From the massive peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the luscious marshes in the western foothills & the arid high dessert on its eastern flanks, it comes as no surprise that the High Sierra is a birdwatching paradise. In fact, the state of California has recorded more species of birds than ANY other state in the Union. How about them chickadees? For those wanting to combine a relaxing vacation with birdwatching in the High Sierra, here’s a few hotspots to check out.

Mono Lake

Learn more about Mono Lake

Mono Lake Birdwatching Birding
Photo by: Ian Parker – Image appears courtesy: Evanescent Light Photography

We couldn’t start this list without naming Mono Lake. Its birdwatching is the stuff of legends. Every spring & fall, migratory birds flock to this “oasis” before making their trek over the Great Basin. In fact, over 230 species have been recorded at this lake! Another jaw dropping statistic is nearly a MILLION birds descend onto its waters to feast on its shrimp every spring. Its otherworldly landscape of limestone tufa towers makes a perfect breeding ground for such beautiful winged species like the Great Horned Owl, Osprey, and American Avocet.

Ebbetts Pass

Learn more about Alpine County

Ebbetts Pass pacific crest trail sections
Photo By: Jaciem Rivas – Image appears courtesy: Visit California

Birds cherish tranquility just as much as humans, and Alpine County being the least populated county in California is a true haven. At the top of the county lies Ebbetts Pass. Where the iconic Pacific Crest Trail winds through, typically accessible only by late June in most years. Fortunately, the meadows at 8,500 feet above sea level burst with wildflowers in August. Just enough time for you to take in the spectacle. Across from Kenney Reservoir, the first mile of the PCT offers a prime birdwatching spot, featuring a mix of forest, meadow, and mountain streams. Here, you can spot various bird species, including the Rufous Hummingbird, Hairy Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, among others.

Yosemite National Park

Learn more about Yosemite

Birding In Yosemite Northern Pygmy Owl
Northern Pygmy Owl – Image Appears Courtesy: National Park Service

Seeing birds enjoy the mid to high elevation coniferous forests blanketing the High Sierra alongside its sheer granite cliffs within the iconic valley is truly a birders paradise. This region harbors a diverse avian assemblage, covering over 165 species of migrating, wintering, and breeding birds. Some of the highlights include the American Dipper melodiously singing as it darts in & out of rapids. Or better yet, catch a glimpse of the fastest animal in the world – the peregrine falcon topping out at over 220 mph.

Looking for a place to stay just a few minutes from the southern gate? Consider the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Learn more about Sequoia & Kings Canyon

Birding In Yosemite Northern California Quail
California Quail – Photo by: Gary Lundquist – Appears courtesy: National Park Service

Just like its more known sibling to the north, these two parks also play host to an assortment of birds. In fact, they have an even greater range with over 200 species either living here year-round or using it as a stopover on their migration routes. Depending on the time of year, you’ll want to focus on a certain elevation range. For example, in the winter, the foothills give you the chance to see the California Quail rustling in the bushes or an acorn woodpecker calling for its better half. In the spring and fall, it’s all about the migratory birds such as the brightly colored tanagers filling up on insects, seeds, and berries.

Just 25 miles west of Sequoia National Park is the San Joaquin Valley’s largest full-service hotel Wyndham Visalia. They’ll make sure you get a good night’s sleep before your day of birdwatching.

Lake Don Pedro

A bald eagle overlooking Don Pedro Lake – Photo by: Andrea Heyfron – Image appears courtesy: Visit Tuolumne

Located just an hour west of Yosemite is the renowned bass fishing lake and one of the best places to take in wildflowers in the early spring. The 13,000-acre lake also vies for being home to the most Golden Eagles in California and one of the top three wintering habitats for Bald Eagles. Be sure to bring your bike and sample the new Vista Trail at Fleming Meadows. This multi-use trail features a 3.25-mile round trip to the beautiful vista point and is perfect for hiking, biking, e-biking, and even your pup.

Donner Memorial State Park

Photo by Ming T. Poon – Appears Courtesy: Go Tahoe North

Lake Tahoe is often hailed as the crown jewel of the Sierra, but Donner Lake shines brightly as a diamond, especially for birdwatching. This glacial lake, created by a natural moraine, is a haven for birds of various species due to its diverse habitat. You’re likely to spot a White-headed Woodpecker, Calliope Hummingbird, Flycatchers, Western Tanager, and numerous other bird species, including the elusive Spotted Sandpiper. For additional birdwatching hotspots in the area, check out North Lake Tahoe’s Where to go birdwatching in Lake Tahoe guide.

No matter when or where you go, quiet forests & meadows away from developed areas (particularly in the mornings) are the best places to see some of the less common birds. Due to the extreme elevation gradient within the Sierra Nevada, this unique feature creates a mind boggling diversity of habitats. And that means it creates one of the greatest places to go birdwatching anywhere! So, the next time you’re planning a “birdcation”, consider birdwatching in the High Sierra at the top of the list!

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

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