The following is a brief summary of ten of the best birding spots in West Marin. They can all be located on the Point Reyes National Seashore map which you can get free from the PRBO Palomarin Field Station Visitor Center or the Bear Valley Visitor Center in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Listen to a "Your Wetlands" podcast where PRBO Naturalist Rich Stallcup describes birding hotspots in San Francisco Bay Area.
very sad passing of our beloved naturalist, Rich Stallcup, we are
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PRBO urges birders and wildlife watchers to act responsibly while viewing birds and other wildlife. Please heed restrictions on access to land, respect nesting birds, and avoid disturbing birds and other wildlife while you are viewing them. For more information you can review the American Birding Association's code of ethics.
The checklist to the birds of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore, by Rich Stallcup and the book shown to the left, Discovering Birds at Point Reyes by Rich Stallcup and Melissa Pitkin, can be ordered from the Bear Valley Visitor Center Bookstore office at (415) 663-8674, or you can purchase a copy from the Bear Valley Visitor Center bookstore.
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West Marin Birding Spots and Resources
PRBO's Palomarin Field Station Visitor Center and Bird Banding Lab. Remodeled summer 2001, the Visitor Center and Banding Lab includes an informative education center and nature trail, spacious deck, and a tour of the mist-nets (soft nets used to safely capture songbirds). This is a great site to see birds in the hand as well as coastal scrub birds such as the Wrentit along the nature trail and surrounding lands. You can also get the latest on bird sightings and visit with the resident biologists.
Bolinas Lagoon and Pine Gulch- Waterbirds and shorebirds are plentiful on the lagoon, especially in fall, winter and early spring, and landbirds in the riparian strip at Pine Gulch are best during the summer and fall.
Five Brooks Pond- This is a horse facility that has a pond a short way down the trail from the visitor's parking area. This is the spot for Wood Duck, and some grebes if you missed them on the lagoon. Also, the willows lining the pond are excellent for landbirds.
Bear Valley Visitor Center- Here you can get a guaranteed look at Acorn Woodpeckers, there is a granary in the trees by the picnic tables off the gravel parkinglot. Among those trees there have also been Brown Creeper and nuthatch, winter wren, and sapsuckers. A stroll along the Earthquake trail takes you through healthy riparian habitat with many bird opportunities.
Olema Marsh-While most bird destinations in the Point Reyes area are best covered by walking, at Olema Marsh you can pretty much stand (or sit) in one place and watch the show. From the overlook (50 feet west of the parking lot) scan the patches of open water for grebes, ducks, and coots, and patches of matted tules for rails and turtles. Scan the alder snags along the far edge for hawks and woodpeckers and watch the sky for White-tailed Kites, other raptors and, in summer, Purple Martins.
Abbotts Lagoon- From the parking lot (with toilets) it is 1.5 miles to the lower lagoon and .3 more to the ocean beach. There is only one trail that takes you between grazed pasture on the southeast and coastal scrub (mostly Coyote Bush and Bush Lupine) on the northwest. While some ducks and grebes winter on the first lake you pass, the lower lagoon has the best waterbird diversity. The biggest allure of Abbott's Lagoon is the fall passage of shorebirds, including many vagrants.
Limantour Estero- From the parking lot, walk towards the beach past the outhouses to a freshwater pond on the left (east) side of the path that is always worth a look. Black Phoebe, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, White-crowned and Song Sparrows are year-round residents. Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal and American Bittern (rarely) nest here, and in the winter there is a nice variety of ducks, usually including the elegant Canvasback. After birding here, you can either walk back (norhteast from the outhoses) to Muddy Hollow Pond, or continue on towards Limantour Spit (take the trail that curves right after the pond but before the path that goes through the dunes).
Drakes Beach- the parking lot has willows on the backside, again good for vagrants, and Great Horned Owl roost there almost guaranteed. Possibly Barn Owl as well. Then proceed to the beach and look at Sanderlings on the beach edge, and gulls and other seabirds on the water.
Chimney Rock - From the parking lot walk down (towards the white fence) and scope water-birds on Drake’s Bay. Take the trail west to the Elephant Seal Overlook and back. If weather permits, take the trail south, all the way (~ one mile) to the Chimney Rock Overlook checking the Cypress Trees for vagrant songbirds and Great Horned Owl. It is o.k. to walk around inside the grove—just stay away from the house.
Point Reyes Lighthouse- From the parking lot it is 0.3 miles to the first tree. The road you walk passes through coastal scrub—mostly Bush Lupine and Baccharis (Coyote Bush) and often there are land-bird migrants in the brush. The trees (mostly wind-blown Monterey Cypress) go for another 0.1 mile then you pass the NPS apartments to the Visitor’s Center and on a bit to the Lighthouse observation deck. From the observation deck you can observe nesting Common Murres in the spring and summer and of course whales if you are lucky out on the ocean.
Northern California Links - Other links to outings, things to do, and places to stay in California can be found at the Northern California Directory.
Related Birding Links
American Birding Association North America's largest membership organization for active birders providing leadership to field birders by increasing their knowledge, skills, and enjoyment of birding, and by contributing to bird conservation.
Arizona Birding & National Birding Hotline Cooperative
Bird bands and collars: find a band or read a collar? Here's where to send the information.
Birding On The Web
California Bird Records Committee
Joe Morlan's California Birding Page: Joe Morlan, an ornithology professor at San Francisco City College, maintains a site with many birding links, rare bird reports, photos, and a list of field ornithology courses available at SFCC.
Optics for Birding Home Page:
Rare Bird Alerts
Santa Cruz Bird Club: was founded in 1956. The Club sponsors walks in and around the county of Santa Cruz, boat trips on Monterey Bay, summer picnics and annual dinners, meetings September through May featuring informative, illustrated talks on wild birds and related topics.
Spotting Scopes.com offers a large selection of spotting scopes for birding, astronomy or hunting. It also offers short, useful articles on selecting a spotting scope, when to use a spotting scope over binoculars, digiscoping tutorials, and much more.
World Bird Species List
Spotting Scope Review