Calling all bird lovers: National Audubon Day is today, April 26. Honor the famous ornithologist and painter John James Audubon by dusting off your binoculars and heading outside to admire our feathered friends. You’re in the right place—California’s bird checklist includes a chart-topping 673 documented species, the most of any U.S. state. Score easy sightings at these six prize birding sites:
1. Point Reyes National Seashore, Inverness
A whopping 490 bird species have been spotted at Point Reyes—more than half of all the avian species in North America. Start your exploration at brackish Abbotts Lagoon. An easy walking trail offers up-close sightings of western grebes, pied-billed grebes, coots, black-shouldered kites, and Caspian terns. Hike the nearby Estero Trail to see great egrets and great blue herons in the estuary and long-eared owls in an abandoned pine tree farm.
2. Mono Lake, Lee Vining
More than 80 types of migratory birds stop to rest and feed at this massive alkaline lake in the Eastern Sierra. By late spring, about 50,000 California gulls arrive here to breed. More than 80 percent of the gulls that live on the California coast are born in this scenic spot. In summer, thousands of Wilson’s phalaropes land here to fatten up before flying nonstop to South America, covering 3,000 miles in a mere three days.
3. Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing
Meandering river channels and wetlands packed with a huge variety of shorebirds and waterfowl make this one of the top 100 birding spots in the United States. More than 340 species reside in or migrate through, including endangered and threatened species such as the California clapper rail, peregrine falcon, and California least tern. Great horned owls and barn owls nest here. Five miles of walking trails crisscross tidal mudflats and salt marshes.
4. Big Sur Coast
Your friends aren’t birders? Blow their minds with an up-close look at Mother Nature’s 747, the California condor. Sign up for a two-hour condor viewing tour on the Big Sur coastline led by the Ventana Wildlife Society, which has worked to protect condors, eagles, and other wildlife since 1977. North America’s largest flying bird has an undeniable wow factor in its 10-foot-wide wingspan. Big Sur and Pinnacles National Park are two of the best places to see them.
5. Big Morongo Canyon, Morongo Valley
More than 250 avian species have been spotted in this jungle-like wetland surrounding Big Morongo Creek, an hour northeast of Palm Springs. Song sparrows, house finches, and hummingbirds whiz past as you follow wooden boardwalks through a marshy maze of willows and cottonwoods.
6. Salton Sea, Calipatria
This strange saline “sea” near Anza-Borrego Desert was formed in the early 1900s when dams on the Colorado River burst. More than a million grebes and thousands of American avocets show up in late winter. In summer, this is one of the only places in the U.S. to see the yellow-footed gull. Birders can check off more than 100 species in a busy day here, including burrowing owls, white pelicans, mountain plovers, black terns, and gull-billed terns.