David Froba

DIRECTIONS: The Visitor Center in this immense state park is at the end of East Dunne Avenue, outside of Morgan Hill. Going south on Highway 101, you exit at the East Dunne Avenue exit, turn left at the stop light and cross over 101. You’ll be heading east for the first three miles. At the top of the first ridge of hills, when you come to a Y, look for the state park sign and turn right at the Y. You will cross a bridge and follow Anderson Reservoir for a while. This is a narrow, winding mountain road, with some one-lane sections, hairpin turns, and blind curves. This entrance is very scenic, but is recommended only for experienced, cautious drivers.

Other entrances are Hunting Hollow Entrance and Coyote Creek Entrance, both leading from Gilroy Hot Springs Road. The directions to these entrances can be found on the Henry Coe State Park official website.

For our purposes as Stanislaus County birders, the best entrance would be Bell’s Station / Dowdy Ranch Entrance, which can be accessed from Pacheco Pass Highway (State Route 152). As of this writing, the Downy Ranch Entrance is closed due to state budget cuts. Hopefully, it will be reopened. It is recommended to check the website.

HABITAT: This rugged area straddles the Stanislaus-Santa Clara county line. About a third, the northeastern part of the 87,000 acre park, is in Stanislaus County. This area offers the highest habitat with public access anywhere in the county, over 3,000 feet. Only Del Puerto Canyon begins to rival Coe Park for altitude access, and the former is lower and limited to the area adjacent to the road, while the latter offers broad access to altitude once you get there. The lower reaches of the Stanislaus part of the park rise through grasslands into blue oak savannah. The higher reaches are chaparral and oak/gray pine woodlands, rare habitats with public access in this county. However, they can be reached only by long and rigorous hikes or horseback. Vehicular traffic, except for short distances into the Santa Clara part of the park, is not allowed. The best way to bird would be by backpack trip, unless you have access to a good horse. In addition, traditionally once each spring weekend the Downey Ranch entrance has been opened, and vehicles and campers are allowed as far as about ten miles into the interior of the park, giving relatively easy access to the high altitude county habitats, but it is not certain how budget cuts might affect this fine tradition.

BIRDS: There is an online Checklist of Birds of the park which includes 165 species, but unfortunately the list does not break species down by county. The rare habitats of the park probably offer the best place to find unusual county species such as Band-tailed Pigeon, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Calliope Hummingbird, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Townsend's Solitaire, Steller's Jay, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Chipping Sparrow, Black-chinned Sparrow, Sage Sparrow, Purple Finch, Red Crossbill, and Pine Siskin. Most tantalizing is the possibility of seeing extremely rare species, never before or only very rarely seen in this county, but known to have been observed only a few miles over the county line in similar habitat, including Pileated Woodpecker and Chestnut-backed Chickadee. In any event, one would need to study the county line in advance and have a G.P.S. unit handy. This area is the birding Shangri-La of Stanislaus County, high, remote, mysterious, but promising of riches for the intrepid birder.