Where to watch shorebirds, waterfowl, warblers, and other birds on California's central coast.
By Chuck Graham | Published: 4/25/2014
A few miles down the road from the former estate of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst lies Hearst San Simeon State Park, one of my favorite birdwatching spots along California’s rocky central coastline.
I enjoy being able to bird on the beach, continue for half a mile through wetlands, and then, in a few hundred yards, watch for birds in rare pine forests. A 3.3-mile interpretive loop trail connects visitors with all the park’s habitats: grasslands, woodlands, riparian areas, and coastal scrub. From the trail’s raised boardwalk, I carefully search for owls perched in the willows and for breeding Swainson’s Thrush and Wilson’s Warbler.
When I scan for Western Snowy Plovers on the beach, I am never disappointed. They’re camouflaged well above the wrack line, where they bed down in small depressions in the sand. The pond at the mouth of San Simeon Creek is a good spot for waterfowl, gulls, and shorebirds. Pygmy Nuthatches congregate in the Monterey pine forest along the southeastern boundary of the park. Watch for raptors soaring over the grasslands and roosting in riparian corridors throughout the park. — Chuck Graham
Chuck Graham is a writer and photographer who writes often about birds in California. He also wrote about Elkhorn Slough, Hotspot Near You No. 154, Moss Landing, Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Carpinteria, No. 116, Soda Lake, Bakersfield, No. 123, Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, Guadalupe, No. 138, Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, Santa Barbara, No. 151, and Mendocino Headlands State Park, No. 167, Mendocino.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Coastal bluffs, beach, creeks, coastal wetlands, coastal sage scrub, grasslands, Monterey pine forest, oak groves, riparian corridors, rolling foothills, and mountains.
Easy to moderate paths. A maintained single-track trail and boardwalk. Interpretive trail wheelchair-accessible on the boardwalk.
More than 225 species. Western Snowy and Black-bellied Plovers, Killdeer, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Black Turnstone, Mew, Heermann’s, and Western Gulls, Sooty Shearwater, Pigeon Guillemot, Brandt’s Cormorant, Cinnamon Teal, Pied-billed, Horned, Eared, Western, and Clark’s Grebes, Black Oystercatcher, Green Heron, White-tailed Kite, Golden Eagle, Great Horned and Barn Owls, Black Phoebe, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Belted Kingfisher, Swainson’s Thrush, Wilson’s, Yellow-rumped, and Townsend’s Warblers, Pygmy and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper.
When to go
Overlooks, interpretive signs, and benches. Campgrounds for RV and car camping and for backpackers. All campgrounds possess fire pits, picnic tables, and restrooms. Food and gas stations in Cambria. Visitor center five miles north at Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument.
State park. No fee for parking in Washburn Day-Use Area dawn to dusk. Camping fees vary; see www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=737. RTA Route 15 bus stops at the day-use area; see www.slorta.org for schedule.
Bring a spotting scope. Dress in layers. Mornings can be cool; northwest winds generally pick up in afternoon.
For more info
Hearst San Simeon State Park, (805) 927-2020.
Morro Bay State Park
21 miles south of Cambria off Hwy. 1, a great place for waterfowl, shorebirds, and Peregrine Falcon. Park at Morro Rock at the end of Coleman Dr.
Montaña de Oro State Park
10 miles south of Morro Bay. In Los Osos, take Pecho Valley Rd. south to Spooner’s Cove. Shorebirds, raptors, warblers, and sparrows.