Fauna: Animal Life in the Canyon
This section details birds found in the canyon. However, many other animals call the canyon home: kit fox, cougar, deer, amphibians, minnows, squirrels and much more.
This canyon is Stanislaus County’s most diverse natural environment. Its habitats range from grasslands along the western valley floor to chaparral, blue oak woodland, and pines. Over 150 species of birds have been observed in Del Puerto Canyon. Birders from the Bay Area frequently come here looking for Yellow-breasted Chat, Costa’s Hummingbird, Greater Roadrunner, and Grasshopper Sparrow. The birds, along with interesting geology, insects, and other wildlife, make this a must-see birding spot.
Birders should always pull over while scanning for birds, since the traffic, though infrequent, can come up suddenly from around curves. Most of the canyon is private property, so do not go over fences. Care should be taken all along the canyon for rattlesnakes, ticks, and scorpions, which occur regularly and more frequently in warmer weather. Del Puerto Canyon Road has mile marker indicators, use these to assist viewing opportunities.
BIRDING: Between mile 0.15 and 2.0, check for Blue Grosbeaks and Burrowing Owl in the summer. Grasshopper Sparrows have been seen or heard singing in the spring less frequently, possibly because the orchard plantings in the grasslands have reduced this sparrow’s habitat. The Northern Harrier commonly hunts ground squirrels along these grasslands, and a Golden Eagle can often be seen soaring overhead. The occasional Merlin, a small raptor, can be seen here in winter, as well as flocks of Mountain Bluebird. The Loggerhead Shrike, a songbird that behaves like a small predatory hawk, resides and breeds in the canyon and may be seen in these grasslands up to about mile 3.5.
There is a small canyon at marker 3.0 with tree tobacco on the south side of the road. This is often a reliable location for Costa’s Hummingbird in the summer. Tree tobacco occurs from this spot all along the canyon, but is thickest between markers 3.4 and 6.0. These spots are the best for Costa’s Hummingbird, although this species may be found all the way to marker 13. The trees on the hill are good for nesting Bullock’s Orioles.
On the north side of the road, there are some rock outcroppings that often have Rock Wrens calling. Be sure and stop to bird the area between markers 3.6 and 3.9, if there aren’t many people picnicking there. The cliff with the large holes is often called Owl Rock. Look for whitewash at the entrance of the holes, as both Great Horned and Barn Owls may be found there. Red-tailed Hawks nest in Owl Rock cavities, as the Common Raven does occasionally. Large flocks of White-throated Swift may be here during the summer. If you drive up to the canyon early enough, you may see Common Poorwill on the road or calling overhead in summer, too. Phainopepla, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, California Thrasher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Lesser Goldfinches and Western Tanagers may frequent the areas around Owl Rock. Belted Kingfishers often court and display at Owl Rock and anywhere along the creek up to at least mile 5.5
Another specialty of the canyon is Greater Roadrunner, which may be anywhere visiting any habitat from mile 3.5 to 15.0, so as you drive up the road, be on the lookout for this bird in the grasslands and shrubs, even cottonwood trees occasionally. Common Merganser is often in the creek, as is Green Heron in the spring and summer. Lark Sparrow is fairly common, as is nesting Yellow-billed Magpie.
This article by Jim Gain of Stanislaus Audubon. View his photos here.