Hotspots Near You

154. Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, California

A Globally Important Bird Area on the central California coast that attracts Long-billed Curlew, Whimbrel, godwits, and more than 300 other birds.
By Chuck Graham | Published: 12/14/2012

Caspian Terns congregating on mudflats, plump pelicans plunging their beaks into the shallows for food, and southern sea otters cracking open clams — at Elkhorn Slough, one of the largest estuaries in California, I’ve paddled alongside them all. And the mudflats have always been a great place to beach your kayak near Long-billed Curlews, Whimbrels, godwits, and other shorebirds.

The seven-mile-long slough provides much-needed habitat for more than 340 species of birds. The Elkhorn Slough Foundation, two state-run marine areas, and the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve protect more than 8,000 acres of land and water. The slough is recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area and a Site of Regional Importance in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Birding it from a kayak is a tranquil and unique experience. The mudflats are crowded with shorebirds and California Brown Pelicans, and farther back are egrets and Great Blue Herons. In addition to birding by kayak, visitors can walk five miles of hiking trails in the research reserve through oak woodlands, mudflats, and other habitats. — Chuck Graham

Chuck Graham is a writer and photographer who writes often about birds in California. He also wrote about Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Carpinteria, Hotspot Near You No. 116, Soda Lake, Bakersfield, No. 123, Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, Guadalupe, No. 138, and Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, Santa Barbara, No. 151.

154. Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, California

Directions

Elkhorn Slough harbors a vast tidal salt marsh on the central California coast. From north- or southbound Hwy. 1, turn east onto Dolan Rd. in the town of Moss Landing. Drive 3.5 miles, turn left onto Elkhorn Rd., and go 1.9 miles to the gate of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Downloadable Files

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
36°48’59.55″N 121°43’49.84″W

Habitat 

Tidal channels, mudflats, salt marsh, fresh water, open beaches, harbor and bay, coastal dunes, grasslands, scrub, woodlands, and riparian areas.

Terrain 

Mostly flat with a few rolling hills. The hiking is relatively easy.

Birds 

340 species. California Brown and American White Pelicans, Caspian Tern, Western Snowy, Black-bellied, and Semipalmated Plovers, Marbled Godwit, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Sooty Shearwater, Canada Goose, Green- and Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Osprey, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Great Horned Owl, Bonaparte’s, Ring-billed, and California Gulls, Elegant Tern (fall), Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Willow Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Violet-green and Barn Swallows, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, Bushtit, Bewick’s Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Wrentit, Cedar Waxwing, Wilson’s Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Dark-eyed Junco, and Purple Finch.

When to go

October through May.

Amenities 

Docent-led tours Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Birding tour the first Saturday of each month at 8:30 a.m.

Access 

Tidal salt marsh protected by state and federal ownership and a non-profit foundation. Open year-round. Reserve and visitor center hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 9-5. $4 day-use fee for visitors 16 and older. Annual pass $20.75.

Tips 

The only launching and landing sites for kayaks are at Moss Landing North Harbor and Kirby Park.

For more info

Elkhorn Slough Foundation and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, (831) 728-2822.
Slough Sightings blog 

Sites nearby

Moss Landing Wildlife Area
Just north of the town of Moss Landing on the east side of Hwy. 1. A short, easy trail adjacent to the main channel of the slough is a great spot to watch sea otters, harbor seals, and a slew of migrating birds.

Kirby Park
North of reserve on Elkhorn Rd. A slough-side boardwalk is the only wheelchair-accessible trail at the slough.

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