Ten Birding Hotspots in Nevada County
Bitney Springs Road runs from the Rough and Ready Highway (Grass Valley’s main Street becomes the Rough and Ready Highway as you head West) to the Pleasant Valley Road. The view of Lake Wildwood from above is the only one for the uninvited.
There is a Bitney Springs and it feeds a series of ponds and marshes that lie along the road. In the winter these ponds are teeming with waterfowl including Wood Ducks, Northern Pintails, Mallards, Canadian Geese, Scaups, Mergansers and Buffleheads. In addition some rarer birds that have been seen along the road include the Marsh Wren and a Barn Owl. A variety of Hawks and Turkey vultures cruise air currents above the ridges.
At the top of almost everyone’s list of prime Nevada County birding areas is Bridgeport State Park. Located at
17660 Pleasant Valley Road
Penn Valley, CA. 95946
Bridgeport is the centerpiece of the South Yuba River State Park. To reach the Park from State Route 20 west of Grass Valley go North along Pleasant Valley Rd (from the Lake Wildwood turnoff) about eight miles.
Bill Cortwright or another birder offers a bird hike on the last Sunday of every month at 9:00 AM. Sitting astride the South Yuba River it is the seasonal home to a considerable variety of birds. The wide variety of avian life found throughout the year at Bridgeport is one of its prime attractions. While incomplete, a list would include several varieties of woodpeckers, swallows, owls, Wild Turkeys, black phoebes, hummingbirds, warblers, wrens, vireos and a wide variety of raptors, including Golden and Bald Eagles.
Western Gateway Park is located between Highway 20 and Penn Valley Dr. in Penn Valley. While there is no direct entrance from Highway 20 either the Pleasant Valley Rd. or Penn Valley Dr. may be followed a short distance South from 20 and then proceed along Penn Valley Dr to the park. The Park board has an address of:
18650 Penn Valley Dr.
Penn Valley, Ca 95946
530 432 1990
This Park was the most fruitful in number of birds of all the sites visited in this spring’s early morning migratory bird walks. A bird list would include Bullock’s Oriole, Western Kingbird, Olive Sided Flycatcher, Scrub and Stellar’s Jays, Western Tanager, Acorn Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Nashville and other Warblers, Yellow-billed Magpies, Western Bluebirds, Northern Flicker and Red breasted Sapsucker. Several raptors may be seen there including the American Kestrel, Red-shouldered Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk.
Discovery Trail is located near the intersection of the Bowman Lakes Road and Highway 20, just a mile West of the I-80 intersection. Handicapped accessible with asphalt paths and boardwalks through a manicured forest it was built by PG&E who maintain it. The paths lead over and along the Bear River and throughout there are kiosks, benches and interpretive signage. To get there turn on to the Bowman Lakes Road from Highway 20 and proceed about a half a mile to an ample parking area.
There are a significant variety of birds in the area. Blackbirds, Flycatchers, Swallows, Bluebirds are seen in the field as you enter the woods. Along the river you may find Tanagers, Grosbeaks, several varieties of Woodpeckers, Warblers, Thrushes, and Vireos.
Loney Meadows located above 6000′ is the best of many great areas off of Bowman Lakes Road. To reach it take Highway 20 East from Nevada City about thirty miles. Just after you cross the Bear River Bowman lakes Road leads off to the right or East at that point. If you come to Interstate 80 you’ve gone a mile or two too far. Bowman Lakes Road is also US Forest 18; travel about 10.5 miles along it until just after the paving permanently ends. A Loney Meadows sign points an old, very rough, cattle road on the right that leads to the Loney Meadows parking area about .7mi. away.
More information is available from:
US Forest Service
Nevada City CA 95959
530 265 4531
There is a mile or more interpretive trail around the meadows that was built jointly with the Yuba Watershed Institute. This lovely meadows attracts a wide variety of birds including Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, Olive Sided Flycatchers, Orange Crowned Warblers, Yellow Rumped Warblers and Nashville Warblers. The Aspen grove attracts Redheaded Sapsuckers and Whiteheaded Woodpeckers, while Pileated Woodpeckers have been sighted along the cattle road approaching the meadows. There are bird boxes surrounding the meadows and a contingent of Mountain Bluebirds, Golden Crowned Kinlets, swallows and blackbirds can always be found.
Mathis Pond is a charming pond on the West side of Lower Dog Bar Road between Krystal Court and Carrie Drive in the area known as Alta Sierra. The diminutive pond is owned by the Nevada County land Trust and maintained with the assistance of the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society. There is a Kiosk, benches overlooking the pond and a short gravel trail along with nine Bluebird boxes and a wood duck box. Conveniently located for Grass Valley residents this is a great place to slip away from a daily schedule for a few moments of birding.
Besides Bluebirds the avian population includes Titmice, a variety of finches, nuthatches, Towhees, Juncos, flycatchers, warblers and a Yellow Chat has been reported in the area.
Prosser Reservoir is one of several interesting areas on Highway 89 just North of I-80. These areas would include Sagehen Creek, Alder Creek and even Boca Reservoir, though its access is best from the Boca exit on I-80. The Eastern slope of the Sierra’s affords a distinctly different forest and avian population. To reach these areas exit I-80 at the Eastern most Truckee exit and take Highway 89 North. The second road is the Prosser Dam Road. The reservoir is about 8 miles down this Road. The Creeks lie further North with Roadside parking areas.
The Birds that may be seen here include some waterfowl such as White Pelicans, Mergansers, Ducks, Gulls and Geese. The Horned Lark is seen in the open areas, while the Streams harbor a variety of Warblers, Thrushes, and Vireos.
Rock Creek Nature Trail is located east of Nevada City on Washington Ridge. The Trail is a 3/4-mile loop that is cool, shady, and level. There’s wheelchair access, a picnic area and a trail guide available at the trailhead.
To reach Rock Creek Nature Trail, Drive east from Nevada City about 6 miles on Highway 20. Look for the Washington Ridge Conservation Camp sign on the left. Turn in here and follow the paved road for 1 mile. The Rock Creek Nature Trail sign is on the left. Turn in here onto the gravel road that will take you another mile down into the canyon and parking lot. On the way out Follow the one-way road down canyon which brings you back to Highway 20 near the Five Mile House.
A short list of birds that have been seen there include Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, Pacific Wren, White-Headed Woodpecker, Western Tanager, Band-Tailed Pigeon, Coopers Hawk, Downy Woodpecker, Nashville Warbler, Dark-Eyed Junco, American Robin and Brown Creeper.
Round Mountain is a poorly delineated collection of Bureau of Land Management parcels and private lands lying North of Nevada City. Access is obtained via Rock Creek Road that can be entered from either the Lake Vera Purdon Road or the North Bloomfield Road. There is a parking lot at the top (only about 3000-ft. altitude) and a series of trails leads off in various directions. Some of these trails, though not marked, yield a view of the South Yuba River canyon.
Birds that may be seen are those of the oak forest variety including Acorn, Pileated, and Downy Woodpeckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers, Nashville Warblers, Western Tanagers, Black Headed Grosbeaks, Yellow Rumped Warblers, Red Breasted Nuthatches and the ubiquitous Brown Headed Cowbird. At night these owls have been heard Western Screech-Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl , and Spotted Owl.
The Spenceville Wildlife and Recreation Area lying along the western boundary of Nevada County is a bit remote but well worth the extra travel time. To reach Spenceville travel on West from the Lake Wildwood turnoff until you see the sign for Beale Air Force Base. Turn South on Smartville Road and bear to the left for 6.5 miles On Chuck Yeager Road until you cross the Waldo bridge, a good place to start birding as Snipe are seen here. The best hikes begin 2 miles further at the Old copper mine. The trip to Fairy Falls along Dry creek usually is particularly rewarding.
The California Department of Fish and Game, Region 2 manages Spenceville. Their address is:
1702 Nimbus Rd. Suite A
Rancho Cordova CA 95670
An additional reason to visit is the threat to Spenceville posed by the proposed Waldo Dam, which would flood a major portion of the area including Fairy Falls. That is, if the prospect of viewing some of the 80 species of birds that nest at Spenceville or the 175 species of migratories that have been seen there are not reasons enough.
A partial listing of birds would include Nuttall’s and Acorn Woodpeckers, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Band-tailed Pigeons, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, California Quail, Kingbirds, Northern Orioles, Purple Finch, Lazuli Buntings, and White Breasted Nuthatches. Raptors observed include Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, White-tailed Kites, Turkey Vultures, Coopers Hawks and the American Kestrel.
Map (Waldo Junction is one of the hottest birding spots within Spenceville).