Photo by Bob Levy
This birding guide provides a quick overview of different places to see birds around Elkhorn Slough—recognized by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area. Given that these areas are maintained by many different individuals and agencies, we cannot guarantee that each place will be open or maintained at the time of your visit.
Locations (see map)
The Reserve has more than 5 miles of trails that meander through a variety of habitats, including oak woodlands, mud flats, salt marsh, freshwater ponds, upland grassland, and scrub. A number of birds nest here, including the white-tailed kite, red-shouldered hawk, barn owl, chestnut-backed chickadee, swallow, and oak titmouse. There is an acorn woodpecker granary along the South Marsh Loop Trail as well as a Rookery where Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Double-crested cormorants nest and raise their young.
North of the Reserve along Elkhorn Road, there are three good pullouts from which to view birds. Please use caution when navigating this road, and make sure you are parked well off the main road when you stop.
The intersection of Elkhorn Road and Strawberry Road can be a good spot to view lesser yellowlegs, least sandpipers, widgeon, and phalarope.
North of there, you will find a pull-out on the left side of the road overlooking the north marsh with its mudflats and salt marsh.
The third spot along Elkhorn Road is north of Kirby Park at Hudson Landing. After leaving the farm fields behind, the road will open up into a salt marsh and you will see the railroad trestle on your left. You will find pull-outs along the right and left sides of the road. Here, you might see terns and shorebirds, or ducks and geese, depending on the season.
Located on Elkhorn Road just north of the Reserve, Kirby Park offers a boat ramp as well as a wheelchair (and stroller) accessible boardwalk that meanders north along the slough. A number of rare birds have been spotted here, including the lesser flamingo. In the past, visitors have spotted white-faced ibis, tufted duck, long-eared owl, and yellow loon. At one time, this area was home to the clapper rail, but this species was lost to non-native red foxes in the 1980s.
Please use caution when visiting Kirby Park; there have been break-ins to cars in that parking lot.
This privately-owned dairy is located along Dolan Road. This is a favorite spot among avid birders, but since it lies on private property, there are rules and courtesies one must follow while visiting. This working dairy has a well-known freshwater pond, a view of the slough, and a eucalyptus grove.
Moonglow is located just over a mile from Highway 1 along Dolan Road. While driving the Dairy’s roads, please drive slowly and keep clear of all dairy equipment and operations. To get to the viewing area, turn north at the sign onto the dirt road. In about half a mile, turn left at the first cattle pens. Follow this road until it dead ends, at which point you make a right. At the road’s end, park on the left by the eucalyptus grove. For more about this special place, visit Don Roberson’s website; Mr. Roberson first gained access and started birding here more than 20 years ago.
Managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Moss Landing Wildlife Area is home to a short trail and 728 acres of salt ponds and salt marsh. This area of Elkhorn Slough was a working saltworks in a previous era. Now, tidal flow into the salt ponds is maintained to allow for shorebird habitat and nesting. Snowy Plovers nest on the exposed salt flats each spring, but these areas remain closed to the public. A scope is necessary to see into the closed areas and get better views. From the trail, you can expect to see sea ducks or otters. This area is also open to hunters during hunting season.
Moss Landing Wildlife Area is located on the East side of Hwy 1 just north of the bridge across the mouth of Elkhorn Slough.
This is the area north of the bridge but west of the Highway. It is home to the smaller North Harbor, ample parking, waterside restaurant, and kayak shops. The boat ramp area is the take-off point for kayak trips and small craft venturing into the slough and the bay. In this area, look for sea ducks, loons, grebes, and gulls.
You will find Moss Landing State Beach to the north of Moss Landing, past the North Harbor on the west side of Highway 1. Here, you will find otters sheltering from storms, birds feeding at low tide, roosting gulls (sometimes rare), flocking shorebirds, raptors, and even massive numbers of Sooty Shearwaters circling offshore.
North of Jetty Road, you will find the exit to Zmudowski State Beach (west on Struve Road). Just before reaching the beach, you will find a freshwater pond with many interesting ducks and other birds such as American Bitterns and egrets. Black-crowned night herons nest here. At the beach, you can walk north to the mouth of the Pajaro River, where you’ll find roosting gulls and terns. Beware, break-ins have occurred at this parking lot.
The town of Moss Landing is home to a harbor full of boats, shops, restaurants, emerging art galleries, and wildlife. You’ll commonly see otters resting in the quiet waters next to boats, Brown pelicans roosting on buildings, and egrets feeding along the tidal channels.
Find your way to the bridge by turning onto Sandholdt Road. The parking lot just north of the bridge will lead to Moss Landing State Beach. The area near the bridge and the channels that make their way through town are good places to look for a variety of birds, including grebes, loons, ducks, shorebirds, and waders. Going right after the bridge, the road will dead end at the South Jetty. From the South Jetty, one might find loons, sea ducks (including King Eider), grebes, alcids, terns, and many rare species.
Heading south down the main road, you will find Potrero Road. This road heads west and will take you to beach access with a lovely spring wildflower bloom. Look for shorebirds in the tidal channels, raptors in the farm fields, and the standard cast of characters at the beach.
Photo by Csaba Nemeth