Question from a visiting birder

Evan Graff


I will be traveling to Orange County for a work trip in mid February, staying in Dana Point. I won't have that much time for birding, but I'm hoping to be able to find a few hours here or there to get out and find some of the specialty species that people like me in the Midwest would get excited about (but that I'm sure you all find boring - that's how it goes, right?). I've spent a bit of time birding in California before, but have never gotten farther down south in the state past Monterey Bay. I won't have much time like I said, so I'm looking to focus on birds that I have a really good chance of finding vs. long shots that won't be a productive use of time.

As the plan stands right now, I won't be renting a car so am hoping to find some good spots to visit that are a relatively easy Uber/cab/Lyft ride from Dana Point (or I suppose walkable works too.) And I won't have much more than a few hours here or there to go birding. That said, feel free to attempt to convince me that I'm making a terrible mistake... if you are convincing enough I might consider adding an extra personal day on one end of my trip and/or renting a car if it makes sense.

Now to the important stuff. What am I looking for? Well, you all can tell me if I'm way off... but I'd love to find:


From my own research, it looks like I might have a shot at the gnatcatcher at Dana Point Headlands Preserve. It looks like this should only be a short cab ride from where I'm staying. And the sparrows seem to be present at Moulton Meadows Park from what I can tell... a bit longer but still maybe not unreasonable cab ride. Unless there's lots of traffic that I don't know about...?

Does anyone have any experience with these birds in this area? I've never been to any of these places so any advice on where to specifically go at these locations or strategies/times/other things I should know to best try to find these specific species would be GREATLY appreciated. Feel free to reply to me directly so as not to clutter the list.

Now, beyond these two birds, I might as well mention that some other species that I'd be interested in but I probably won't be able to find because they are total long shots and/or random low likelihood of success would be:
Ridgeway's rail
Lewis's woodpecker
Red-breasted sapsucker
Red-naped sapsucker
Hermit warbler
Mountain quail
Vaux's swift
Glaucous-winged gull
(Obviously I'll be very tempted if by some miracle the Red-footy booby or Greater Pewee are still there in Feb too but I'm sure they won't be.)

Before you all proclaim that I've lost my mind, trust me... I know... I'm not at all expecting to be able to find ANY of these birds... I really only want to find the gnatcatcher and the sparrow. I know that these other birds are a ridiculous list of rarities that I probably won't even have a reasonable way to search for, let alone actually find. But I'm just listing them in case you know more than me and say "hey there's actually a really good place to go nearby to Dana Point for one of these....", etc.

Beyond this, any other information or suggestions you have for birding around Dana Point and/or other local species I may not have thought of but would be interested in finding in Feb are very much appreciated.

Thank you very much for any assistance. (And again, feel free to reply privately to avoid cluttering the list.)

Evan Graff