Hawks and the Green Flash-Birding the South Mendocino Coast

One of my favorite places to bird is the South Mendocino Coast. It has several vagrant traps that have produced some great rare birds during the Fall. It is the home of Manchester State Park where the San Andreas Faultline hits the Pacific Ocean for the final time. There’s the Garcia River, Point Arena Lighthouse and the Point Arena Cove (harbor) which is the home of Al (or Alice) the Laysan Albatross, famous for spending the last 20 Winters there. Tundra Swans also Winter in the area, sometimes with Sandhill Cranes. Yes it’s one of my favorite places but the trouble is I can’t get there by bus unless I want to camp for a few days.

Pictured below is looking east on the Garcia River from near the lighthouse.

So how does a “green” birder get to the South Mendocino Coast? He hitchhikes. Every year the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society sponsors an all day raptor field trip to the south coast. I called David Jensen, past president of the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society, to see if he could pick me up at the Van Damme Beach parking lot Saturday morning on his way to Navarro Beach Road, the meeting spot for the trip. Being a nice guy he agreed. 15 people packed (carpooled) into four cars made the trip south. Lot’s of stops on the way down with some pretty impressive scenery.

I was looking for several year birds during the trip. My list included Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Pacific Golden-Plover, Tundra Swan, and a possible Sandhill Crane. On the way down the coast everyone agreed that it was unseasonably hot and dry. Many of the open fields were dry and the coastal ponds were low. 

Our most numerous raptor was the Red-tailed Hawk with well over 40 seen. American Kestrels were numerous but it seemed not as many as past years. We saw many Northern Harriers but I only saw one White-tailed Kite, less than expected. The fields where I’ve alway seen Ferruginous Hawks were empty. We stopped for lunch at the Manchester State Park picnic area on Kinney Road and I was beginning to worry about seeing my target birds. One of the cars had legged behind and when they arrived they reported seeing a Rough-legged Hawk. I had to console myself with a lovely Say’s Phoebe that joined us for lunch. Sorry no picture I was eating. A short time later a Ferruginous Hawk was spotted in a far off tree, add one bird to my year. We chased the FEHA and while we were looking for it in the fields David Jensen spotted it in a tree just feet away and looking down on us.


I believe this is our largest Hawk. It’s listed as rare in Mendocino County but is a regular visitor. A short time later a Rough-legged Hawk was observed kiting far out over the fields. Too far out for a picture and I certainly look forward to a better view but add bird number two to my year list. The Rough-legged Hawk was also a Mendocino County bird for me. That’s number 8 for the year. RLHA’s are listed as rare in Mendocino with only one or two per year spotted. We moved over to to Stoneboro Rd. and found another FEHA hunting in a large field. While watching it David Jensen pointed out a Clay-colored Sparrow that popped up on a fence. As I mentioned in an earlier post they are a rare sparrow on the West Coast. Moved on over to Lighthouse Rd. and walked out to the Garcia River overlook. Had a great look at a Peragrine Falcon, our second of the day. We found no swans, cranes, geese (except for Cackling and Canadian), shorebirds (except for one Black-bellied Plover and one Dowitcher near the River mouth) or large groups of ducks.

It was getting dark on the way home so David decided to watch the sunset from a turnout. We were hoping for a green flash as the sun went down and we got one.

A search of Wikipedia states this about “green flashes”, “Green flashes and green rays are optical phenomena that occur shortly after sunset or before sunrise, when a green spot is visible, usually for no more than a second or two, above the sun, or it may resemble a green ray shooting up from the sunset point. Green flashes are a group of phenomena stemming from different causes, and some are more common than others…Green flashes are enhanced by mirage, which increase refraction. A green flash is more likely to be seen in stable, clear air, when more of the light from the setting sun reaches the observer without being scattered. One might expect to see a blue flash, but the blue is preferentially scattered out of the line of sight, and the remaining light ends up looking green.”

It was a great outing and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Total birds seen is 246 with over 2759 carbon producing truck miles saved.


NOTE: This last week of birding found me biking up a road to the Lake Mendocino Dam over near Ukiah, walking miles up Ten Mile Beach and hawk watching on the South Coast of Mendocino. I’ve figured that if I had done all that in my truck I would have driven over 221 miles. I drove a total of 18 miles in my truck this last week.

I forgot to add this picture of this rare two headed bird. I’ve never seen a two person lite aircraft.



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