Sunday, August 21, 2016


Lawrence's Goldfinch is one of the most prized passerines in our region. Little known and rarely studied, many sources state that they are unpredictable, erratic and nomadic. While that may be true for many regions where this species occurs, that is most definitely not the case in San Benito County, California. 
San Benito County, California plays host to year-round populations of Lawrence's Goldfinches. The fact that the birds of San Benito County have rarely been studied most likely contributes to this lack of published information regarding a year-round population. As far as I know, the county has never had a thorough ornithological survey. Counties that border us, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara have drawn the attention of many birders. Thus, much is known about these counties. While small portions of San Benito County are similar to neighboring counties, much of it is not similar at all. In my retirement I shall endeavor to add significantly to the avian knowledge base of San Benito County, The Lost County, as I call it. Nonetheless, I have been birding the county for the past 25 years. 

 The single best and most convenient location for finding LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES is PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK, EAST ENTRANCE at this time of year. Our newest national park, PNP is located about 30 miles south of Hollister along Highway 25, a very scenic road.  Driving time is about 45 minutes. The entrance road to the park is well signed from Highway 25. Watch for YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES en route. Note, however, that stopping along Highway 25 can be tricky and is not recommended. Be sure to top off your vehicle with fuel and pick up food supplies, especially liquids, prior to leaving Hollister.
PRECISE LOCATION for LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES: You will arrive at the turn off for the campground and park office/store building on your left. You'll need to check in at the office to pay a fee and obtain a pass. Behind the store is the swimming pool and the shower/restroom. Directly behind the store is an air conditioning unit. On the other side of this unit is a DRIPPING FAUCET and a PUDDLE. The LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES will fly to this puddle and dripping faucet as long as you do not stand too closely to the area. In the very early morning, the goldfinches will land on the cyclone fencing or grassy areas around the swimming pool. They goldfinches fly in from the tops of trees, either the large oak tree opposite the pool, or the sycamore trees around the store. Listen for their bell-like tinkling sounds. BEST TIME OF DAY: is early morning, at least by 7 a.m. prior to activity at the pool or restroom, although the goldfinches continue to use the faucet throughout the day. The park office does not open until 9:30 a.m. However, you can arrive prior to opening hour. I have alerted park personnel regarding these very special birds. One of the best ways to see the goldfinches and other birds is to came at Pinnacles. Many birds are extremely tame allowing for great photography. HOW LONG WILL THEY STAY: During this time of year, Lawrence's Goldfinches are never found very far from water. If you see a Lawrence's Goldfinch, chances are there is water nearby, even if only a puddle. They will stay until it RAINS! Once the rains arrive water becomes available in other places causing them to spread out. Let's hope the rains arrive this year! In my area the will not be until November (earliest), or January — if we see any rain at all!
It appears that LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES have had a banner breeding season in 2016 owing to the spring rains. San Benito County has been in a extremely severe drought. Winter and spring rains this year helped, but were not enough to bring us out of the drought. Nevertheless, several notable species of birds seem to have benefited from the brief rains. These species include: California Quail, American Kestrel, Cassin's Kingbird, Lawrence's Goldfinch and Bell's Sparrow, below.
Both BELL'S SPARROW (begging fledgling, above) and LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH are closely associated with chemise dominated chaparral. Bell's Sparrows can be found many places in Pinnacles National Park.

OTHER BIRDS AT PINNACLES: BELL'S SPARROW and CALIFORNIA CONDOR are probably the two most sought after species at the park. Presently a pair of condors are feeding a fledgling in the nest. If this condor successfully fledges, it will be the first such fledgling in over 100 years! Most of the condors are not coming to their usual roost trees in the evening. The best chances of seeing a condor at this time would be to hike the High Peaks Trail. Additional specialty birds found at Pinnacles include: PRAIRIE FALCON, GOLDEN EAGLE, GREATER ROADRUNNER, NUTTALL'S WOODPECKER, ROCK and CANYON WRENS, CALIFORNIA THRASHER, CALIFORNIA TOWHEE, WRENTIT, and more. Altogether, Pinnacles is an excellent park for birding. 

eBIRDING at PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK: Please check eBird prior to your visit for the long list of hot spots in this park. Many of the trails are hot spots. The campground is a hot spot. It is strongly preferred that one uses a hot spot rather than dumping the data into one general location such as the hot spot for the entire park. If using the app, you most likely will not have cell phone coverage in the park. Also: be aware that Chestnut-backed Chickadee is a very rare bird anywhere in the park. It sounds remarkably like the Oak Titmouse. Many experienced birders has difficulty separating the two by sound. Please report your sightings! Thank you!

FIRE: Currently, the Big Sur Coast is being impacted by the Soborannes Fire. Finding CALIFORNIA CONDORS along Highway 1 on the coast may be impossible, although there are a couple recent eBird reports. This fire is expected to burn until late September. I highly recommend heading to Pinnacles National Park. 

of the
Lost County
Debi Shearwater
All images by Beth Hamel, copyright.
Please do not use without permission.

1 comment:

Timothy Healy said...

Pinnacles was a great follow-up to an incredible pelagic trip this July! Thanks to your tips we spotted a condor soaring about the campground ridge. We stumbled upon the Lawrence's Goldfinches on our own at the creek along the Bear Gulch Trail. They were a welcome surprise that made some friends back home very jealous. I've been to dozens of National Parks and Pinnacles was a real hidden gem. I hope to return and explore it more thoroughly, perhaps earlier in the day during a cooler month. Cheers! -Tim H