A birding paradise in Morro Bay

January 8, 2007 

Bring your binoculars -- Morro Bay is a haven for bird-lovers. It’s an important stopping point along migration routes (it’s a Globally Important Bird Area on the Pacific Flyway, which stretches from Alaska to South America) and the diversity of the landscape attracts more than 200 species – making it one of the Audubon Society’s top birding spots nationwide.

Morro Rock is a protected nesting ground for peregrine falcons, which were once on the verge of extinction. A rookery of great blue herons can be found near the Morro Bay Natural History Museum. The estuary attracts the snowy egret and all manners of other waterfowl, shorebirds and birds of prey.

Many of the free walks through Adventures with Nature (805-772-26940) feature the birds of Morro Bay, with the chance to learn more and get out and observe the birds with a guide. Plus, the active Morro Coast Audubon Society (805-772-1991) offers free monthly field trips, programs and periodic other events. The society’s Web site also contains a wealth of information on birding in the area.

Here’s where to go to get the best glimpse of Morro’s birds. Checklists are available at the Morro Bay Natural History Museum in Morro Bay State Park. The Central Coast Birding Trail Web site provides highlights, seasons and best viewing times for each area.

Heron rookery and Morro Bay State Park: The rookery can be seen from the bay or the parking lot of the Inn at Morro Bay. Look for the cluster of dead trees, killed by droppings from the large birds. In addition to Great Blue Herons, there are great and snowy egrets and cormorants. The park, containing the estuary, salt marsh, pine, riparian and chaparral habitat, is a prime place to spot a wide variety of birds.

Morro Rock and Morro Strand State Beach: Home to the peregrine falcons, the rock also attracts cormorants, loons, brown pelicans and more. The low dunes and creek mouths along the strand are a protected nesting area for the snowy plover and habitat for a number of other species.

Sweet Spings Natural Preserve: Owned by the Morro Coast Audubon Society, the 24-acre preserve offers trails around freshwater ponds, eucalyptus and cypress trees in the back bay. Take South Bay Boulevard into Los Osos, turn right on Pismo Avenue, left on 18th Street then right on Ramona Avenue, which runs to the preserve.

Audubon Overlook: The audubon society also has a covered viewing platform overlooking the bay and estuary. Take South Bay Boulevard south to Santa Ysabel Avenue, turn right and follow the road down to Third Street. Turn right onto the dirt lane to the parking area.

Montaña de Oro: The rich diversity of habitats in the park – cliffs, tide pools, eucalyptus groves, chaparral hillsides and riparian streams -- attracts a wide variety of birds that can be seen from the many trails and overlooks.

Every year on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, more than 500 birders converge on Morro Bay for the Winter Bird Festival (800-231-0592, 805-772-4467) The festival offers more than 100 events, including trips on the bay, pelagic trips, whole- and half-day field trips on land, Morro Bay Natural History Museum events, guest speakers, self-guided tours and vendors. Registration is subject to available space. Find a complete listing of events and registration information online.

For more information on birding in SLO County, check out Central Coast Birding Trail for birding locations, species information, events and resources, and San Luis Obispo County Birds for species and sighting information, photo galleries, discussion board, links and more.

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