This IBA is centered on Pt. Sur, a major promontory about 30 miles south of Monterey, and encompasses a collection of unique natural features of the northern "Big Sur Coast". At its north end, near the famous Bixby Creek Bridge is Rocky Point, and south along the coast are Castle Rock and the islets offshore of Hurricane Point. Moving farther south, there is a small estuary at the Little Sur River mouth, then the Pt. Sur promontory itself, and then the mouth and floodplain of the Big Sur River, protected within Andrew Molera State Park. The coastal slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains, protected with three State Parks and a portion of Ventana Wilderness, rise to a 3400' ridge above the coast and form a backdrop to this IBA, whose vegetation represents an intersection of northern-mesic and southern-arid. Deep canyons hold stands of Redwood and the riparian corridor along the Big Sur River represents one of the few mature cottonwood-willow forests along the Central Coast. This IBA reaches inland for 3 miles (to Pico Blanco) or upward to the 2600' (~800m) elevational gradient (~2625'), whichever is less, on its eastern border. It includes the Anderson Creek mouth at its southern end. The Ventana Wildlife Society has maintained the Big Sur Ornithology Lab bird-banding station near the Big Sur River mouth since 1991, and oversees the recovery program for the California Condor on the Central Coast.

Updated by Monterey Peninsula Audubon, September 2008

Ornithological Summary

The primary release site for the California Condor recovery program on the Central Coast is at Anderson Peak in adjacent Santa Lucia Peaks IBA, but the primary foraging and roosting areas are within this Big Sur IBA. Three wild nests were initiated here in 2008, all in canyons near the coast. Several pairs of Peregrine Falcon breed along the coast. Western Snowy Plovers have nested at Pt. Sur, and often roost in winter at Little Sur River mouth, which also holds an important roost of Brown Pelicans and gulls, in season. The Hurricane Point/Castle Rock colonies of Common Murre are the southernmost regular breeding colonies in the eastern Pacific, and support large colonies of Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants, and Pigeon Guillemots. Ashy Storm-Petrel, Cassin's Auklet and Tufted Puffin breed in smaller numbers when conditions are optimum. The colonies of Black Swift at Rocky Pt. and at McWay and Anderson Creeks are among the very few coastal colonies extant. Species diversity within this IBA is among the highest in North America, with over 390 species at Big Sur River mouth/Pt. Sur area alone (fide D. Roberson). The lower Big Sur River hosts a large number and diversity of migrant landbirds (e.g., BSOL bands 300-499 Yellow Warblers each year in migration) and a significant movement of raprots has been noted in spring and fall (e.g., avg 5000 Turkey Vultres/season)

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Conservation Issues

This IBA is managed for conservation by California State Parks (Andrew Molera, Pfieffer-Big Sur, Julia Pfieffer Burns) and by the National Forest Service (Los Padres NF and Ventana Wilderness). Only a few locales (such as Rocky Pt.) are in private hands, but almost all of these are within the jurisdiction of the Coastal Conservancy. There are concerns about the invasion of Starlings competing with Purple Martin. Fire is an ever-present danger: a substantial part of this IBA was burned in the summer 2008 Basin Complex fire.


This IBA is being carefully monitored and managed for conservation by California State Parks and the Ventana Wilderness Sanctuary. Big Sur Land Trust has acquired key coastal prairie parcels


Hwy. 1 crosses the Little Sur River, which forms small estuary at the Pacific; the grassy headlands of Pt. Sur; and finally the floodplain and mouth of the Big Sur River. The Santa Lucia Mtns. form the backdrop to this IBA, whose vegetation represents an intersection of northern-mesic and southern-arid, with Desert Spiny Lizard and yucca thriving a few feet from Coast Redwoods and Banana Slugs. The vegetation along the Big Sur River represents one of the few mature cottonwood-willow forests along the Central Coast.

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