PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 155, Winter 2009: Scientific Models for Conservation

Focus 77


Birding Through the Seasons

Staving Off Those Birdless Wintertime Blues

Rich Stallcup

Overview of Scientific Modeling
CEO's Column: Connectivity
Spatial Modeling
A Glossary of Modeling Terms
Temporal Modeling
Partners Using PRBO Models
Children Create Habitat
Focus: Winter Birding Blues
Remembering Dorothy Hunt
Farallon Patrol Braves the Waves

Well, late winter isn't really birdless. It's just that there is no great migration, no motion, it's cold, the days are short, and all the "staked out" rarities have been looked at so much their feathers have begun to wear. Naturally, everyone survives this inadequacy with their own methods, but here are a few ideas that may supplement those.

Do a Big Sit. That is, stay within a 12-foot diameter circle (or dimension of your choice) all day, or until you get bored, and watch the bird show. Pick a place with varied habitats, and count species as they move through. It may come as a surprise how big a list you can acquire by staying put, and your carbon footprints will be invisible. Jules Evens (a friend and a PRBO Research Associate) and I once did a Big Sit at Inverness, California, and in nine hours recorded 117 species.

Go to Moss Landing, Monterey County. Book passage on a two-hour Elkhorn Slough Wildlife Safari (831-633-5555 or You'll be face-to-face with sea otters, and the birding can be outrageous. This is aboard a 27-foot pontoon boat with seats, and the water is calm. After the cruise, bird Moss Landing harbor, then have lunch at Phil's Fish emporium. Overall, a memorable experience (on a dry day).

Bird coastal Mendocino. It's only a four-hour drive from San Francisco to Fort Bragg. Do that, and stay overnight to start a north-to-south tour in the morning. Go to Lake Cleone, just north of the town, then walk the boardwalk to Laguna Point at MacKerricher State Park. If you go to the point at high tide, it is likely you will pick out Rock Sandpipers among the many Surfbirds, turnstones and oystercatchers. To get there, turn west on Elm Street (north end of town, at Denny's) and drive one block; park and take the trail to the sea. There should be Harlequin Ducks in the roiling surge just off Glass Beach…and you will find nicely tumbled bits of old glass on the beach itself.
On a winter birding trip to Mendocino, a Gray Jay may join your picnic at Van Damme State Park. Photo by Scott Hein.

Farther south, at Little River beach, there is often a fine assortment of gulls, and inside Van Damme State Park (just across Highway One), Gray Jays may be happy to attend your picnic.

Just north of the turnoff to the Point Arena Lighthouse, Minor Hole Road overlooks the Garcia River bottoms that are alive with Anseriformes (swans, duck and geese), if there has been enough rain, and patrolled by a fine variety of raptors. The pier at Arena Cove – west of the south end of the town of Point Arena – can be fun, especially if "Al", the long-returning Laysan Albatross has returned.

Sifting through the many gulls at the mouth of the Gualala River (behind the Surf Motel or the video store of Gualala) will usually produce a Glaucous Gull or two, and Black-legged Kittiwakes. River Otters keep the river's mergansers and goldeneye awake.

Then drive home.

Watch TV. A few years ago, in one dreary winter month a birder friend of mine tallied more than 350 species in National Geographic specials. Couch-lister!

Go to Gray Lodge State Wildlife Management Area, west of Gridley and Live Oak in the Sacramento Valley, for a hike and to let your spirit cry out and fly.

Bird the interior of the California Academy of Sciences (this is best done on a weekday).

Fly to Hawaii. Sadly, there are so few native birds left there that you will have plenty of luau and tanning time. Take a whale-watching boat, and maybe you will see a Wedge-tailed Shearwater or Hawaiian Petrel over the humpbacks.

Rent the Alfred Hitchcock movie and identify all the birds coming out of the fireplace. So there are a few suggestions. It can seem a very long time between the first-arrival Allen's Hummingbirds on January 27th and the first-arrival songbirds towards the end of March. Stay inside, sit outside, go away on a day trip or a longer trip, or study in your local natural history museum. Spring migration will be rockin' soon, so stave off those birdless wintertime blues.

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