Moore Creek Preserve
This 246-acre property, owned and managed by the City of Santa Cruz, welcomes hikers only, from sunrise to sunset. It offers excellent grasslands on a series of marine terraces (with wonderful wildflower displays in early spring), oak woodland, mixed evergreen forest, and scrub in Moore Creek Canyon and a second smaller canyon. The grassland terraces provide spectacular views of the coast and bay.
Directions. A northern access to this preserve at the west end of Meder St has no parking lot, but you can park along the street nearby. For this access: from Hwy 1 (Mission St) take Western Dr north for 1.0 mile. Turn right on Meder St and park, then walk west (back across Western Dr) about 0.3 mile to the west end of Meder St to enter the preserve. Look for birds along the way where the road dips and crosses a wooded drainage, the east branch of Moore Creek. From the preserve entrance a trail crosses the canyon of the west branch of Moore Creek and connects to large grasslands in the western part of the reserve. A southern access to the preserve is on Hwy 1 directly across from Shaffer Rd. Take Hwy 1 west for 0.3 mile from Western Dr, turn left (south) onto Shaffer Rd and park (space limited). Cross the busy highway carefully to enter the preserve’s network of trails. Trail maps are usually available at both entrances.
Birds. A main attraction is birds that favor the grassland and grassland/woodland edges. From the Hwy 1 entrance, a dirt road climbs to the first terrace (becoming the Prairie View Trail) and continues north for about a mile through coastal prairie habitat. Savannah Sparrow and Western Meadowlark are resident, and Grasshopper Sparrow nests in small numbers. Western Kingbird is present during spring, and Say’s Phoebe is regular in fall and winter. The area has a wide variety of raptors all year, and Ferruginous Hawk has been found occasionally in late fall and winter. Wintering Burrowing Owl have been seen here, and watch for Short-eared Owl. Vaux’s Swift forages over the grasslands in spring and summer. Winter blackbird flocks may include Tricolored Blackbird. One December a Sandhill Crane visited the grasslands for several days!
To reach the woodland edge along the margin of Moore Creek Canyon, take the Vernal Ridge and Terrace Loop Trails, which branch off the Prairie View Trail. In the northwestern portion of the preserve the Vernal Ridge Trail passes through rocky grassland notable for its excellent bird habitats and interesting wildflowers. Lark and Chipping sparrows may be found along the woodland edges, although these have become scarce in recent years. Other breeders along the margins of the grassland are Ash-throated Flycatcher, Violet-green Swallow, and Lazuli Bunting (sporadic).
The woodland of the canyon margins merges into mixed evergreen forest dominated by Douglas-fir. More oak woodland, some scrub habitat, and some moist live oak forest grow along the Moore Creek Trail, which branches off the upper part of the Prairie View Trail and continues across the canyon to the Meder Street entrance. The woodlands host a wide variety of species, in season: Band-tailed Pigeon, Acorn, Nuttall’s and Hairy woodpeckers, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Hutton’s and Warbling vireos, Oak Titmouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Varied Thrush, Orange-crowned and Townsend’s warblers, and Purple Finch. In the scrub habitat look for Wrentit, California Thrasher, Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds and Fox Sparrow. In some years Great Horned Owl and Red-tailed Hawk have nested in a group of eucalyptus trees in the middle of Moore Creek Canyon.