The Carmel River/Pt. Lobos Important Bird Area incorporates three distinctive areas to form an IBA of exceptionally high avian diversity.  The Carmel River lagoon and riparian corridor just upstream are world renowned as a migratory hot-spot for waders, ducks, raptors, and landbirds.  With over 350 species recorded within this "Carmel River mouth" area, migratory bird diversity is among the highest in California.  Just to the south, rocky Pt. Lobos juts out into the Pacific, featuring important seabird colonies and the "greatest meeting of land and sea in the world."  Inland, in the northern reaches of the Santa Lucia Range, the lower Carmel River watershed and the adjacent San Jose Creek watershed provide a mosaic of diverse habitats --redwood canyons, riparian forest, oak woodlands, chaparral, and grassland --that provide the highest breeding bird diversity in all of Monterey County, form Spotted Owls to Golden Eagles to Yellow-breasted Chats.

Ornithological Summary

The Carmel River mouth, which flows into Carmel Lagoon and out to sea through Carmel State Beach, attracts an amazing diversity of migrants. The riparian corridor is exceptionally attractive to migrant landbirds, and within northern California its species count is matched only by the Big Sur River mouth to the south and Pt. Reyes to the north. Carmel Lagoon - now under active restoration by State Parks - has an oceanic element and a freshwater element. The lagoon at the ocean provides major roosts and bathing for California Brown Pelicans and for gulls and Elegant Terns in season. The sandy shore hosts a wintering flock of threatened Snowy Plovers. Vagrants of continental importance here include Little Curlew and Terek Sandpiper. The freshwater lagoon - now under restoration in an old artichoke field - now attracts many wintering ducks and migrant raptors.

Pt. Lobos and its rocky shoreline and small islets is very different. The Brandt's Cormorant colony on Bird Island is the second largest in California, and in good years may hold up to 4% of the world's breeding population and 7% of California's population. California Brown Pelican nested here for a half-century (1927-1954) and huge non-breeding roosts now form annually in summer and autumn. Other breeding seabirds and waders include Pigeon Guillemot, Western Gull, and Black Oystercatcher. Once a ranch and dairy, a climax Monterey pine forest has now been restored at this famed State Reserve.

The Monterey County Breeding Bird Atlas (Roberson & Tenney 1993) found that an biological hot-spot was centered in the northern tip of the Santa Lucia Mountains (p. 420-421). Featured sensitive species here include Spotted and Long-eared Owls and Purple Martin (redwood canyons), Golden Eagle (oak woodland), White-tailed Kite (coastal grassland), Tricolored Blackbird (somewhat irregular colonies, depending on water levels, in interior grasslands), and Yellow Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat (riparian corridor).


1. Roberson, D. 2003. Monterey Birds, 2nd ed. MPAS, Carmel.

2. Roberson, D., and C. Tenney. 1993. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Monterey County. MPAS, Carmel.

3. Baldridge, A. 1973. The status of Brown Pelican in the Monterey region of California: past and present. W Birds 4:93-100.

4. Sowls, A. L., A. R. DeGravge, E. S. Lester, and J. W. Nelson. 1980. Catalog of California seabird colonies. U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Prog FWS?OBS 37/80.

5. Carter, H. C., G. S. McChesney, D. L. Jacques, C. S. Strong, and M. W. Parker. 1992. Breeding populations of seabirds on California 1989-1991. U.S.F.W.S.

6. Boekelheide, R. J., D. G. Ainol, H. More II, and T. J. Lewis. 1990. "Brandt's Cormorant" in seabirds of the Farallon Islands (Ainley: Boekelheide, eds), Stanford University Press, Stanford CA.

7. Roberson, D. and R. Roberson. 1987. Carmel River bird survey. Unpublished report for my Pen Water Management District and Environmental Impact Planning Corp., 319 11th St., San Francisco.

8. Williams, B.D.C. 1998. Distribution, habitat associations, and conservation of Purple Martin in California. M.S. thesis, California State University, Sacramento.

9. Roberson, D. ed. Various dates 1990s/200s. Monterey County compilations of Tricolored Blackbird surveys for Cal Fish and Game, California Audubon.

10. Page, G, and L. Stenzel. 1981. The breeding status of the Snowy Plover in California. W. Birds 12:1-10.

11. Page, G. W., M. A. Stern, and P.W.C. Paton. 1995. Differences in wintering areas of Snowy Plover from inland breeding areas of Western North America. Condor 97:258-262.

Conservation Issues

Most of this IBA is preserved without immediate threats (beyond loss of funding in State and Regional Parks). Ground water extraction was a serious threat to the Carmel Rover, which supplies most of water to Monterey Peninsula, but water district intermediate court ordered to heavily reduce to preserve steelhead and riparian forest of Carmel River. San Clemente Dam, the lower dam on the Carmel River, was scheduled to be removed in 2014 and the riparian habitat there is scheduled for restoration. This site is included as the eastern tip of the IBA. After restoration, it is planned that the 928 acre site will be transferred to BLM for management and public access.


The coastal areas west of Hwy 1 are almost entirely within public protection: Carmel River State Beach (297 acres) includes the beach. Carmel River lagoon, and the restoration area, and is fully including within the IBA; Pt. Lobos State Reserve (554 acres) includes the point offshore islets, and some areas east of Hwy 1 that are included within the Reserve.Hwy 1 divides coastal areas from inland areas of this IBA; there is a small residential development ("Carmel Meadows" along Ribera Rd.) that overlooks the Carmel River lagoon restoration area (locally known as "Odello Lagoon") to the north.The Carmel River - riverbed and both banks, with heavy riparian vegetation - forms the nothern boundary of the IBA. Its ownership varies from place to place but is throughout public land within the river itself, with much private ownership on either bank, but public land within Carmel River SB and within Garland Ranch Regional Park.The remainder of the diverse habitats of Hwy 1, and south of the Carmel River are public land or protected areas. These include:<ul><li>Pt. Lobos Ranch (1312 acres)&nbsp;</li><li>Palo Corona Regional Park (4300 acres)&nbsp;</li><li>Mitteldorf Preserve (1057 acres)</li><li>Santa Lucia Preserve (about 2/3 of the 20,000 acre Preserve is included in the IBA, for ~1300 acres) The southern boundary of the IBA is drawn to exclude most of the "golf trail." The lands managed by the Conservancy include the headwaters of San Jose Creek and Garzas Creek.&nbsp;</li><li>Garland Ranch Regional Park (4462 acres)&nbsp;</li><li>Private lands (perhaps 2000 acres?) south of the Carmel River west of Garland Ranch Regional Park and east of Carmel River SB.&nbsp;</li></ul>


<ul><li>Freshwater Carmel River and tributaries with riparian forest (lower 19 miles of Carmel River)</li><li>Freshwater San Jose Creek and tributaries with riparian forest and Redwood canyon&nbsp;</li><li>Sandy Beach at Carmel River SB and rocky shore at Pt. Lobos&nbsp;</li><li>Monterey Pine Forest at Pt. Lobos&nbsp;</li><li>Mix of Grassland oak woodland, chaparral inland&nbsp;</li><li>Minor amount of residential and commercial development&nbsp;</li><li>A few small freshwater ponds</li></ul>

Land Use

Almost 90% of the IBA is preserved as a Park, Preserve, or Land Trust, much of it in near-wildness status (a few roads, not open to public). Pt Lobos State Reserve and Carmel River State Beach are heavily visited by tourists. Santa Lucia Preserve has scattered luxury residential development; there are a few suburbs and a golf course south of Carmel River.

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