Summer in the Bay Area can last well into late September, but by then many birds that overwinter here have already arrived after migrating from the north. While walking through the Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve at Natural Bridges State Beach early last fall, veteran birder Steve Gerow stopped to listen to the “slurred mournful whistle” of the golden-crowned sparrow, just one of the many species that arrive in fall to spend the winter in the wetlands, shores, and woodlands around Monterey Bay.
To celebrate the annual return of the birds, Central Coast bird enthusiasts started the Monterey Birding Festival in 2005. Headquartered in Watsonville at the Red Roof Inn off Highway 101, the festival offers full-day and half-day field trips, outings, and expert lectures throughout the Pajaro Valley and around Monterey Bay from September 26 through 28. In 2007, 1,100 participants identified 200 bird species at the beaches of Moss Landing and Santa Cruz, the wetlands at Elkhorn Slough and Watsonville, the mouths of the Carmel and Pajaro rivers, and the rugged terrain of Pinnacles National Monument and Big Sur.
Gerow is one of the festival’s 20 or more expert trip leaders, nearly all of whom have been birding in the area for decades. In just one hour on the trail, Gerow pointed out a red-shouldered hawk, chestnut-backed chickadee, house wren, Bewick’s wren, black phoebe, white-tailed kite, Townsend’s warbler, Brewer’s blackbird, and a house finch. Last year, some of the activities filled up before the festival started. Online registration began on June 15 at www.montereybaybirding.org.