California reigns as North America’s champion of bird diversity. With 679 species on the state bird list (Jan 2015) and several endemic or near-endemic species, every birder should consider a pilgrimage to the Golden State. Big mountains, broad valleys, expansive deserts, and endless seashores each invite their own suite of specialty birds. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Magpie, Oak Titmouse, California Thrasher, Bell’s Sparrow, and Lawrence’s Goldfinch can all be found around the Central Valley. The forests bridging the Cascade Mountains and Sierra Nevada support startling numbers of woodpeckers. Pelagic birding adventures have produced seven albatross species, nine different storm-petrels, a dozen shearwaters, and 17 Alcids among the rich offshore waters of the California Pacific. Four major deserts reach into the state. Among them, one can find such prizes as Costa’s Hummingbird, Le Conte’s Thrasher, and Scott’s Oriole.
Enhancing the California birding experience, the state offers a lifetime supply of special places. Nine national parks and 20 national forests include such highlights as the tallest peak in the Lower 48 and both the oldest and largest living trees on Earth. California’s borders contain 3 times more wilderness areas than Alaska’s, including 52 wilderness areas over 50,000 acres. The California Floristic Province (which includes small portions of SW Oregon and No. Baja California) is one of the world’s 33 biodiversity hotpots, with the highest number of endemic plants in North America. The largest creature to ever live on Earth—the Blue Whale—can be seen from the bluffs along the California Coast. California might be like a bowl of granola (with its fruits, nuts, and flakes), but you’d be one yourself if you denied yourself a trip to this western wonderland.
In a large part due to its broad latitudinal reach, California offers excellent birding year-round. Here are some highlights:
Spring - Spring migration on the Pacific flyway; breeding resident specialty birds; carpets of wildflowers
Summer - Breeding resident specialty birds; late summer rarities; access to high elevations in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada
Fall - Fall migration on the Pacific Flyway; excellent time for rarities; peak pelagic season
Winter - Wintering shorebirds, waterfowl, and raptors, the former two in huge concentrations; wintering rarities; wintering seabirds