Kern River Valley Winter Birding Notes
MAPS & DIRECTIONS TO BIRDING HOTSPOTS
(December - early February)
Edited version of Bob Barnes excellent notes.
Winter is an exciting time in California. Though a slow time of the year for arrivals, area Christmas Bird Counts normally have more than 100 species. In order to help you in planning the integration of the Kern River Valley into your winter birding schedule, the following information is provided.
Birding in Winter: Internet review of the results of the five Kern River Valley and Northern Mojave Desert Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) - Butterbredt Spring, China Lake, Kern River Valley, Red Rock Canyon, and South Fork Valley via http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/ - give a comprehensive overview of local winter avifauna. Some 150-175 species may be expected over the five days of these late December/early January CBCs. These five CBCs have, one or another, led the nation one or more times in numbers of Mountain Quail, White-throated Swift, Williamson's Sapsucker, White-headed Woodpecker, Pinyon Jay, Common Raven, Lark Sparrow, and Sage Sparrow. The Kern River Valley CBC has hosted up to six thousand wintering Western and Clark's Grebes, 1500 Common Mergansers, and 20 Bald Eagles. The South Fork Valley CBC has tallied impressive numbers of Black-throated Sparrows, Sage Sparrows and up to 2500 Tricolored Blackbirds.
Recommended Winter Birding Areas: include Scodie Park in Onyx, Tillie Creek Campground in Wofford Heights, Main Dam Campground below Isabella Reservoir, all around Isabella Reservoir and its other campgrounds, the Greenhorn Mountains via snow-cleared State Highway 155, and Canebrake Ecological Reserve (a mixed flock of 1200 blackbirds including 800+ Tricolored Blackbirds.
Around Isabella Reservoir (Engineers' Point between two dams, trees around Greenhorn Ranger District headquarters, Main Dam Campground, French Gulch Marina area, Tillie Creek Campground/North Fork Marina area, Lakeside Park in Wofford Heights, Riverside Park in Kernville, Camp 9 off Sierra Way, pullouts along Sierra Way, Stine Cove & Hanning Flat off Sierra Way, Kissack Cove off Hwy. 178 in Wofford Heights, birding from road below auxiliary dam). Allow a very full day.
Wofford Heights - Isabella Reservoir access, Live Oak Campground, North Fork Marina, Tillie Creek Campground, & Wofford Heights Park. Excellent combination of side-by-side areas to spend two hours to a full morning searching for species including: grebes, American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, herons & egrets, waterfowl, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Red-shouldered Hawk, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, California Quail, gulls, Acorn Woodpecker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Western Scrub Jay, Oak Titmouse, Western Bluebird, California Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Phainopepla, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped (Audubon's Warbler), Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, Lark Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, Blackbirds (Red-winged, Tricolored, Brewer's), Purple Finch, and Lesser Goldfinch.
Kern River Preserve & Weldon Valley Twelve Mile Long Hwy. 178, Kelso Valley Road, Kelso Creek Road road triangle (Kern River Preserve Headquarters & vicinity, Kelso Valley Road, Kelso Creek wash, Kelso Creek Road, Hwy. 178). Allow a very full day for both or 1/2 day for Weldon Valley.
South Fork Valley - Canebrake Ecological Reserve, Fay Ranch Road, Hwy. 178 corridor, Kelso Creek Road, Kelso Valley Road, Kern River Preserve, Onyx, Prince's Pond, Sierra Way,...
Greenhorn Mountains (Hwy. 155 from Wofford Heights to 6104' Greenhorn Summit, Alta Sierra roads, Greenhorn Mtn. Park, Old State Road if snow free). Alta Sierra, Greenhorn Summit, Hwy. 155 corridor, Old State Road, Rancheria Road south to Shirley Meadows Ski Area, Sawmill Road, ... to search for montane and chaparral species including: Northern Goshawk, Mountain Quail, Band-tailed Pigeon, Spotted Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Red-breasted Sapsucker, White-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Steller's Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper. Golden-crowned Kinglet, Townsend's Solitaire, Wrentit, California Thrasher, Phainopepla, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, Fox Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, Purple Finch, and Cassin's Finch. Allow a very full day.
Kern River Preserve Headquarters Birds (within 400 meters/yards of headquarters):
Nuttall's Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Finch, American Goldfinch, 50-100 California Quail, 50-75 Mourning Dove, Lark Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, and House Finch.
Also Within 400 meters/yards of Headquarters: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Turkey Vulture, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, Killdeer, Western Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Black Phoebe, Common Raven, Bushtit, Bewick's Wren, Winter Wren, Marsh Wren, Western Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, and Lesser Goldfinch.
Birding is best in the early morning. If you are going to cut your birding day short, it is highly recommended that you do so at the end of your birding day rather than at the beginning. The most successful birding in the Kern River Valley and vicinity requires an early start (30-45 minutes before sunrise). Spend the mornings in the valley and desert areas and the afternoons in the mountains. If you are able to spend several days birding this area, try to visit the mountains before noon for the best bird experience (in the afternoon on a summer's day find many species of butterflies).
ACCESS FOR THE LESS ABLED: Universal access varies depending on time of year. Feeders at the Kern River Preserve may be viewed from vehicles displaying handicapped placards in the handicapped parking area, all others should park in the parking lot and sit at the picnic tables for ease of viewing feeder birds. Canebrake Ecological Reserve has a wheelchair accessible trail but the gate to the parking area requires an able bodied person to open. There are many pullouts and vehicle access points all the way around Isabella Reservoir and most of the campgrounds around the lake have paved interior roads that wheelchairs can move easily on. Tillie Creek Campground is an amazing birding area and except on busy holiday weekends has many closed roads that provide a leisurely birding experience. The Trail of 100 Giants is closed in winter as well as most mountain roads.
Canebrake Ecological Reserve is a great birding spot owned and managed by the California Dept. of Fish & Game.
Spring Birding Notes Summer Birding Notes Fall Birding Notes Winter Birding Notes
KRV birding guide...Bob Barnes local area guide to bird locations and seasons.
Venture Out into the Wilds with local volunteer researchers