chance. The compensations weren't huge - the Park has little access beyond a heavily-used path to the coast and back - only a female Anna's Hummingbird, American Robin, Purple Finch, Brown Creeper and Song Sparrow. A pity.

It was time to head back north, and we stopped off at the beautiful Carmel beach and river mouth. Two much wanted birds turned up - California Gull and a Pacific Loon (=Diver) offshore. Back up was well provided by an amazing 12 White-tailed Kites (of which only one was an adult - presumably a post-breeding gathering of several broods?), a very smart juvenile Northern (=Hen) Harrier, Lesser Yellowlegs, a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Plover, Pied-billed Grebe, Belted Kingfisher and a small flock of 'Bicolored' Blackbirds (the taxonomically interesting local form of Red-winged Blackbird).

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Monterey, doing the 'ordinary tourist' bit, and watching Sea Otters, Belted Kingfishers and Pelagic Cormorants along Cannery Row. Then it was back to Laguna Seca for the night - only Killdeer was new here.

10th August

Today we were due to meet up with Todd Newberry, a Santa Cruz birder I had contacted via the internet. He had very kindly agreed to accompany us for the day, and help us out with a few local specialities, and any birds we'd missed.

We started out at Moss Landing, scoring immediately with Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, White-crowned Sparrow, Common Loon (=Great Northern Diver), Elegant and Caspian Terns, Night Heron, and our first American White Pelicans and Ring-billed Gulls. We also had 2 Sea Otters, one of them hauled out - Sea Otters are supposedly 'never' seen on land. Over the road and into Elkhorn Slough, we saw Snowy Plovers (really 'just' a race of Kentish Plover?), numerous other waders, including Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes and Greater Yellowlegs, a few Forster's Terns, Cinnamon Teal, Savannah Sparrow and Oak Titmouse. We had only brief views of American Goldfinch, unfortunately, but did see Downy Woodpecker and an excellent flock of Tricolored Blackbirds at the famous Moonglow Dairy site, which we could not actually enter because of foot & mouth panic.

Up the road and low on fuel, we reached Santa Cruz and the University Arboretum. Immediately, and as Todd promised, we were seeing plenty of excellent Allen's Hummingbirds, including displaying males, as well several Anna's too. While there were plenty of Spotted and California Towhees, and Brown Creeper, we could not locate any California Thrashers - it was near midday, in mid-August, after all!

Down at the sea front, we failed once again on that missing rockshore wader, although we had more Hudsonian Whimbrels, Black Turnstones, Pigeon Guillemots and Sea Otters. Next, it was on to Todd's place of work, Long Marine Labs at the north end of town. Just before we'd left the UK, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher had turned up there - I'd seen it on the local rare bird alert internet transcript, and asked Todd to glue it to a twig for three weeks! Little did I expect it still to be there - but it was, at least until the day before. We prepared for a lengthy search, but within seconds, there it was - only the 2nd Scissor-tailed Flycatcher for the county, but more importantly, a fantastic, unexpected and crippling bird.

Neary Lagoons are right in the middle of Santa Cruz, a part of a local sewage works, in fact. We tried here for Marsh Wren, but only heard one call briefly, although we did see our only Wood Ducks and Sharp-shinned Hawk, plus Common Yellowthroat, American Kestrel and another Belted Kingfisher. It was by now time to say goodbye to Todd, and head north along the coast en route to Dublin, near Livermore. Back at Pescadero, we had more Surfbirds, Whimbrels and (at last! the set is complete!) American Black Oystercatchers, plus Ravens, of the likely soon-to-be-split Californian form.

The traffic around the bay was absolutely appalling, but we finally got to Dublin and the relative luxury of our motel.

11th August

It was a toss up this morning - Mines Road, in search of Yellow-billed Magpie, Lawrence's Goldfinch and Lewis's Woodpecker, or the more direct route via Mitchell Canyon? We were pretty fed up of driving and birding from the van, so when we saw a superb flock of Yellow-billed Magpies within feet of the Mines Road turnoff, we decided to head for Mitchell Canyon instead of doing the 60-odd mile round trip down the Road and back. Mitchell Canyon was much more fun - a good walk through good habitat. OK, so the only new birds were Pacific-slope Flycatcher and Hairy Woodpecker, but we also had several Red-shouldered Hawks, Hutton's Vireos, Wrentits and Acorn Woodpeckers, plus another Wilson's Warbler and many Spotted Towhees.

We had to negotiate the Bay traffic again to get north towards Bodega, but eventually shook off the cars. One advantage of travelling slowly through the Bay area was that we could pick up a few birds from the road - good numbers of American White Pelicans, American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and Caspian Terns, plus Forster's Terns and Great White Egrets.

Once we reached Bodega Bay (via a brief Peregrine Falcon) and (just about) found a camping spot, we spent a while out on the headland. Amazingly, there were 3 Gray Whales just a few yards offshore - they weren't supposed to be here until November! Apparently, occasional animals summer off the Californian coast - we just got lucky. Also unseasonal, but less unexpected, was a single adult Glaucous-winged Gull by the car park. 2 subadult male Northern (=Hen) Harriers were working the headland, and we saw 2 Ospreys, Savannah and White-crowned Sparrows, yet another Wandering Tattler, and another American Black Oystercatcher. Bodega Bay itself held plenty of waders, including good numbers of Western Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers and Marbled Godwits.

12th August

We were due to check in at the boat yard at 6.00am, so this was not the morning for the van to get damp and refuse to start. The van got damp and refused to start. Panic at 5.40am, until I managed to catch a lift from the campsite with a similarly insomniac fisherman. A close shave. We got to the dock on time, and checked in with Debi Shearwater, boarding our boat, the Tracer, just before 6.30am. This was the 'proper' birding pelagic, and we were relieved that the weather forecast was OK, given that about 50% of the Shearwater Journeys trips from Bodega get cancelled on account of the sea state. In fact, we were remarkably blessed - the sea was pretty much flat all day, with only the slightest of swells and no chop at all. Add in bright but overcast lighting, and you had pretty much perfect seabirding conditions. On the boat were numerous highly experienced American birders, who certainly had 1000s of pelagic birding-hours between them, and the general consensus was that they'd never seen better weather! So, we were incredibly fortunate, and well set up for success - but would the birds live up to expectations?

Yes! Although we had no 'megas' (in US terms), and we were just about the only people out of the 20 or so on board having life ticks (always good to have plenty of experience on hand when dealing with distant seabirds), we scored fantastically well. The consensus was that this was a truly excellent pelagic. We ended up staying out until after 7.00pm - planned return time was 4.00pm! Even Debi herself was ecstatic - here's why (in systematic order) :

Laysan Albatross 1-2 Very early - normally doesn't occur off this coast until considerably later in the season
Black-footed Albatross 100+ Many following the boat and eating popcorn - at one point we stopped, and had over 50 around the boat, squeaking like ducklings!
Northern Fulmar 8 Of various colour phases, quite unlike Atlantic birds
Buller's Shearwater 500+ Just arrived (none here last week), and really beautiful birds - right up there with Great Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwater c.50 More like a Cory's than anything else - wholly different flight action from commoner Sooties
Sooty Shearwater 100+ The only seabird scarcer here than in Monterey Bay
Ashy Storm-petrel c.200 But only a pretty rough estimate!
Fork-tailed Storm-petrel 1 A lovely pearly grey colour
Pelagic Cormorant 20
Brandt's Cormorant c.10
Marbled Godwit 10
Red (=Grey) Phalarope c.1000
Red-necked Phalarope c. 500 Several huge, whirling mixed flocks of phalaropes, giving superb views by the boat
Long-tailed Jaeger (=Skua) 151+ Excludes perhaps 50 distant jaegers, most of which were probably of this species. This is perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the day, smashing as it did all previous northern California pelagic day count records. Many were fully tailed adults.
Parasitic Jaeger (=Arctic Skua) 3+ And probably rather few overlooked
Pomarine Jaeger (=Skua) c.30 Including many 'full-spooned' adults
South Polar Skua 2 One of which gave crippling views as it circled the boat
California Gull 1 juv.
Western Gull many
Heermann's Gull many
Sabine's Gull 200+ Mainly adults, a few 2nd years, and no juveniles at all
Common Tern c.5
Arctic Tern c.2
Common Murre (=Guillemot) 100s
Pigeon Guillemot c.30
Xantus's Murrelet 12 All in pairs, often very close to the boat
Cassin's Auklet 100+ Many so laden with krill that they were unable to fly! Aptly described as '[American] footballs with wings'
Rhinoceros Auklet c.100
Tufted Puffin 2 The first of these caused some on-board controversy, since it showed anomalously pale underparts. But we were happy in the (majority) Tufted camp
Brown-headed Cowbird 2 Bizarre!

The most productive areas were along steep thermo-gradients, especially at the edges of Bodega submarine canyon, the continental shelf proper, and around the submarine seamounts at the Cordell Banks. Cassin's Auklets, and to some extent other alcids, were commoner around 50 fathoms, and birds became noticeably scarcer in the really deep water over the abyssal plain (maximum depth reached = 1500 fathoms, or 9000ft!). We checked this area for megas such as Pterodroma petrels or outrageously rare Albatrosses and Storm-petrels, but to no avail. Like we were disappointed!

And as for other marine life - plenty! We had distant views of at least 1 Blue Whale, and excellent close views of c.30 Humpbacks, plus Pacific White-sided Dolphin (some bow-wave riding right under the boat), Northern Right Whale Dolphin, Dall's Porpoise, many California Sealions, Northern Fur Seal, an unexpected Northern Elephant Seal, Blue Shark, Albacore and Ocean Sunfish.

In all, a truly fantastic trip - it puts the Scillonian and Bay of Biscay pelagics in perspective, really!

13th August

We had rather a late start today, but headed mid-morning for Point Reyes, via Nicasio Reservoir, where we had Osprey, 13 American White Pelicans and 2 Lark Sparrows.

Tomales Point is the northernmost part of Point Reyes - it's largely windswept moorland and pasture, but the beaches and valleys look just like Porthgwarra! It feels like a rarity trap (as of course it is) - but perhaps not in mid August….

We scored with 3 juvenile Baird's Sandpipers on a beach pool, plus Peregrine Falcon, American Goldfinch and White-crowned Sparrows. We also saw some of the resident Tule Elk herd.

Kehoe Beach valley was another similarly promising site, and it turned up what turned out to be last lifer of the trip - 2 juvenile Marsh Wrens - plus Common Yellowthroat, 2 Ospreys, more American Goldfinches, White-crowned Sparrows, Elegant and Caspian Terns.

We enjoyed a brief walk at Bear Valley visitor centre in the evening, with no startling birds - 'just' another White-tailed Kite and good views of Hairy Woodpecker. A Barn Owl flew out from roost at the camp site. Also a good tick in the form of camping right on the San Andreas Fault!

14th August

Our final day. Fog bound once more, we visited Point Reyes Bird Observatory first thing, more for a site tick than in the expectation of good birds. Just as well, really, as the net round we followed produced a grand total of no birds! We did see Cooper's Hawk, Northern (=Hen) Harrier, Northern Flickers, Spotted Towhees and Purple Finches, but it was clear that there was rather little migration going on.

Bolinas Lagoon was much better - a pair of Greater Scaups, and numerous waders, including Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit.

We wended our way gently back south to San Francisco, stopping only at the Marin headlands north of the Golden Gate Bridge to clear out the van and have a quick look around. We added our final bird of the trip - Bank Swallow (=Sand Martin) - to make it 146 for the Californian leg, and an excellent 267 species for the whole trip. Other species included Common Yellowthroat, American Black Oystercatcher, Pied-billed Grebe and lots of Brown Pelicans, Common Murres (=Guillemots), Pigeon Guillemots and Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants to see us on our way.

So, we drove back through downtown San Francisco, saw a couple of Forster's Terns by the Bay, and returned our van to the office in Redwood City.

Significant dips? It was a pity not to see Clark's Grebe, and we might have had a scarce Shearwater such as Flesh-footed offshore, or perhaps a Leach's or other Storm-petrel. We were surprised not see a few more passage duck species, and we didn't really try hard enough in the right places for rails or Sora Crake. Spotted Sandpiper was a bit of an omission, and we saw no owls apart from Barn. Olive-sided Flycatcher eluded us throughout, and we were perhaps a bit early for the migrant Empidonax flycatchers. Hirundines were thin on the ground in California, and we saw neither American Dipper nor Golden-crowned Kinglet, though they are both long shots along the coast. Lawrence's Goldfinch and Lewis's Woodpeckers were, as mentioned, possibilities, but I guess we just started to run out of steam a bit - it was a holiday, after all!

And that was that - 3 weeks, masses of dirty washing, much exhaustion, brilliant birds, mammals and butterflies, largely excellent weather, and great memories. Well worth doing!