Top Dozen Monterey County Birding Sites
Carmel River mouth — lagoon, beach, riverbed riparian
a page by Don Roberson

eBirding Carmel River mouth
eBird has three (3) Hot Spots within the "Carmel River mouth" listing area. Some land is public, some is private (no access), and the restoration area called "Odello," which includes the recently created "Odello lagoon," is a restricted access area. It may be entered only by a few long-time volunteers via permits.

This satellite view (below) shows the entire area (essentially west of Highway and south of the Carmel River bridge,
with the 3 named Hot Spots

Here's a quick overview of the three eBird Hot spots:

  • Carmel River SB (beach, lagoon and/or Cross Hill). There are two ways to reach this public beach. From the north, through the City of Carmel, take Santa Lucia Ave. west from Rio Road to Carmelo St., turn left (south) and drive to the State Beach parking lot. Here the public has access to the lagoon, a wide sandy beach, a marsh to the east of the lagoon, and when the river is running through to the Pacific Ocean, the actual point where the river meets the sea. Alternatively, from Hwy 1, take Ribera Road north into the Carmel Meadows subdivision, continue north to Calle la Cruz, and turn right to the end of this dead-end road. Park here, go around the gate and take the wide paved road downhill to the State Park. Here there are dirt paths through coastal scrub to the beach and to the lagoon, or up to the top of a little hill with a big cross on it. Birders call this "Cross Hill." From the top one can view the lagoon to the north, and to the east and south see portions of the newly created "Odello Lagoon."
  • Carmel River SB--seawatch only. This is a subset of the Carmel River SB hot spot. You can seawatch from the edge low cliffs overlooking the beach and scope into Carmel Bay towards Pt. Lobos. If you do some seawatching as part of a trip that also checks Carmel Lagoon and/or Cross Hill — use the preceding more general Hot Spot. However, if your visit is simply to seawatch and not check other sites (such as in stormy or very windy weather), then you may use this hot spot to enter your focused sea-watch into eBird.
  • Carmel River mouth — riverbed riparian (and/or restricted access Odello Lagoon). This hot spot has two elements but they blend into each other. There is public access to the riverbed of the Carmel River — reached by taking trails under the Hwy 1 bridge and into the riverbed. Then there is a restoration site ("Odello") that is not open to the public. Let's look in more detail:
    • Riparian riverbed — from its discovery in the 1950s, this was one of the premium vagrant spots in all of California, and was rivaled only by Pt. Pinos as the best vagrant spot in Monterey County from the 1960s to about the end of the 1990s. Many rare eastern vagrants have been found in the riparian habitat lining the Carmel River, mostly in fall but sometimes in winter or spring. Before the turn of the 21st century, the riverbed was dry in fall migration, so birders could walk for a mile on a sandy riverbed, past a "green pipe" that crosses the river to the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and continue to the edge of the Carmel Lagoon itself. The lagoon always had water but the riverbed did not except after the winter rains. So it was a great birding area in the autumn. This changed with State orders to release water from upstream dams, and to reduce groundwater pumping to provide fall habitat for the endangered run of Carmel River steelhead trout. Now the riverbed always has some water — it is drier in the fall during droughts, but still has deep puddles. It now requires rubber boots or getting wet to bird the riparian edges of the river in autumn. Vagrants are still found here in the public access areas, but the physical difficulty of dealing with wading in the river calf-deep or so presents problems. There is much less coverage now than there was in the 20th century. [There has always been a problem here with hobos and 'homeless' as well. They are usually harmless but many birders prefer to go here in groups.]
    • "Odello restoration area" — until the floods of 1995, the area south of the river and west of Hwy 1 was an agricultural field used by the Odello family to grow artichokes. It was off-limits to birders. After the 1995 flood it was acquired by the State of California as a flood overflow area, and is now managed by State Parks for habitat restoration. A multi-armed lagoon was dredged and connected to the Carmel Lagoon in a channel just east of Cross Hill. This new "Odello Lagoon" is managed for steelhead — sometimes the lagoon is very full, and at other times the 'arms' are empty. Willows are naturally reclaiming part of the area, and others have been planted. State Parks has limited access to only those with permits, and the permits themselves are limited to local volunteers only who collect data there.
    • Wastewater Treatment Plant (WTP) — in the 1960s this location was open to birders, but the system for treating wastewater has dramatically changed here. There are no longer any open ponds. The entire WTP is now fenced and blocked by a gate. There is absolutely no access here.

The map below shows how the 3 Hot Spots are to be used. Review the washes of color and other information on this map. Further details follow the map.

For purposes of using eBird, please use this map and these instructions:

  • Carmel River SB (beach, lagoon and/or Cross Hill) — this is the yellow wash (actually looks yellow-brown in the overlay), and includes the beach, Carmel Lagoon, the marsh east of Lagoon, and any viewing out over Carmel Bay that you may do as part of a visit that checks these different sites. Cross Hill is marked with a black cross. Many birders go up here and look all directions. See the green area to the east of Cross Hill. This is actually within the Carmel River mouth Hot Spot, but you may include birds seen within the green "overlap" area within your Carmel River SB visit.
  • Carmel River mouth (riverbed riparian and/or Odello) — all the access points for this Hot Spot are different than Carmel River SB, so you will know when you are within this Hot Spot. You will either be in the riverbed (probably in rubber boots) or you will be entering an old checklist from the 1970s, '80s, or '90s. Or you may have one of the few access permits to Odello, and already know your way around. There are no good places to see Carmel Lagoon from within the Carmel River mouth hot spot — unless you wade all the way to the lagoon — so please don't include the gull or tern flocks in the lagoon within your Carmel River mouth list. Obviously you can't see the ocean from anywhere in the hot spot, so don't enter seabirds on Carmel Bay in this hot spot. You may, however, includes birds on the southwest side of the Odello Lagoons that you can see or hear from the northeast side, and these will all be within the green "overlap" zone shown on the map. [The Wastewater Treatment Plant is off limits to entry, but count birds within that you see or hear from outside.]
  • Carmel River SB--seawatch only — this is meant to be used ONLY as a stationary count when you are scoping out over Carmel Bay. You will primarily be seeing loons, grebes, scoters, shearwaters, gulls, and alcids. Feel free to add any shorebirds along the beach, or anything you hear from behind you as you are scoping the Bay. But if you do some active birding along the beach, or in the paths through the coastal scrub, please either (a) do another checklist with these species called Carmel River SB, or (b) don't include them on your "seawatch."

Return to top

page created 25 May 2014

all photos & text © Don Roberson

back to