These are some our Favorite Birding Spots
Confidence/South Fork Rd. to Lyons Dam Trail
The first 1.0 to 1.5 miles of this old railroad grade has a variety of vegetative communities. This leads to a good variety of the birds that are adapted to the 4300-foot elevation. At least 95 species have been spotted on the first mile during the past 10 years. These include woodpeckers, warblers, flycatchers, sparrows, raptors and vireos. Such interesting birds as Band-tailed Pigeon, Mountain Quail, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Mountain & Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Winter Wren, Townsend’s Solitaire, Varied Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bullock’s & Hooded Orioles and Cassin’s and Purple Finches may be spotted in season. This site provides a very nice 1.5 to 2.5 hour, 2-mile birding walk.
To get there turn north off State Highway 108 onto Confidence/South Fork Road just in front of the Confidence Inn. Proceed about 2 miles up, over a ridge to Middlecamp Road. Jog west (left) about 100 yards. Turn north (right) and park anywhere you can find a place. The trail is a gated forest road that leads east, starting about 50 yards from Middlecamp Road.
There are a number of good places to do an hour or so of birding in the Sonora area. These include Phoenix Lake, Lambert Lake and the TUD wastewater pond near Jamestown. The latter two require permission to enter the grounds. Parking is a bit scarce around Phoenix Lake.
A favorite area that runs south for four miles from Jamestown. This is a great area for raptors, owls and many passerines. There are two or three ponds along the way which have attracted a Bald Eagle, Hooded Mergansers and Barrow’s Goldeneyes the last few winters. Unfortunately there are very few places to park along this road. The shoulders are mostly narrow and the traffic tends to speed a bit. Walking is the best way to bird this area.
East of Tuolumne City
. . . is an abandoned railroad grade that extends east from the town. This is now an official recreational trail. A couple of miles out you can take an old, steep “road” down to a bridge crossing the Tuolumne North Fork. The trail passes through a brushy lightly-forested south facing habitat. It usually sports a variety of Woodpeckers and Jays. On a Christmas Count a few years ago two California Thrashers were spotted here.
South Fork of the Stanislaus River
The south fork of the Stanislaus, below Strawberry but at a higher elevation, is a good place for Goshawks and Mountain Quail. Pinecrest Lake is good for Osprey and an array of higher elevation birds. Also, higher up near Sonora Pass is a good place for Clark’s Nutcrackers, Evening Grosbeaks and Cassin’s Finches.
Calaveras and Alpine Counties
New Melones Lake
. . . has trails that are a very good place to spot Woodpeckers and Sapsuckers. This lake vies with Lake Don Pedro for having the most Golden Eagles and wintering Bald Eagles in Calif. Also, it may well have the most Osprey in the summer. Here is also a good place to spot water birds including Clark’s Grebes mixed in with the Western Grebes.
Salt Springs Valley and Salt Springs Valley Reservoir
. . . in Calaveras County make up another favorite nearby birding area. To get there turn north off SR-4 at Copperopolis. Stop and have a look for water birds at the pond on your left just after you leave SR-4. Be sure to park at the extreme north end of this pond as the homeowner on the other side of the pond has requested people to not park directly across from his home The drive in from there is a great place for Yellow-billed Magpies, Phainopeplas and Lewis’s Woodpeckers. In the winter, the valley is as good a place as any we know of for Ferruginous and Rough Legged Hawks. Also burrows on hillsides house Burrowing Owls. The lake attracts a very wide variety of wintering water- and shore-birds. The last few winters a large “raft” of Pied-billed Grebes (and a few Eared Grebes mixed in) have been seen practicing cooperative feeding. This valley and along the side road leading westward directly down to the “Central Valley”, is a very good place to spot Tricolored Blackbirds.
Murphys to Arnold
. . . on SR-4 is a good stretch with a number of small lakes off to the south. These make for a very good opportunity to view wintering water birds at a fairly close range. This is particularly true of the holding-water ponds used to irrigate the Golf Course at the Forest Meadows Development. The landscaping of the homes here also attract many birds. On Christmas Bird counts a flocks of 20 or so Red Crossbills have been spotted here.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
. . . provides a birding opportunity at one’s leisure in wonderful surroundings. The species list is somewhat limited, and most tend to be deep woods species. Two noted examples are Pileated and White-headed Woodpeckers. Goshawks can be found in this park at the South Grove.
State Route 120 in Yosemite Park
. . . with its many forest, meadow and riparian habitats gives access to a wide variety of species. Tuolumne Meadows is particularly productive. Just over the top, beyond Tioga Pass a gravel road to the north leads to Saddlebag Lake. There you can work the edges of the snow fields and rocky slopes for Rosy Finches and Ptarmigan among the usual high elevation species like Blue Grouse.
Wilms and Rock River roads
At the lower elevations one can exit State Highway-120/108 at Knight’s Ferry. Take Wilms Road south to Rock River Road. Go left on Rock River rejoining SR-120/108 several miles later on from La Grange Road. Here you will pass through Savanna and Oak Grassland Habitats with good chances at Horned Larks and Lewis’s Woodpeckers as well as riparian and water birds around and on a couple of ponds you will pass. Road Runners and Prairie Falcons have also been seen along here. Please note that the lower portion of Rock River Road to the Tuolumne County line is gravel and dirt and can be very muddy to impassable in the rainy season.
. . . is another lower elevation site. It is a little tricky to reach because only westbound traffic can exit SR-120/108 onto its road. If going eastbound you have to go past to the Tulloch Lake exit and turn back to the access. This leads to the Stanislaus River where it passes through a canyon. This Riparian area supports a wide variety of birds. These include Prairie Falcons, Osprey, Phainopepla, Canyon and Rock Wrens, and Swifts. The terrain here is hilly and hiking established trails gives the best access.
Tullock Lake Dam
Below the dam, the Stanislaus River flows down through a canyon. A lot of this stretch is viewable from the Tulloch Lake West Road. Also, some good birds, including a Red-necked Loon, have recently been seen on Tullock Lake from the resort there.
Dawson Lake is near La Grange in Stanislaus County, just south of the junction of J-59 and SR-132. This is a good site in the winter for Wilson’s Snipe, Wigeons, and Hooded and Common Mergansers. Both Golden and Bald Eagles have been spotted here. Just south of the lake on a electrical tower Ospreys have nested for several years.