California 2014

We had a great trip! Read about it here:  2014 Southern California Trip Report

Heteromyid Grand Slam

Southern California is a beautiful country, blessed with various versions of Mediterranean climate, excellent road network, splendid protected areas system, and very high mammalian diversity. Among its 170+ mammal species there are numerous endemics and near-endemics (those shared only with Baja and/or Northern California). Heteromyid rodents (kangaroo-rats and pocket mice) reach their highest diversity here, with 21 species and a few highly distinctive subspecies. Many widespread terrestrial mammals are easier to see here than elsewhere, and some are represented by distinctive local races, such as the golden race of the American beaver and the small, wetland-adapted race of elk. Southern California is also one of the best places in the world to see marine mammals, with easily accessible rookeries, huge concentrations of unusually diverse cetaceans, and tame animals such as sea otters and California sea lions occurring in city harbors.


We designed this trip to run in September, when perfect weather is practically guaranteed, high-elevation roads are open, the seas are not as rough as in other months, and unbelievable numbers of marine birds and mammals feast on immense krill blooms above Monterey Submarine Canyon. The dates are chosen so that we can avoid the summer heat, not have to worry about early onset of winter storms, and avoid moonlight (Heteromyid rodents tend to be very difficult to see on moonlit nights). It will be still hot in early afternoons, so we’ll use them to move between sites. Nights will be mostly cool, but the first few hours after sunset should be sufficiently warm to see many of California’s beautiful reptiles. Virtually all local birds will still be present, and many northern migrants will be passing through. It just so happens that we’ll have a chance to see virtually all “local specialty” bird species, because we’ll cover all main habitats. We’ll explore lowland and upland deserts, palm canyons, coastal and montane chaparral, Central Valley grasslands, oak and Joshua tree woodlands, pine-oak, mixed conifer and fir forests, groves of giant redwoods and sequoias, riparian habitats and alpine meadows. Those interested in botany will have a chance to see many of California’s unique trees and desert plants, as well as some fall-blooming wildflowers. There will be some amazing scenery as well.

The trip will include two whale-watching trips, so blue and humpback whales will be all but guaranteed and many other species will be seen. People who would prefer to do just one whale-watching trip and fly home on the afternoon of the 21st or on the 22nd instead of the 23rd will have such an option. Warm clothes will still be needed, because it can get really cold at sea if you hit a fog bank, and one of our sites is at high elevation, but shorts and sunblock will be more important pieces of gear.

This is an intense trip, although most drives between sites are less than three hours long, and there is only one hike that is not very easy (longer than 2 miles round-trip and with considerable elevation gain). There will be a lot of night driving and spotlighting on foot, and in a few cases we’ll have to have dinner very late, or buy it in advance and eat in the van. On a few occasions we might have to stay in motels that are rather rustic. Everybody will have to be reasonably well-organized and very enthusiastic. However, on most days there will be no need to get up particularly early, and we’ll usually have breakfast and lunch in civilized conditions. One night will be spent in an old Catholic mission located in a remote, virtually uninhabited military area, while another night will be at hot springs surrounded by bucolic grasslands.

Please join me and Vladimir Dinets, author of upcoming Peterson guide Mammal-watching in North America,  on this great adventure!

Dates: September 13-21 (optional extension to Sept 23), 2014

Cost, double occupancy: $2,350.00 (plus $300 for the extension)

Group Size: 6 plus leaders.

Contact me (fiona.reid7243 at for the detailed itinerary and reservation form

Naturalist | Author | Illustrator