Birding in the North Lake Tahoe Region of Placer County - Bruce Webb
To get to the birding spots around Lake Tahoe, you must drive east on I-80 to the town of Truckee and turnoff onto Hwy 89. Truckee is in Nevada County, but shortly, you will reach Placer County at West River St. The Truckee River drains Lake Tahoe and is a good area for American Dipper. A few good pullouts for the Ouzel are at Granite Flat Campground, Goose Meadows Campground. The river is at approximately 6000-ft. elevation. Continue along Hwy 89 past the strange lodge that looks like a monument to Duracell batteries.
Squaw Valley- Soon you will pass the entrance into Squaw Valley. If you want, you can go to the ski area and take the ($16) tram ride to the top, where, in summer, a short hike will take you to the cliffs where Gray-crowned Rosy Finches nest. But, if you are looking for woodpeckers, Sooty Grouse and other high-elevation species, return to Hwy 89 and visit Alpine Meadows.
Alpine Meadows- Continuing toward the Lake on Hwy 89, the next major turnoff is into Alpine Meadows Ski area. As you cross the bridge over the Truckee River, look for American Dipper right there at the bridge. As you leave Hwy 89, take a mileage at the turnoff. In 0.7 miles the road makes a split. Take the right fork and park immediately. In the meadow, Black-backed, White-headed woodpeckers have nested in the dead trees 30 feet off the road. Also, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Evening Grosbeak and other passerines nest along the meadow edge. A hike through the meadow will lead back to where American Dipper nests along the creek. From the paved road, to the south, on the slope behind you, Sooty Grouse can be heard booming in spring and summer in the morning or evening.
Continue up to the Ski area if you wish, but the best birding is in this meadow.
Lake Tahoe Birding Hotspots
Return to Hwy 89 and on to Tahoe City. In town, you can turn right, cross "Fanny Bridge" (figure it out) and Highway 89 will take you to South Lake Tahoe. After you pass Homewood Ski area, the next community of is Tahoma on the Placer / El Dorado county line. If you turn down into the residential area, you can reach the shoreline and a pier.
In Tahoe City, if you turn left onto Highway 28 (aka North Lake Boulevard) you will be going along the Tahoe's North Shore. But, while still in town, next to the Tahoe City Fire Station is the sign that directs you to the road down to Commons Beach where there are usually lots of loafing gulls.
Return to Highway 28 and go Northeast.
Watch for and take the turnoff down to the community of Lake Forest, and turn into Coast Guard road. Park your car in the parking lot for Robert Pomin Park Soccer Field. On the far side of the field is the Lake Forest Campground. A walk along the edge of the Soccer field and in the campground can be good for migrants. The first county record of Black-and-white Warbler was found here in Fall 2009 The fields in this area often have mixed flocks of White-crowned, Brewer's and Chipping Sparrows. In Winter,Hooded Mergansers can be found in the boat cove next to the condominiums. Scan the lake for Common and Pacific loons and all three species of mergansers from the boat launching area.
Return to Lake Forest Drive, and take the right turn onto Bristlecone St. (which has no bristlecones) but there IS a beautiful grove of aspen trees and picnic tables and viewing from lake-level. Willows along the creek are good for migrants.
Return to Lake Forest Drive and turn right and then watch for Aspen Street (which seems to have no aspen grove -- nor any bristlecones, for that matter). Here you can either go to the end and park and look from a high vantage point. Or you can turn left shortly before the end of Aspen St. into Skylandia Park West Entrance and park and walk to another higher vantage point. Between August and October of most years, Sabine's Gulls, and Common Terns can be seen offshore. Occasionally Red Phalaropes, rare Arctic Tern and Long-tailed Jaeger have also seen from this spot.
The highest spot for the most distant viewing is found at the west end of Edgewater Drive. To get there off Lake Forest Drive, turn east onto Meadowbrook Drive and then the first right onto Lassen. Take Lassen down to Edgewater Drive. Turn right to the viewing area, high above the water. After viewing from here there are a few other pullouts along Edgewater Drive that give you interrupted views of the lake between homes. At the east end of Edgewater Drive there is a nice stand of manzanita and a trail.
Continuing east on Highway 28, you will see signs for occasional Winter Play and Sports areas such as Cross Country Ski areas (e.g. the Fabian Way and Lakeview Ski areas). So much of the Tahoe area is private land, that these public areas offer good birding for forest species.
Returning to lake birding, continue east. You are allowed out on to the public pier at Gar Woods in Carnelian Bay. It is behind the Gar Woods Restaurant. Also a nice view of Carnelian Bay is from the Gate Bay Sun and Beach Club parking area, and all these pullouts deserve a short stop to see what waterbirds might be in near the shore. In recent years, single Red-necked Grebes have been seen at off the Gar Woods and Kings Beach areas.
At Kings Beach you can turn left and take Highway 267 for the 12-mile drive to Martis Creek and Truckee. However, just past the turnoff is a public beach, that usually has a dozen or so gulls and people loafing on the beach.
As you head North away from the lake on Highway 267, you will soon reach Brockway Summit where you may take the turnoff to Mount Watson, a long, scenic drive excellent for Williamson's Sapsuckers, Black-backed Woodpecker, Evening Grosbeaks and distant views of the Lake. In winter this side road may be closed. The road takes a turn south to the beautiful Watson Lake.
Returning to Highway 267, descend the summit and, shortly on the right is a turn that takes you to Martis Peak. Within a half mile after leaving the Highway 267 via good dirt road, an aspen grove on the right had both Williamson's Sapsuckers and Hairy Woodpeckers nest here. The most conspicuous woodpecker on Martis Peak is Williamson's Sapsucker and this is undoubtedly the best area in Placer County for this bird.
Watch for the turnoff into the Northstar Ski Resort. Turn immediately into the Real Estate Parking lot. On both sides of the road, you might notice a few conifers with sapsucker sapwells. Williamson's are also here. Farther along, an area of good birding is in the residential area that fronts the golf course. Often "Type 2" Red Crossbills can be heard flying over in this area and Mountain Bluebirds fringe the huge meadow area that borders the sagebrush flats.
Martis Creek Wildlife Area:As you reach Martis Creek, along Highway 267, you are in the most extensive area of sagebrush that Placer County has to offer. Wintering raptors such as Rough-legged Hawk, Prairie Falcon, and Merlin can be seen right from the wide shoulders of the Highway 267. Mountain Bluebirds assemble in small flocks here in Spring and Fall. Get off Highway 267 at the sign for Martis Creek Wildlife Area. While most of the lake is in Nevada County, the drive through the surrounding sagebrush in Summer is good for Green-tailed Towhee, Vesper and Brewer's sparrows. A hike upstream is worthwhile.
Here is a reasonable place to end your visit to Placer County. From Truckee it about 28 miles to the beautiful and bird-rich Sierra Valley north on Highway 267. From Truckee it is about 100 miles back to Sacramento.
Click the map to return to Bruce's Placer County Birding Site
Good Birding !
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