STRING-OF-PEARLS PARKS, STANISLAUS RIVER:
OAKDALE RECREATION AREA
DIRECTIONS: From Modesto, take Claribel Road east to Albers Road [J14], and then turn north. Keep going north through Oakdale to River Road. Turn left on River Road and travel for 0.5 miles, and then turn left onto Liberini Road. You will come to the park boundary in another 0.5 miles. From Manteca, drive east on Yosemite Avenue (Highway 120) to N. Ripon Road. Turn right and go south for 2.5 miles. Turn left onto River Road and drive another 15 miles to Liberini Road, where you will turn right, going another 0.5 miles to the park boundary. The paved road ends here. A turn-out to the left puts you in front of the larger of two ponds. You may park here and walk to the second pond and the Stanislaus River. There is a restroom at this turn-out.
BIRDS: The first pond has Black-crowned Night Heron and Great Egret. The second pond usually hosts a Green Heron; this is one of the more reliable spots for this species in the county. Mallard, Wood Duck, and other waterfowl can be seen in the larger pond. The small marshy area in the second pond has had Virginia Rail, Common Yellowthroat, and Song Sparrow. The weedy fields nearby are good for Lesser Goldfinches. Check the willows around the ponds for migrating warblers, vireos, and flycatchers. Look for Spotted Sandpiper, Belted Kingfisher, and Killdeer along the riverbank.
The dirt road continues out onto a narrow peninsula into a wide spot in the Stanislaus River. The river is slow-moving in this area and gives the impression of a very large pond. Aquatic plants grow in the shallows on both sides of the road that extends out on the peninsula. The end of the road offers views of the more open water of the river. The shallows are good for Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue and Black-crowned Herons, Wood Duck, and Pied-billed Grebe. Virginia and Sora Rails have occasionally been here. Swallows, including Northern Rough-Winged, are present in spring and summer.
Ospreys are attracted to this area and can often be found roosting, and possibly nesting, in the cottonwoods that tower above the other plant life. Along the edges of the river, in the willow, oak, cottonwood, grasses, you can expect to find birds typical of other riparian areas in the county.
This site is a favorite for local fishermen, and strikes me as being unique in that the riparian areas are more sparsely treed than are the other riparian sites mentioned. Although no rare birds have been recorded from this area, it is seldom visited by birders. Perhaps more species can be found if the birding were to increase there.
ORANGE BLOSSOM RECREATION AREA
DIRECTIONS: Orange Blossom Recreation Area is located on the Stanislaus River, approximately 4 miles east of Oakdale. From Oakdale, proceed eastward on Highway 120. At the Orange Blossom Road turnoff, turn left and continue on Orange Blossom to Rodden Road just past the bridge over the Stanislaus River. Turn left onto Rodden Road, and the entrance to the parking lot will be immediately on your left. There is no entrance fee. The gate is opened at 6:00 a.m. and closed at sunset. There are restrooms and a water fountain at the parking lot. The picnic area may be crowded on summer weekends, and the park is a terminus for rafting trips on the Stanislaus River. Early morning birders, particularly on weekdays, will encounter far less disturbance. A trail leads from the parking lot and picnic area downstream along the river. After crossing a small footbridge, the trail continues for .5 miles, ending near the intersection of McLeod and Rodden Roads.HABITAT: The picnic area has a number of large walnut trees. Many of the trees in this park support clumps of mistletoe that attract many birds when berries are ripe. There is a narrow strip of riparian habitat along the river accessed by taking the trail downstream from the west end of the park. Valley oak and Fremont cottonwood are the dominant
large trees. Other trees and large shrubs include several species of willow, California sycamore, box elder, button willow, interior live oak, and elderberry. Patches of sandbar willow are present, including one directly across the river from the parking lot. Check these willow patches carefully, especially during migration. Beginning about halfway down the trail, after the portable toilet, dense patches of blackberry and wild grape begin to appear. These thickets can be good for sparrows in winter. YEAR-ROUND BIRDS: This park is home to many birds typical of riparian habitats. Along the river Wood Duck, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Osprey, Green Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, Belted Kingfisher, and Black Phoebe are all possible. Riparian forest birds include Red-shouldered Hawk, American Kestrel, Anna’s Hummingbird; Acorn, Nuttall’s and Downy Woodpeckers; Northern Flicker, Western Scrub-Jay, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bushtit, Western Bluebird, American Robin, Spotted Towhee, Lesser and American Goldfinches, Bewick’s and House Wrens.
SUMMER: Summer breeding birds include Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Western Kingbird, Tree Swallow, and Bullock’s Oriole.
WINTER: In winter, the year-round avifauna is joined by a number of wintering sparrow species including White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Lincoln’s, and Fox Sparrows, as well as Dark-eyed Juncos. Flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers are common, and the occasional Orange-crowned or Black-throated Gray Warbler may also be found. Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Cedar Waxwing can be frequently observed. Phainopepla occurs here from fall through early spring. Bald Eagles may be seen along the river during winter.
SPRING AND FALL MIGRANTS: This park is excellent during migration, hosting Willow and Pacific-slope Flycatchers; Yellow, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Gray, Nashville, Townsend’s, and Wilson’s Warblers; Cassin’s and Hutton’s Vireos; Western Tanager, and Black-headed Grosbeak.
RARE AND UNCOMMON BIRDS: Some uncommon to rare species that have been found at this park include Brown Creeper, Yellow-breasted Chat, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, and White-throated Sparrow.
VALLEY OAK RECREATION AREA
DIRECTIONS: Valley Oak Recreation Area is located 2.4 miles west of Orange Blossom Recreation Area on Rodden Road. It is also possible to reach this park by taking Rodden Road from its intersection with State Highway 120 on the west end of the town of Oakdale. There is a stoplight at that intersection approximately 4 miles from that intersection to the park. The gate is opened at 6:00 a.m. and locked at sunset. There is a parking lot. Primitive restroom facilities are located along the trails; there is no drinking water.
Two trails lead from the parking lot toward the river. The two trails are parallel to one another, and both lead to a trail that follows the river. Taking the trail on the left (facing the river), you can then turn left at the river, and that will lead you to a loop that follows the river for a short distance, then leads away from the river and back to the parking lot. Along the way, a slough is visible that may be worth checking for Wood Duck and egrets. Take the trail on the right, then turn right at the river. The trail follows the river, passing through a primitive campground accessed only by boat. The trail reaches private land, and then loops to the right through oak habitat back to the parking lot. This loop is approximately 0.25 miles in length.
HABITAT: Riparian habitat is less developed at this park than at other parks along the Stanislaus River. However, there is a nice stand of valley oak woodland through which the principal trail travels. Fremont cottonwood joins valley oak as a dominant tree at this park. There is relatively little willow here, located mostly around the slough mentioned above. Elderberry, grape vines, blackberry and mistletoe are other important plants.
YEAR-ROUND BIRDS: The relatively short stretch of trail along the river provides fewer opportunities to observe birds using the river, but it may be possible to see Belted Kingfisher, Wood Duck, Great Egret, Green Heron, and Black Phoebe along the river. The riparian oak woodland has Red-shouldered Hawk; Acorn, Nuttall’s and Downy Woodpeckers; Northern Flicker, Western Scrub-Jay, Yellow-billed Magpie, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bushtit, House Wren, Spotted Towhee, Lesser and American Goldfinches. Western Bluebirds and American Robins are often seen on the lawns and open pastures adjacent to the park.
SUMMER: Summer breeders, in addition to year-round residents, include Tree Swallow, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Bullock’s Oriole.
WINTER: Winter birds include the typical wintering sparrows of the region: White- and Golden-crowned Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Junco. Potential wintering warblers include Yellow-rumped Warblers, with the occasional Black-throated Gray and Townsend’s. Hermit Thrush and Ruby-crowned Kinglet are frequently observed.
SPRING AND FALL MIGRANTS: The large oaks and cottonwoods at this park attract many migrants, including Willow and Pacific Slope Flycatchers; Yellow, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Gray, Nashville, Townsend’s and Wilson’s Warblers; Cassin’s and Hutton’s Vireos, Western Tanager, and Black-headed Grosbeak. An occasional Nashville Warbler can be found with mixed flocks.
RARE AND UNCOMMON BIRDS: Brown Creeper may be seen here rarely during winter.
McGillivray’s Warbler has been found in the brush during migration.
HONOLULU BAR RECREATION AREA
DIRECTIONS: Honolulu Bar Recreation Area is 2.3 miles east of Orange Blossom Recreation Area on Orange Blossom Road. Drive east on Orange Blossom Road toward Honolulu Bar, and after about 2 miles, you will notice a large thicket of willows on the right (south) side of the road. This thicket is about 0.3 miles in linear extent, and the parking area for Honolulu Bar is at its east end. The parking lot has a primitive restroom, and there are picnic tables near the parking lot.
There are no developed trails at Honolulu Bar. For that reason, this park is not visited often by birders. Nevertheless, one may find good birding in the riparian habitat near the parking lot and picnic tables. The aforementioned willow thicket is excellent habitat, but it is difficult to access. It is possible to walk along the edge of the thicket for some distance from the parking lot, but the vegetation is dense and portions of the thicket are flooded at times. Another way to bird this thicket is to walk from the parking lot back along Orange Blossom Road itself. Birders who do this must be very careful, as the shoulder is narrow and traffic may be passing at high speed.
HABITAT: The willow thicket is composed primarily of a dense growth of sandbar willow. Other willows are present, and larger trees such as Fremont cottonwood and valley oak are found along the river’s edge and adjacent to the parking lot. Several standing dead trees provide perch sites for woodpeckers, raptors, and other birds that may be found along the road.
BIRDS: This park has many of the same birds as would be encountered at the other Stanislaus River parks. There is relatively little river access and trails, perhaps accounting for the low rate of visitation by birders. The most interesting feature of this park is the extensive willow thicket described above. Lazuli Bunting and Yellow-breasted Chat have been reported from this thicket during the summer, and Western Tanager in migration. There are likely to be other interesting birds at this location.
HORSESHOE ROAD RECREATION AREA
DIRECTIONS: Horseshoe Road Recreation Area is located 2.8 miles east of Orange Blossom Recreation Area on Orange Blossom Road. One may access this park from two locations: the parking lot reached by taking the turnoff at the sign, and a broad gravel shoulder with space for many cars located an additional 0.2 miles east on Orange Blossom Road. Many people fishing in the pond use that shoulder for parking. The parking lot at the park’s entrance is not visible from the road, and there have been isolated instances of vandalism or break-ins, an issue to be aware of at some other isolated parking lots along the river. The parking lot may be crowded during the rafting season.
From the parking lot, a dirt road follows the edge of the river to a campground, a distance of about .4 miles. About halfway down this road, a trail leads to the left which continues to Orange Blossom Road, where there is parking along the shoulder. This trail follows the west side of the large pond, while the dirt road travels between the pond and the Stanislaus River to the campground. If one is accessing the area from the shoulder on Orange Blossom Road, the trail (and some steps leading to the trail) is located at the west end of the parking area. Primitive restrooms are located at the parking lot and at the campground; there is no drinking water.
HABITAT: A strip of riparian habitat extends along the edge of the river and forms a block of woodland between the dirt road and Orange Blossom Road. Dominant trees in this forest are valley oak and Fremont cottonwood. Interior live oaks, elderberry, wild grape and willows are also present. Clumps of sandbar willow are found along the edges of the pond. The pond includes significant open water habitat, and also fringing wetlands with cattails and tules.
YEAR-ROUND BIRDS: Horseshoe Pond provides excellent habitat for a number of water birds, including Pied-billed Grebe, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Virginia and Sora Rails, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great and Snowy Egrets, American Bittern, Mallard, and Wood Duck. Osprey, Belted Kingfisher, and Black Phoebe are frequently seen here and along the river. Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, and Spotted Sandpiper may be seen on the river. Marsh vegetation lining the pond provides habitat for Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Marsh Wren, Song Sparrow, and Common Yellowthroat.
Riparian forest birds include Red-shouldered Hawk, Anna’s Hummingbird; Acorn, Nuttall’s and Downy Woodpeckers; Northern Flicker, Western Scrub-Jay, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bushtit, House and Bewick’s Wren, Wrentit, American Robin, Spotted Towhee, Lesser and American Goldfinches.
SUMMER: Summer breeding birds, in addition to year-round residents, include Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Tree Swallow, Bullock’s Oriole, and Black-headed Grosbeak. Forster’s Tern may be seen on the pond during summer and migration.
WINTER: Ducks such as Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, and American Wigeon may be seen on the pond during winter. American White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants are regular. Wintering riparian birds include White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Lincoln’s and Fox Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos. Yellow-rumped Warblers are common, and the occasional Orange-crowned or Black-throated Gray Warbler may also be found. Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Cedar Waxwing are frequently observed. Phainopepla occurs here from fall through early spring. Bald Eagles may be seen along the river during winter.
SPRING AND FALL MIGRANTS: The riparian forest at this park is very good during migration. Willow and Pacific-slope Flycatchers; Yellow, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s and Wilson’s Warblers; Cassin’s and Hutton’s Vireos, and Western Tanager may all be seen.
RARE BIRDS: Uncommon and rare birds reported from this park include Great-tailed Grackle, Black Tern, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Lazuli Bunting. A Yellow-throated Vireo was found at the campground in 2010.
KNIGHT’S FERRY RECREATION AREA
DIRECTIONS: If you are coming from the west, take Hwy 108/120 east. Turn left at Kennedy Road and then left again at Sonora Road. Go over the bridge to the T intersection and turn right, then right again, into the Visitor Center parking lot. (There are also parking lots on the south side of the river before the bridge.) From the east, take Hwy 108/120 west and turn right at Sonora Road, then take the first right after the diner to cross the bridge (Sonora Road is to the right. If you go straight, it becomes Kennedy Road.)
From the Visitor Center, head northeast along the ruins of the old gristmill. Take the dirt road that heads east. This road splits soon after it begins. If you continue heading east, the trail continues uphill for about .5 miles to the park boundary overlooking the river. If you go south to the right, the road takes you to the covered bridge over the Stanislaus River, where volunteer trails continue to meander along the rocks on the southern part of the river. If you go back over the new bridge from the parking lot and cross the river, you can pick up the Russian Rapids Trail. This trail begins at the southwest side of the new bridge and follows the river downstream towards Russian Rapids for a mile.
HABITAT: Knight’s Ferry consists primarily of two major ecosystems, riparian and blue oak savannah.
BIRDS: If you take the trail uphill, the first cluster of brushy trees on the left is a reliable location for Rufous-crowned Sparrows, which can often be heard singing in the spring. To the right, on the down-slope side of the trail toward the river, there is excellent habitat for Rock Wren and Rufous-crowned Sparrow anywhere along this trail. Watch for Acorn Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Sapsucker, and Phainopepla. Also listen for Canyon Wren, often found near the steeper rocks by the river, near the covered bridge or the old gristmill.
About .25 miles up this road, there is a primitive restroom. Just past this, the uphill slopes (valley oak savannah) have occasionally yielded Lewis’s Woodpecker. Along this stretch of road, there are many side trails down to the river. Bald Eagle and Osprey may be seen from here. White-throated Swifts are often found foraging above the river. American Dipper has been found infrequently during the winter around the rapids upstream.
If you walk back south across the covered bridge, take a trail to the right just after crossing the river and head through the thicker riparian areas and picnic areas. The trees are excellent for several species of woodpecker (Nuttall’s, Acorn, Downy, Northern Flicker, and occasionally Red-Breasted Sapsucker). Varied Thrush has been found by the Visitor Center. The willows on both sides of the river should be checked for migrating warblers, flycatchers, and vireos in the fall and spring. Eventually, you will end up back at Sonora Road south of the river.
The Russian Rapids Trail continues west from Sonora Rd. on the south side of the river. This area includes a mix of riparian and grassland habitats, and is a good place for swallows (Tree, Violet-green, Northern Rough-winged) and sometimes Wild Turkey. The trees and shrubs near parking lots on both sides of the river should be checked for Lesser Goldfinch, Lark Sparrow, and Western Kingbird in the summer. In 2005, a Sage Thrasher was found in the field northwest of the river. This field is private property, so it must be scanned from the road.