To join Greg on one of these tours visit or call 888-875-9453

In 1998, Greg zig-zagged 130,000 miles across the USA, while trying to hold down a full-time job, aspiring to reach at least 700 species of birds in one calendar year. "The Big Year," a novel by Mark Obmascik detailed his travails alongside two competitors. The book was later turned into a movie of the same title that starred Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson!

Bay Area California – Day 6

Panoche Valley Rd, California
Panoche Valley Rd, California – photo by Greg Miller


We started the morning in Pinnacles National Park. Actually, no. Our drive from Hollister, CA to Pinnacles was interrupted by Yellow-billed Magpies. Pinnacles was very birdy this morning. Our first stop had a number of good birds from the parking lot. Flocks of Lawrence’s Goldfinches flitting about, a few Western Bluebirds nearby, a flyover Nuttall’s Woodpecker, a pair of Oak Titmice in a tree next to us, Acorn Woodpeckers calling loudly and putting on a real show, and a California Towhee. That was the first 15 minutes. Now what will we do with the rest of the day? More birds!

We had a calling Hutton’s Vireo near one of the restrooms, a Hairy Woodpecker, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and a flyover Phainopepla added to the excitement. We drove up to the Visitor’s Center and hiked up a canyon bounded by arid, scrubby hillsides. We added California Thrasher, Bell’s Sparrow, and Canyon Wren. On our exit we stopped by the campground for one last try to get a better look at the Nuttall’s Woodpecker, We didn’t find the bird again, but we did see a large, dark bird soaring above the adjacent ridge. Was it a…OH, MY! It is! It’s a condor! A California Condor!

From Pinnacles we headed back up the road to Tres Pinos for gas and lunch. From there, we drove the length of Panoche Valley Road. It’s a part of California unknown to most folks. I wanted to see it one last time before the scenery changes there. A large solar power area will be installed in the coming months.

We added Rock Wren along the way. And we got better looks at Nuttall’s Woodpecker. As we were watching more Yellow-billed Magpies, three Golden Eagles soared overhead. The habitat becomes more arid on the eastern end of Panoche Valley and is more barren. A Say’s Phoebe and a Western Kingbird were all we picked up. Within about a mile of I-5 (which Californians refer to as “the five”. “The” goes in front of all the major highways like “the 101” or “the 680”) a Greater Roadrunner ran across the road in front of us. It was a good topper to a great trip.

The arid eastern end of Panoche Valley Road
The arid eastern end of Panoche Valley Road – photo by Greg Miller


The Bay Area of California again produces great birds and fabulously beautiful scenery. Today, the only new year bird was Yellow-billed Magpie bringing our total to 504 species.

And last night I was so tired I forgot to mention how exciting it was to see TWO blue whales and three humpback whales, as well as Risso’s dolphins on the Shearwater Journey’s pelagic trip into Monterey Bay.


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