10. Monterey Bay, California
A 30-mile stretch of the central California coast, Monterey Bay is a favorite spot for birders, especially in winter. The mild climate and unique mix of habitat make the bay area a haven for wintering birds. Birders in Santa Cruz, the north side of the bay, often count more than 100 bird species in a day during winter.
State parks in the area offer a wide range of birding — Natural Bridges State Park for seabirds, Forest of Nisene Marks State Park for woodland species, Moss Landing State Park for shorebirds. And Elkhorn Slough, one of the largest wetlands on the West Coast, attracts great numbers of water birds — scoters, grebes, murres, cormorants, and more. Pelagic trips are a big draw as well, due to the albatross, auklets, murrelets, shearwaters, storm-petrels, and other deep-water species that are often spotted relatively close to shore.
Renata Warner of Aurora, Colorado, calls the bay area her “absolute favorite hotspot” for more than just its diverse birdlife (she picked up 11 life birds there in one day): “The amount of other wildlife and marine life, 17-Mile Drive, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the amazing clam chowder in the bread bowl that you can buy at the pier, and the wonderful, wonderful sea air! A truly glorious experience!”
Location: On the coast of California, 90 miles south of San Francisco • Best time to visit: October through April for the biggest variety of species • Birds:Amazing bird diversity, from Black-footed and Laysan Albatross to Anna’s Hummingbird and Wandering Tattler • Contact: Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society: Carol Anderson, board secretary, (831) 663-0667; Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Elkhorn Slough Foundation: (831) 728-2822; Moss Landing Chamber of Commerce: (831) 633-4501
“The warm scent of wildflowers soothes your winter-weary nose, and your ears are treated to the sound of hundreds of marsh birds. From behind you comes a rising buzz, then a flash of color as a hummingbird zips by. Spring birding in New England? Nope. This is winter in California, and you’ve discovered a true birding hotspot.” — “Monterey Bay, California” by Laird Henkel, Birder’s World, December 1997, pp. 56-60