by Don Roberson
The Carmel River mouth and environs have been known as a prime birding area for a long time. Laidlaw Williams lived nearby in the Carmel Highlands and undertook regular birding surveys and ornithological research here (including life history studies of a population of Brewer's Blackbirds he banded). Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society field trips regularly visited the Carmel R. mouth lagoon and marsh back into the 1930s. During the 1950s, Laidlaw Williams and George P. Lamont reported interesting birds from the lagoon. Indeed, although Guy McCaskie & Rich Stallcup found a Common Nighthawk in the reeds on 30 Aug 1959, and Ron Branson from a Sage Thrasher on Cross Hill on 23 Sep 1961, the area's potential for landbird migrants was generally overlooked. The focus was on waterbirds at the lagoon. And speaking on focusing on waterbirds, I rather like this shot (below right; 2 Jan 1994 © Don Roberson) of Ron Branson photographing John Sorensen who is photographing a first-winter Glaucous Gull (left) at the river mouth lagoon:
Although a few "eastern" warblers were found by McCaskie or Branson or Bill Reese during the 1960s, it wasn't until fall 1969 that the Carmel R. mouth riparian corrider began receiving regular coverage. It was primarily birders from the San Fransisco Bay area who pioneered this now-famous site. Laurie Binford, Dave DeSante, Ron LeValley, Tim Manolis, and Art Wang were all important early birders here.
Coverage has increased dramatically since then, especially during fall migration between late August and mid-November. Bob Tintle traditionally finds the first Northern Waterthrush of the season. In the last few years, Carmel resident Bill Hill has provided the most consistent coverage. By Thanksgiving the rains begin and water starts running in the river, reducing access. There is usually good coverage on the Christmas Count in late December, but rather few visits during winter, spring, and summer.
This may change with the wonderful new opportunities available in the major revegetation project on the old Odello property. Although this locale is not yet opened to the public, local birders have arranged access and many exciting finds have followed. The "Odello Lagoon" can be viewed well with a scope from Cross Hill; this lagoon was enlarged by State Parks in 2004. And although landbird vagrants have dominated interest here over the last 25 years, the "best birds" of recent times have been shorebirds on Carmel River State Beach, some of them found by out-of-state visitors.
My choices for the five best birds ever seen within the Carmel R. mouth area are:
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