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Ano Nuevo State Reserve

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Old Sunday 27th July 2003, 05:56   #1
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Ano Nuevo State Reserve

Sunday, July 20, I visited Ano Nuevo State Reserve,
to see if there might still be any Bank Swallows there.
Bank Swallows have become rare in California, and
Ano Nuevo is one of the few places in the San
Francisco Bay Area where one can find them reliably.
I was also curious to see if there might be a repeat of
last summer's small outburst of local rarities, when
Ano Nuevo produced such unusual birds as Yellow-
breasted Chat and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Since I
had heard no reports from Ano Nuevo recently, the
only way to find out was to make a trip there.

I arrived at Ano Nuevo around 10:30 AM. Expecting
the cold, marine overcast that prevails there during the
summer months, I was a bit surprised to find it bright
and sunny, with relatively warm temperatures. There
was only the faintest of breezes drifting off the ocean;
it was just persistent enough to keep Ano Nuevo from
becoming too hot.

My first stop was Ano Nuevo Pond - a small, freshwater
pond located about a quarter of a mile north of the
Visitors Center, on some bluffs overlooking Cove Beach.
This pond can be an excellent place to spot Bank
Swallows in June, when they are breeding in the small
cavities that riddle some nearby cliffs; by now, however,
many of them had already departed for their wintering
grounds in South America, so there was no sign of them
here. I did, however, see a few BARN and CLIFF
SWALLOWS snapping up insects above the pond. It
was also a favorite bathing spot for a seemingly endless

From the pond, I followed the dirt trail north to Bight
Beach, where many of the reserve's Northern Elephant
Seals hang out. Along the way, I passed through a
broad expanse of coastal prairie, covered with a variety
of grasses and coyote brush. This area usually teems
this visit their numbers were down significantly. They
seemed to have fared poorly in this year's cold and
unusually wet spring.

After walking roughly half of a mile, the trail began to pick
its way through a long procession of rolling sand dunes.
Long ago, these dunes used to march inexorably
northwards, driven by the prevailing winds. When farms
began irrigating fields near these dunes, however, the
water table rose, allowing plants such as yellow bush
lupine, beach evening primrose, Monterey centaury, and
yellow parentucellia to establish themselves. Although
some of the dunes still march northwards with the wind,
many others are now fixed in place, shrouded in the
greens and grays of foliage, as well as the pinks and
yellows of summer wildflowers.

For the most part, there weren't that many birds among
these dunes - just the occasional HOUSE FINCH,
However, in the dunes just above Bight Beach, I finally
saw the BANK SWALLOWS that I'd been searching for -
three of them, flying in tight formation through a trough
between the dunes. They moved quickly, so I was only
able to observe the unbroken breastband on two of the
birds; then they flew up the side of a large dune with a
few squeaks and chatters, and vanished behind its
brow. It was a frustratingly brief observation, but better
than no observation at all.

After the Bank Swallows had disappeared, I continued
following the trail to the Bight Beach Overlook. There, I
was able to watch a relatively small group of NORTHERN
ELEPHANT SEALS snoozing in the sand. Most of them
were young males who had come ashore for their molt,
an awkward period in their lives when they do little more
than sleep. A few of the males had ventured into the surf
for some half-hearted play-fighting; most of these animals,
however, were quite inert.

Aside from a few EUROPEAN STARLINGS inspecting
beach wrack for bits of food, there were really no birds
onshore. Just offshore, however, I saw a few WESTERN
GULLS bobbing up and down on the gentle waves, and
a few BRANDT'S CORMORANTS dashing low across
the narrow passage of water between Ano Nuevo Point
and Ano Nuevo Island. A large group of Elephant Seals
was barking loudly from the island, but there was no
sign of the Rhinoceros Auklets that nest there.

Once I had seen all there was to see at Bight's Beach, I
began the long walk back to Ano Nuevo Pond. For the
most part, it was uneventful, although seeing BROWN
PELICANS fly overhead in formation is always an awe-
inspiring sight. There were now a lot of CLIFF and
BARN SWALLOWS flitting through the air, as well, but
unfortunately, there were no more Bank Swallows.

At Ano Nuevo Pond, I took the narrow trail down to
Cove Beach (also called Ano Nuevo Beach on some
maps). It was as nice a pocket beach as they come in
northern California: broad, flat, and sandy, with only a
few people strolling past the small waves that rolled
softly onto shore. Along the surfline, HEERMANN'S
GULLS foraged for mole crabs and other creatures that
had been briefly exposed by the advance and retreat of
the waves. However, they avoided the many By-the-
wind Sailors (Vellela vellela) that had washed up on
the beach; apparently, even the gulls can't tolerate the
thought of eating these jellyfish!

I now headed south along the beach, walking almost its
entire length. As I did, I searched the waters offshore for
any interesting birds, but found only a single PIGEON
GUILLEMOT and 3 over-summering SURF SCOTERS.
When I reached the small trickle of water that was Ano
Nuevo Creek, I took a steep trail back up to the blufftops;
there, I found myself passing through a dense stand of
poison hemlock, toyon, and Monterey pine. In this area,
the birds tended to remain well-hidden; however, I did
manage to hear the trill of a SPOTTED TOWHEE, the
rattle of an ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD, and the twittering
of a few BUSHTITS. As with the other landbird species
here, their numbers were down significantly from
previous years.

The trail continued on to the Visitors Center, which was
closed. From there, it was a short walk back to the parking
lot, where I heard an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER calling
loudly from some well concealed spot near the entrance
road into the reserve. Before I left, I also noticed 6 BAND-
TAILED PIGEONS fly over the parking lot, then land in a
large cluster of Monterey pines.

It had been a relatively quiet walk, but summers here
can be hit-or-miss. As the year wanes, the birding here
will improve markedly. Fall will bring vagrant landbirds
to the trees around the Visitors Center, and winter will
bring sea ducks, shorebirds, and the breeding battles
of the Elephant Seals. In any case, the walk had been
a pleasant way to spend a gorgeous summer's day, and
it was great to finally add Bank Swallow to my year list.

Good Birding!
Arnel Guanlao


Additional information on Ano Nuevo State Reserve can be found
at the following links:

California State Parks

Virtual Parks (map):


Bay Area Hiker:


Bank Swallows in California:

Northern Elephant Seals:


Ano Nuevo State Reserve
San Mateo County, CA

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Brandt's Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus)
Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)
California Quail (Callipepla californica)
American Coot (Fulica americana)
Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni)
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)
Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba)
Band-tailed Pigeon (Columba fasciata)
Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)
Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi)
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)
Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)
Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia)
Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)
Bewick's Wren (Thryomane bewickii)
Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata)
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
Brewer's Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)


By-the-wind Sailor (Vellela vellela)
Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris)

Last edited by ArnelGuanlao : Sunday 27th July 2003 at 06:01.
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Old Sunday 27th July 2003, 12:10   #2
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Sounds like a splendid walk to me -- but then, the thought of walking along a California beach is something I've only once had the opportunity to do! And that was at night, in San Diego. In fog, in December.

I think every bird you mentioned, with the exception of the Starlings, would have been a lifer for me, as would the jellyfish. I did see the NE Seals while in San Diego -- what big oafish-looking creatures! But I understand they have quite bully-ish, nasty personalities.

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.
--Langston Hughes
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Old Sunday 27th July 2003, 23:00   #3
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Hi Beverly....

I'm sure if I ever made it to Indiana (or any place east of the Mississippi, for that matter), I'd be adding plenty of lifers to my list, as well....So many birds, so little time!

Northern Elephant Seals can be brutish, and they can move a lot faster on land than many people suspect, so the California State Park Service does its best to keep people away from the animals. Their mainland haul-out areas are roped off all year long, and during their breeding season (November to March), they do not allow anyone to visit the haul-out areas by themselves. To see the seals during breeding season, you must sign up in advance for a ranger-led walk.

Arnel Guanlao
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Old Monday 28th July 2003, 00:20   #4
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Smile Coincidences

Now there's a (semi-) coincidence, Arnel. I just read your welcome in my introduction thread today (July 27) after getting back from a little walk this morning with my wife down Cascade Creek Trail (I think) at Ano Nuevo. We also spent some time wandering around at Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Given I still don't really know what I'm doing as far as birding goes - okay let's face it, I don't have a clue - it was still fun. Mind you, the upside to being a beginner is that nearly EVERY bird is a life bird for me at the moment.

Anyway, the birds I encountered this morning, at both places, were:

Swanton Road
- California Quail Callipepla californica

Pigeon Point
- Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
- (edit) deleted California Gull (even less sure than I was before)*
- Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba
- Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus
- House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus**

Ano Nuevo
- Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres***
- Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala
- (edit) deleted Semipalmated Plover - not sure
- (edit) deleted Red Tailed Hawk - on reflection not sure at all.

* However, this identification is based on the National Geographic guide showing the California Gull with yellow legs (which the bird I saw definitely had) and the Western Gull with pink legs - so I could well be wrong (I might have a picture that shows the bird I saw well enough for identification - I'll post it later if so).

** The usual red together with a yellow variant. The two were foraging together.

*** This seems to be just a tad unusual that it should be here at this time of year (according to the guide). One of the photos may show it and if so, I'll post it. (edit) Posted image of the Turnstones at

Not a lot I know, and there's probably some mis-identified in there (particularly the Ruddy Turnstone and maybe the plover), and there's some where I'm so unsure of the ID that I haven't listed them at all, but it's a start. :)

I hope you don't mind me butting into your thread like this Arnel. Please let me know if it's a problem.


Last edited by Option1 : Monday 28th July 2003 at 04:08.
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Old Monday 28th July 2003, 06:55   #5
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Hi, Neil,

Welcome to birding! It IS fun, isn't it? :-)

Although I'm living in AZ right now, I'm a native Californian but from the LA area. That is definitely a ruddy turnstone on the R side of your photo in the gallery. Very nice, too!

I wouldn't worry over much about range maps in field guides. They can help more often than not, but it's weird how birds just don't pay attention to those maps! :-) During any changes in weather or especially in California, if it's an El Nino year, you can expect the unexpected just about everywhere you go. Ask those fishermen in Seattle who were catching tropical marlin in 1998 off their own coastline! Whoa!

Red-tail hawks are usually pretty easy to ID in this country: they're the only raptor with a reddish tail (it's actually more of a cinnamon or rufous color than true red, like your house finch). Do you remember if your bird had this?

Sounded like a nice afternoon's walk!


Last edited by Katy Penland : Monday 28th July 2003 at 07:01.
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Old Monday 28th July 2003, 08:46   #6
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Hi Neil,

No problem at all with your additions to the thread.....that's what a forum is
for, after all! Regarding your "questions":

1) Western and California Gulls are the most likely gulls you'll see in this
at this time of the year. Adult Western gulls are large, white-headed
gulls, with a very dark "mantle"; a big, blocky bill; and pink legs. Adult
California Gulls are white-headed gulls that have a more graceful look
to them - they are fairly small, with a fairly pale, gray mantle; a
relatively small bill; and yellowish legs. Several other species of gull
arrive here in the fall and winter months. Gulls as a family are one
of the harder ones to learn. The best way to learn them is to go to
your local dump or boat harbor and study them in detail.

2) Although many shorebirds spend their "summers" breeding up in
the Arctic, their "summers" are really short - usually between 6 to
8 weeks. After the parents have finished raising their young, they
begin migrating south, usually by the early part of July. So it is
not unusual for both the Black and Ruddy Turnstones to be here
now. Your photograph shows both birds - the two dark, black birds
with black legs are Black Turnstones; the browner bird with the
"lobes" on its breast and the reddish legs is a Ruddy Turnstone.
Nice shot, by the way!

3) The Semipalmated Plover has a single, complete breast band. It's
the only common one on the West Coast to have just one. Killdeer
have two breast bands; Snowy Plovers have a partial breast band;
the other common West Coast plovers have no breast band at all.
I've never seen them at Ano Nuevo before, but I have seen them
up at Pescadero Marsh, so it's a definite possibility.

4) What Katy says about Red-tailed Hawks is true, unless the Red-tailed
Hawk is a juvenile. Then, you would have to look for the hawk's
patagial marks under the wings - or do what I did when I first started
birding, which was throw up my hands and say, 'Hawk!'

Hope this helps! Keep gets better with experience....


Last edited by ArnelGuanlao : Monday 28th July 2003 at 09:34.
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Old Tuesday 29th July 2003, 05:20   #7
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Thanks for the welcome Katy and yes it is fun.

As for the Hawk, well the reason I decided I shouldn't tick it is that I just couldn't get a good enough view. All the views I kept getting were contrasted against the foggy sky and hence the underside of the bird just looked too black to be sure of what I was seeing (if that convoluted explanation makes sense).

Thanks to you as well Arnel.

With the gull it looked too big to be the California Gull and although my memory (and my notes) swear that it had yellow legs, the photo I have of it suggests otherwise. Anyway, I'll finish post-processing the image and think some more about it.

I've decided that I really did see the Semipalmated Plover - definitely single, complete chest band. Yippeee, another one on the list. :)

It was nice to get the Turnstones confirmed as being ID'd correctly. Thanks again.

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Old Tuesday 29th July 2003, 09:54   #8
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Talking And one more

One more to add to my Ano Nuevo list that I've been able to postively identify from my notes and memory with a closer study of the guide and looking at some images online. To whit:

- Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus - an adult male.

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