Discover the
Beauty of Birds

Birding and natural history classes, field reports, essays and tours around the Bay Area, California and the West with Ted Pierce.

Weekend Tours Around California

These weekend tours sample extraordinary wildlife and birding areas in California (and Oregon). A typical day will include visits to several great birding spots and a break for lunch. We gather later for dinner and discussion of the day’s sightings. Cost per person is $225 for the weekend, not including transportation, lodging and food. Lodging options, directions and other info will be sent at the time of registration. Discounts (20%) are available with joint registrations (two or more). All tours require prior registration.

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Fall 2021 — Spring 2022

A Birder’s Tour of Santa Cruz: Beaches to Redwoods, Shorebirds to Songbirds
Fri-Sunday, Nov. 8-10

Santa Cruz, located just south of San Jose, is known for its beaches, amusement park, surfers and university. But with its dramatic coastline and many parks, this college town is also known for its great birding, especially in the fall and winter. Among the ocean headlands, beaches and forests you can find many ducks, raptors, shorebirds, grebes, pelicans and songbirds. On a typical day we see 40 or more species, from Peregrine falcons, Willets and Varied Thrushes to Black turnstones, phoebes, Oystercatchers and Bufflehead. Over this weekend we’ll explore many different areas, including Natural Bridges State Beach, Lighthouse Point, Seacliff State Beach in nearby Aptos, Neary Lagoon and many others. We’ll also visit two sites to view swarms of over-wintering monarch butterflies! Hikes are at a moderate pace, less than a mile per day, broken up by short drives to different parks. Tour is three days and two nights, and will begin noon Friday at the Santa Cruz Mission Inn, our headquarters for the weekend. The tour continues through early Sunday afternoon, when we take our leave of this memorable weekend. Driving directions provided at registration.

Central Valley Bird Blizzard at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge
Fri- Sunday, Dec. 3-5

This weekend tour of the San Luis NWR near Los Banos and Merced will provide an encyclopedic look at wintering birds of the Central Valley. The refuge is made up of several different preserves, including Merced, Grasslands and Los Banos, and together they total over 50,000 acres of wetlands and marshes. From October to March they host hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, shorebirds and raptors. Hawks of all kinds, from Red-tails and harriers to kites and falcons, are common. At the Sandy Mush Road preserve near Merced, Great Horned owls are always present, and even Bald eagles are occasionally seen. Sandhill cranes, Snow and Ross’ geese are scattered over the nearby fields, usually several thousand. Seeing the herds of giant Tule Elk near the refuge HQ will be another highlight of the tour on Saturday. This three day, two night tour is primarily by car, with minimal walking. Bird species seen per day typically are 40- 50, from raptors to wrens, Willets to warblers, Flickers to finches. We will meet 11am Friday at the Sandy Mush preserve west of Merced; allow 2-plus hours driving time from the East Bay and bring drinks and lunch. Quickest route from the Bay Area is 580 to I5 south, where you exit for 140 going east. Continue across the valley on 140 toward Merced, and use local roads to reach the preserve on Sandy Mush Road. We will meet in the parking lot near the entrance next to the viewing platform. After several hours of spectacular birding we will head over to La Quinta Inn in Los Banos, which will be our HQ for two nights during this Central Valley tour. (You may select other accommodations in the area, of course, but Los Banos is centrally located between most of the local wildlife preserves.) Contact me for any additional info on birds, hotels or directions that you may wish.

Salton Sea and Anza-Borrego Desert Tour
Mon-Thursday, Dec. 27-30

The immense Salton Sea (343 square miles), located in southern California in the Imperial Valley, is a winter hot-spot for thousands of birds of all kinds, including ducks, rails, egrets, pelicans, ibis, cranes, geese, gulls and raptors. Over 400 species have been recorded around the sea and the surrounding Colorado Desert palm oases and preserves! These include Costa’s hummingbird, Greater Roadrunner, Cattle egret, Phainopepla, Cactus Wren, Verdin, Ladder-backed woodpecker, Le Conte’s thrasher, Gila woodpeckers, Gambel’s quail and many others. Raptors such as Osprey, Merlin and Peregrine falcon are found locally, as well as Great Horned and Burrowing owls. Other desert wildlife we may spy includes Kit fox, Blacktailed jackrabbit, Zebratail lizards, Kangaroo Rats and Desert tortoise, among many. This four-day, three night tour will provide many opportunities to explore and observe the exciting birds and wildlife in many sites, often in great numbers. The Calipatra Inn, just south of the Salton Sea in Calipatra, will be our group HQ for the weekend, but you may choose from many other lodging options in the area. We anticipate observing at least 75 bird species during the four day stay, including many local desert specialties. Temps should be mild, in the 60s and 70s. Among many sites we plan to visit are the Sonny Bono NWR, Algodones Dunes, Coachella Valley Bird Center and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Our adventure begins Thursday at noon at the Calipatra Inn. Check with me for ground transportation options on the tour, including pick up at the San Diego airport.

Monterey Birds, Beaches & Heritage Tour
Fri-Sunday, Jan. 14-16

Monterey, with its fabulous beaches, art museums, restaurants, Aquarium and old Spanish adobes, is famous throughout the world. These unique features combine to make it a perfect weekend holiday, slightly more than a two-hour drive from San Francisco and the Bay Area. During this three day and two night weekend we’ll sample the best of these cultural and wildlife treasures, including Elkhorn Slough for shorebirds and Sea Otters, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, the Steinbeck Center in nearby Salinas, Pt. Lobos coastal preserve and the endless Monterey beaches. We’ll search for terns, shorebirds, Oystercatchers, Avocets, ducks, cormorants and many songbirds both inland and along the coast. A half-day ocean cruise to see whales is another option. Other potential late-afternoon sites to investigate include old Spanish churches, the Robert Louis Stevenson House, restaurants and galleries! Nature, old colonial-era architecture and marine life photographic opportunities are everywhere. World-class and beach-front resorts, hotels and Airbnb rentals blanket the area. One favorite of ours, one block from the ocean, is the Monterey Bay Lodge (831) 372-8057. Visit their website at for information on rates, pool, restaurant and other amenities. See you for a weekend in paradise!

Steinbeck Country, the Pinnacles & Old San Benito Tour
Fri-Sunday, Feb. 25-27

Another one of our exciting trips this year will be a weekend tour of San Benito County to experience its many historic and wildlife treasures. This very rural area east of Monterey has a wonderful variety of birds, historic sites and great mountain scenery! This three-day, two night tour is packed with recreational, cultural and wildlife adventures: Pinnacles National Park, Mercey Hot Springs Spa, Mission San Juan Bautista and Elkhorn Preserve at Moss Landing (just north of Monterey). The area has some of the most exciting birding in California, including Long-eared, Barn and Great Horned owls, California condors (at Pinnacles National Park), Golden eagles, Chukers (very large colorful partridges), Mountain plover and Lawrence’s goldfinches, just for starters! We’ll meet Friday at 11am to begin the tour at the legendary Andersen’s Restaurant at Santa Nella, near Los Banos and I5. After lunch we’ll take off through the hills to Mercey Hot Springs. This old-fashioned spa is a hot-spot (literally and figuratively) for birds, with Lawrence’s gold-finches and several owl species (Great Horned, Long-eared, Barn). And of course their signature hot-tubs and heated pool. Depending on your preference, you can take a relaxing soak or search for owls. (Go to for a virtual tour.) Later in the afternoon we’ll drive through the dramatic Gabilan Mountains and stay overnight in Hollister, with several choices of lodging, either at the local Marriott or splendid old Victorian B&Bs. Saturday will be devoted to exploring the Pinnacles National Park, with its imposing volcanic spires and California condors circling overhead! Many other birds grace the skies here: Prairie falcons, Acorn woodpeckers and many songbirds. Returning to Hollister for the evening, on Sunday we will travel over to nearby Mission San Juan Bautista. This is one of the most atmospheric of the old missions, with the 200-year old Baroque chapel still in use. About noon we will continue north for our last stop, Elkhorn Slough near Moss Landing. Among its wonderful wildlife are Sea Otters, seals and Sea Lions and a great selection of birds, such as loons, ducks, egrets, shorebirds, cormorants, gulls and turnstones. Elkhorn is where we’ll take our leave in the early afternoon. There will be many great chances for nature, landscape and bird photography. Most tours observe 60 or more bird species over the weekend. Directions to Andersen’s from San Francisco and the East Bay: take 580 to I5, drive south to Santa Nella, exit left, look for their trademark windmill (only one in the area)! Allow 2-2.5 hours from Oakland; from Santa Barbara or LA take I5 north and allow 3-4 hours. Additional Hollister accommodations and directions provided at registration. It should be a great adventure, combining cultural history, exciting wildlife sightings and landscapes of remarkable natural beauty.

Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuge Tour
Mon-Friday, April 4-8

The extensive Klamath National Wildlife Refuges on the California-Oregon border host hundreds of thousands of migrating wildfowl, shorebirds and raptors each fall and winter. This is wild, open and rugged country, with 12,000-foot Mt. Shasta towering over the southern horizon! The refuge alone covers many thousands of acres of marshes, forests and  Endless varieties of birds including Sandhill cranes, Snow, White-fronted and Ross’ geese, shorebirds, Tundra swans, Gray Jays, ducks and songbirds of every description. Raptors typlically seen include Bald Eagles, Great Horned and Barn owls, Rough-legged and Ferruginous hawks, harriers and falcons. Each day will provide new refuges, lakes and opportunities to view wildlife and birds. Total bird species observed for the weekend are typically 70-80. A trip to nearly Crater Lake National Park may be included. Walking is minimal, on level terrain. Group accommodations will be at the Shilo Inn in nearby Klamath Falls, Oregon, but many options are available. Tour begins Monday afternoon after check-in at the Inn, and continues to noon Friday morning. Many opportunities for landscape, wildlife and bird photography. From the Bay Area drive time is about 6-7 hours, and car-pooling is recommended. Amtrak service to Klamath Falls and van transportation on site is available, inquire (additional fee). Lodging, transportation and meals additional.

Mendocino Seacoast Weekend Tour
Fri-Monday, May 20-22

Mendocino County, three hours north of the Bay Area, is renowned for its rugged seacoast, rural charm and deep wild forests. Great headlands are pounded by enormous Pacific breakers, and unspoiled rivers like the Navarro and Albion meet the sea to create expansive beaches. The town of Mendocino itself appears to be a small, transplanted New England village. State parks embrace the coastline, including McKerricher, Van Damme and Russian Gulch. These parks are home to many forms of wildlife, birds and marine mammals. Loons, Black oystercatchers and turnstones, together with many species of ducks and songbirds, gulls and cormorants, patrol the oceans and forests. Among the headlands and crashing surf we’ll look for Surfbirds and other shorebirds, Pelagic cormorants, guillemots, mergansers and the elusive Harlequin, a spectacular sea duck. Off the coast we may spot whales on their epic migration north. Inland, we’ll search the deep conifer woodlands for warblers, thrushes and kinglets, and note colorful mushrooms on the forest floor. The whole Mendocino area has a unique 19th century feeling with wonderful restaurants, bookstores and craft shops. Nature photography opportunities are everywhere. We’ll be staying at the Beach House Inn in nearby Ft. Bragg, but there are many B&Bs available in the area. Lodging and meals are not included in the tour cost. Spectacular marine, coastline and woodland photography.

Summer 2022

Mountain Birds of the Tahoe Sierras at Strawberry Lodge
Fri-Sunday, June 3-5

Historic Strawberry Lodge (from 1858) is located two hours east of Sacramento, on Route 50 at Kyburz village, portal to the Sierras. It’s located in the Crystal Basin Recreation Area and is part of the 85,000 acre Eldorado National Forest, just south of Lake Tahoe. This dramatic landscape of mountain lakes (Wright’s, Echo & Loon among many) and forests of gigantic pine and fir will be our HQ for this mid- summer mountain tour. Bird life and wildflowers will be at their peak, with sunny weather and warm temps. The area includes many resorts and campgrounds, with boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and canoeing as additional options for non-birding pals and partners. Mountain specialties include Western tanagers, Red-breasted sapsuckers, Townsend’s warblers, Nighthawks, Clark’s nutcrackers, Mt. bluebirds, Green-tailed towhees, Black-backed and Lewis’ woodpeckers, Evening grosbeaks and Mt. chickadees are among more than 50-60 species typically seen. We will also visit nearby South Lake Tahoe for water birds and vistas of the great lake at Emerald Bay, with shops and restaurants to sample. Birding will be primarily by car, with hikes leisurely and short. Re amenitites and prices at the lodge, go to, or call (530) 659-7200. The tour is three days and two nights, meeting at 1pm Friday at the lodge.

Sierra Valley Tour: Woodlands, Birds & Wildflowers of the Sierras
Thurs-Sunday, June 23-26

The Sierra Valley, a secluded mountain area with miles of sagebrush, forests and marshes, is only a half hour drive north of I80 and Tahoe. For the last several years we have provided this tour (four days and three nights) to explore the valley’s wilderness and observe many different birds and wildflowers. Among 60-70 species of birds often seen are Sandhill cranes, White-faced Ibis, Bald eagles, Snipe, Osprey, Horned larks, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and many ducks, hummingbirds, woodpeckers and songbirds. We will visit the Iron Bridge marsh, Lake Davis, the village of Sierraville, the Feather River, Yuba Pass and the SFSU Field station near Bassett’s. We frequently stay in the little town of Portola at the north end of the valley, with many shops, museums, restaurants and even golf courses at nearby Blairsden. The tour package includes one class (optional) in Berkeley prior to the trip, on Weds. June 24th, 9-12am. Local campgrounds include Plumas-Eureka State Park, one of the best. Our favorite spot to stay in Portola, convenient to everything: the Sleepy Pines Motel; see for more info. There are also many other motels and resorts in the area to choose from. Tour starts at Sierraville village at 1pm Thursday, and right after lunch we begin our tour of the valley. We say good-bye Sunday at noon to head home. Allow four hours travel from the Bay Area to Sierraville, right at the south entrance of the valley.

Monterey Birds, Beaches & Heritage Tour
Tues-Friday, July 12-15

The stunning natural beauty, museums, beaches, Aquarium and historic adobes of old Monterey are only two and a half hours away from San Francisco and the Bay Area. Over three days and two nights, we will sample the best of these cultural and wildlife treasures, including Elkhorn Slough for shorebirds and Sea Otters, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, the Steinbeck Center in nearby Salinas, Pt. Lobos coastal preserve and stroll the spectacular Monterey beaches. Among many local birds, we’ll search for terns, shorebirds, Oystercatchers, Avocets, ducks, cormorants and many songbirds. A half-day cruise for whale-watching is another possibility. Other potential late-afternoon sites to investigate include old Spanish churches, the Robert Louis Stevenson House, restaurants and galleries! Nature, historic and marine life photography opportunities galore! Accommodations: world-class and beach-front resorts, hotels and Airbnb rentals blanket the area. One favorite of ours, one block from the ocean, is the Monterey Bay Lodge (go to for more information on amenities such as their pool and restaurant. All in all, this is a weekend pretty close to paradise!

The south shore of Mono Lake, showing tufa formations

Yosemite, Mono Lake & Eastern Sierras Tour
Tues - Friday, July 26-29

This Eastern Sierra tour has become one of our most popular four-day trips! It includes visits to Tuolumne Meadows at Yosemite, ancient Mono Lake, the Eastern Sierra forests and the legendary ghost-town of Bodie. The nearby 10,000-foot mountains and forests make for spectacular scenery, together with high desert sagebrush and volcanic landscapes that roll on for miles. We’ll explore Mono Lake and its tufa towers, Lee Vining village, Bodie ghost-town (now a state park), have lunch at the old pioneer village of Bridgeport, see Mammoth Lakes and hunt for warblers at Lee Vining Canyon. Mono is a magnet for several hundred bird species, including phalaropes, shorebirds, grebes, pelicans, ducks, woodpeckers and raptors. These include Osprey, Mt. Bluebird, Pygmy nuthatches, Clark’s Nutcracker, Wood ducks, Audubon’s warblers, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Red-breasted Sapsuckers and hundreds of others. Walking the sagebrush-covered hills at Bodie we’ll search for the enormous Sage Grouse, one of the great birds of the Western high desert. We meet Tuesday afternoon at Boulder Lodge on June Lake, 10 miles south of Lee Vining village, right off H395. The Lodge has a pool, barbeque area and lakeside boating; rooms are large, accommodate several people and have kitchenettes. Visit for more info. The spectacular mountain peaks, Mono Lake and pioneer-era villages are great for photography of all kinds. Easiest route from San Francisco and the Bay Area: take 120 across the valley to Yosemite, go over Tioga Pass and then south 10 miles on 395 to June Lake and Boulder Lodge. Tour begins after check-in Tuesday afternoon. Allow at least six hours from the Bay Area to June Lake. This is a special trip, one you’ll never forget!

More Excursions

Local Bay Area: Morning Birding Tours

All-Day Birding Excursions

Weekend Birding Tours


Tour Information
What to Expect

All trips and tours are at a relaxed pace and usually involve minimal walking on mostly flat terrain; where slopes may be involved, it is indicated. The safety and comfort of tour participants are always first priority. There are no rain dates; if trips are cancelled, fees will be returned or may be applied to future outings.

What to Bring

In general, for shorter trips and tours (up to four days) bring binoculars and whatever snacks, lunch and drinks you wish. If you desire to carpool, I will try to put you in contact with other trip participants, but I cannot guarantee transportation to the site. We will wait 15 minutes after the trip starting time for everyone to assemble and then head out, but it is the responsibility of the client to reach the starting location on time. Refunds will be made, minus a $25 processing fee, up to two weeks prior to the date of the trip. After this time any refund will be at the discretion of the tour operator (Ted Pierce), or may be applied to a future trip or tour. If minimum group tour size is not reached, a trip or tour may be cancelled, or an additional fee charged. Directions and any other necessary information will be sent by email at the time of registration and payment.

Additional Information

For longer tours (up to fourteen days), an itinerary and release form will be sent prior to registration that will provide helpful information and will summarize all terms and conditions. Please contact me for any additional questions about trips or tours you may have, and I will be happy to answer them.