Even though we don't get snow in Santa Barbara, the winter months still bring unique opportunities for wildlife observation. Below are five ways you can take advantage of the shorter days, cooler weather, and other seasonal changes in the local outdoors.
1. Go birdwatching at a nearby beach.
Winter is a great time to observe birds in the ocean or on shore. You may see migratory species unlikely to be found during other seasons, and in addition, the lack of crowds on the beaches makes birdwatching easier. In addition to beaches, Lake Los Carneros, Carpinteria Salt Marsh, and the Goleta and Devereux Sloughs may provide good birdwatching opportunities this winter.
2. Get outside at night.
Since it's dark earlier this season, there's not a more convenient time to go on a night hike or walk. Start around sunset, when some nocturnal and crepuscular (active mainly at dawn and dusk) animals are starting to come out and diurnal animals are settling back in for the night. Owls in particular are animals you should look for this season because they tend to be more active and vocal around their nesting season, which is late winter or early spring.
3. Go camping.
If you have a weekend free, go camping for a night or two in an area such as Upper Oso Campground off Paradise Road. Although camping is a great way to observe wildlife at any time of year, going in winter means the weather won't be too hot to hike and the campground won't be full or chaotic. Bring a bright flashlight and search for nighttime wildlife in empty sites and at the edges of the campground. For the best wildlife potential, choose a site on the outside of a loop that backs up to an undeveloped area, not another site.
4. Watch wildlife feast on berries.
Toyon, or California holly, is a native shrub found in chaparral, coastal sage scrub, and oak woodland habitats. You can recognize it during the winter because of its bright red berries. Before the berries are gone, find a toyon tree near you and observe the birds that it attracts. These include mockingbirds, scrub jays, and sometimes even a Cedar or Bohemian waxwing. In addition to toyon, other trees and shrubs such as pyracantha also tend to attract birds and other animals this time of year.
5. Observe migrating whales.
Winter is the season when California grey whales migrate south to Baja California, passing through Santa Barbara coastal waters on their way. The best vantage points to observe them from land are bluffs, such as at El Capitan State Beach, Ellwood, More Mesa, the Douglas Family Preserve, or the Carpinteria Bluffs.
Image credits: Shorebird, owl, tent: The Skunk Corner. Cedar waxwing: Becky Matsubara, Creative Commons CC BY 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/beckymatsubara/23559297110. Gray whale tail: Roland Tanglao, Creative Commons CC BY 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/roland/4696185901