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sbcoBIRDING Santa Barbara County Birding

Interior Valleys & Mountains

C1 Tepusquet Canyon (map >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi

Directions: (Exit 169) U.S. 101 in Santa Maria exit at Betteravia Road and drive east through the valley toward the foothills. Betteravia Road becomes Foxen Canyon Road as it curves to the south. At approximately 6.5 miles veer left onto Santa Maria Mesa Road before entering the small town of Garey. Continue east 4.5 miles to the stop sign at Tepusquet Road. Turn left (north) and drive into the canyon. You can follow this road over the summit all the way to Highway 166 to the north- a pleasant 15 mile stretch of canyon and oak covered foothills (approximately six miles to the summit from the stop sign). You can also reach Tepusquet Canyon from Highway 166 driving east from Santa Maria (Exit 175). It is 17 miles from the Highway 101-Highway 166 junction to Tepusquet Road. It is a two lane paved road with limited places to pull out, but do so where safe and not block driveways.

Specialty Birds: Band-tailed Pigeon, Western Screech-Owl, Costa's Hummingbird, Western Wood-Pewee, Hutton's Vireo, Steller's Jay, Oak Titmouse, Canyon Wren, Wrentit, Lawrence's Goldfinch

Birds of Note: Mountain Quail, Spotted Owl, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Cassin's Vireo, Brown Creeper, Varied Thrush

Rewards: Pronounced "Tep-us-kay" (the Chumash word "fishing for trout"), the stream and oak woodland at the bottom of this canyon around the 7 mile marker is quite good for spring birds. Migrants move through the narrow riparian corridor along the creek, in the sycamores and shaded oaks of Tepusquet and include warblers, vireos, orioles, tanagers, thrushes and flycatchers. Common western birds are typical of the area. Steller's Jay is found in the cooler shaded portions of the canyon and in the oak woodland near the top of the ridge. You can access Colson Canyon and Los Padres National Forest from Tepusquet Road, but this is a dirt road with a few creek crossings and is not advisable for low clearance vehicles. Around the rocky outcrops listen for Canyon Wren. Costa's Hummingbird may also be seen in the sage and yucca in these rocky areas. Continue over the ridge top on Tepusquet Rd. to the north facing side of the hills where oaks predominate. This can be quite good for migrants as well.

C2 Foxen Canyon & Wine Country Routes (map >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi

Directions: (Exit 164) U.S. 101 take Clark Avenue near Orcutt and continue east to Dominion Rd. Turn right (south) on Dominion to reach the intersection of Palmer Rd. Turn left (north) on Palmer and continue to the small town of Sisquoc. Total distance is about 5.7 miles from U.S. 101 in Orcutt to the town of Sisquoc and Foxen Canyon Rd. north portion. (Exit 154) U.S. 101 near the town of Los Olivos and travel east about 2.5 miles to reach the south end of Foxen Canyon Rd.

Specialty Birds: Lewis’s Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Hutton's Vireo, Western Bluebird, Blue Grosbeak, Lark Sparrow, Bullock’s Oriole

Rewards: These routes are best for finding Yellow-billed Magpie in the county. Several flocks may be seen congregating in the oaks and feeding in the grassy fields bordering vineyards.  Spring is best along these routes with western migrants moving through the oaks and narrow riparian habitat at creek crossings. Warblers, flyctahcers and swallows can be detected as they move north.  In the more open oak-savannah habitat along Zaca Station Rd., Lewis’s Woodpeckers occasionally over-winter and can be seen on power poles or flycatching from oak snags. Photo: Yellow-billed Magpie - Jamie Chavez

C3 Los Alamos County Park (map >>)   Hotspot: (ebird >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi   Hours: 8:00 AM to Dusk   Restroom

Directions: (Exit 154) U.S. 101 at the town of Los Alamos take Highway 135 (Bell St.) west through town to Centennial St. Turn left (south) and drive a short distance past the elementary school to the park entrance on the left. Gate closes at dusk. Continuing beyond the park will take you up scenic Drum Canyon for a variety of woodland and chaparral birds.

Specialty Birds: Acorn Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Magpie, Hutton's Vireo, California Thrasher, Varied Thrush

Rewards: This small county park provides a variety of common California specialties such as nuthatches, wrens, woodpeckers, bluebirds, titmouse, and Wrentit. Yellow-billed Magpie can be common here at times or just outside the park in the elementary school and around town. A drive up Drum Canyon might provide Lazuli Bunting, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher and occasionally a Phainopepla.

C4 Nojoqui Falls County Park (map >>)   Hotspot: (ebird >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi   Hours: 8:00 AM to Dusk   Restroom

Directions: Drive 4 miles south of Buellton (Exit 140A) on U.S. 101 to Old Coast Road. Exit 101 here and drive 1 mile and turn left (east) onto Alisal Road. The park entrance is to the right 0.8 miles. From the town of Solvang (Highway 246), follow Alisal Road south about 6.5 miles to the park entrance. Gate closes at dusk.

Specialty Birds: Band-tailed Pigeon, Purple Martin, Violet-green Swallow, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo, Yellow-billed Magpie, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Bullock's Oriole

Birds of Note: Canyon Wren, Pacific Wren, Varied Thrush, Northern Parula, Black-throated Gray Warbler

Rewards: Nojoqui Park is known to local birders for its small breeding population of Purple Martins in the county. A rare and local breeding bird in much of California. Look for them in spring and summer around the sycamore trees near the entrance to the park. A few of these birds may be seen circling overhead or flying into nest holes in the sycamores. An easy hike up the trail into the cool, shaded canyon to see the cascading falls at the end of the path (best in spring) is well worth the effort. Looking for birds all along the way, you may see Black-chinned Hummingbird, Cassin's Vireo, warblers, grosbeaks and orioles. Winter is good for White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows, kinglets, thrushes and occasionally a Pacific Wren, Canyon Wren or Varied Thrush. This park has been an irregular breeding spot for Northern Parula (rare) in the county. In early summer a pair may be found in the canopy of oaks and hanging moss near the front of the park. A drive north of Nojoqui Park on Alisal Road toward the town of Solvang to the Alisal Guest Ranch and Golf Course will often provide a few more Purple Martins. Look for them circling over the sycamore trees lining the golf course fairways. Birding along much of Alisal Canyon is also very good for oak woodland birds. Photo: Nojoqui Falls

C5 Refugio Road - Quiota Creek (map >>)   Hotspot: (ebird >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi

Directions: (Exit 140A) U.S. 101 at Buellton, drive east on Highway 246 approximately 6 miles to Refugio Road. Turn right (south) and cross over the Santa Ynez River into Quiota Canyon. Birding can be done at several places along the road where you can safely pull out.

Specialty Birds: Black-chinned Hummingbird, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Hutton's Vireo, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Bullock's Oriole

Birds of Note: Lewis's Woodpecker, Hooded Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Chipping Sparrow

Rewards: This seven mile drive along Quiota Creek and into the canyon is excellent in spring and early summer for resident and migrant birds. Check the riparian habitat along the creek for warblers, flycatchers, vireos and orioles. The road crosses the creek at a few places into canyon and often provides the most productive birding. A few rarities have been recorded along the creek including five Hooded Warblers in summer of 1992. The road along much of lower canyon is easy to traverse, but is unpaved as you head up into the Santa Ynez Range. As you near the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains look for nesting Chipping Sparrows, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Black-throated Gray Warblers. Lewis's Woodpecker may be encountered in winter in the valley oaks near the entrance to the canyon.

C6 Solvang Area (map >>)

Directions: (Exit 140A) U.S. 101 at Buellton, drive east on Highway 246 (Mission Drive) approximately 3 miles to the picturesque town of Solvang. At Mission Drive and Atterdag Road turn left (north) and continue several blocks until you reach the park entrance on the left.

Specialty Birds: Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Oak Titmouse

Birds of Note: Lewis's Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-naped Sapsucker

Rewards: This scenic park in the bottom of a narrow canyon can be good for many western specialties and migrants in spring. Look for nuthatches, woodpeckers, jays, bluebirds and sparrows throughout the park. Walk the oak trees and willow-riparian habitat along the creek for more birds. Warblers and flycatchers are regular migrants along the creek in spring. Return to Mission Drive and turn left (east) to visit the SANTA YNEZ MISSION. The pepper trees around the Mission have been reliable for sapsuckers in winter. Park in the lot near the Mission buildings and look through the pepper trees in front and behind the Mission. In addition to enjoying the beautiful town of Solvang, be sure to look through the sycamore trees and power poles throughout town for the occasional wintering Lewis’s Woodpecker (rare).

C7 Figueroa Mountain & Ranger Peak (forest pass required)* (map >>)   Hotspots: (ebird >>) (ebird >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi   Primitive Restrooms at Figueroa Campground and Pino Alto

Directions: (Exit 146) Highway 154 east at its junction with U.S. 101 and drive about 3 miles to the town of Los Olivos (map >>) Turn left (north) from 154 on Figueroa Mountain Road (opposite Grand Ave.). Be sure to look for Yellow-billed Magpies along lower Figueroa Mountain Road just north of town. To reach the mountain, continue north some 13 miles to the summit (elevation, 4528’). Continue east to Figueroa Campground, Davy Brown trailhead, and Ranger Peak (elevation, 4652’). Continuing east from here will take you down to Happy Canyon and Sunset Valley Road, but seasonal closures may prevent access to Happy Canyon from Figueroa. *Note- A Los Padres National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle on forest roads and must be obtained prior to entering. Camping reservations must be made through the campground concessionaire Parks Management Company

Specialty Birds: Mountain Quail, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Common Poorwill, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Rock Wren, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Chipping Sparrow

Birds of Note: Spotted Owl, Williamson's Sapsucker, White-headed Woodpecker, Black Swift, Clark's Nutcracker, Townsend's Solitaire, Varied Thrush, Red Crossbill, Cassin's Finch, Evening Grosbeak

Rewards: Drive up Figueroa Mountain Road in spring (April and May) and you will be treated to incredible displays of wildflowers and amazing views of much of the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley below. Birding can be done all along this road as you ascend toward the top. The habitat is a mixture of oak-savannah, grassland and chaparral at lower elevations, and oak, pine and fir forest at the top. A short distance past Catway Rd. is a 1.5-mile unpaved road to the Pino Alto Day Use Area and old fire lookout at the summit. The road is fine for most passenger cars and the Day Use Area provides some of the best birding on Figueroa Mountain. An interpretive trail loops through forest pines. Cassin's Finch is a possibility in winter and spring. Looking north and east into the back country wilderness from the Figueroa Mountain fire lookout at the end of the road is a sight to behold! The reintroduced California Condor has historically been seen from this spot. While at the top, look for ravens, hawks and swifts. A drive along Figueroa Mountain Road at dawn or dusk is also good for Common Poorwill in summer. Winter birds on Figueroa Mountain include Golden-crowned Kinglet, White-headed Woodpecker and Williamson's Sapsucker (both rare). Evening Grosbeak has been recorded during invasion years. Birding around Ranger Peak east of Figueroa Mountain has been a reliable spot for Townsend's Solitaire, and Clark's Nutcracker has been recorded. In the cool, shaded fir trees on the north slope Spotted Owl may be found. Photo: Figueroa Mountain - Jamie Chavez

C8 Happy Canyon Road to Nira Camp (forest pass required)* (map >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi   Primitive Restrooms at Davy Brown and Nira Campgrounds

Directions: (Exit 140A) Highway 154 east at its junction with U.S. 101 and drive about 8 miles to Highway 246/Armour Ranch Road (map >>). Turn left (east) on to Armour Ranch and drive about 1.5 miles to Baseline Road. Turn left on Baseline and drive 1.1 miles ahead to Happy Canyon Road on the right. *Note- A Los Padres National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle on forest roads and must be obtained prior to entering. In addition, a Wilderness Permit is required to hike beyond Nira Campground into the San Rafael Wilderness. Check the Los Padres National Forest web site for information on seasonal closures and current conditions. Camping reservations must be made through the campground concessionaire Parks Management Company

Specialty Birds: Mountain Quail, Golden Eagle, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Costa's Hummingbird, Lewis's Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Magpie, Cassin's Vireo

Rewards: This scenic drive through much of the ranch land in the Santa Ynez Valley is good for oak-savannah birds such as Lark Sparrow, Acorn Woodpecker, Bullock’s Oriole, Yellow-billed Magpie and Western Kingbird in summer. Lewis’s Woodpecker and Mountain Bluebird are both irregular visitors some winters. Just east of Highway 154 along Armour Ranch Road flocks of Horned Larks have held a few Chestnut-collared Longspurs in the open fields. As the road winds upward, you eventually enter the Los Padres National Forest. A stop in Cachuma Campground for birding along the creek is productive for migrants in spring. Vireos, flycatchers, tanagers, grosbeaks and warblers are regularly seen. The drive beyond the fork at Figueroa Mountain Road becomes Sunset Valley. Birding anywhere along this stretch of canyon is well worth the effort. Continue on to the shaded riparian habitat along Davy Brown campground and a check for more spring migrants. The road eventually terminates at Nira Campground and Manzana Creek at the San Rafael Wilderness a short distance ahead. Townsend’s Solitaires (winter) have been seen here. While Nira campground is open to the public, a Wilderness Permit is required to hike the Manzana Trail into the back country.

C9 Cachuma Lake Recreation Area (fee) (map >>)   Hotspots: (ebird >>) (ebird >>)

    Seasons: Sp | Su | Fa | Wi   Hours: 7:00 AM to Dusk   Camping by Reservation   Restroom

Directions: (Exit 101B) From Santa Barbara, take Highway 154 (San Marcos Pass) from U.S. 101 north about 20 miles to the lake entrance on the right. Coming from the north, take Highway 154 east at its junction with U.S. 101 and drive about 20 miles to the lake entrance on the left. Camping, Eagle Cruises and boat rentals are available.

Specialty Birds: Hooded Merganser, Common Loon, Clark's Grebe, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Hutton's Vireo, Oak Titmouse

Birds of Note: Tundra Swan, Barrow's Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Parasitic Jaeger

Rewards: Lake Cachuma County Park is the largest body of fresh water in the county. Each winter a multitude of waterfowl along with cormorants, grebes and loons can easily be spotted from various sites along the south shoreline. These include: geese, mergansers and scaup. Occasionally American White Pelican and Tundra Swan are present. Bald Eagles and Ospreys are regularly spotted on the lake’s Eagle Cruise and along the shoreline points and coves. Western and Clark’s Grebes are breeding birds on the lake. The oaks within the park and campground areas are good for several western species. Photo: Bradbury Dam, Cachuma Lake

BRADBURY DAM: Continue north of the Lake Cachuma County Park main entrance about 1.2 miles on Highway 154 to the Bradbury Dam Vista Point road on the right. Drive a short distance to the parking area.

Specialty Birds: Common Loon, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser

Rewards: This overlook of the Cachuma Lake dam and spillway will often be good for more waterfowl, grebes and loons that congregate at the lake’s west end. A spotting scope is helpful since many of the birds are some distance away. Oak woodland birds and sparrows are around the parking lot.

C10 Paradise Road - Santa Ynez Recreation Area (forest pass required)* (map >>)

      Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi   Camping   Restroom

Directions: (Exit 101B) From Santa Barbara, drive north on Highway 154 (San Marcos Pass) about 10 miles to the Paradise Road exit on the right. Drive east on Paradise Road for approximately 10 miles into Los Padres National Forest and Paradise, Los Prietos, Upper Oso and Santa Ynez camps. Continue to the end of the road at Live Oak Picnic Area to reach the Red Rock Trailhead. *Note- A Los Padres National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle on forest roads and must be obtained prior to entering. Camping reservations must be made through the campground concessionaire Parks Management Company

Specialty Birds: White-throated Swift, Costa's Hummingbird, Canyon Wren, Willow Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo

Rewards: This narrow, interior stretch of the upper Santa Ynez River offers a mix of rocky canyon and riparian habitat. It is excellent in early summer for Swainson’s Thrush, flyactchers, warblers, Cassin's, Warbling, and the endangered “Least” Bells Vireo. "Southwestern" Willow Flycatcher is also a rare breeder in the area. The Upper Santa Ynez River is recognized as an Audubon Society Important Bird Area (link >>).

C11 Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park (map >>)

      Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi   Hours: 7:00 AM to Dusk

Directions: (Exit 101B) From Santa Barbara drive north on Highway 154 (San Marcos Pass) to Painted Cave Road. Drive north on the narrow Painted Cave Road about two miles to reach the park on the left. There is only a small pull out for parking, and RV's and trailers should not make the drive. A trail through the oak woodland takes you to the Painted Cave archeological site.

Specialty Birds: Nuttall's Woodpecker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Wrentit

Rewards: Much of the drive to Painted Cave Park is dominated by chaparral covered hills which is good habitat for a number of western bird species. The  shaded oak canyon along the trail to the Painted Cave site is excellent for spring migrants such as warblers, tanagers, flycatchers and typical oak woodland species.

C12 Kinevan Road - E. Camino Cielo Road (forest pass required along the USYR)* (map >>)

      Seasons: Sp | Su | Wi

Directions: (Exit 101B) From Santa Barbara, drive north on Highway 154 (San Marcos Pass) about 8 miles to the turn off at East Camino Cielo Road. Exiting left (west) will take you to Kinevan Road- a short  stretch of riparian habitat excellent for spring migrants. To drive East Camino Cielo exit to the right (east). Follow East Camino Cielo 11 miles to the fork at Gibraltar Road. Keep left at the fork and continue east along the ridge for about 6.7 miles where it descends down the north side (unpaved road at this point). It is about 5.5 miles to Juncal Campground. The Mono Debris Dam and Mono Camp are another 7.8 miles farther. This road is not recommended for low clearance vehicles or after heavy rains. *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, Willow Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Black-chinned Sparrow, Bell’s Sparrow

Birds of Note: Northern Saw-whet Owl, White-headed Woodpecker, Black Swift, Varied Thrush

Rewards: Kinevan Road is a short drive from Santa Barbara and can be quite good for migrants. Warblers, vireos, flycatchers and thrushes are found along the creek here. Birding along much of East Camino Cielo Road is good for resident chaparral species such as Greater Roadrunner, Mountain Quail, Rufous-crowned and Bell’s Sparrows (rare). Costa’s Hummingbirds, Black-chinned Sparrows and Lazuli Buntings. In invasion years montane species have been seen including Clark's Nutcracker, White-headed Woodpecker and Cassin's Finch. Small flocks of Black Swifts may be seen along the ridge top during spring migration in May. Continue driving east beyond La Cumbre Peak to reach the Mono Creek area. Similar in habitat to lower Paradise Road, spring and early summer birding in the back country is best. This is home to breeding Spotted Sandpipers in the creek, Tree Swallow, Swainson’s Thrush and Yellow-breasted Chat. The endangered “Least” Bells Vireo may be found along Mono Creek and at the upper end of Gibraltar Reservoir. Photo: Bell’s Vireo - Jamie Chavez