Greg Miller's Big Year Tour Series

CALIFORNIA: Central Coast



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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)


3-5 Participants


2020 – 2 spaces available

2021 – 5 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.

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Highlights of CALIFORNIA: Central Coast

  • Majestic California Condors along the Big Sur coastline
  • Endemic Yellow-billed Magpie, Tricolored Blackbird, Bell’s Sparrow
  • Experience stellar seabirding on a Monterey Bay pelagic
  • Sea otters, sea lions, and whales
  • Fall migration in beautiful, sunny California

Description of CALIFORNIA: Central Coast

The incredible bird diversity found along the Central Coast of California during fall allows this tour to cover a much smaller area than most of our other ‘Big Year Series’ itineraries. Driving far isn’t necessary to experience a wide diversity of habitats and birdlife. This tour takes us on a nice loop through the region; traveling from the marshlands surrounding San Francisco Bay, to oceanside cliffs in Santa Cruz, to the world-famous Monterey Bay and Big Sur coastline, and then inland to the dry valleys, canyons, and volcanic spires at Pinnacles National Park.

The sheer beauty of the Pacific Coast is enough to merit a trip to this region in its own right, but the unique habitats found here support a number of regional specialties that are top on any birder’s Most Wanted. We’ll look for classic California species including Yellow-billed Magpie, Tricolored Blackbird, California Condor, Wrentit, California Towhee, California Thrasher, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Elegant Tern, Heermann’s Gull, Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Wandering Tattler, Bell’s Sparrow, and Lawrence’s Goldfinch. How’s that for an epic list of birds?!

As if that list of speciality landbirds wasn’t enough, we will also be taking a half-day boat trip into the deep waters of Monterey Bay. A huge underwater canyons cuts in to shore here, bringing huge numbers of birds and other marine life cycling through the bay to feed on baitfish and krill. Notable seabirds we may see on this trip include Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed Shearwater, Black-vented Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Ashy and Black Storm-Petrels, Red Phalarope, Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers, Cassin’s Auklet, Tufted Puffin, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklet, Glaucous-winged and Sabine’s Gulls. The bay is famous for attracting weird strays too, so you never know what might come in to check out the boat! Scripp’s Murrelet, Flesh-footed Shearwater, Masked Booby, Nazca Booby, and South Polar Skua have all been seen in Monterey Bay during September. Likely marine mammals we could encounter include California Sea Lion, ‘Pacific’ Harbor Seal, Northern Elephant Seal, Humpback Whale, Northern Sea Otters, and various dolphins and smaller whales. Monterey Bay is famous among wildlife watchers world-wide, and we can guarantee you’ll want to come back again! There’s just so much to see out there!

We will fully immerse ourselves in the local wildlife and laidback culture, while keeping a focus on tracking down regional specialties and exploring Monterey Bay at the peak of fall migration. This tour is scheduled for arguably the best week of the year to visit the Central Coast, and we really hope to see you in sunny California!



Length of Tour


Brief Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrivals at San Jose Int. Airport (SJC). San Francisco Bay hotspots. Night in San Jose.

Day 2 – Night in Santa Cruz.

Day 3 – Night in Santa Cruz.

Day 4 – Night in Monterey.

Day 5 – Monterey Bay pelagic. Night in Monterey.

Day 6 – Night in Hollister.

Day 7 – Morning birding. Afternoon departures from San Jose Int. Airport (SJC).

Full Itinerary

*Order of day’s itineraries are subject to change depending on current year’s Monterey Bay pelagic schedule

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

Arrivals at San Jose International Airport (SJC) in San Jose, CA. Please plan for an AM arrival so that we can fit in some local birding for the afternoon. We will visit some nearby hotspots along the marshy shoreline of San Francisco Bay. Orientation and intros at dinner. Night in San Jose.

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.

Our next stop is City of Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant. 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 Shearwaters flying by. The most common gulls will be Western, Heerman’s, and California. 3 cormorant species: Double-crested, Brandt’s, and Pelagic. 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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

Night near Monterey, CA.

Day 5 – Monterey Pelagic trip; Monterey area

Today will be a boat trip into the waters of Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. 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.

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) after 12 noon.

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 may have a few more difficult hikes. Be prepared for a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions, with generally cool and breezy conditions along the coast and hot, dry conditions further inland. This trip includes a half-day pelagic birding trip on Monterey Bay. Please take precautions if you are prone to seasickness, and ask us for tips and tricks!

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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