Half Moon Bay – California, USA


Half Moon Bay is a small city on the central Californian coast, about 25 miles south of San Francisco, with a population of just over 11,000 people. There are several beaches along this bay, including Half Moon Bay State Beach. The bay is named for its crescent, half-moon shape.

It is most well known for its surfing location called Mavericks, a major destination for all surfers in the region. The bay started off as an agricultural area used by Mission San Francisco de Asis, a Spanish California mission, and managed specifically for cattle. It developed into San Mateo County’s first large town in the 1840s, with its original name as San Benito. This was then changed to Spanishtown, switching again to Half Moon Bay eventually in 1874.

The weather here is mild year-round, which makes for great bird habitats, and thus, a great spot for birding any time of year. There are bird sanctuaries and refuge areas, and hundreds of species of birds can be seen. Pescadero Marsh and Pillar Point Marsh are two specific birding hotspots in the area, and every year, nearly 200 species -– comprising of thousands of birds -– fly to Pescadero Marsh. Late fall and early spring are the peak birdwatching times in the year. Pillar Point Marsh is well known as a place where nearly twenty percent of all North American bird species can be seen, and it is unique as a hotspot as it has both fresh and saltwater habitats in close proximity to one another.

Pillar Point Harbor is also the launch point for many pelagic (ocean-based) birding trips, given its easy access and close proximity to the continental shelf. These boat trips launch through the summer and fall, and turn up plenty of incredible seabirds offshore that one often cannot see from land.

Owen traveled here with his good friend and guide Nathan Goldberg in October 2021, and has photographed the California Towhee, Elegant Tern, Pacific Wren, Pink-footed Shearwater, the near-threatened Laysan Albatross, and more.

Birds found here