updated 1/6/04

Calaveras County Birding Sites

Calaveras is one of the fastest growing counties in California in terms of population. It is also a very much under birded county. Much more needs to be know about this county's bird population before the county is built and logged over. The county ranges in elevation from 220 feet in the north-west to 7000 feet above sea level in the eastern portions of the county. The county has a wide variation of habitats from the Central Valley in the west including a few reservoirs, to the Sierra foothills in the middle to the conifers and redwoods of the Sierras. This report will mostly deal with birding spots along the Highway 4 corridor but there are other places to bird and to discover in the county. County birders should note the county boundary lines as it runs down the middle of the Stanislaus River on the south and the middle of the Mokelumne River on the north. Refer to CSAA's Bay and Mountain map to locate the various points in this discussion. The Forest Service map of Stanislaus National Forest is also useful for places from Angels Camp and west. It can be purchased at the Forest Service station in Hathaway Pines. They also sell a bird check list for the Stanislaus National Forest area.

The Reservoirs in the North West corner have yielded some good birding. Camanche Reservoir (el 235') and Pardee Reservoir(el 568') are good birding places especially in fall and winter. Watch the county boundary as it is in the middle of each reservoir. Birds seen here in the past are Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Eared Grebe, Western and Clark's Grebe, Am.White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Gadwall, Common Merganser, Common Moorehen, Herring Gull, Black and Say's Phoebe. Some birding has been done around Wallace. Keep an eye open for Chestnut-backed Chickadees as well as Mountain Chickadees. New Hogan Reservoir(el 680') hosted a Blue-footed Booby in 1976. In addition it has much of the same as the other Reservoirs. Highway 26 which continues east probably offers good birding but no information is available at this time. Same for the part of Highway 49 through San Andreas to Angels Camp. New Melones Lake (el 1000') offers more possibilities and in the winter there are both Bald and Golden Eagles around the lake. Also Osprey are here year round.

Highway 4 Corridor starts just west of Copperopolis. As you drive east along Highway 4 watch overhead in the summer for Swainson's Hawks. A good birding spot is found by taking the Milton turn off from Highway 4 (road J14). The county line crosses this road so watch for signs if you are a county birder. You can continue up to Jenny Lind for some birding around the river there. Jenny Lind is also easy to reach from New Hogan Reservoir. There have been Wood Ducks and Ring-necked ducks around the Jenny Lind bridge. Back at Milton take the Rock Creek road to Salt Spring Valley Reservoir(el 1074'). This road is narrow and bumpy but worth it for the birding. If you wish to go to the Reservoir avoiding this road continue on Highway 4 to Copperopolis and turn left at Rock Creek Road to go to the Reservoir. Near Milton is a large flock of Tricolored Blackbirds that may be breeding in the area. Along Rock Creek road are Cooper's Hawks, Great Horned Owl, and warblers and sparrows plus the usual low elevation mountain birds. This road is good birding year round. The Reservoir is best from about November through March or so. There is duck hunting on the Reservoir and "Jet skis" are used in the summer. Some of the species seen in this area are Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Western & Clark's Grebes, Tundra Swan, Canada Goose, Green-Winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Common Goldeneye, Common & Hooded Merganser, Bald Eagle (about 6 winter here every year), Sandhill Crane, Greater Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Swallows.

From Salt Spring Valley Reservoir head back to Highway 4 at Copperopolis. There are two ways to go from here. Crossing the highway and continuing to Copperopolis along O'Byrnes Ferry Road takes you to Tullock Reservoir. There are two entrances to Tullock Res. one near the "shopping center" past Copperopolis. The other entrance is along Highway 120 about 10 miles west of where O'Byrnes Ferry Road joins Highway 120. There isn't a long bird list at this time but in November of 1997 a Red-necked Grebe was found here. Note the county line divides the river and the reservoir. In this area there may be some good birding near Knights Ferry (which is actually in Stanislaus County) near the Calaveras Border.

Back to Highway 4 continue towards Avery and Angels Camp. At Avery take the Murphys Grade Road to Murphys and then try to take French Gulch Road (el 2000') which runs almost parallel to Murphys Grade. It starts where there are some large commercial buildings on the left side along the road and ends at the Black Sheep Winery in Murphys. If your map shows "Ross Res" this is where you are headed. There is good roadside birding along this road and Ross Reservoir often has something of interest. Birds seen in the past include Pied-billed Grebe, Wood Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Western Kingbird, White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, Lark Sparrow, Western Meadowlark. Drive through Murphys and meet Highway 4 again. There are two choices to go for birds. Turning down hill leads to Vallecito and Parrots Ferry Road. Drive to the bridge for a look for swallows and Kingfisher. If you are interested in a pleasant hike take the trail to Natural Bridges. The usual birds are here plus Canyon Wren. The other major birding site is Camp Nine Road (el 2000').  The turn off is about one mile from Highway 4 just past Main Street on your right - turn left. It may not be labeled but there will be a sign "Stanislaus Power House - 9 miles". The road is about 8 or 9 miles to the Stanislaus River (remember that the county line runs down the middle of the river). In appropriate season birds reported here include, Great Blue Heron, Bald and Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, N. Pygmy-owl,Phoebes, Western Bluebird, Rock Wren, Amer. Pipit, Warblers, Sparrows. If you can cross the river and go to the Forebay you will see some ducks but you will be in Tuolumne County. Be careful in this area during duck hunting season. You can hike on a forest trail by crossing the green bridge just below the power house ( 48 steps down and 42 steps back up). There is a variety of habitat here for lots of birds. Part of the trail may be blocked by debris from a recent forest fire but the best birding is before that area. Back up to Highway 4 continue on up to the "town" of Arnold. Stops along the way might include Forest Meadows area and the golf course which has a pond that has ducks in the winter. Also the Utica Reservoir Road parallel to Highway 4 is a good side road for warblers and woodpeckers. The area behind Utica Reservoir is private and permission must be obtained and a key secured to bird there. The areas around Sheep Ranch have several good birding spots where  Wild Turkeys can be found and occasionally Lewis' Woodpeckers (110 were seen there in December of 1995 along Armstrong Rd.). These are good areas for the birder who likes to explore. Otherwise continue on up to Arnold and try birding around White Pines Lake (el 4000'). Walking around the lake is possible and will yield interesting birds each different season. This area is best during early morning hours and midweek in the summer as it is a popular recreation site. Species in this area include Pied-billed and Eared Grebes, Ring-necked duck, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Hooded and Common Merganser, California and Mountain Quail, Spotted Sandpiper, Band-tailed Pigeon, Red-breasted Sapsucker, White-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, Green-tailed Towhee, kinglets, vireos, warblers, and grosbeaks.

At the east end of Arnold take Moran Road off of Highway 4. You will be in the Blue Lake Springs Area. Fly-in Acres Lake (el 4000') is a good birding spot but in the summer must be birded in the early morning. It has a species list of 84 including Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Common and Barrow's Goldeneyes, Hooded and Common Merganser, California and Mountain Quail, Virginia Rail, Spotted Sandpiper, Rufous and Anna's Hummingbirds, and most of the passerines seen at White Pines. Continue a mile on Moran Road to Pinebrook Res which will often have some other ducks. The area across the road from this reservoir next to the creek is a good birding area and has included Willow Flycatcher in the past.

The remaining major birding area is Calaveras Big Trees State Park (el 4500') known for the Giant Sequoias which are well worth a visit in and of themselves. The park is good for birding in all seasons but of course it is different in each season.  Aside from the ducks it has most of the birds seen in the Arnold area plus the Northern Goshawk and Spotted Owl. White-headed Woodpeckers are regularly seen here and often the Pileated Woodpecker. Other regulars are Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, and Red-breasted Nuthatch. If you visit be sure to stop by the visitor's center and ask for a bird list (they might or might not have one!) and let them know you are interested in the birds. The North grove is the best birding area but is best in early morning during the summer months before too many people come. The South Grove is also worth birding and various other parts are worthy of exploring. The Northern Goshawk was a regular and nested on the North Grove trail until Stage coach rides disturbed them. Status at present is unknown. Spotted Owls were near the Ranger housing and possibility elsewhere.

Calaveras county continues up Highway 4 until about 7000 feet with many forest service roads to explore. Use the Stanislaus National Forest map to pick roads that cross and follow streams for your best birding choices. Do be careful when you are driving because there is a lot of logging being done around here. Here are a couple I have enjoyed. The first road is FS #6N58. You can access it from a couple of places and be aware that Delorme shows a FS #6N59 that isn't on the Forest Service map. So use your map to try different portions of this road. One access is just past Meko Drive which is on the South side of Highway 4 (there is a Camp Connell Maintenance Station on Meko). This is at about milepost 50. Take the second left (north) from Meko off of highway 4 on a dirt road with some gravel. (It is a sudden and sharp turn so stay alert.) It is rough and a high clearance vehicle would be nice but we did this road in a Honda Accord with no problem - just drive slowly. The road goes a short way to a T and I recommend turning right. Turning left is a rougher road and little is added to your birding list. After turning right drive just a little way and then park and walk enjoying the bird sounds along the creek. In the spring it is filled with wildflowers and butterflies as well. You will eventually come to a very rough spot that you probably couldn't drive anyway so I'd turn back and just continue birding on foot until time to leave. Birds reported here in various seasons: WH Woodpecker, Hammond FC, OS Flycatcher, Nashville, Hermit, OC, YR, MacG, Warblers, H. Wren, GT Towhee, Fox Sparrow, Pil. Woodpecker, Mt. Chickadee, Hermit Thrush, W. Tanager, RB Nuthatch and C. and W. Vireos and Mountain Quail. The elevation here is about 5000 feet. Parts of this road can also be accessed just past Ottawa Drive (which is above Camp Connell at another dirt road north off highway 4. You will just have to experiment because logging needs keep changing these roads.)

Another - even better road to bird is FS 7N09 (north of Highway 4) which starts out behind the Cabbage Patch Maintenance Station. The access is .1 mile east of the Liberty Vista pull off. If you see the Station you have gone too far east - turn around and the access road is just west of the station. This is about mile post 60. Again this is a dirt road - stay on the main road because to the east of this road is a popular OHV area - they are not allowed on 7N09. We have birded the first 7 miles of this dirt/gravel road. High clearance would be nice but as long as you are careful it is not necessary (we again drove our Honda Accord on this road). This area is at 7000 feet so you will find the usual species here. One spot to start is at Middle Gulch which is about 3.3+ miles from Highway 4. There is a stream here as well as a sign on the right side of the road.  Park here and bird both ways on the road from there. About .4 miles south is another meadow that is worth some time. It is worth walking from Middle Gulch for .6 miles along the road for lots of birds. At .6 you will come to another stream with a seasonal pond - spend some time there. After here drive one mile to Hay Gulch which is another area well worth some time. Hay Gulch is probably the singular best spot on this road. You can easily spend a whole day on this road. It is about another mile from Hay Gulch to Cottonwood Gulch and a bit more to 7N05 where we stopped and turned around. All of the species listed for FS #6N58 were here plus, Dusky FC, Robin, BH grosbeaks, juncos, Evening Grosbeaks, Mt. Quail, Redtail, and N. Goshawk. (John Luther had a very close encounter with a immature female and adult male here as he retreated to his car followed by a screaming and diving bird.) To round off a day of birding this road check out the aspen grove at the Big Meadow picnic ground ( a short way east from here on highway 4). Birds spotted here have been: RB Sapsuckers, Laz. Bunting, and WW Pewee.


Other Birding Links for Alpine & Calaveras Counties

Calaveras County Bird List
Calaveras Big Trees State Park Bird List
Alpine County Bird List
Alpine County Birding Sites

To California County Birding Page