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.

Coastside Trail Day 3: To Princeton-by-the-Sea

Our morning was cloudy and windy all along the coast. We got some welcome sunny warmth in the afternoon.

The birds didn’t seem to mind the wind as much as we did. We saw 48 species, with about 15 new for the trip, during the day’s 6-mile trek to Princeton-by-the-Sea and Pillar Point Harbor. Our focus was on shorebirds and seabirds, and we were delighted with surprises at the start and end of our walk. Here are some highlights.

Our first surprise was a snowy plover near a nest with an egg, a sighting that hasn’t occurred on these beaches for years. This is good news for this threatened species.

Our next big surprise was a flock of both Caspian terns and elegant terns. The elegants weren’t expected. They usually arrive in early summer. The elegant terns are smaller than the Caspians and the black crest looks more ruffled.

One of my best shot of the day was of this eared grebe in full breeding plumage.

Our biggest surprise of the day was a sighting of a Northern gannet on the breakwater. Yes, a gannet! This is a beautiful North Atlantic bird that’s been hanging around Half Moon Bay for awhile. How it got here, no one knows. A rare treat.

Thanks for following along on my inn-to-inn birding walk with Slow Adventure. And thanks to our birding guide, Alvaro Jaramillo.

Coastside Trail Day 2: Half Moon Bay

Monday was cool and overcast all day.

During our 6-mile walk along a trailer park creek through the Ritz Carlton golf links to downtown Half Moon Bay, we saw 61 bird species. Amazing. There were many of the usuals — sparrows to crows, and a few surprises, too. Here are the special ones.

A great horned owl in a eucalyptus tree behind a trailer park.

A Hutton’s vireo in a 150-year-old cypress grove.

And, a Western bluebird on a coastal bluff in town.

Amazing what you can find when you take the time to look.

I’m walking this week on a Slow Adventure with Alvaro Jaramillo and a great group of birders.

Coastside Trail Day 1: Arrival

Today was beautiful walking the Coastide Trail on the south end of Half Moon Bay.

There weren’t a lot of bird species, but there were a lot of sparrows. The surprise find for me on my solo walk, besides the song sparrows and white-crowned sparrows, was this secretive, solitary savannah sparrow that popped out of the brush and showed off a bit.

The other treat was a patient parent white-crowned sparrow feeding an insistent youngster.

More tomorrow with Slow Adventure’s birding trip and Al Jaramillo, and my test of blogging from the road with my iPad.