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sbcoBIRDING Santa Barbara County Birding

Highway 166 to Cuyama Valley

D1 Sierra Madre Road - Miranda Pine Campground (map >>) (forest pass required)*

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi   Camping

Directions: (Exit 175) From Highway 166 at its junction with U.S. 101 near Santa Maria, drive east about 26 miles to Sierra Madre Road and Miranda Pine Mountain. This road off 166 is opposite the Rock Front Ranch on the north side of the highway (San Luis Obispo County). The road to Miranda Pine Campground is unpaved but generally passable except after spring rains. Low clearance vehicles should avoid this drive, however. *Note- A Los Padres National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle on forest roads and must be obtained prior to entering.

Specialty Birds: Mountain Quail, Golden Eagle, Hairy Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Wrentit, Black-chinned Sparrow, Bell's Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, Bullock's Oriole

Rewards: This dirt road meanders through oak-savannah where bluebirds, wrens, nuthatches, grosbeaks and hawks abound. It eventually winds its way up to Sierra Madre Ridge. All along the way look for nuthatches, grosbeaks and orioles. As you approach the top of the range the habitat opens to a mix of hard chaparral, manzanita and open grassland where singing buntings and sparrows are abundant in spring. Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Black-chinned Sparrow and Bell’s Sparrow may be found in spring and early summer. There are few pines at Miranda Pine Mountain Campground, but the elevation (4061’) provides for interesting birds and the spectacular view is worth the drive alone! Continuing east on Sierra Madre Road about one mile takes you by Timber Peak (4758’) and on to Bates Canyon approximately 13 miles to the east. Photo: Taken from Sierra Madre Road - Jp3d2k@Flickr

D2 Cottonwood Canyon - Bates Campground (map >>) (forest pass required)*   Hotspot: (ebird >>)

     Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi   Primitive Restroom

Directions: (Exit 175) From Highway 166 at its junction with U.S. 101 near Santa Maria, drive east about 40 miles to Cottonwood Canyon Road on the right. Continue south on Cottonwood Canyon Road, turning right (west) on Foothill Rd. following the sign to White Oaks Station and Bates Canyon Campground. Bates Camp is about a 10-mile drive south from 166. Beyond Bates Camp the road is unpaved but it is possible to drive to the top and along the Sierra Madre Mountains east to McPherson Peak (5749’), although low clearance vehicles should avoid the road beyond Bates campground. *Note- A Los Padres National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle on forest roads and must be obtained prior to entering.

Specialty Birds: Golden Eagle, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Costa's Hummingbird, Cassin's Vireo, Yellow-billed Magpie, Phainopepla, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Black-chinned Sparrow, Bell’s Sparrow, Bullock's Oriole

Rewards: Raptors inhabit the lower elevations of Cottonwood Canyon and include Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel and Golden Eagle. Magpies are often present around the wash and rangeland in the bottom of the canyon. Continue driving into the oak forest and look for nuthatches, bluebirds, titmice and wrens in spring and summer. At the fork in the road, as the sign reads, head left to White Oaks Station and into Bates Canyon and campground. Look for Phainopepla, Bullock’s Oriole and Purple Finch among other oak forest birds. The cool, shaded, northern edge of the Sierra Madre Mountains is home to nesting Cassin's Vireo, and occasionally Northern Pygmy-Owl and Spotted Owl. However, a devastating fire burned much of the area down to Bates Camp, but the habitat is growing back. Spring migrants often move along this transverse ridge so the birding can be prolific in April and May. A view from the ridge top is a spectacular sight! Although exceedingly rare, this is California Condor country. Condors have been released from Lion Canyon located southeast of Cottonwood Canyon near New Cuyama.

D3 Cuyama Valley (map >>)   Hotspots: (ebird >>) (ebird >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi   Restroom in New Cuyama and Richardson Park

Directions: (Exit 175) From Highway 166 at its junction with U.S. 101 near Santa Maria, drive east about 56 miles to the town of New Cuyama. Birding along the immediate highway is not considered safe due to traffic, but there are a few places to pull off the road. You should consider doing so only where there are wide shoulders to pull your vehicle completely off the highway. Several roads that can be taken off Highway 166 near the town of New Cuyama. You can pull off the highway along Wasioja Road and Aliso Park Road between 2 and 5 miles west of town. The agriculture fields south and east of town off Bell Road are good for winter birding.

Specialty Birds: Prairie Falcon, Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Horned Lark, Mountain Bluebird, Tricolored Blackbird, Lawrence's Goldfinch

Birds of Note: Swainson's Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Solitary Sandpiper, Long-eared Owl, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Vermilion Flycatcher, Lapland Longspur, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Lark Bunting

Rewards: The wide expanse of the Cuyama Valley is a scenic wonder- hot and arid in the summer, and lush and green in the late winter and spring. Wildflowers often blanket the Sierra Madre foothills and in Ballinger Canyon and Quatal Canyon in spring. Much of the entire area is recognized as an Audubon Society Important Bird Area (link >>). Winter might be the best season for birding in the Cuyama Valley, but spring migrants move through as well. Look for hawks and falcons while driving through this open country. Common Raven is always seen in the fields or soaring overhead. Mountain Bluebirds (irregular) may be found perched along fences. Many of the short-grass fields along Foothill Road, Bell Road and open rangeland can contain hundreds of pipits and larks. Occasionally a longspur can be found in these flocks. Despite the good habitat Mountain Plover has only been recorded a few times. In the town of New Cuyama right off Highway 166 and Hubbard Avenue is the small Richardson County Park. Migrants such as Varied Thrush and sapsuckers can sometimes be found in the park poplar trees in spring, fall and winter. Trees around a few of the ranch houses in the town of Ventucopa can also contain migrants. Flocks of Tricolored Blackbirds are frequently spotted in Cuyama Valley. Look for them around pastures, cattle pens and farm ponds. The Foothill Road Dairy Farm is one reliable spot. Photo: Cuyama Valley - Bill Bouton

D4 Ballinger Canyon (map >>) (forest pass required)*   Hotspot: (ebird >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi

Directions: Continue east of the town of New Cuyama on Highway 166 to Highway 33 junction. Turn right (south) on Highway 33 and drive about 3.5 miles to Ballinger Canyon road. Drive this road to its end 3.3 miles to reach the Ballinger Campground. A short drive south on Highway 33 takes you to Quatal Canyon with excellent birding habitat in Ventura County which takes you to Mt. Pinos. *Note- A Los Padres National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle on forest roads and must be obtained prior to entering. Photo: Black-chinned Sparrow, Alan Schmierer

Specialty Birds: Prairie Falcon, Greater Roadrunner, Lesser Nighthawk, Costa's Hummingbird, Sage Thrasher, Phainopepla, Brewer's Sparrow, Bell’s Sparrow, Lawrence's Goldfinch

Birds of Note: Scott's Oriole, Black-chinned Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Lark Bunting

Rewards: This arid, high-desert habitat features pinyon-juniper woodland and sage scrub. It is home to a unique variety of birds found only in this corner of Santa Barbara County. Spring and early summer is best, and early mornings are more productive before the heat of day reduces bird activity. Walk the road, canyon washes and scan the hills to find singing sparrows. Spring migrants will often trickle through. Nearer the end of the road at Ballinger Campground search through the junipers for Phainopepla and Scott's Oriole. Plan your visit during the week and avoid the weekend motorcycle and ORV activities. Photo: Black-chinned Sparrow - Alan Schmierer

D5 Santa Barbara Canyon (map >>) (forest pass required)*   Hotspot: (ebird >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi

Directions: (Exit 175) From the north, take Highway 166 at its junction with U.S. 101 near Santa Maria about 56 miles east to just beyond the town of New Cuyama. Turn right (south) from 166 at either Bell Road (2 miles east of town) or Kirschenmann Road (5 miles east of town). Drive south to Foothill Road. Turn left (east) and drive to the entrance of Santa Barbara Canyon. From the south, take Highway 33 from the town of Ojai in Ventura County and drive north about 60 miles to its junction with Highway 166. Turn left (west) and drive about 4.5 miles to Kirschenmann Road. Beyond the creek crossing the road is not paved. A four-wheel drive vehicle is necessary to continue into the Los Padres National Forest several miles up Santa Barbara Canyon. *Note- A Los Padres National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle on forest roads and must be obtained prior to entering.

Specialty Birds: Prairie Falcon, Loggerhead Shrike, Canyon Wren, Mountain Bluebird, Sage Thrasher, Lark Sparrow, Lawrence's Goldfinch

Birds of Note: Long-eared Owl, Pinyon Jay, Scott's Oriole

Rewards: At the lower elevations the habitat is primarily grassland and is a good spot for wintering Mountain Bluebirds. Lower Santa Barbara Canyon’s desert-like scrub and pinyon-juniper woodland is home to a variety of interesting birds. Spring and early summer is best when birds are singing and migrants move through. Listen for Scott’s Oriole in the junipers in the hills, and sparrows in the scrub along the road. If your vehicle is so equipped and the gate is open, you can continue to the higher elevations along the jeep trail to Dry Canyon and Tinta Creek. The habitat eventually changes to pine and fir forest where the elevation reaches 5000’. In “invasion” years, Pinyon Jays have been seen.