This birding guide will provide you with a quick overview of the different places to see birds around the Elkhorn Slough. 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.
You can find recent sightings on eBird.
Join local expert birder Rick Fournier, on the first Saturday of each month on an Early Bird Tour.
1) Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve – The Reserve has 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 – just to name a few. 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. For a better idea of what has been seen at the Reserve, visit the Recent Sightings blog.
2) Elkhorn Road – There are 3 good pullouts North of the Reserve along Elkhorn Road from which to view birds. Please use caution when navigating this road, although windy, people do drive fast down this road and it can be dangerous to cross or park along. Make sure you are parked well off the main road when you stop.
The intersection of Elkhorn Road and Strawberry Road can provide 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 salt marsh and you will see the railroad tressel on your left. You will find pullouts along the right and left sides of the road. Here you might see terns and shorebirds or ducks and geese depending on the season.
3) Kirby Park – [closed right now] Located on Elkhorn Road just north of the Reserve, you will find a boat ramp as well as a wheel-chair (and stroller) accessible boardwalk that meanders north along the slough. A number of rare birds has been spotted here including recently a lesser flamingo. In the past, visitors have included white-faced ibis, tufted duck, long-eared owl and yellow loon. At one time, this area was home to the clapper rail, but 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.
4) MoonGlow Dairy – This is a privately owned dairy 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 here. This working dairy has a well known freshwater pond, view of the slough and a eucalyptus grove.
MoonGlow is located a little 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 you make a right. At road’s end, park on the left by the eucalytus grove. For more about this special place visit Don Roberson’s website – who first gained access and started birding here over 20 years ago.
5) Moss Landing Wildlife Area – Managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, it is home to a short slough-slide trail and 728 acres of salt ponds and salt marsh. This area of the 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 public. A scope is necessary to see into the closed areas and get better views. From the slough-side 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.
6) Moss Landing’s North Harbor area – This is the area north of the bridge but west of the Highway. It is home to a waterside restaurant and a doc that has recently become home to a large colony of California sea lions. The boat ramp area is the take off point for kayak trips and small craft venturing into the Slough and Bay. In this area look for sea ducks, loons, grebes and gulls.
7) Moss Landing State Beach and Jetty Road – You will find Moss Landing State Beach North of Moss Landing past the North Harbor on the West side of Highway 1. Here you will find otters sheltered from storms, birds feeding at low tide, roosting gulls (sometimes rare), flocking shorebirds, raptors and even massive numbers of Sooty Shearwaters circling offshore.
8) Zmudowski State Beach – 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. – Breakins have occured at this parking lot.
9) Moss Landing – The town of Moss Landing is home to a habor 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, egrets feeding along the tidal channels.
Find your way to the bridge by turning onto Sandholdt Road. The parkinglot just north of the bridge will lead to Moss Landing 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 deadend 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 a 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.