Finding the most localized endemics in the States.
We currently offer this tour as a custom trip only, and it can often be organized at relatively short notice. We also have a Northern California itinerary; please contact us for details.
For birders working on an ABA list, a trip to southern California is a must. This tour targets regional specialties such as the sickle-billed California Thrasher, the garrulous California Quail, California Towhee, and Wrentit. Migrant traps will also be a focus, and most days will have some time dedicated to combing them for off-course wanderers. We’ll pass through a variety of different habitats, including two very different deserts. The cooler, mostly high-elevation Mojave Desert, a rainshadow formed by the Coast Ranges, is home to highly prized, cryptic species like LeConte’s Thrasher and Sage Sparrow. The hot Colorado Desert, adjacent to the Gulf of California and subject to sporadic periods of intense rainfall, hosts birds more closely tied to the avifauna of Sonoran Mexico like Gila Woodpecker and Ruddy Ground-Dove.
Between birding the deserts, we’ll cross mountains covered in tall pine forests and low oak and manzanita scrub. We’ll also spend a morning searching the rapidly disappearing coastal chaparral for California Gnatcatcher, and we’ll bird the shorelines of the Salton Sea and the Pacific for local targets including American White Pelican and Elegant Tern. A special trip to Santa Cruz Island will be made for the endemic Island Scrub-Jay, and as we cruise out to the island, we’ll scan the scan the waves for pelagic species like Black-vented Shearwater.
Day 1: Arrival in Los Angeles. After arrival you will be shuttled to the hotel, where our tour begins with a welcome dinner.
Day 2: The Mojave Desert. Driving north from Los Angeles, today we’ll look for resident birds and migrants on our way to the California City area for the night. As we arrive in the brushy, arid Mojave Desert, the highlight for many will be searching for the LeConte’s Thrasher, although Sage Sparrow, Chukar, and Cactus Wren are among the other exciting possibilities.
Day 3: Sky Islands. First thing this morning, we’ll search a couple more migrant traps, and then work our way south toward the Salton Sea. Jutting up from the deserts, the San Bernardino and Piute Mountains support the striking White-headed Woodpecker, handsome Williamson’s Sapsucker, and the elusive Mountain Quail. If we’re lucky we may find a Ferruginous Hawk that comes here from the high plains to spend the winter. We’ll also look for one of the local races of Fox Sparrow that many believe is a full “species-in-waiting”. We’ll spend the next three nights in the small desert town of Calipatria, our perfectly-placed base for exploring the bizarre inland “ocean” of the Salton Sea.
Days 4-5: The Salton Sea. This is North America’s only man-made sea, accidentally created more than a century ago from an irrigation project gone awry. Now a massive hypersaline lake with no outlet, this peculiar artificial habitat has become an important refuge for Yellow-footed Gulls, “Large-billed” Savannah Sparrows, and Gull-billed Terns, all species that would otherwise not be able to survive here. The Sea is also famous among rarity-hunters as past hurricanes have produced a number of high-profile vagrants like Blue-footed Boobies and other oceanic wanderers, and this autumn tour is timed perfectly for any such rarities. We’ll also bird the surrounding upland Colorado Desert habitat, looking for residents like Ruddy Ground-Dove, Gila Woodpecker, Abert’s Towhee, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Costa’s Hummingbird. The small hamlet of Niland will be visited for the declining Spotted Dove. The Salton Sea can be seriously hot, so we’ll take it easy during the heat of the day, concentrating our birding during the cooler mornings and evenings.
Day 6: The Salton Sea to San Diego. Returning to the “real” coast, we’ll bird the oak-covered Laguna Mountains for local specialties like Oak Titmouse, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, and the nomadic Lawrence’s Goldfinch. Moving along the coast, we’ll make a few designated stops that should yield White-tailed Kite, Elegant Tern, Heermann’s Gull, and a nice mix of shorebirds that we hope will include a few Surfbirds. We’ll spend the night outside San Diego.
Day 7: Coastal Los Angeles. The morning will be dedicated to finding the lively California Gnatcatcher in coastal chaparral between San Diego and Los Angeles. Traveling north through the L.A. area, we’ll stop at migrant spots, including Huntington Beach Central Park. Although perhaps best known as a location for the resident exotic, Nutmeg Munia, this park also provides refuge for unpredictable eastern vagrant flycatchers or wood warblers, like American Redstart. Nearby estuaries are home to “Light-footed” Clapper Rail and “Belding’s” Savannah Sparrow. We end the day in Ventura for a two-night stay.
Day 8: Santa Cruz Island. Today we will visit Santa Cruz Island, home to the extremely local and endemic Island Scrub-Jay. Rocks along the island’s shore often play host to shorebirds like Wandering Tattler, Black Turnstone, and Black Oystercatcher. The boat trip to the island may afford us views of pelagic species like Black-vented, Pink-footed, and Sooty Shearwaters, or with a little luck even a Craveri’s or Xantus’s Murrelet.
Day 9: Ventura. Ventura is home to many of the quintessential Californian endemics like California Thrasher, California Quail, California Towhee, and Wrentit; this morning we’ll try to pick up any of these that we may still be missing. Aside from these key birds, the exotic Black-hooded Parakeet has recently become established in some nearby canyons, and this species may be added to the ABA list in the future. We’ll also bird the flatlands for shorebirds and others, hoping for a surprise or two; this area is prone to Asian wanderers like Pacific Golden-Plover and Red-throated Pipit.
Day 10: Los Angeles. The tour ends this morning at the hotel.