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USA Trip Info (San Francisco & Monterey/Chicago)

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Old Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 11:12   #1
Alexjh1
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USA Trip Info (San Francisco & Monterey/Chicago)

Hi, firstly apologies for not sticking this in the US forums, but they don't seem to get a great deal of traffic, so thought here would make more sense.

Essentially, fingers crossed at a little bit of holiday date wrangling, I'm intending to visit the US for the first time in mid-May and was wondering about some thoughts on the birding front.

It won't be only a birding holiday, but will have a heavy element of if but also will be a little bit restricted in how long I have access to a car for some slightly elaborate reasons.

Anyway, as I've never been to the US or the Americas at all before, I'm guessing it should be 90-95% new species for me anyway, not to mention whole families that I've never personally seen before (hummingbirds and pelicans for instance) so racking up stacks of lifers should be pretty easy, but that also means I don't really have the inbuilt knowledge of what is worth tracking down beyond my own personal preferences of groups.

As it stands my rough idea is:

California
San Francisco in general for basic California/Bay Area birds
Hopefully a trip
Monterey via Elkhorn Slough for coastal birds (but mainly sea otters)
A Whalewatching trip with whatever birds I can get in to that
A detour back via either Pinnacles NP or Big Sur to try for Condors
Mountain View Shoreline for Black Skimmer and Burrowing Owl

Chicago
Staying with a friend who knows where to see Bald Eagle and Sandhill Crane
Montrose Point for a bunch of migrants

This doesn't really have the space to be an intensive birding trip overall, my impression is I should hopefully be able to get 100+ new species over the course of the trip with a bit of luck. But really apart from the Monterey excursion section, I'll be largely limited to public transport.

But in terms of what should I pay attention to, for instance with local context should I be for instance looking at all the local sparrow species I can rack up in Chicago or are there known spots in parks for owls in either city?

Also which is a better bet for the Condors - Big Sur or Pinnacles? The latter sounds better for birding in general, but the former better for Condors specifically?

Thanks for any help!
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Old Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 14:32   #2
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Sounds like a good general coastal CA itinerary. You might want to look at ebird to locate specialties.

https://ebird.org/barchart?byr=2018&...emo=12&r=US-CA

I've seen condor at both - Pinnacles they are apparently pretty much guaranteed. I've sometimes missed them at Big Sur

Sea Otters are typically fairly easy ... there are places around pebble beach and Monterrey that are good for them, though saying that I've sometimes missed them in reliable places so best to have a few spots.

Off the top of my head Black Skimmer is fairly common near Moss Landing
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Old Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 15:16   #3
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Sounds like a good plan overall.

Don't know if they'd count for your list, but while in downtown San Francisco keep your eyes peeled for feral parrots - there are a couple hundred of them now.

Also I'd recommend taking a half day and driving south to Big Basin state park. You'll see the tallest trees in the world, and if you take some of the quieter paths you'll also see some woodland birds that you'd probably miss otherwise.

Owls are going to be tough unless you know where to find a nest or roost. Check with the local Audubon society, odds are good there's a nest/roost hole in a public park somewhere. Note that some species lay eggs in winter, but chicks may still be on the nest in May in Chicago.
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Old Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 15:48   #4
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If you find yourself in the Oakland, CA area after reviewing eBirds or whatnot, feel free to look me up. Tammy and I are always looking for an excuse to visit our local birding spots. Of course, we'll be using our cameras more than our binoculars. :)
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Old Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 16:57   #5
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I've posted some info about San Fransico. It's a few years since we've been so things might have changed. We were staying at Fisherman's Wharf and a lot of the places I mention were within walking distance.

The Presidio and Chrisy Fields has fenced off areas of natural dunes and plants near a newly developed fenced scrape.
Great Northern Divers,Western Grebes,Red throated Divers and Surf Scoters 100 yards from shore.
Killdeer,Willets,Great Blue Heron,Black Crowned Night Heron,Annas Hummingbird,Snowy Egret,Western Gull,Comon scoter,Red breasted Merganser,American Kestrel,American Crow,White Crowned SparrowBuflehead,American Coot Mallard all on or near the scrape.
This area is walkable from hotel or one 10 minute bus ride away.

Near Golden Gate Bridge there were Red Tailed Hawk,Surf Scoter,Palaegic,Brandt and Double Crested Cormorant,Allens Humingbird,Willet,Dark Headed Junco,Gold Crested Sparrow,Black Bellied Magpie,Cowbird.

Golden Gate Park-Black Phoebe,Bushtit,Velvet Green Swallow,Scrub Jay,Ameerican Robin Red winged Blackbird,Pied Bill Grebe,Yellow rumped Warbler,Allen and Anna's Hummingbird.

Cliff House again is a short bus ride away.Here the Pacfic meets the Bay.Loads of auks including Pigeon Guillimot,Grebes,and Divers.
Also saw Black Turnstone,Black Oysercatcher,Willet,Sanderling and the common gull species.There was a Ring Neck Duck,in Sutro Baths.

Alcatraz doubles as a bird reserve and there were all above mentioned Cormorants as well as a Pigeon Guillimot and nesting Black Crowned Night Herons.
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Old Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 17:28   #6
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For Hummingbirds botanical garden is excellent.

http://montereybaybotanicalgarden.com/Home_Page.php

Hummingbirds prefers Metrosideros flower, eventhough Metrosideros originally comes from areas where not live Hummingbirds.
It was possible in Monterrey botanical graden to come until 2 meters to the birds. Excellent for video camera !

The different of US to Europe is the much lower excape distance of birds in US.
I suppose the hunting in Europe is the big problem.
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Old Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 17:33   #7
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see also
https://arboretum.ucsc.edu/visit/bird-list/index.html

https://www.elkhornnursery.com/garde.../hummingbirds/

http://www.laspilitas.com/garden/hummingbird.html

May first Hummingbirds in US, I saw in Alaska near Haines !
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Old Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 21:35   #8
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Wow thank you everyone! A lot of good info there to ponder on!

A bit of an extra question - though I'd still like to do a whale watching trip from Monterey, been looking at the San Francisco Whale Tour Fallaron Island Trip too, and that definitely holds some appeal - more auks, elephant seal, fur seal, maybe GW shark, slightly different whale possibilities(?) etc.

Would the two trips overlap or would they work out complementary? I am really hoping for the possibility of albatross and some other shearwaters and similar from Monterey with a bit of luck, but it's a tricky call to make on a finite trip and I would love to increase my auk count a bit. Do I do both, or just one spend the time getting perhaps a bigger selection of landbirds elsewhere?
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Old Wednesday 4th April 2018, 10:03   #9
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Wow thank you everyone! A lot of good info there to ponder on!

A bit of an extra question - though I'd still like to do a whale watching trip from Monterey, been looking at the San Francisco Whale Tour Fallaron Island Trip too, and that definitely holds some appeal - more auks, elephant seal, fur seal, maybe GW shark, slightly different whale possibilities(?) etc.

Would the two trips overlap or would they work out complementary? I am really hoping for the possibility of albatross and some other shearwaters and similar from Monterey with a bit of luck, but it's a tricky call to make on a finite trip and I would love to increase my auk count a bit. Do I do both, or just one spend the time getting perhaps a bigger selection of landbirds elsewhere?
I saw lots of seabirds from Cliff House which is a short bus ride from Fishermans Wharf and also from the Golden Gate area especially when the western wind got up one day and blew a lot of birds into the bay.
As you walk towards Chrissy Fields and the Presido [along the bay shoreline just west of Fishermans Wharf] you should also see divers, scoters and grebes
Have a great time!

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Old Friday 6th April 2018, 10:10   #10
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how long I have access to a car for some slightly elaborate reasons.
Try to rent a car, because very few birding spots in the USA are accessible without it. Avoid Dollar company, because it has big hidden fees on insurance sub-clauses etc. Last time Dollar charged me $120 hidden cost above the agreed price.

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San Francisco in general for basic California/Bay Area birds
I found south towards Monterey better, mostly because of less traffic jams and more habitat. Travel times in California are long, because of traffic. It is also better to avoid national parks and officially designated reserves, which are over-organized from the point of an European (paid car parks which over-fill, too few walking trails etc).

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Monterey via Elkhorn Slough for coastal birds (but mainly sea otters)
I can very much recommend Moss Landing and Jetty Road to the Moss Landing viewing point. Lots of sea otters and birds very close in a 'yacht lake'. There is even a sign to watch for sea otters crossing the road.

In the Monterey harbor, there is a Sealion colony, but those are also in downtown San Francisco.

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A detour back via either Pinnacles NP or Big Sur to try for Condors
Last year Big Sur coastline road was closed due to landslides, and I got great views of condors at Pinnacles. Simply check where the condors were seen last few day.

For most sightings, it is essential to watch ebird. That is how I got my condors. However, ebird requires knowing some tricks.

- Before going to a place, see the ebird what was seen recently. For an outsider, equally valuable is what was not seen. Instead of worrying about 10 species of sparrows, which would be difficult to identify to somebody first time in the USA, you can concentrate on only 2 or so.

- A portion of sightings at ebird are wrong. So, in general, only plan to see a bird which was reported several times in the last days from the place.

- A portion of sites at ebird are useless, because they cover enormous areas, e.g. 30 mile long road or 30 square mile forest. Many such sites you can simply forget as a waste of time trying to figure out where the bird is. Only few such places can be deduced where the birds are, because Americans will stick to the place closest to the car park.

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Old Saturday 7th April 2018, 18:05   #11
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Try to rent a car, because very few birding spots in the USA are accessible without it. Avoid Dollar company, because it has big hidden fees on insurance sub-clauses etc. Last time Dollar charged me $120 hidden cost above the agreed price.
I would avoid AVIS because many heavy fraud cases.
Rather good service has Hertz.

I do not know if You have car rental comparing homepage, I suppose yes.
In Germany I use check24 and cross at first premium insurance.
In case of accident i pay nothing and also roof, bottom, windows and wheels are fully insured.
Driving in US is much more relaxed than the most European countries.
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Old Sunday 8th April 2018, 01:32   #12
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Carrental: I have often used Carrentals.co.uk or rentalcars.co.uk and specifically gone for the offers that include insurance. Those offers are usually not included on pages directed at Americans. If taking an offer without any included insurance, my rule of thumb is that the real cost will be 2-3 times above what I see. The different companies don't seem to differ much regarding that. Notice that rental companies that are real low price often have an office off the airport which means extra time/hassle both when getting the car and handing it back.

Regarding birds: You will pass close to areas that have Yellow-billed Magpie, but you will have to make a detour to get them. It is a California endemic, so worth adding to your list when you are there (it took me 25 years after my first visit before I saw them, because I did not prioritize them first time around).

From San Fran you have maybe 100 miles north to Pt Reyes which have some great birds.

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Old Monday 9th April 2018, 12:31   #13
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Thanks for the car rental advice! That's in particular useful. I won't be driving myself as although I can drive, I passed my test less than a year ago so it'd be a struggle to find someone who would even rent to me specifically, and I'm not sure it would be a good idea trying to drive on an opposite-side-of-the-road country anyway until I have more experience, particularly with the distance involved.

In regards to the birds though - I've literally been sitting down and going through my large hardback "National Geographic Birds of North America" and writing out a list of what are in the areas, so I can then try and lower it down to specific targets. As it stands I think for me the headliners (excluding things that are lifers but seemingly pretty omnipresent ie. Great Blue Heron, American Crow, American Kestrel, American Coot etc) are:

California:
Turkey, Clark's Grebe, Western Grebe, Brown Pelican, American White Pelican(?), California Condor, Prarie Falcon, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, migratory waders, Heerman's Gull, Black Skimmer, Pigeon Guillemot, Tufted Puffin*, Rhincerous Auklet*, Burrowing Owl, Anna's Hummingbird, Allen's Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Steller's Jay, Western Scrub Jay, Yellow Billed Magpie, some Wrens, American Dipper, Roadrunner

Chicago:
Sandhill Crane, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Blue Jay, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Cardinal

Either:
Bald Eagle, Caspian Tern, Great Horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Martins + Swallows, Turkey vulture

There are of course loads of other species that would almost all be lifers for me, but I'm a bit of a peasant in regards to birding and unless it's particularly iconic, local or special I don't tend to go specifically looking for most small passerines. Montrose seems like a good compromise on that front as I can hopefully get a very solid selection in a very limited area.
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Old Monday 9th April 2018, 20:27   #14
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If you can get a lift, I would recommend visiting mines road/del puerto canyon road/san antonio valley road area east of San Jose/south of Livermore. I saw turkey, yellow-billed magpie, acorn and lewis's woodpecker, tricolored blackbird, lawrence's goldfinch, rock wren, phainopepla, lazuli bunting and many more species here 1 morning in mid may 2014. Not sure what if any public transport options would be here though?

The more times you can get out to sea the better. I went on a whale watching trip out of monterey and the only identifiable birds were sooty shearwaters, but the trip was cut short due to poor conditions. The previous trip the company did had black-footed and laysan albatrosses and a vagrant red-billed tropicbird! The sight(and smell!) of humpback whales is an incredible experience. I really wanted to do the farollon trip too but didn't have enough time to get that far north

Jetty road at moss landing, like mentioned above, was good for sea otter, and also gulls and some waders eg willet, long-billed curlew, marbled godwit, whimbrel. Snowy plover were nesting on the beach there, from where the road bends south, go onto the beach and walk north

Mid may should be good for migration so maybe find a local park near to your accommodation and adopt it as your patch for your stay?
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Old Monday 9th April 2018, 21:44   #15
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If if you not driving yourself would uber or other taxis companies drive to some of these places if public transport won't get you there if there relative short distances?
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Old Wednesday 11th April 2018, 02:24   #16
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Thanks for the car rental advice! That's in particular useful. I won't be driving myself as although I can drive, I passed my test less than a year ago so it'd be a struggle to find someone who would even rent to me specifically, and I'm not sure it would be a good idea trying to drive on an opposite-side-of-the-road country anyway until I have more experience, particularly with the distance involved.
It would likely be a fairly easy transition to drive on the right ... Years ago I drove in Florida a few weeks after passing my UK driving license without difficulty. However CA are unforgiving on traffic violations as the state is broke and needs $$ (I haven't been pulled over there yet ...)

I quickly found this site should you want to rent....
https://millionmilesecrets.com/2013/...25-car-rental/

Travel by car is really the only realistic option for getting around conveniently.

Insurance is going to hit you though.... unless you can have a credit card or be an authorized user on one that covers CDW...(there is also LDW and 3rd party but CCs mostly don't cover these)
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Old Wednesday 11th April 2018, 12:57   #17
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If you aren't hiring a car you should see a lot of lifers in San Fransisco visiting the Presido, Chrissy Fields, the promenade towards the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Bath House and Sutro Baths ,all manageable walking or by public transport.We visited Monterey on a bus trip from San Fransisco.
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Old Monday 16th April 2018, 09:09   #18
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Things have gotten a little more complicated at this point, and now we probably won't have a car at all, so one new question if anyone knows anything -

Does anyone know of any guides in the SF or Monterey area who do transport inclusive birding day or half day trips? Specifically for looking for Condors as the priority while trying to rack up a decent count of other species as far as is possible, and realistically costing in the region of £120ish at most? I find it kind of interesting that for such a car heavy country, a lot of the prices I have found don't seem to include transport - I guess they might be working on the assumption that people already have their own car?
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Old Monday 16th April 2018, 15:34   #19
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specifically gone for the offers that include insurance.
I do it too. However, Dollar says it includes insurance, however at the rental window they show you a long list of things not included in the insurance. I recommend avoiding Dollar altogether, unless you are a lawyer and don't plan renting a car with minimum cost but to have a complex legal case.

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From San Fran you have maybe 100 miles north to Pt Reyes which have some great birds.
Point Reyes is a huge area where you need to know specific sub-spots to find the birds. For me, as a first time visitor, it was rather unproductive.

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"National Geographic Birds of North America"
Tip: Sibley Birds is much better book, and it is best to invest actually in the 'Sibley birds' app to avoid hauling the book in the field.

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If you can get a lift, I would recommend visiting mines road/del puerto canyon road/san antonio valley road area east of San Jose/south of Livermore.
I also recommend this place, but it has no public transport whatsoever. I saw there Yellow-billed Magpie, my first Roadrunner, etc. etc.

Mines Road is an example how oddly inconvenient and inadequate is Ebird compared to Waarneming. It lists as one spot the whole road more than 30 miles long, passing many habitats from the forest to streams, pastures, dry scrub and villages. Ebird gives no way to know where a particular record of a bird was made there. Also, Ebird records will turn incomparable and useless in future, if some part of this huge area gets changed or closed.

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we probably won't have a car at all
Try Birdingpal or some local mailing list or forum for somebody to take you along? But I cannot help in there.

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