Tropical Kingbird

Cindy Cummings
 
 
 
 
 

 

WHERE THE BIRDS ARE: 
SOME NORTH SANTA CRUZ COUNTY HOTSPOTS 

Compiled by Cindy Cummings & Todd Newberry 

This is an informal and interim where-to-bird guide for northern Santa Cruz County. It is interim, because we have tried to meet merely for the time being a widely voiced desire for this information, while a much more substantial and all-county guide to birding makes its way toward eventual publication. When that happens, we will remove this online one. 

These pages describe a dozen good places to find birds around northern Santa Cruz County. Meanwhile, the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce distributes an informative list of birding sites there. We address birders of all skill levels: our aim is to get you to good places in the field, and you can take it from there. ALL DRIVING DIRECTIONS ARE FROM THE JUNCTION OF HWY 1 & 17. 

The cycles of “the bird year” enrich or impoverish habitats from season to season, and those of “the bird day” alter activity by the hour, but these twelve places tend to reward the careful searcher consistently, especially in the early morning. There are of course many other places to bird in northern SCZ county – these twelve are only a promising start. To discover the others, join the Santa Cruz Bird Club, come along on field trips, subscribe to MBB, and, as you meet them in the field, “ask the locals.” 

Our brief birdlists for each of our dozen places are suggestive, not exhaustive. That is, since all species are specialists (none is “everywhere”), any bird’s presence implies something about the character of its habitat: Dippers indicate torrent streams, Creepers suggest forests, Meadowlarks grassland, Black Oystercatchers rocky tidepools…. So we list just a few indicative birds per place, but a visitor can expect dozens or scores of species there in a few hours of vigorous birding. 

Please carefully document and report rarities to the SCBC according to the instructions on this SCBC website. 

PLACES: 

(Click on site to go to description and directions)

 
(1) NEW BRIGHTON & SEACLIFF STATE BEACHES, AND RIO DEL MAR BEACH
(2) SAN LORENZO RIVER LEVEES (DOWNTOWN SANTA CRUZ) 
(3) SCHWAN LAKE, TWIN LAKES NATURE PRESERVE
(4) NEARY LAGOON WILDLIFE REFUGE
(5) LIGHTHOUSE POINT AND WEST CLIFF DRIVE 
(6) NATURAL BRIDGES STATE BEACH/PARK 
(7) MEDER CANYON 
(8) UCSC ARBORETUM
(9) POGONIP OPEN SPACE PRESERVE 
(10) HENRY COWELL REDWOODS STATE PARK
(11) WILDER RANCH STATE PARK
(12) RANCHO DEL OSO
(13) BRANCHIFORTE DIP       
(14) HARKINS SLOUGH  
(15) MOORE CREEK PRESERVE

                                                                              

                                                                                             

NEW BRIGHTON & SEACLIFF STATE BEACHES, & RIO DEL MAR BEACH 

Directions: From the Hwy 1/17 junction take Hwy 1 south. Turn off at Park Ave (exit south of Bay Ave) to New Brighton Beach, or at State Park Drive (next exit) to Seacliff Beach, or at Rio del Mar exit (next exit after that) to Rio del Mar Beach (by following Rio del Mar Blvd to its end there). 

Description: These and other state beaches to the south share an immense strand that extends to Monterey. But WARNING: for birding, these Santa Cruz County beaches, big as they are, are crowded places on nice weekends! 

NEW BRIGHTON STATE BEACH, at the north end of the long strand, includes acreage atop a coastal bluff that harbors over 100 season-busy and weekend-busier camp sites. The conifers there attract migrant SONGSTERS and winter VAGRANTS. The park’s few bluff-top “hiking trails” are strolls; a park map (ask at the Entrance) details them. From the Ranger Station or the Entrance, the “Oak Trail” crosses a walkable railroad (caution! active!) that runs behind the bluff through often birdy mixed shrubs/woods. The bluff provides an excellent sea vista for pelagic birds passing near shore (spotting scope essential) – ALCIDS (esp. wtr) incl. MARBLED MURRELET, SHEARWATERS (esp. sum), GULLS & TERNS, JAEGERS, SEA DUCKS. 

SEACLIFF STATE BEACH also has a good sea vista from the upper parking lot, overlooking the stranded “cement ship”. JAEGERS sometimes seem to favor this area. 

RIO DEL MAR BEACH, at the mouth of Soquel Creek, sometimes has interesting mixed flocks of wintering GULLS (incl. THAYER’S GULL). And the lowest, channeled stretch of the creek itself may harbor waterbirds or shorebirds. 
 

SAN LORENZO RIVER LEVEES (DOWNTOWN SANTA CRUZ) 

Directions: 
You can gain access to the levees at downtown Santa Cruz bridges, mscl. points along River St from Hwy 1 to Soquel Ave, left(=east)-bank dead-ends, and to the left levee along San Lorenzo Blvd from the Laurel St bridge almost to a RR trestle near the river mouth. Stairs give access from the east to that trestle, and thence to the river mouth and an occasional lagoon and to the town’s main beach. 

Description: 
The San Lorenzo has been severely straightened and channeled through town, and work raising the levees continues. Riverside vegetation harbors various SPARROWS, seasonal WARBLERS, BLACK PHOEBE, BEWICK’S WREN, BUSHTIT, and many other songsters. A wintering PEREGRINE has long perched by day in the tall eucalyptus trees near the RR trestle. DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS roost here at night. The river channel varies with the tide; look for COOT, KILLDEER, RED-BREASTED & (rarer, wtr) COMMON MERGANSER, GREAT BLUE HERON & EGRETS, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, various GULLS & DUCKS. Also check the landscaped park and pond at the east end of the narrow footbridge near Soquel Ave. The beach and sometime-lagoon are often alive with GULLS and ocean beach SHOREBIRDS. A winter morning’s vigorous birding along this urban stretch of the river and its oceanfront regularly produces 50 species. 
 

SCHWAN LAKE, TWIN LAKES NATURE PRESERVE

Directions: 
From Hwy 1 going south, exit right at Soquel Ave. Bear left onto the frontage road, and go to 17th Ave. Turn onto 17th and continue beyond Capitola Rd. and Brommer St. Cross the railroad tracks on 17th and immediately turn right into the big Simkins Swim Center. Go to the elaborate parking lot far in back. This gives you immediate access to the nature preserve. Or, to view Schwan Lake and Twin Lakes Beach from the shore, take town streets to the beach at 7th Ave & East Cliff Drive, just east of the SC Yacht Harbor.

Description: 
A dirt trail winds through many lovely habitats – grassy meadow, oak, pine, and eucalyptus – and skirts cattails and willows that line this lake. Check the lake and shore for GULLS, DUCKS, GREBES, COOT, occasional SORA, HERONS & EGRETS, and KINGFISHER. The lake’s ecology has changed a lot in recent years, and its birds seem more mundane than before – but still worth a thorough scrutiny. The park hosts both TOWHEES and various other SPARROWS, ROBIN & other THRUSHES, WRENTIT, BUSHTIT, CHICKADEE, HAIRY & DOWNY WOODPECKER, forest HAWKS, seasonal WARBLERS, BREWER’S & RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD, and many other “pastoral” species. The beach, broadened by sand from harbor dredging, attracts wintering gulls. 
 

NEARY LAGOON WILDLIFE REFUGE 

Directions: 
From Hwy 1 (Mission St) going west, turn left onto Bay (traffic light after McDonald’s), go a short ways to California St, turn left and park. Enter the refuge through the playground. Alternatively, from Mission St, turn left onto Laurel (light after Walnut), go down hill and two intersections farther to Blackburn (athletic field opposite); turn right, go to end and park. Entrance to refuge is through gate ahead on the right. These options give you access to both ends of the Neary Lagoon Nature Trail. 

Description: 
A pontoon walkway traverses this degraded but pretty and occasionally productive marsh; other paths border the wetland. Look for WOOD DUCK, MALLARD, PIED-BILLED GREBE, COOT, occasional SORA, CANADA GOOSE, GREEN & GREAT BLUE HERON, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, MARSH WREN. Trees and shrubs harbor several species of SWALLOW, migrating and wintering WARBLERS, breeding YELLOWTHROAT, KINGFISHER, FLYCATCHERS, RED-WINGED & BREWER’S BLACKBIRD, breeding SONG SPARROW and assorted wintering SPARROWS. TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD once bred here but fled when construction of an enormous sewage plant took over critical habitat. Enlarging a playground at the Bay/California entrance further confined and disturbed that habitat, but in winter the tree-filled ravine beyond the anchor fence there merits a careful early-morning survey. 
 

LIGHTHOUSE FIELD STATE BEACH, WEST CLIFF DRIVE 

Directions: 
From Hwy 1 going west (Mission St), turn left onto Bay (traffic light after McDonald’s), go to its end, then turn right onto West Cliff Drive. Continue to Lighthouse Pt and park there. Lighthouse Field is the large verdant expanse there; West Cliff Drive continues to Natural Bridges SP. 

Description: 
Lighthouse Point and all of West Cliff Drive give splendid views of the bird-rich ocean – PIGEON GUILLEMOT (nesting), occasional MARBLED MURRELET, several (wtr) species of LOON & GREBE, BROWN PELICAN, assorted SEA DUCKS, SOOTY SHEARWATER (sum), 3 CORMORANT species, occasional JAEGERS, many wintering GULL species, several TERNS (sum). Watch also for sea otters, various seals and sea lions, gray and occasionally other whales, and dolphins. In winter and migration the beaches, islets, and emergent intertidal terraces along West Cliff Drive, esp. the half-mile from the lighthouse to Fair Ave, often have SANDERLING, WILLET, BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, MARBLED GODWIT, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, BLACK & RUDDY TURNSTONE; migrants include WANDERING TATTLER and WHIMBREL. In the trees and shrubs in Lighthouse Field (the largely untended grounds of an old estate) are diverse HAWKS, wintering SPARROWS, seasonal WARBLERS, and occasionally rarities that may well have settled down here when confronted with the Bay. 
 

NATURAL BRIDGES STATE BEACH/PARK 

Directions: 
Take Hwy 1 (Mission St) west to Swift (traffic light almost at end of commercially built-up town). Turn left onto Swift, right at first stop sign onto Delaware Ave, and go to park’s back entrance (prominent on left at T-intersection with Natural Bridges Drive). Beyond this on Delaware, Antonelli Pond is on the right. 

Description: 
Beach, intertidal terrace, back-beach lagoon and brackish marsh (small boardwalk), reverting farm-fields, and a riparian ravine that famously hosts wintering monarch butterflies. An overlook (entrance at west end of West Cliff Drive) gives good ocean views. A Nature Trail offers a year-long array of SONGSTERS in the riparian corridor. The stretch along Markers 3, 4, 5, and 6 has become famous for its vagrant fall warblers. The boardwalk that descends from park headquarters to the butterfly trees puts you well into the canopy. The edges of the pond are hard to probe, but from the road one can peer in and, with patience (and pishing), discern many lurking birds. The park’s thickets and trees may harbor avian vagrants, and are worth a thorough search. Throughout this little park look for WARBLERS (seasonal), FLYCATCHERS (sum, fall), SPARROWS and FINCHES, and SONGSTERS exploiting “edge” habitats. Diverse GULLS, ocean beach SHOREBIRDS (incl. RED-NECKED PHALAROPE in lagoon in season) and occasional WADERS and DUCKS visit the beach and lagoon. Rocky-habitat shorebirds frequent the extensive intertidal shelves beyond the beach. An hour’s birding here in the morning should produce 30-40 species at any season. Still recovering from hard times, Antonelli Pond, which has encircling paths, harbors lake-edge songsters and visiting waterbirds. 
 

MEDER CANYON 

Directions: 
On Hwy 1 (Mission St) at Swift (traffic light almost at end of commercially built-up town), turn right onto Grandview, which soon turns left. Farther on, just past its intersection with Escalona, is a small park. A path to the canyon is on the right side of this park, between the fence and the cement wall. Alternatively, enter the canyon from its top on Meder St between Western Drive and Bay, between the cemetery and the playing field, via a paved path there (anti-car chain usually across entrance). 

Description: 
A trail follows the bottom of this ravine that, despite a sewery smell and houses encroaching to both rims, is often quite birdy. The lower stretch comprises riparian thickets and shrubs, a place characterized by breeding ORANGE-CROWNED & WILSON’S WARBLER, WRENTIT & BUSHTIT, wintering “CROWNED” SPARROWS, breeding SONG SPARROW, both TOWHEES, BEWICK’S WREN. The canyon’s upper part is dominated by blue-gum eucalyptus, notoriously bird-poor. But here, this narrow gorge admits lots of light, and mixed undergrowth fosters varied bird life: TANAGERS & GROSBEAKS, ROBINS, ORIOLES incl. occasional wintering ones, PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER, GREAT HORNED OWL, STELLER’S JAY, and other such species of the borders of tall woods. The path here skirts the grove’s east edge, so the best light for birding is for a few hours after sunrise. The lower border of the eucalyptus grove is often especially birdy in winter. 
 

UCSC ARBORETUM  (see checklist)

Directions: 
From Hwy 1 west (Mission St), turn right on Bay (traffic light after McDonald’s), and go uphill to the UCSC entrance. Turn left (west) onto High and go about ½ mile to the Arboretum entrance (open 9-5) on your right. 

Description: 
Maps and an annotated bird list of about 150 species are now available at the Arboretum office and the gift shop. Here are world-famous shrub/tree collections from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It is a coastal hummingbird heaven: ANNA’S all year, ALLEN’S (esp. in “Australia”) Feb/Aug, RUFOUS in fall. Other likely birds include CALIFORNIA QUAIL & CAL. THRASHER (esp. in “Australia”), various RAPTORS (incl. HARRIER, RED-SHOULDERED & RED-TAILED HAWK, WHITE-TAILED KITE, occasional GOLDEN EAGLE), BEWICK’S WREN, WRENTIT, BUSHTIT, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (wtr), CALIFORNIA JAY, seasonal WARBLERS, MEADOWLARK, various FLYCATCHERS & WOODPECKERS & THRUSHES & SPARROWS, AMERICAN & LESSER GOLDFINCH, HOUSE & PURPLE FINCH. Birding this rich site for about 2 hrs should tally about 35 species. 
 

POGONIP OPEN SPACE PRESERVE 

Directions: 
From Hwy 1/17 junction take 1 toward Half Moon Bay. Go through first traffic light (River St); at next intersection (Mission/Chestnut) go right and immediately right again (i.e., around red brick church on right at intersection) onto Highland. At end (T-intersection) turn left onto High; pass the stop sign (Laurent) at top of grade, and turn right at next street (Spring). Go to end of Spring (up slight hill) and park at the little entrance there to Pogonip Preserve. 

Description: 
A British writer some years ago described this gentle place as paradise itself and set his novel SPRING STREET SUMMER here. Pogonip borders the UCSC campus with 600 acres of cascading east-slope hillside – small meadows, oak copses, ravines full of bay laurel and redwood forest, springs, ephemeral torrent creeks, old line kilns, an abandoned estate and its pool, and, spreading below, large pastures, riparian habitats, and the fabled Pogonip clubhouse. No extended census of this preserve’s bird life has yet been done, but one can guess that over the years it will record close to 200 species of breeders, migrants, winterers, and fly-overs. The checklist for the UCSC Arboretum probably approximates Pogonip’s core avifauna and so should be consulted. From the Spring St entrance, the level, main Pogonip trail is apparent to the right. Side-trails branch off down the slope, including one to the now-decrepit clubhouse. The main trail eventually connects with Hwy 9, the road to Felton. One can easily devote a day to birding Pogonip –including a picnic. 
 

HENRY COWELL REDWOODS STATE PARK 

Directions: 
From Hwy 17 at south end of Scotts Valley, take Mt. Hermon Rd to Felton. Turn right “into town” at Graham Hill Rd and then left onto Hwy 9 toward Santa Cruz for a mile to the lower park entrance; or turn left on Graham Hill Rd and go about a mile (mostly uphill) to the upper park entrance. Or, from Hwy 1/17 junction, go toward Half Moon Bay, turn right (toward Felton) onto Hwy 9 at first traffic light and go almost to Felton to the lower park entrance. Or from Hwy 1 west immediately after the Hwy 1/17 junction bear left onto Ocean St, then turn right onto Graham Hill Rd (first traffic light) and go toward Felton several miles to the upper park entrance. 

Description: 
Fifteen miles of trails through diverse terrain, including redwoods, douglas fir, madrone, oak, occasional meadows, and riparian woods (lower section), or comparable habitats but with ponderosa pine (upper section). The park’s lower section parallels the San Lorenzo River and has a grove of ancient and enormous redwoods; its upper section is extensive upland coastal forest. Birds to watch for include COMMON MERGANSER (river); PILEATED and several other woodpeckers; forest species such as CREEPER, JUNCO, RUBY-CROWNED-KINGLET (wtr), CHICKADEE; seasonal WARBLERS; HERMIT & VARIED THRUSH (wtr), SWAINSON’S THRUSH (sum), ROBIN; BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (sum); both TOWHEES; BEWICK’S & WINTER WREN; PINE SISKIN; occasional DIPPER (river, wtr). Rare winter finches occur in the pines of the upper section. 
 

WILDER RANCH STATE PARK (INCL. GRAY WHALE RANCH) 

Directions: 
Main entrance is on Hwy 1, a mile west of the Santa Cruz city limits. Twin Gates entrance is about 3 miles up Empire Grade from the main entrance to UCSC. While there is plenty of parking at the main entrance, parking at Twin Gates is “planned eventually” but still almost impossible; a few informal spaces nearby alongside Empire Grade are all that is currently available. Posted No Parking there is strictly enforced. A map of trails, major coastal features, and elevations (essential for an informed visit) is usually available in a rack on the front door of the Parking Office, a little building to the right of the entrance tollbooth. At any time, many park trails are closed to allow recovery of flora and fauna, but the main trails – former ranch roads – are usually open. 

Description: 
We are talking BIG: 6000 acres, ten times the size of Pogonip, almost a hundred times the size of Natural Bridges. Let’s take it in two parts, lower and upper. 

The level parklands around Hwy 1 are about 100ft above sea level, facing the sea atop startling (and very dangerous) vertical cliffs. In the first ¼-mile of the posted Nature Trail (starts at SE corner of parking lot) watch for SONGSTER species typical of coastal scrub, and for WHITE-TAILED KITE perched atop distant trees. Where this trail overlooks Wilder Beach, scan for SNOWY PLOVER on the upper beach and PEREGRINE hunting in the vicinity. In wtr/spr WILSON’S SNIPE and DABBLING DUCKS forage in the back-beach marsh. The trail continues for miles atop the cliffs. Watch for SHEARWATERS (esp. SOOTY in sum), ALCIDS (incl. MARBLED MURRELET), occasional JAEGERS, winter GULLS, SEA DUCKS, wintering GREBES, and wintering or migrating LOONS. The fields have MEADOWLARK and HORNED LARK in winter. Birders usually go only as far as Fern Grotto Beach, where extensive intertidal rocky shelves may have interesting rock SHOREBIRDS and GULLS in winter. 

NOTE: On most summer afternoons the wind really howls across these coastal flats; plan to bird here in the morning unless it is a calm winter’s day. 

A tunnel under Hwy 1 near the old farm buildings provides access to the old Wilder ranch lands and lower slope. A riparian complex to your left as you go up the valley here can be very birdy. Beyond that, the land climbs through several ancient marine terraces to 900ft near Twin Gates, 5mi away by trails. 

The upper parklands (Gray Whale Ranch), entered via Twin Gates on Empire Grade, is another world from the coastal flat. Here, oak copses and redwood groves dot brushy meadows. It somewhat resembles Pogonip and probably has a somewhat similar avifauna – but on an enormous scale. The habitat does not seem focused into birdy spots, but with acquaintance, these recently opened lands may well reveal some, esp. for sunrise birders. Chinquapin Trail offers a good 2.4mi round-trip hike (more than a walk) through rolling terrain to an isolated eucalyptus grove. From here, amidst stunning views of Monterey Bay and the Pacific, the slope cascades toward the sea.  These upper lands appear to be ones that are birdy in the morning, not later in the day. And on weekend afternoons, as well, mountain bikers disturb many trails up here, so schedule your birding accordingly. 

Across Empire Grade from Twin Gates, the upper UCSC campus is also open to the public. It has trails and fire breaks on level land that can produce a remarkable array of woodland and forest-clearing species, especially in the winter. 
 

RANCHO DEL OSO (NORTH END OF SCZ COUNTY) 

Directions: 
From SC take Hwy 1 toward Half Moon Bay. Pass Davenport, Scott Creek Beach (good marsh vista, and many wintering SNOWY PLOVERS cowering in footprints on the beach), and then coastal uplands (watch for HAWKS). The road then descends toward Waddell Creek. Park just north of Waddell Creek (small bridge). Walk around gate and up the park road; this is the Skyline To the Sea Trail, which goes into Big Basin. 

Description: 
A magnificent place, with a bird list of some 270 reported species. You first skirt a marsh (on right) beside a very birdy hillside (on left). Beyond it is a tiny park office. Here an obscure trail leads downhill to your right, bordering the corrals, to the Marsh Trail and Waddell Creek (footbridge out in wtr; reach the rest of this trail then via the Nature Center immediately south of the Hwy 1 bridge). The park road continues (through another gate) as a dirt road and various hiking/biking trails. For a two-hour post-sunrise outing, excellent birding continues for the next mile, as you pass between meadows and a woodsy slope, go around forested “Swing Hill” above Waddell Creek, and finally cross the creek beyond a pretty little farm. All year are diverse RAPTORS, RAVEN, BAND-TAILED PIGEON, CHICKADEE, WRENTIT, BUSHTIT, HUTTON’S VIREO, PYGMY NUTHATCH, BEWICK’S & WINTER WREN, STELLER’S & SCRUB-JAY. Winters, watch for RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER (in walnut trees), TOWNSEND’S & YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, DIPPER (in creek beyond farm). Spr/sum look for diverse SWALLOWS and SWIFTS, PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER, SWAINSON’S THRUSH, WARBLING VIREO, ORANGE-CROWNED & WILSON’S & occasional MacGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER, and ROBIN and BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (songs can be hard to distinguish at a distance). Fall produces occasional HERMIT WARBLER at Swing Hill. On winter and early spring mornings a PYGMY-OWL sometimes is whistling from the wooded slopes here. 

BRANCHIFORTE DIP

Directions:
This area can be reached from the south ends of either South Branciforte Ave. or Ocean View Ave., both off Soquel Ave. in Santa Cruz. 

Description:
David Suddjian suggests birding this area as follows. Go down South Branciforte Ave. and park at the end in the cul-de-sac. This is the area that was dubbed "Branciforte Dip" by birders in the 1970s (because the road "dips" down), and it has a long history of rare birds. Among the best were DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO and LUCY'S WARBLER.  Check the margins of the blue gum eucalyptus grove (used by nesting GREAT BLUE HERONS, but nest sites usually not in view from Branciforte) and all around the cul-de-sac (esp. the willows), including the path to Ocean View Park (esp. the live oaks) and the path leading up from the very end of the cul-de-sac to Buena Vista Ave. You'll also notice an entrance to a condo development named "Ocean View." Go behind the rock sign bearing the name of that development and find the dirt path that goes along the south side of the wooden fence of the condo complex. This area is very good, with a stream, lots of willows and brambles. Follow the path to East Cliff Drive and an overlook ! on the San Lorenzo River and check for birds there. Then bear to your right and follow the path up into Ocean View Park. The weedy lot on the left of the path as it climbs the hill is "The Brambling Spot," home to that rarity in winter 1990-91. You can walk through that lot checking the trees and shrubs, go down a slope and eventually reach little (and little known) Jessie St. Marsh. Back on the path that leads to Ocean View Park, check the flowering eucs and other shrubs around there. Continue into the main part of the park and check the margins of the surrounding yards, and continue onto the path that leads down the hill back to the end of Branciforte Ave. 

HARKINS SLOUGH

Harkins Slough Rd (HSR has been flooded for several years. Its low stretch is a fine place from which to view some of these birdy wetlands, especially in fall, when exposed mud attracts shorebirds, and in winter, when ducks, gulls, hawks, et al. congregate. 

Directions:  From the south (the lesser access), HSR goes westward from Green Valley Rd, intersecting Hwy 1 between Riverside and Airport Blvd. Northbound traffic can exit Hwy 1 to it there, but southbound traffic must exit onto Hwy 152 just south of Airport Blvd, continue on Main to Green Valley Rd (first light), and turn right there toward HSR (which starts beyond the highway overpass). (For Struve Slough, turn left off HSR just west of Hwy 1 onto also-flooded Lee Rd.) Park at the hilltop “end” of HSR, where a gate bars the road, and walk on. Some cars parked for a long time here have been vandalized; stash valuables. 

Description:  The generally birdier approach to the flooded part of HSR is from the north. All Hwy 1 traffic, northbound or southbound, can exit at Buena Vista Rd (north of Airport Blvd). “Harkins Slough Rd” is NOT on this exit’s signs. Go west on Buena Vista Dr toward the county dump. This takes you by the north end of HSR. Turn onto HSR (toward “Sheriff’s Rehabilitation Facility”) and follow it around the dump; the slough lies below you on your left. A few vista points permit scoping the slough. Continue (bearing left) to the barrier at the flooded end of HSR and park there. Do NOT bar access there to the sometimes gated but very active private little road to the right. Walk on HSR to the end, where it dips into the flood, and scope both sides. Also, walk part way back up HSR for some helpfully elevated perspectives through the bushes on the (ephemeral) mudflats here and near-HSR margins 

There is much more to Harkins Slough, but public access is still being worked out in the mosaic of farms, conservation areas, and private homes. For now, confine your birding to HSR itself. At birdy times it rewards repeated surveys during a visit of a couple of hours, as birds come and go.

MOORE CREEK PRESERVE

Moore Creek is the recently opened green-belt preserve just west of Santa
Cruz. The main entrance is opposite Shaffer Road, which is the first road
to the south (to the left) when one leaves Santa Cruz going toward SF on
Hwy 1 -- the first left after the Western Drive stoplight. Park near Hwy 1
on Shaffer Rd, then cross the highway (carefully! patiently!) to the
preserve's entrance gate. A trail map, usually in the box there, is a
great help. Plan on spending a couple of hours after sunrise.

Grasshopper and Savannah sparrows nest in the grasslands that cover most
of this preserve. Ash-throated Flycatcher nests at the east end of the
preserve. As one reaches the top of the old marine slope that underlies
most of the preserve, a forested section is very birdy; a trail skirts the
ravine there just inside the limits of the woods. Winter hawks are
abundant and diverse, as are summer swallows.