Lake County: A Birder’s Paradise

December 19, 2018

Blue Heron

Northern California’s Lake County offers one of the top bird watching experiences on the West Coast. Its varied geography, from wetland marshes, grasslands, mudflats, high valleys, scrublands, and a variety of trees and lakes, help make this NorCal region a true Birder’s Paradise.

Lake County is a major resource for birds living in and traveling through northwest California, as it is located on the Pacific Flyway, a major migration route that spans from South America to Alaska. The region plays host to anywhere between 200 and 300 species of bird annually. Clear Lake – the largest natural freshwater lake in the state – has been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

Our feathered friends in this lively landscape change as the seasons do, but they are available to all birders, aviary aficionados, and the curious year round.  Let’s take a tour of the many birding sites in Lake County, and highlight the winged wonders you can discover there.

We’ll start at Rodman Slough on the north edge of Clear Lake. The slough is where hundreds of Great Blue Heron (photo at top) make their nests. You may also catch a glimpse of the Double-crested Cormorant, American Bittern, and the Yellow-breasted Chat.

Traveling southeast from the Slough (across the lake, as the crow flies) we arrive at Clear Lake State Park. Here, in the mudflats, waterbirds such as the American White Pelican and a variety of terns can be found. On the shoreline between the park and Lakeport you can’t help but miss the second largest concentration of Clark’s Grebe and Western Grebe in California. How do you know if a Grebe is a Western or a Clark’s? Good question. Clark’s Grebe has white coloring above the eye while the Western Grebe has it below.

Continuing on, we find ourselves on the southernmost tip of Clear Lake in Anderson Marsh State Historic Park. The Park has the combination of wetlands and old riparian forest that provides habitat for breeding Bald Eagles, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the summer, and the Short-eared Owl in the winter.

Our next stop is the high valley, just north of the town of Clearlake. This area hosts the most diverse wintering habitat in the Important Bird Area. On display here are the Burrowing Owl, Prairie Falcon, Lewis’ Woodpecker, and the Loggerhead Shrike. Just to the north is Borax Lake, the breeding ground of the Tri-colored Blackbird, and the scrublands further to the northeast of Clearlake, are home to the Great Roadrunner and Bell’s Sage Sparrow.

Traveling due north from Borax Lake we come to the Mendocino National Forest. Over 150 species of birds were cataloged in the National Forest in 2007. Large varieties of hawks, falcons, owls, hummingbirds, and many others pass through or live in the forest. 29 different species can be found frequenting Lake Pillsbury which lays within the National Forest.

Next, we shoot to the south end of the county, to land at Boggs Mountain State Forest. Hiking the trails here you may spy the Violet-green swallow, Western Tanager, Black-throated Gray, and Western Bluebird. Lucky birders may spot the rare Pileated Woodpecker.

Other notable sites for birding in Lake County include the BLM Cache Creek Recreation Area (both the Redbud and Judge Davis Trail),  Highland Springs Reservoir, Lakeside County Park, and Upper Blue LakeIn these locations you will find species mentioned earlier, as well as the Acorn woodpecker, Bufflehead, Bushtit, Kingfisher, Oregon Junco, Osprey, Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, and the Yellow-rumped Warbler.
For those of you looking for a guided tour of Lake County’s birding paradise we recommend you check out Eyes of the Wild, led by Faith Rigolosi. For self-guided adventures, you can rent a kayak at The Lodge at Blue Lakes, Disney’s Water Sports, and Clear Lake Campground. You can also do a walking tour at Anderson Marsh State Historic Park.

The best bird watching at all locations is usually before 10 a.m. and Lake County has great opportunities to see birds year round. Happy birding!

Main Photo at Top: Blue Heron. Photo by Brad Barnwell.