Western kingbird

The Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) was a new bird for me, spotted on the last day of last week’s Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail walk. It’s a multi-pastel-colored bird (a type of flycatcher) that’s a little smaller than a robin.

According to Alvaro Jaramillo’s Field Guide to the Birds of California, this bird is a migrant here for the spring through summer breeding season. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America says this kingbird is seen singly or in small family groups. We watched three to five together in the coastal scrub. It’s a beautiful visitor.  I was happy to make its acquaintance.

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Coastside Trail: Best birds 3

Here’s my final set of best shots from the last leg of the south-to-north trek along the Half Moon Bay coast from Princeton-by-the-Sea to Moss Beach.

Enjoy and get outside. There’s so much to see.

Here’s the key by column:
Column 1: House Sparrow, Snowy Egret, Caspian Tern, Brant (geese), Common Loon, Spotted Towhee
Column 2: Western Kingbird, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, California Towhee, Green-tailed Towhee, Song Sparrow
Column 3: Wilson’s Warbler, Steller’s Jay, Warbling Vireo, Purple Finch, Turkey Vulture

And, that’s it from me for awhile.

Coastside Trail: Best birds 2

These are my best shots from the next part of the south-to-north trek along the coast of Half Moon Bay to Princeton-by-the-Sea. We spent our time close to shore buffeted by coastal winds.

Here’s the key by column:
Column 1: Snowy Plover + Sanderlings, Snowy Plover, Caspian Tern, Caspian Tern, Elegant Tern (flying)
Column 2: Whimbrel, White-crowned Sparrow, Bewick’s Wren, Common Yellowthroat
Column 3: Western Tiger Swallowtail (butterfly), Red-tailed Hawk, Eared Grebe, Northern Gannet (in the wrong ocean)

Coastside Trail: Best birds 1

Here are my best shots from the first part of the south-to-north trek along the coast of Half Moon Bay. (Best doesn’t mean great, just those good enough to post.)


Here’s the key by column:
Column 1: Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow (feeding a youngster), Great-horned Owl, decorative garden grasses (I liked the pattern)
Column 2: Anna’s Hummingbird (male), cypress grove (for the pattern), Hutton’s Vireo
Column 3: American Robin, Surf Scoter, Western Bluebird

Coastside Trail Day 4: To Moss Beach

The day started cloudy and windless, then ended sunny, a wonderful change from the previous day’s chilling wind. The plan was to leave Princeton-by-the-Sea, walk to the base of the hill you see here, then to the top and along the ridge northward to Moss Beach.


Along the way we passed a marsh and watched water birds and at the jetty saw shorebirds. At the top of hill we got a great view of a quiet Mavericks, the famous surf spot. It was a beautiful start to the day.Mavericks

But this post is about towhees and their cousins, the sparrows. During all four days of this birding walk we saw both. I’ve never been very interested in sparrows (I find them hard to identify), but I do like towhees, in particular, the spotted towhee (easy to identify and colorful). What I didn’t realize until this trip is that towhees and sparrows are in the same family (along with a few others) — they’re Emberizines (Family: Emberizidae). And, we saw many of both as we walked the Coastside Trail, including one species of towhee that wasn’t supposed to be on our route.

Here’s the family, with the sparrows first.
I saw the Savannah Sparrow on the first day and I had only seen one once before. The House Sparrow isn’t native (it’s Old World) and does well in urban areas, which is where we saw it. Throughout the walk White-crowned Sparrows were just about everywhere and Song Sparrow tunes were as pervasive.


Savannah Sparrow







House Sparrow

House Sparrow







White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow






SongSparrow D5

Song Sparrow







You can see that there are differences among the four species.

What I find remarkable is how different the towhees are from the sparrows.

California Towhee

California Towhee







Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee







And finally, the lost towhee — a Green-tailed Towhee. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise visitor in the sagebrush of the Sierras, but it is here along the coast, according to our guide Alvaro. I think it resembles both sides of the family — sparrows and towhees. What do you think?

Green-tailed Towhee

Green-tailed Towhee

Seeing it in Moss Beach on the last day was a great treat. Sorry our trek had to end.

To Margaret and Clare of Slow Adventure and my fellow birders — awesomely great trip, and I look forward to the next one.

To Alvaro Jaramillo — great job and great information. I learned a lot.

And, to those of you who have been following me on this inn-to-inn coastside walking & birding tour — my thanks. You probably see that I’m no longer posting from my iPad. Mobile blogging was a great learning experience, but I really do prefer my Mac screen and keyboard for posts.

I took a lot more pictures on this trip and will be adding them to my blog over the next few weeks. Keep walking and birding, or however you enjoy the outdoors near you.