Coastside Trail Day 3: To Princeton-by-the-Sea

Our morning was cloudy and windy all along the coast. We got some welcome sunny warmth in the afternoon.


The birds didn’t seem to mind the wind as much as we did. We saw 48 species, with about 15 new for the trip, during the day’s 6-mile trek to Princeton-by-the-Sea and Pillar Point Harbor. Our focus was on shorebirds and seabirds, and we were delighted with surprises at the start and end of our walk. Here are some highlights.

Our first surprise was a snowy plover near a nest with an egg, a sighting that hasn’t occurred on these beaches for years. This is good news for this threatened species.


Our next big surprise was a flock of both Caspian terns and elegant terns. The elegants weren’t expected. They usually arrive in early summer. The elegant terns are smaller than the Caspians and the black crest looks more ruffled.

One of my best shot of the day was of this eared grebe in full breeding plumage.


Our biggest surprise of the day was a sighting of a Northern gannet on the breakwater. Yes, a gannet! This is a beautiful North Atlantic bird that’s been hanging around Half Moon Bay for awhile. How it got here, no one knows. A rare treat.


Thanks for following along on my inn-to-inn birding walk with Slow Adventure. And thanks to our birding guide, Alvaro Jaramillo.

About Chris Parsons

A science writer/educator exploring and sharing nature with words and photos to connect, inspire and conserve.
This entry was posted in California coastline, Half Moon Bay and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Coastside Trail Day 3: To Princeton-by-the-Sea

  1. minustide says:

    great field trip, thanks for sharing it. Love the tern shots. Both appear to show terns with fish. Do you happen to know what the fish is? Were the terns foraging in the surf?

    • Thanks. The terns were feeding at the mouth of Pilarcitos Creek behind the dunes in fresh (maybe brackish) water, not in the surf. I don’t know the fish, but I’ll ask around.

    • Regarding the fish… our guide ruled out young steelhead because the fish lack the typical dot patterns on the sides. So far the best guess is for anchovies washed into the creek mouth pond with a high tide.

  2. nora deans says:

    Love following along with you as you walk the coast, and your bird photos are amazing. Still marveling at the great horned owl, and the snowy plover is wonderful news. And the Northern gannet! Who knew all this was going on around us.

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