The Carmel River mouth is one of Monterey County's prime birding locations. It is best known for vagrant birds during the fall (primarily eastern warblers) but a wide variety of common and rare ducks, shorebirds, and gulls have appeared.
KEY BIRDING SPOTS within the Carmel R. mouth area include:
  • the riparian habitat (willows, cottonwoods, and some live oaks) lining the dry riverbed both downstream and upstream from the Highway 1 bridge during fall migration. About halfway to the lagoon is the famous "green pipe" (photo right) that birders use as a landmark. This area is also good at other times but there is usually lots of water in the river in winter and still a fair bit in spring, requiring boots or a willingness to get wet to bird here. Huge floods in March 1995 washed away the old 1933 bridge, but the new one was built in just 34 days. A marker on the NW side of the bridge commemorates this event and provides a parking area; more parking is just across Hwy 1 in the shopping center. The birder then walks down under the bridge to the river bed.
  • the ornamental plantings around Carmel mission
  • the marsh stretching below Mission Ranch to the State Beach parking lot, which hosts rails, bitterns, Swamp Sparrows (in winter) & an occasional Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow [please note that the Mission Ranch property itself is limited to customers, and that birders should avoid trespassing on that private property]
  • the river mouth lagoon for ducks and bathing Brown Pelicans; this lagoon is variously full or drained depending on when during the winter the river breaks through to the sea
  • the sandy shores of the river mouth lagoon for flocks of gulls and terns in season (the photo below shows a flock of Elegant Terns there in Sep 1991; © D. Roberson)
  • the coastal riparian scrub in and around Cross Hill (a public trail leads to the top of the hill for great views)
  • the "Odello Lagoon" which is a new arm of the Carmel R. mouth lagoon created during the revegetation project; it can be viewed nicely with a scope from Cross Hill [new arms reaching toward Highway 1 have recently been dredged]
  • the sandy beach both north and south of the river mouth
  • the inner half of Carmel Bay, and
  • the revegetation project south of the river and stretching to the Carmel Meadow's subdivision. The Odello family gave up their lease following the 1995 floods and the area is now being restored to wetland and riparian ecosystems. The levee on the south side of the river has been lowered so there is more opportunity for flooding here instead of flooding the homes north of the river. In time, this will become fabulous wildlife habitat. There are plans for a public use hiking trail connecting Rio Park to the hill with the Portola Cross. For the present, access is limited to local BSOL banders and a few others with permits. Please do not disturb this sensitive habitat. Note also that the waste treatment plant on the edge of the river is entirely off-limits to all birders. [I an grateful to Glen McGowan and Mary Dellavalle Sanvictores of California State Parks who contributed information for this page.]
As of 30 Oct 2006, the total Carmel R. mouth area list was
350 species

Click here for a COMPLETE CARMEL R. mouth AREA BIRD LIST



Some local observers keep a "Carmel R. mouth area" list [details of the boundaries follow] but out-of-town birders will also find much here. Farther down this page are details highlighting prime localities within the "Carmel River mouth area."

The Carmel River mouth listing area is that part of Monterey County centered around the bed of the Carmel River from Hwy 1 down to the Carmel R. mouth lagoon and Carmel River State Beach. This initial map (left) shows the general idea although the southern border along Ribera Road is missing [a more detailed aerial photograph is below]. The "center" of the area might be thought of as Cross Hill, where a large cross is erected to mark the spot where in 1769 the Portola/Crespi expedition erected a cross to alert their supply boat that they were short on food and had returned to San Diego. The top photo (© D. Roberson) shows the view east from Cross Hill, including a part of the river mouth lagoon and marsh, and the sandy bed of the river beyond. It is the riparian edges to this river bed that are so attractive in fall migration. In essence, the birding area includes the Carmel River bed from the inland edge of the Crossroads shopping center down to the mouth; the entire Carmel River State Beach with its lagoon, marsh, and sandy shore about halfway down to Monastery Beach; Cross Hill; and the "Odello fields and Odello lagoon;" and the inner half of Carmel Bay. In detail, starting from the parking lot of Carmel River State Beach, the boundary extends eastward along the north edge of the Carmel R. mouth marsh and through Mission Ranch to Dolores St., curving around Carmel Mission on Lasuen Dr., to Rio Road. Thence towards Hwy 1 and across it, including the Crossroads Shopping Center, to Val Verde Rd., then south to the Carmel River (a flagpole marks the innermost extent of the riveredge vegetation) to the levee on the south side of the river, then west to Hwy 1. Highway 1 then forms the boundary south to Ribera Road. The arc of Ribera Rd. forms the boundary to the end of the road where a trail drops west to the beach. The area includes all of Carmel R. mouth beach north of this point to Scenic Drive. The listing area also includes an arc out into Carmel Bay to the half-way point to Pt. Lobos. From the State Beach, this means that the large kelp patch off the north end of the beach is in the listing area, plus some distance beyond, but that birds in the Bay may be counted only half-way to Pt. Lobos. Many of these details are shown on this overview photograph (below; © Hammon Jensen, Wallen & Associates, under contract for the County of Monterey; used with permission via the auspices of Bill Hill; all rights reserved).

The view below is looking westsouthwest from Cross Hill toward Pt. Lobos in the distance. The coastal sage scrub blocks seeing the sandy beach in the foreground; the listing area extends halfway to Pt. Lobos into Carmel Bay.
If you find a new species for the Carmel R. mouth area, or any especially rare species there, please:
  • document your record with photos or good written details,
  • report it to the Monterey Bird Box [626-6605], and
  • report here [also report your Carmel R. mouth area list here if you wish].




Page created 17-24 Oct 1999; new map added 20 Jan 2001, last revised 30 Oct 2006