Birding in Big Sur
Andrew Molera State Park

Content on this page is from an article by Craig Hohenberger and Jeff Davis: Birding Big Sur’s Andrew Molera State Park

Song Bird Banding
with the Ventana Wilderness Society
at the Big Sur Ornithology Lab in Molera Beach State Park


Big Sur Birding Outfitter

Photo by Margie Whitnah
A forty minute drive south of Monterey on the spectacular coastal Highway One, Andrew Molera State Park harbors a veritable wealth of avian life. The park (about 5,000 acres in size) includes the Big Sur River mouth, and, with neighboring lands and ocean waters out to 12 nautical miles, boasts a healthy bird list of 379 species.

New Condor Photos

Elevations in the park range from sea level near the coast to 3,200 feet in the Santa Lucia Mountains, less than 2 miles away. This change in elevation is part of the most abrupt rise on the Eastern Pacific coast from Alaska to Peru. There are two major drainages in the park, the Big Sur River and the south fork of the Little Sur River, and approximately 3 miles of coastline.

Blackpoll Warbler
Photo courtesy Big Sur Ornithology Lab

Locals have known of the region’s birding potential for several decades, but the area was not readily accessible until it became a state park in 1972. And, although rare birds were routinely discovered here, the site was only visited by a few birders and only irregularly until recently. In 1992, a non-profit conservation organization (Ventana Wilderness Society) established a research and education center and bird observatory (Big Sur Ornithology Lab [BSOL]) in the park. BSOL/VWS has operated an avian monitoring program ever since.
Northern and southern biogeographical regions meet here in a kind of suture zone making for some seemingly incongruous habitat associations. Most notably, mesic canyons with redwoods, salamanders, and Winter Wrens are flanked by semiarid grasslands with yuccas, spiny lizards, and Rufous-crowned Sparrows.
This suture zone effect, in part, gives rise to a remarkable floral diversity of 17 described plant communities present in the park alone. The Big Sur River maintains a relatively pristine cottonwood-willow woodland that provides a welcome retreat for migrants. This is perhaps most conspicuous in the fall when the riparian corridor can be littered with a dizzying array of migratory songbirds. At the river’s terminus, a lagoon affords some habitat for ducks and shorebirds in fall and winter, and a small protected bay sometimes holds Brant and Harlequin Duck.
Visit the Big Sur Ornithology Lab

and, Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society

Read our review of Jeff Davis’ Birds of Big Sur book

Order the book at Ventana Wilderness Society

Often, on Saturdays, the VWS conducts Morning Bird Walks at Andrew Molera State Park– 8:30- 10:00AM led by an avian biologists. Meet at the Big Sur Ornithology Lab near the Ranch House at Andrew Molera State Park. Please bring binoculars and expect to see many common resident birds, and perhaps a rare bird or two. To reserve a spot, contact Sarah Hamilton or Jason Scott at 831-624-1202.

Birding Outfitter:Monterey Birding Adventures

Birding for whole family, and all levels of birders. 400+ species possible in five distinct habitats. Guided half, or full day nature tours. Family tours available. Walking or kayaking tours of Elkhorn Slough (most prolific sighting location in U.S.) Point Lobos, Big Sur and Molera trips.

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