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Greg Miller's Big Year Tour Series

CALIFORNIA: Northern Mountains and Coast



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2019 :: September 2 - September 8
2020 :: September 6 - September 12
2021 :: September 5 - September 11



From: $1,950 (See details)
Cost is per person, double occupancy from San Jose, CA (SJC)


3-7 Participants



2020 7 spaces available

2021 7 spaces available


This tour is available as a private trip for any size group. The tour cost will vary with the number of people and any custom requests.

  • If not already completed, please enter the tour name above.


53 + 7 =

Highlights of CALIFORNIA: Northern Mountains and Coast

  • Majestic California Condor over scenic Big Sur
  • Endemic Yellow-billed Magpie
  • Tricolored Blackbird, Bell’s Sparrow and Wandering Tattler
  • Experience the best of seabirding on a Monterey Pelagic
  • Sea otters, seals, sea lions and whales

Description of CALIFORNIA: Northern Mountains and Coast

This trip covers a smaller area than most of our other Big Year Tours. This is because we don’t have to drive far to experience a wide diversity of habit and birdlife here. This trip focuses on the Central Coast of California hitting some of the top birding sites in the region. Nearly 500 species have been reported in California for the second week of September!

The sheer beauty of the Pacific Coast is enough to merit a trip to this region. Throw in the good birds and what is not to like? We’ll look for good birds like Yellow-billed Magpie, Tricolored Blackbird, California Condor, Wrentit, California Towhee, California Thrasher, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, White-tailed Kite, Elegant Tern, Heermann’s Gull, Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Wandering Tattler, Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Bell’s Sparrow, and Lawrence’s Goldfinch. Wow!

And if that is not enough for you, we are taking a pelagic trip—a boat trip into the waters of Monterey Bay to look for birds only found at sea. Birds at this time of year that we may see on this trip include Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Red Phalarope, Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers (Long-tailed is uncommon), Cassin’s Auklet, Rhinoceros Auklet, and Sabine’s Gull. Yep. You are gonna love this trip!



Length of Tour


Brief Itinerary

Note: this tour includes a Monterey pelagic trip. The date of the pelagic may change, affecting this itinerary.

Day 1 – Arrivals at San Jose International Airport in San Jose, CA

Day 2 – Alviso Marina; Sunnyvale; Palo Alto Baylands; Pescadero; Rancho Del Oso

Day 3 – Natural Bridges; Neary Lagoon; UC Santa Cruz; Quail Hollow Ranch

Day 4 – Watsonville Slough; Moss Landing; Moonglow Dairy; Elkhorn Slough

Day 5 – Monterey Pelagic trip; Monterey area

Day 6 – Pinnacles NP; Panoche Road

Day 7 – Departures from San Jose International Airport in San Jose, CA


Full Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrival at San Jose International Airport in San Jose, CA. (SJC)

Arrival at San Jose International Airport in San Jose, CA. Orientation at dinner. If all of our arrivals are earlier in the day, we’ll spend the afternoon birding at San Jose area hotspots. Night in San Jose, CA.

Day 2 – Alviso Marina; Sunnyvale; Palo Alto Baylands; Pescadero; Rancho Del Oso

Alviso Marina County Park is a small park adjacent to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. More than 20 species of shorebirds have been found here in September according to eBird. This is one of our best stops for American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, and a long shot chance at a Ruff.

Have you ever birded at a water pollution control facility? Our next stop is City of Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant. Many similar birds are here as nearby Alviso. We’ll look for Vaux’s Swift, Clark’s Grebe, along with many shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl. California Towhees are possible here, too.

Continuing around the south end of the Bay and driving up the western shore, our next destination is a famous birding site—the Palo Alto Baylands. This is a great place for shorebirds and a spot where rarities show up. The Baylands will be our best spot on this itinerary for Ridgway’s Rail (split from Clapper Rail).

Next we’ll travel across the coastal mountain range to the shores of the magnificent Pacific Ocean. Our first stop will be along rugged, rocky coastline at Pescadero State Beach. The nearby marsh has the bigger list, but it is the coast that will have the greatest number of targets for new birds for the year. Harlequin Duck is possible. Three species of loons are here (Pacific, Red-throated, and Common) and Western Grebes are the most common grebe. In the distance out toward the horizon we may see Sooty Shearwtaers flying by. The most common gulls will be Western, Heerman’s, and California. Having fun yet? Yep. Now it’s time to check out the rocks. The largest birds will be the 3 cormorant species: Double-crested, Brandt’s, and Pelagic. The Double-cresteds far outnumber the other species, but all are possible. Next, we’ll look harder for the smaller birds. Black Oystercatchers blend in well with the dark rocks. And Black Turnstones are here in small flocks on the rocks. They can easily be overlooked. A few Surfbirds may be mixed in the feeding turnstones. And if we are lucky, maybe we’ll find a Wandering Tattler here, too.

It will be hard to pull ourselves away from such a magical spot. Not only is it a location rich with birds, it is also a place of fabulous beauty. But our next birding hotspot beckons. Rancho Del Oso is a part of the large Big Basin Redwoods State Park. There is no vehicle access here so whatever we get done in the park will all be on foot. There is a six-mile grated dirt road that is a pretty level hike although we will not have time to do the entire hike. But this will give us a taste of woodland birding along the coast. We may see the most colorful Red-shouldered Hawks in North America here. California birds are almost a rich, brick red. Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Black Phoebes, Western Scrub-Jays, Steller’s Jays, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Bushtits, Pygmy Nuthatches, Pacific Wrens, Wrentits, and maybe a Townsend’s Warbler may be present.

This concludes a full, fun-filled day. Night near Santa Cruz, CA.

 Day 3 – Natural Bridges; Neary Lagoon; UC Santa Cruz; Quail Hollow Ranch

Our first hotspot this morning is Natural Bridges State Beach. Besides being famous for its name-sake large rock on the beach that forms a natural arch, it is quite famous for the Monarch Butterflies that winter in the trees here by the thousands. This awesome occurrence happens between October and February so unfortunately, we’ll be too early in the season to witness this event. But, we will be here for the birds! Nearly 200 species have been recorded here in eBird for the month of September. Some rocks along the coast may have similar birds to Pescadero. And the wooded areas have many of the same birds we looked for at Rancho Del Oso. We may stumble across some California Quail here. Or Oak Titmice. Or California Thrasher. This is another good location for Townsend’s Warbler, too.

Neary Lagoon has a boardwalk where we may find Virginia Rail. Willow Flycatcher is possible and Black Phoebes are common. A few warblers are possible here including Orange-crowned, Townsend’s, and Wilson’s.

The Arboretum at University of California in Santa Cruz has a small list of birds. But it is a good location for a few California specialties. We’ll look for California Thrasher, Wrentit, Oak Titmouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and California Towhee.

Our last stop of the day will be the 300-acre Quail Hollow Ranch County Park. It is probably most popular as a wedding site, but this is also a decent birding location. In addition to some of the birds that have already been mentioned we’ll be looking for Band-tailed Pigeon, Pygmy Nuthatch, Acorn and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Western Tanager. Night near Watsonville, CA.

Day 4 – Watsonville Slough; Moss Landing; Moonglow Dairy; Elkhorn Slough

Watsonville Slough is one of the largest remaining freshwater wetlands in the Central Coast of California. It’s a great place to look for shorebirds. If the dowitchers are close enough we’ll take a little time to study them. This is also one of the better stops on our itinerary to find Pectoral Sandpiper. We have a chance at seeing White-tailed Kite, too.

Moss Landing Harbor will be a fun stop. This area borders the Elkhorn Slough at the point where it deposits into the Pacific Ocean. We may find Brant, the cormorant trifecta listed on Day 2, Snowy Plover, and Elegant Tern.

Our next destination is a privately owned dairy farm, Moonglow Dairy. It has been open for birders since the 1970s thanks to the gracious hospitality of the owners. This is the only spot on our itinerary where we may find Tricolored Blackbirds. This is not the only reason we are stopping here. It is a fantastic species of shorebirds. Rarities like Bar-tailed Godwit, Little Stint, and White-winged Tern can never be counted on to be present. But, we will be in a good spot where our chances are better than other places.

Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve is a huge wetland area with incredibly good birding. Diversity is good with a nod to the shorebirds again. Barn Owl has been reported here. Night near Monterey, CA.

Day 5 – Monterey Pelagic trip; Monterey area

Today will be set apart for a boat trip into the waters of Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Pelagic trips are one of the biggest gambles a birder takes. There are trips that are a bust. And there are trips that are beyond comparison. It is the latter kind of trip that keeps one going back. Fortunately, it seems easier to get to good species out of Monterey than say, off the East Coast. And the waters of the Pacific are usually calmer than the Atlantic. Species we might expect here at this time of year include Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Red Phalarope, Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers (Long-tailed is uncommon), Cassin’s Auklet, Rhinoceros Auklet, and Sabine’s Gull. Of course there are many goodies not on this list that are possible, but not as likely.

After the boat trip we will explore the Monterey peninsula along the rocky shorelines. Night near Hollister, CA.

Day 6 – Pinnacles NP; Panoche Road

Today’s visit to Pinnacles National Park will be unique. This area is more arid than our other destinations and the rocky spires in the mountains have an eclectic beauty. Much of the vegetation is scrubs and bushes. Bobcats and coyotes are here. Birds we’ll be searching for here are California Condor, Golden Eagle, Yellow-billed Magpie, California Quail, Prairie Falcon, and Acorn Woodpecker. We could get lucky and find Bell’s Sparrow or Lawrence’s Goldfinch, too. Night in San Jose, CA.

Day 7 – Departures from San Jose International Airport in San Jose, CA. (SJC)

Tour ends. Departures from San Jose International Airport in San Jose, CA (SJC).

Cost Details


Cost is $1,950 per person, based upon double occupancy, from San Jose, CA (Airport code SJC).
This trip ends in San Jose, CA (Airport code SJC).

Cost Includes

Cost includes airport transfers, all ground transportation, accomodations, entrance fees and services of your professional leader(s).

Cost does not Include

All meals, flights to/from destination city, trip insurance, or anything that is not specifically mentioned in the itinerary.

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of participants registered, the trip can still run with a small-group supplement fee per person determined by the number of participants.

Single Supplement

If a single room is preferred, or we are unable to find a suitable roommate for you, a single supplement fee of $300 will be assessed.

Deposit Requirements

A $500 deposit per person is required to hold each space on this tour. Deposit may be made online by clicking the "Book Your Trip Now" button and using any credit card. If you prefer, you may call us at 888-875-9453 to pay by phone. You may also mail us a check, however, remember that all space is held on a first come-first served basis as deposits are received.

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of required participants are registered, we may still be able to run the trip by adding a small-group supplement fee, per person, determined by the number of participants registered.

How to Book

In order to hold your space, click the "Book Your Trip Now" button above and complete the deposit process, including payment of the deposit through our Paypal portal using ANY CREDIT CARD. Upon completion of deposit, please visit our secure, online CLIENT INFORMATION FORM to complete your registration.

Final Payment

For all land-based tours: full payment by check is due 120 days prior to the departure date.

For all boat-based adventure cruises of 7-days or longer: full payment by check is required 180 days prior to departure.

NOTE: If you prefer to use credit card for final payment, a 3% fee may be added to cover the credit card merchant fees we incur.


This trip includes standard hotels.

Activity Level

Activity Level Rating: (Note: 1 is easy and 5 is difficult)

Most walks will be easy, but we ma=y have a couple more difficult. Be prepared for a wide range of temperatures. This trip includes a pelagic adventure, too, which may have rough seas.

Additional Information

Recommended Field Guide

Sibley Birds West (2nd Edition, 2016, Knopf)
by David Allen Sibley

Sibley Birds is also available as an App


Purchasing Flights

Do not purchase your flights until the trip has been confirmed to go.

Detailed Trip Information

Upon notification that final payment is due (120 days prior to departure for land based tours / 180 days for boat based tours), you will receive a trip package of detailed information for your tour.

Any additional information about the trip, including lodgings, contacts, participants, meeting locations, etc., will sent about 2 weeks prior to the trip departure, or after final payment is received for late registrants.

Travel Insurance

As with all tours, we highly recommend purchasing Travel Insurance to cover your investment. Please see our section on Travel Insurance.

Passport & Visa

US Citizens may require a visa to enter certain foreign countries. See above for any required visa information.

Participants arriving to the USA from a foreign country may need to get a travel visa to enter the United States. Be sure to check the requirements for your country of origin.

Itinerary Changes

The trip itinerary is developed many months ahead of time. Occasionally, despite our best planning, changes may occur during the trip, or we may be forced to alter our plans. Changes may occur because of weather, road conditions, safety concerns or other circumstances. In these situations, it is the leader(s) responsibility to carefully consider and implement appropriate alternatives. Any additional costs incurred because of changes will be the responsibility of each individual participant. Refunds will not be issued as a result of itinerary changes.

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