Big Sur. Condors. Birding.

Andrew Molera State Park

Neil Wiley

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 nine-and-a-half-foot wingspreads.

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


(c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 mountain network news All rights reserved.