top of page

Christmas Bird Count | San Marcos Foothills, Santa Barbara, CA

Distance: 3.2 miles | Duration: 4 hr, 14 min

Habitats: grassland, woodland

The Santa Barbara 121st Christmas Bird Count (SB CBC), an important community event, was held on January 2nd, 2021. The SB CBC compilation team assigned us an area of the San Marcos Foothills comprised of the western part of the San Marcos Foothills Preserve and an adjacent private property.

We scouted the area twice before in December to become familiar with the spots busy with birds. This was an easy to moderate hike rewarded by stunning views of Santa Barbara, Goleta, the Pacific ocean and the Channel Islands.

The map shows the trails we followed. We first hiked downhill (yellow arrows), then followed the canyon (green arrows). We turned around, went to the top of the Foothills (pink arrows) and followed the orchard fence line down towards Hwy 154 and back to the trailhead.

We parked at the Western entrance trailhead of the San Marcos Foothills Preserve at 7:45 AM. I got out of the truck and started scanning the area.

I noticed a white spot far beyond the Preserve sign and snapped an unmistakable White-tailed Kite looking away from us.

Within minutes, I located a Loggerhead Shrike that we had not seen during previous scouting trips.

The Loggerhead Shrike then flew away from its location and perched in the same beautiful Oak tree as the White-tailed Kite.

It is not often that you see two bird species with a similar dark gray, light gray and white color pattern in the same picture.

We followed the path and I was able to capture both the setting moon and the White-tailed Kite.

This Golden-crowned Sparrow was quietly foraging on the ground.

A pair of Nuttall's Woodpecker were probing for insects into the bark of an Oak tree. Here is the male:

As breeding season approaches, these two Mourning Doves will soon be looking at each other.

A California Scrub-Jay was observing us,

A pair of Wrentit eating seeds.

An Oak Titmouse was sounding the alarm! We looked closer and spotted a Cooper's Hawk hidden in the tree canopy while a California Quail was quietly moving away from the scene.

Three Northern Flickers were easy to spot as they were often flying between snags.

This Red-tailed Hawk was building its nest. It stood on this branch and used its weight to brake it off, then brought it down to the nearby nest.

Beautiful and peaceful morning walking back down the canyon (green arrows).

I first thought this bird was another California Scrub-Jay. I took a closer look with my binoculars and identified a Loggerhead Shrike. This could be same bird we saw earlier at the trailhead.

Band-tailed Pigeon.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher showing off.

We hiked uphill, out of the canyon and into the grassland habitat of the upper Foothills (pink arrows). We lingered to observe this Western Meadowlark looking around for its flock. We counted about 30 Meadowlarks when we last scouted the area but only this individual was visible today.

These poles and wires approximate a luxury home development on one of the building sites on the upper meadow. Several Cassin's Kingbirds were perched on these tall poles.

Kingbirds were flying out to catch aerial insects.

On top of the hill, a Say's Phoebe on a rusty barb wire.

We admired the beautiful views of the mountains and orchards looking West toward Hwy 154. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks were soaring and enjoying the panorama from a higher elevation.

A Red-tailed Hawk perched on a snag.

While two coyotes were present in a very lively canyon, we counted three busy California Thrashers, maybe even four. This one had a muddy bill and feet.

A Lesser Goldfinch was about to get a drink from a rusty pipe dripping water into an old tub.

This Song Sparrow was done singing and soon flew away.

Savannah Sparrow enjoying a seed while counting cars passing by on Hwy 154.

At first, we assumed this bird was a Lesser Goldfinch due to its small size and yellowish color. I reviewed some shots on my camera and noticed a yellow spot between the eye and the bill. I could not identify this Sparrow species.

Back home, I researched online and identified a Grasshopper Sparrow, which is considered a Rare species in Santa Barbara County. Before submitting our count list, I sent the photo and this video link to the Santa Barbara CBC compilers who confirmed a Grasshopper Sparrow. This is a new life bird for me!

We had a great time taking part in the Santa Barbara 121st CBC and tallied 39 bird species. Species included a Northern Harrier, a Black Phoebe as well as Anna's Hummingbirds, Turkey Vultures, Acorn Woodpeckers, American Kestrels, American Crows, Oak Titmice, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-breasted Nuthatches, Bewick's Wrens, Northern Mockingbirds, House Finches, White-crowned Sparrows, California Towhees, and Spotted Towhees.


Credits and Additional Information

SB CBC is the acronym for Santa Barbara Christmas Bird Count.

SMFP is the acronym for San Marcos Foothills Preserve.


San Marcos Foothills, a unique urban foothill open space and an important habitat for rare birds.



bottom of page