Big Sur. Condors. Birding.
Andrew Molera State Park
The biggest state park in the Big Sur area,
Molera is a good place to begin exploring the coast south of Carmel.
It has twenty miles of mostly flat trails along rivers, through
redwoods and giant meadows, up to ridges, and down to
driftwood-covered Pacific beaches. It is also a birderís paradise.
This premier birding locality has been designated as a globally
important bird area by the National Audubon Society of California,
the American Bird Conservancy, and California Partners in Flight.
For the best birding, take the one-mile trail on
the north side of the Big Sur River from the main parking area to
the beach. Youíll have the opportunity to see woodpeckers,
flycatchers, vireos, and warblers. Many rare and unusual birds have
also been seen in this park.
Molera is home to the Big Sur Ornithology Lab.
Their biologists are dedicated to the conservation of birds and
other wildlife. They share their dedication and inspiration through
their intern program, seminars for school groups, and outreach at
the Molera research station. Visitors are welcome. For details about
lab hours and group bookings, visit
During our visit to the research station, young
biologists showed us how they trap, identify, and band birds. During
the peak migration season, they catch and process ninety to one
hundred birds per day. Our demonstrator was so gentle that when she
released the bird, it stayed in her open hand for a few moments
before flying away.
Although condors are seen at Molera, we had to
travel farther down the coast to find them, first looking in Julia
Pfieffer Burns State Park, and farther south to a Highway 1 scenic
turnout. And there they were, soaring high above the ridges, along
with turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks.
Our leader, noted birder Bruce Elliott,
identified the condors. He told us that while a vulture has wings
that turn up at the tip, the condorís wings are more rectangular. He
called them "flying pool tables." They also are big, with up to
According to Bruce, in the 1970s only 28
California condors were found in the wild. They were captured and
nurtured. Today, an estimated 133 condors fly in the wild, and more
than 300 fledglings are ready for release.
Our final stop in Big Sur was at the famous
Nepenthe restaurant, where I enjoyed the view and the almost equally
famous "Ambrosiaburger." I gobbled up that burger, not unlike a
hungry condor. It was good.
Andrew Molera State Park is at the junction of
Highway 1 and Old Coast Road, 22 miles south of Carmel. Parking is
$8. It opens at 8 a.m. Dogs are not allowed on trails. Bikes are
permitted on Ridge, Beach, Trail Camp, and Creamery Meadow trails.
Horses are not allowed on Hidden, Headland, or Spring trails. For
more information, call 831-667-2315, or visit www.parks.ca.gov.