C. South Coast Guide

Lemon Groves Along Dana Foothill Road, Nipomo (see #C-17)
Photo by Alan Schmierer

C - SOUTH COAST GUIDE - From Avila Beach south to Oso Flaco Lake and Inland

Back to MCAS Bird Finding Guides for SLO County

  1. SEE CANYON
  2. BOB JONES BRIDGE / TRAIL
  3. CAL POLY PIER
  4. PORT SAN LUIS
  5. SHELL BEACH ROAD COASTAL ACCESS SITES
    • N SILVER SHOALS DRIVE
    • MARGO DODD PARK
    • SHELL BEACH TENNIS COURTS
  6. PISMO CREEK MOUTH
    • IRA LEASE PARK
    • MARY HERRINGTON PARK
    • BRIDGE AREA
    • BEACH PARKING LOT
  7. MEADOWCREEK
  8. OCEANO (PISMO BEACH STATE PARK, OCEANO LAGOON/CAMPGROUND)
  9. OCEANO COMMUNITY POND
  10. ARROYO GRANDE CREEK / MOUTH
  11. 22nd STREET / SILVER SPUR STABLES AREA
  12. OSO FLACO LAKE

    INLAND SITES

  13. ARROYO GRANDE CREEK IN THE VILLAGE
  14. LOPEZ LAKE COUNTY PARK
  15. UPPER LOPEZ CANYON
    • ROAD
    • MABEL FRENCH BOY SCOUT CAMP
    • UPPER LOPEZ CANYON
  16. HI MOUNTAIN ROAD
  17. DANA FOOTHILL ROAD

C-1 SEE CANYON

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) From San Luis Obispo take US 101 south and exit right (west) about 3.5 miles south of Los Osos Valley Rd onto San Luis Bay Drive. From the south this exit is the next exit after the Avila Beach Drive. In 0.9 miles turn right (north) onto See Canyon Road. See Canyon Road goes through riparian habitat, with a number of houses tucked in the oaks. At mile 1.6 the road angles abruptly right over a bridge then passes several apple orchards. At about mile 4 the road starts to ascend a ridge. The last driveway is at mile 4.7. The top of the grade is at about mile 5.3. Soon the road turns to gravel. At mile 5.8 there is a gated road on the left (west) side of the main road and a windmill. The main road is rather flat for the next half mile through the oaks, then opens up into grazed hillsides and at about mile 7.0 becomes Prefumo Road (see Morro Bay and SLO Area Guide, section B-23) and descends to Los Osos Valley Road. See Canyon Road is paved, but is a narrow winding road and is popular with mountain-bikers. All of the land on both sides of the road is private property. There are only limited safe places to park without blocking driveways. For all of these good reasons it is not often birded, with the exception of owling (see below).

BIRDING: The easiest part of the road to bird is the upper part, from the top of the grade (mile 5.3) to the beginning of Prefumo Road. There are no houses visible and there are good places to pull off the road safely. Traffic is minimal. The whole length of the road is good for OWLING, especially the first few miles and the gravel section. Late winter into early spring tends to be best, but as with any owling it is unpredictable. GREAT HORNED and SCREECH OWLS are expected. PYGMY, LONG-EARED and SPOTTED OWLS are less common. SAW WHET OWLS are perhaps the rarest. Before attempting to owl this area: 1) Explore the road by daylight so that you know where houses are and where it is safe to park; and 2) Call the Sheriff s Department (781-4550) to tell them when you will be there so that they can reassure any concerned residents who might report suspicious activity in their neighborhood!

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C-2 BOB JONES BRIDGE / TRAIL

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) From San Luis Obispo southbound on US 101, take the San Luis Bay Drive exit and go west to its end where it tees into Avila Beach Drive. From the south on US 101, take the Avila Beach Drive exit and go west to its junction with San Luis Bay Drive. From this junction continue another 1.4 miles west on Avila Beach Drive. Just as the road bends left park along the main road or take a left onto San Miguel Street and park.

BIRDING: Walk the bridge over the creek. This joins the Bob Jones Trail. Bird the willows and riparian habitat along the trail down stream or upstream. The trail is generally flat, paved and accessible to all. It is about 1.5 miles long, end to end. Look for BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, and BULLOCK S ORIOLES. Check the willows for MIGRANTS. In winter check the pools upstream and downstream for COMMON GOLDENEYES, HOODED MERGANSERS, CORMORANTS and all the local EGRETS and HERONS.

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C-3 CAL POLY PIER

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) From #C-2, continue another 0.5 miles west on Avila Beach Drive. Park on the left (water side) near the base of the long pier. This pier is the property of Cal Poly and is closed to the public. Do not block access to the locked gate.

BIRDING: Check the rocks along this section of shore for ROCK-LOVING SHOREBIRDS. The last county ROCK SANDPIPER was seen here. Check the bay for wintering SEADUCKS, LOONS and GREBES. Generally accessible to all, but climbing a few rocks gives better views of the shore.

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C-4 PORT SAN LUIS

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) From #C-3, continue west along Avila Beach Drive for another mile or so to the end.

BIRDING: Scope the bay from the parking lot and / or the pier for wintering SEADUCKS, LOONS and GREBES. This area is not birded as much as Morro Bay Harbor but has good possibilities for RED-NECKED GREBES, LONG-TAILED DUCKS and WHITE-WINGED and BLACK SCOTERS. Scope the rocks to the north and west for ROCK-LOVING SHOREBIRDS. Easy access to all.

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C-5 SHELL BEACH ROAD COASTAL ACCESS SITES

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) From US 101 north or south-bound, take the Avila Beach Drive exit. Take the frontage road that goes south on the ocean side of US 101 which is Shell Beach Road.

There are a number of coastal access points along Shell Beach Road (becomes Price Street). From Avila Beach Drive exit:

  1. in about 0.9 miles, go to the end of N Silver Shoals Drive

  2. in another 1.8 miles, go to the end of Cliff Ave (Margo Dodd Park). Shell Beach Road becomes Price Street just north of here.

  3. in another 0.6 miles, at the Shell Beach Tennis Courts. Birders: park at the north end of the lot away from the players entrance.

BIRDING: All of these access areas are on bluffs, have rocky shores and are good for scoping. Look for MARBLED MURRELETS offshore near kelp beds and ROCK-LOVING SHOREBIRDS, SEA DUCKS, LOONS and GREBES in winter. Easy access to all.

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C-6 PISMO CREEK MOUTH

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) From San Luis Obispo, or #C-5 and other points north, exit US 101 at Rte 1 (Dolliver Street). In about 0.8 miles turn right (west) onto Addie Street and park. From points south, and going northbound on US 101, take the Price Street exit and go left (west) under the freeway bridge. Take the first available left (west), go 1 block and then turn left (south) on Rte 1 (Dolliver Street). In 2-3 blocks turn right (west) onto Addie Street and park.

BIRDING: There are several areas worth birding here, depending on the season:

  1. Ira Lease Park: This is the small park on the east side of Rte 1. A short walk along the creek to the US 101 bridge in this park can be productive during migration for WARBLERS and other PASSERINES. Check the water for EGRETS and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS.

  2. Mary Herrington Park: This is the small park on the west side where you are parked. Check the water here for DUCKS and GULLS.

  3. The Bridge Area: Drive west on Addie Street. It jogs left and then right again. Park. Check the creek / pond for GULLS and DUCKS.

  4. The Beach Parking Lot: Drive to the end of Addie Street and park at the beach parking lot. Walk a few hundred yards over the dunes to the creek mouth pool. One of the best places in the area to study GULLS (winter); most of the rarer gulls of the county have appeared there at some time. It is also excellent for SHOREBIRDS. Migrating GEESE, GULLS, and TERNS tend to rest at the end of the pool where it (seasonally) flows into the ocean.

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C-7 MEADOWCREEK

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) From San Luis Obispo, drive south on US 101 and exit at Rte 1 (Dolliver Street). Go south through Pismo Beach for a little over 1.5 miles and park on the right (west) side of the road at the Monarch Butterfly Preserve. If approaching on US 101 from the south, take Grand Ave exit and drive to the far west end. Just over the tracks at the west end of Grand Ave, turn right (north) on Rte 1 for 0.5 miles and park.

BIRDING: Walk through the open monarch butterfly area and take the trail at the northwest end. It crosses a small bridge. One can walk upstream for several hundred yards in a small riparian willow area. One can also walk left (west and south) along the edge of a golf course, and / or north into the campground. This area can be a good spot for migrating and wintering WARBLERS and other PASSERINES. The large eucalyptus groves has had wintering SUMMER TANAGERS.

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C-8 OCEANO (PISMO BEACH STATE PARK, OCEANO LAGOON / CAMPGROUND)

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) (Detail MAP 8) From #C-7 continue another 1.5 miles south on Rte 1 (1.0 mile south of the Grand Ave traffic light) and turn right (west) at a traffic light onto Pier Ave. There are several ways to enter the area: one is to take the first right (north) onto Norswing and park at the corner of Coolidge; another approach is to park just before the Pier Ave bridge on the left and walk the trail north along the east edge of the small lake; and another approach is to park at the same location and walk north along the west edge of the small lake. All of the trails in this area are on flat ground. The trails can be muddy in the rainy season. Much of the walking, however, is on paved roads around the campground area and is accessible to all.

BIRDING: This area, generally just called "Oceano" by local birders, is one of the very best birding spots in the county, and in the state! It is best known for WARBLERS and other PASSERINES during migration and winter. On Detail MAP 8 the 2 noted parking areas are shown. The trails and roads are marked in pink. The roads and trails marked with pink and large yellow spots are perhaps the best area, but the whole area is excellent birding. The list of rarities is long, and most recently included YELLOW-THROATED and YELLOW-GREEN VIREOS, PROTHONOTARY and BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS, PAINTED REDSTART, OVENBIRD, BALTIMORE ORIOLE and SUMMER TANAGERS. We encourage the use of radios / walkie-talkies tuned to 11.22 when birding here during migration to see who is birding there and what has been seen.

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C-9 OCEANO COMMUNITY POND

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) See directions to #C-8. Turn onto Pier Ave and turn left (south) on Norswing. Park mid-way along the road where the gulls are congregated. Accessible to all.

BIRDING: Another great birding spot! There are a number of domestic ducks and geese at this pond that are fed regularly by the locals. This and the fresh water attract a sizable flock of GULLS in the winter that should be checked for rarities. An assortment of unusual DUCKS, GEESE and MERGANSERS show up over the course of an average winter.

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C-10 ARROYO GRANDE CREEK / MOUTH

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) (Detail MAP 10) From the #C-8 / #C-9 areas continue west on Pier Ave almost to the ocean and turn left (south) onto Strand Way. Drive almost to the end of Strand Way, take a left (east) onto Utah St. and park. Parking can be a challenge on weekends. Walking at this location is short in distance, but is mostly in deep sand.

BIRDING: Walk to the south end of Strand Way and then a few hundred yards through the sand to the edge of the creek mouth pool. (See Detail MAP 10) Check the pool and up the creek a ways for SHOREBIRDS, GULLS and TERNS in migration and winter. This area has been historically the best in the county for TROPICAL KINGBIRDS.

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C-11 22nd STREET / SILVER SPUR STABLES AREA

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) From the Pier Ave / Rte 1 junction, go south on Rte 1 for 1.2 miles and turn right (west) on 22nd Street. Past the bridge turn right on Silver Spur Way. In 0.4 miles turn right (east) onto a dirt side road. Park off the road at the first bend in this road and where a track goes up onto the dike.

BIRDING: Walk up on the dike and scan the pastureland and the willows along the creek. Often the fields here have standing water from irrigation and high water table. During these conditions it is ideal for GEESE, WILSON S SNIPES and other GRASS-LOVING SHOREBIRDS. One can walk (but do not drive) either direction along the dike. It is generally more productive left (north), where the road passes an area of pines (good for WARBLERS in migration), and then turns into a trail through the willows (good for WARBLERS in migration), ending on the south edge of the mouth of Arroyo Grande Creek (see Detail MAP 10). If there is not much water in the creek, one can cross to the north bank dike road at the creek mouth and walk back upstream. Walking up that dike, just past the waste treatment area, a small road right (west) crosses back over the creek to the area of pines mentioned on the south dike road, and one can walk back to the car park.

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C-12 OSO FLACO LAKE

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) (Detail MAP 12) Continue south on Rte 1 from the Oceano area. Shortly after Rte 1 descends off of the Nipomo mesa, turn right (west) on Oso Flaco Rd. Drive to the far west end of the road and park in the lot. Day-use fee of $5 ($4 for seniors) or a season pass required; porta-potty restrooms. As an alternate approach from the north, one can exit US 101 at Tefft Road. Go west on Tefft Road, bearing left as it forks, then turn left (south) in a few blocks onto Orchard Rd. In 0.7 miles bear right onto Division Street. Drive another 1.9 miles after reaching the bottom of the mesa and bear right onto Oso Flaco Rd. From the south, Oso Flaco Road can be approached from Santa Maria to Rte 1 and then turning north through Guadalupe.

BIRDING: A premier birding spot! During migration the edges of the parking lot, the road to the lake, and the willows near the lake can be excellent for WARBLERS and other PASSERINES. The boardwalk over this marsh-edged lake offers a unique view of the wildlife. WATERFOWL in winter are sometimes very close to the viewer. AMERICAN BITTERNS, SORAS (winter) and VIRGINIA RAILS can often be viewed. All of the county SWALLOWS linger here to feed in late summer / early fall. In summer (May into August) LEAST TERNS that nest on the nearby beaches come here to feed, often sitting on the boardwalk rails. Following the walkway past the lake one goes through beautiful sandy coastal scrub habitat, home to CALIFORNIA THRASHERS, WRENTITS, BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS, and the like. Scope the ocean for SOOTY SHEARWATERS, SCOTERS, LOONS and GREBES in fall and winter. Walk south along the beach to the creek outlet to check for SHOREBIRDS and wintering GULLS. The parking lot and paved road to the lake are generally accessible to all, although the restrooms are somewhat of a problem. The last 100 yards or so of the road are dirt and sometimes muddy. There is a boardwalk across the lake and to the sand beach, with another rest room part way out. The latter part of the boardwalk is usually covered with deep blow-sand and walking on the beach the sand is deep and soft. Distances: to the lake = 0.22 miles; to the far end of the lake = 0.40 miles [total]; to the far rest rooms = 0.80 miles; to the beach = 1.00 mile; to the creek outlet = 1.25 miles.

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INLAND SITES

C-13 ARROYO GRANDE CREEK IN THE VILLAGE

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) Take the Grand Ave / CA 227 exit off US 101. Drive east on Rte 227 for a few blocks past Traffic Way and take the next right (south) onto Bridge Street, then an immediate left (east) into a parking area behind the shops. Park anywhere along this long parking lot.

BIRDING: The riparian area for a few blocks in this area is more-or-less accessible from the parking lot, footbridge, and a few crude trails. Sometimes good WARBLERS and VIREOS show up here in migration, but the highlight is the appearance of CASSIN S KINGBIRDS in the winter. The high winter count was 54 in 2004-05. They roost in the trees at night and are best looked for early in the morning feeding on ivy berries with Robins and Cedar waxwings. Listen for the KINGBIRD S distinctive call.

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C-14 LOPEZ LAKE COUNTY PARK

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) (Detail MAP 14-16) Take the Arroyo Grande Grand Ave / CA 227 exit off of US 101 and go east on Rte 227. Drive through the village of Arroyo Grande and over a small hill. At the stop sign take a right (east) off of Rte 227 onto Huasna Road; signed to Lopez Lake. Huasna Road becomes Lopez Drive. In 7.0 miles from the stop sign the road crosses the Lopez Lake Dam. In another 2.6 miles the road crosses a small arm of the lake. Just over the arm there is a road to the right. This is Hi Mountain Road and will be the starting point in the directions for #C-15, #C-16 and #C-17. Continue straight on Lopez Rd and you will soon see the entrance station. There is a $7 day use fee. In part accessible to all. The trail along the edge of the lake is strenuous in hot weather.

BIRDING: The whole lake is of interest, but is only accessible at this end. There are no places to stop along the approach on Lopez Drive. The park is all in the oak habitat, making WILD TURKEYS, HUTTON S VIREOS, ACORN WOODPECKERS and OAK TITMICE common breeders. The fresh water is the main attraction for birders. From the fee station bear right (north) and take this main road over the hill through the campground and down to lake level. Walk or drive this road along the edge of the lake. Depending on season and water levels this arm of the lake is good for a variety of DUCKS, GREBES, and SHOREBIRDS. OSPREYS and BALD EAGLES are often seen. BALD EAGLES breed here. There is a locked gate at the end of this arm. One can park there and walk the edge of the arm up to the Mabel French Boy Scout camp (see #C-15b). Crossing the arm one has access to the trail along the north shore of the lake.

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C-15 UPPER LOPEZ CANYON

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) (see Detail MAP 14-16) From the intersection of Lopez Drive and Hi Mountain Road (see #C-14), take Hi Mountain Road east. In 0.8 miles turn left (north) onto Lopez Canyon Road.

BIRDING:

  1. ROAD: In about 0.5 miles the road reaches the ridgeline. There are a number of large pull-offs in this area giving easy access to chaparral habitat. This area is seldom birded but the habitat is good for BELL S SAGE SPARROWS, BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS (summer) and several races of FOX SPARROWS (winter). The road then descends off the ridge into oaks. Accessible to all.

  2. MABEL FRENCH BOY SCOUT CAMP: (see Detail MAP 14-16) At mile 3.6 of Lopez Canyon, Road there is a well-marked entrance to the camp on the left (west) side of the road. Birders are welcome on the property at any time. There is a large parking lot to the left and restrooms just above the parking lot. Birding is good at the parking lot area and one can walk the dirt roads west a short distance to the Wittenberg arm of Lopez Lake (see C-15b on Detail MAP 14-16). Following the north shore of the arm, one joins a trail along the north shore of the lake. This trail follows the lake for miles and provides relative solitude. Accessible to most in dry weather. Trails are dirt roads with only moderate slope. The lakeshore trail is moderate to strenuous. GREEN HERONS and YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS breed along Wittenberg Arm. One can also walk north from the parking lot through a large meadow to the Touski Trail.

  3. UPPER LOPEZ CANYON: (Detail MAP 14-16) From the Boy Scout Camp, continue on Lopez Canyon Road. The road goes up the canyon, over a ridge, steeply descends, and at mile 2.7 from the Boy Scout Camp there is an intersection. Upper Lopez Canyon Road turns sharply right here and becomes gravel. The road follows the creek and fords the creek many times in the next 4 miles. These fords may be impassible during the rainy season! High clearance or 4x4 recommended, depending on water levels. Although very rare in winter, AMERICAN DIPPERS could be looked for along here. The canyon is deep and should have most of the expected forest OWLS of the county. The riparian oaks and willows are home to HUTTON S VIREOS and other oak woodland birds. The road ends in another 4-5 miles. From the end of the road there are a number of trails: to the falls, to the east end of the Cuesta Ridge and to Hi Mountain (see North County Guide, section D-18). Look for MOUNTAIN QUAIL in these areas. It is beyond the scope of this outline to describe these trails in detail. This is a very wild area and the birding potential is great, though untapped.

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C-16 HI MOUNTAIN ROAD

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) (Detail MAP 14-16) From the intersection of Lopez Drive and Hi Mountain Road (see #C-14) take Hi Mountain Road east.

BIRDING: Hi Mountain Road is paved for about 5-6 miles as it goes through private homesites and ranches. It then turns into a narrow dirt road, soon enters National Forest land, and in another 6 miles joins the road to Hi Mountain itself (see North County Guide, section D-18). This road is narrow and steep in places, and crosses a creek 4 or 5 times. After rains this road can be slippery, and impassible due to deep water and erosion at these crossings! The birding along the road is difficult and the habitat is not unique. This road is included just to inform the reader of a fair-weather alternate route to Hi Mountain. It is slow driving!

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C-17 DANA FOOTHILL ROAD

DIRECTIONS: (MAP) From US 101 on the north edge of Nipomo exit east onto North Thompson Ave. In 2.2 miles turn left (northeast) onto Mehlschau Road. In 1 mile this tees into Dana Foothill Rd.

BIRDING: Turn right on Dana foothill Rd. The road passes through lemon groves for the next 0.9 miles. Look and listen along this stretch of road for COMMON GROUND DOVES. This is the only place in the county where these birds are seen. Check the weedy areas for SPARROWS and sometimes LAWRENCE S GOLDFINCHES. Check the eucalyptus trees for CASSIN S KINGBIRDS and BULLOCK S ORIOLES that breed here. Dana Foothill Road becomes a dirt road. This short section up to Rancho Road is good for WHITE-TAILED KITES, NORTHERN HARRIERS and LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES. Accessible to all.

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