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Fall Birding | Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, Santa Barbara, CA

Distance: various | Duration: various | Habitats: grassland, woodland, riparian, marsh, lake.

Friday Afternoon

We set up our tent while the wind was blowing. Turkey Vultures and an Osprey closely supervised our installation while a few American Coots surfed the lake waves.

The wind stopped around 6 PM and we admired the sunset from our camp while an Acorn Woodpecker scolded us before going into its hole to roost.

Saturday morning

There was no wind and our camp was bustling with birds at 7 AM starting with a Spotted Towhee and White-crowned Sparrows foraging in the shrubs near our tent. House finches and Yellow-rumped Warblers were hopping around. American Coots were already active on the lake while a Black Phoebe was catching insects near the shore.

This snag tree overlooking the lake might provide a good vantage point for birds.

Thirty Canada Geese and Four Ross's Geese flew over the lake in the distance. The latter specie is a life bird for me but I did not know it then, as often time I am only able to identify bird species when I review photos at home on a large computer screen.

More avian visitors showed up such as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a White-breasted nuthatch. I was intrigued by a Western Bluebird showing up in our neighbor's camp.

The sun was already bright and I was trying to focus my lens on a dark bird with a crest, thinking that it could be a Phainopepla and hoping that it would stay long enough on its perch.

It was indeed a Phainopepla and I was already thinking our campsite was so far the best camping birding hotspot! My better half was watching the lake while sipping a warm beverage and asked that I bring my camera to take photos of a bird of prey attempting to catch something on the lake.

We identified it as a Golden Eagle but after I posted the photo on eBird, the SBA County eBird Reviewer let me know it was an Immature Bald Eagle because "the amount of mottling on the wings and the head/bill shape would make Bald Eagle a better fit. Bald Eagles probably outnumber Golden Eagles at Cachuma much of the time".

This is the first time I was able to observe a female Hairy Woodpecker up close. It was efficiently drilling through the tree bark to get to the food it was looking for.

A handsome male house finch landed on the snag and was enjoying the sun.

Three White-breasted Nuthatches came by together with a bird I was not able to identify. I categorized it under "Wren" specie as it had some barring on the tail. The eBird Reviewer mentioned bird was "showing signs of leucism with an obvious white head and large white patches in the wings".

While Bushtits lingered in the camp, a California Scrub-Jay was perched in one of the tall oak trees growing in the small canyon to the left of our camp.

Two American Crows perched on the snag and seemed to be checking if our breakfast was ready.

Then an Acorn Woodpecker admired the breathtaking view from the snag.

An Hermit Thrush quietly observed us from the tree canopy.

Song Sparrow on the snag.

White-breasted Nuthatch hard at work.

Bewick's Wren always on the move above our heads.

On the lake, a Herring Gull.

Over a period of 4 hr, 35 min on that morning, we identified 39 bird species from our campsite. Species included a California Quail, Pied-billed Grebe, Western Grebe, Great Egret, Cooper's Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Mockingbird, California Towhee, Oak Titmouse, European Starling as well as Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture and Dark-eyed Junco.

Saturday mid-day

Then starting 11:40 AM, we did a 2-mile loop around the campground. It was already around 85°F and this Nuttall's Woodpecker was thirsty.

Acorn Woodpecker working a fresh hole, check out the intense red cap and beautiful patterns on wings.

A panorama of the lake looking in the direction of Harvey's Cove to the left.

An impressive flock of 26 Wild Turkeys first resting under Oak trees came out quickly.

Barn Owl box near our camp.

Upon return to our camp, a Say's Phoebe was perched on the snag waiting to get its picture taken.

We only spotted 20 species during our walk, many of them we had already observed earlier in the morning. At around 2 PM an Osprey flew by.

Red-shouldered Hawk on the snag.

Around 4:30 PM the wind started to pick up and this Yellow-rumped Warbler was hanging on to the snag.

Some kids were fishing while we admired the sail boat.

At sunset, Halloween creatures appeared by the lake shore.

Saturday night at 7:15 PM we heard a Barn Owl, it sounded scary, maybe because it was Halloween night on a full moon.

Sunday morning

Immature Cooper's Hawk.

White-crowned Sparrows enjoying the morning sun on the snag.

California Towhee on the snag.

A shy Spotted Towhee nearby.

The male Phainopepla was back.

My better half watched me flutter about taking pictures and would warn me if a new bird specie was showing up on the snag like this Song Sparrow.

Western Bluebird standing by to check if there were any breakfast leftovers remaining.

European Starling watching from the top of a tree.

As I was focusing in on Eared Grebes, I was gently reminded that it was time to pack.

I am glad the three white dots on the lake were actually Ross's Geese and not Gulls.

Western Grebe near the shore.

We were able to identify 35 species within 3 hr, 16 min at the campsite including a Belted Kingfisher, as well as Lesser Scaups, Brewers Blackbirds and many of the same species observed the day before. We packed before leaving the campsite to go birding Jackrabbit Flats.

Sunday late morning

We found the trailhead to Jackrabbit Flats by the UCSB Rowing Boathouse. A Red-shouldered Hawk welcomed us.

Panorama of Jackrabbit Flats.

Ruddy Ducks snoozing.

As we got closer to the muddy shore, my better half said "I feel like I am in a different country". Here is a Great Egret.

Spotted Sandpiper.

An American Pipit that did not mind the mud.


Pair of Lesser Scaup.

Ring-necked Duck.

One last look before turning around.

On our way back, we observed several Savannah Sparrows, here is one of them.

There were five bigger birds we could not identify as first, as they were always flying away from us and hiding in the grass. At last, one of them perched long enough to get this shot. There were indeed Western Meadowlarks.

We identified 23 bird species at Jackrabbit Flats in 1 hr, 23 min and walked 1.1 miles.

Our amazing camping weekend at Lake Cachuma Recreation Area had to come to an end and we will be back soon. We observed a total of 57 species over the weekend.


Credits and Additional Information


Ultimate Fall birding experience while camping at Lake Cachuma Recreation Area! We enjoyed observing birds in their environment while at the campsite as well as discovering Jackrabbit Flats were we truly felt in a difference country.



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