DIRECTIONS: Take Yosemite Blvd. going east out of downtown Modesto. This road is also called Highway 132. Continue through Waterford and past Woodward Reservoir. As you approach La Grange on 132, there is a stop sign at its intersection with J59, which goes south to Snelling. Continue going east into the town of La Grange. Pull into the small historic site where the road bends, and park in front of the museum. There are restrooms here. Another good parking spot is across the street from the La Grange market.
Walk down the hill on Old La Grange Road. Within a few hundred yards, you will come to the Old La Grange Bridge. You can begin birding by walking across the bridge to the north side of the river. There is also some river access on a volunteer trail that winds downstream from the southwest side of the bridge. The main trail, however, begins at a gate up the hill and southeast of the bridge. This trail continues for .6 miles, offering views of the Tuolumne River below. Although the trail does not follow the river closely, there are several places where you can obtain closer access to the willows. The trail ends at a rusty gate, beyond which is T.I.D. property.
HABITAT: This is oak woodlands habitat. The live oaks and valley oaks are dominant on this trail, along with a few blue oaks. Some Fremont cottonwood trees can be found at the end of the trail. Some sections of the riverbanks are thickly lined with willows. Blue elderberry, California buckeye, chokecherry, and toyon shrubs comprise most of the understory.
YEAR-ROUND BIRDS: This trail is an enjoyable one for birding, if for no other reason than the ability to see many species any month of the year. Four species of wrens may be seen and heard here: Rock and Canyon Wrens are midway up the trail by the rock outcroppings, while Bewick’s and House Wrens are numerous in the understory. Northern Flicker, Nuttall’s, Downy, and Acorn Woodpeckers are reliable here. The river itself can have Spotted Sandpiper, Green Heron, Pied-billed Grebe, Belted Kingfisher, and Common Merganser. Turkey Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Osprey, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawk may be seen flying overhead. Wild Turkey can often be found, displaying in the mating season, along either bank of the river. Eurasian Collared-Dove has made its entrance in the town of La Grange itself. Tree, Violet-green, and Cliff Swallows can be found near the bridge.
The tree birds include Anna’s Hummingbird, Hutton’s Vireo, Western Scrub-Jay, Oak Titmouse, Bushtit, White-breasted Nuthatch, Phainopepla, Orange-crowned Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Lazuli Bunting, House Finch, Lesser and American Goldfinch. Rufous-crowned Sparrow may be seen on the rocks along the river.
Birds that come to this area and breed during the summer include Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Bullock’s Oriole.
SPRING AND FALL MIGRANTS: During the months of migration in these foothills, there can be many surprises. The more expected species are Rufous Hummingbird, Willow Flycatcher and Pacific-Slope Flycatchers, Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. There are numerous warblers: Yellow, Wilson’s, Black-throated Gray, and Townsend’s.
WINTER: During this season, the Tuolumne River hosts Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Common Goldeneye, and Ruddy Duck. The trees have Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
RARE AND UNCOMMON BIRDS: Yellow-breasted Chat can be found in the willows at the extreme western end of the trail; it has also been observed by the bridge and by the rusty gate up the hill. Barrow’s Goldeneye can sometimes be located with Common Goldeneye. Red-breasted Sapsucker is an infrequent visitor to the oak trees. Lawrence’s Goldfinches have been sporadically reported by the bridge. Varied Thrush may be found moving along the hillside. White-throated Sparrow has been found near the bridge, associating with White-crowned Sparrows.