Just one hour north of San Francisco, California, lies Point Reyes National Seashore, a nature preserve teeming with wildlife, fish, invertebrates, and of course, birds. The number of different species of birds recorded at Point Reyes (a whopping 490) is larger than the species total in most other states, and contains the greatest avian diversity of any U.S. national park. While all birds are protected at Point Reyes, the snowy plover and the northern spotted owl are being given extra care as they are both listed as being threatened species.
The Pacific Flyway, a major north-south path for migratory birds in America, places Point Reyes at the optimal latitude for acting as a haven for a wide variety of birds during spring and fall migration. The preserve is situated on the Point Reyes peninsula, the shape of which acts like a geographic magnet and contains a diverse range of habitats, all of which help to support the different types of life that call Point Reyes home. If you find yourself at Point Reyes, try to visit all of the different habitats, as you never know what you’ll spot in each.
Bear Valley is the most popular trail in the park, known both for its direct path to the ocean and the variety of land birds that you’ll find along the way. The trail leads you through mixed Douglas fir forests and alongside Bear Valley Creek to Divide Meadow and Coast Creek. As you make your way to the ocean, you can expect to see a variety of warblers, sparrows, kinglets, thrushes, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and owls. As an added bonus, a majority of the trail is sheltered from sun and wind, making it an easy walk, though it is nine miles roundtrip, so be sure to pack accordingly.
Though this area can sometimes be heavily trafficked depending on the weather and which day of the week you visit, the opportunity to spot a large number of different shorebirds and harbor seals may just make the crowds bearable. Year-round, you’ll likely spot Black-crowned Night-heron, Belted Kingfisher, Black Phoebe, Long-billed Curlew and Song Sparrows. The summer yields American Coot, Cinnamon Teal and Osprey, while the winter is likely when you’ll have the best chance at spotting Mallards, Canvasback, Western Sandpiper and Common Snipe. Harbor seals are year-round residents at Point Reyes, often hauling themselves onto land to rest, give birth, or warm themselves in the sun. Whether you spot one on the beach or in the nearshore waters, seeing a harbor seal is truly an experience not to passed up.
Abbotts Lagoon is accessible via the Abbotts Lagoon Trailhead, just off of Pierce Point Road. The easy, one and a half mile trail takes you past a farm pond and leads you between grazed pasture and coastal scrub before giving way to the protected lagoon. The entire area is sensitive nesting ground for the snowy plover during the spring and early summer, so take caution and watch your step so as not to disrupt the nests. Year-round at Abbotts Lagoon, you’ll find Turkey Vultures, White-tailed Kite, California Quail and Red-winged Blackbirds, among others. The summer months bring Osprey, Elegant Tern, Anna’s Hummingbird and the Common Murre to the lagoon, while winter marks the onset of Pacific Loon, Northern Pintail, Golden Eagle, Horned Lark and Merlin residents.
A bit longer and more difficult of a hike at 21 miles out and back, Estero Trail takes you through grasslands and past an old Christmas tree farm. Along the way, you may spot bat rays and leopard sharks in Home Bay, as well as Great Egrets, Loons and Great Blue Herons. A shorter stretch of this trail can also be walked beginning at the Estero Trailhead, just off of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard on the way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse is currently closed for restoration, but is expected to open by December 31, 2019. If you visit the preserve after the restoration project has been completed, you can expect stunning views of the Pacific Ocean as well as sightings of Black Oystercatchers, Surf Scoters, Peregrine Falcons and, if you’re lucky, a Tufted Puffin.
Located at the Head of Tomales Bay, these wetlands are home to shorebirds and waterfowl alike. Here you’ll find Bufflehead, Wilson’s Snipe, California Black Rail, and American Wigeon in the marshes, while turning your sights to the sky will yield Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Northern Harriers and even Bald Eagles circling over the wetlands in search of their next meal.
With such diversity, both in its habitats and in its residents, Point Reyes National Seashore is a must for birders traveling to California. The temperature in the preserve ranges from an average low of 58° in December to an average high of 79° in September, making any month you choose to visit a pleasant one. We hope you enjoy your birding adventure in Point Reyes National Seashore!