In the winter and early spring time, visit the Panoche Valley and Panoche Hills for mountain bluebirds, mountain plovers, curlews and several raptor species. Tri-color blackbirds throng in the Panoche Valley in the spring - other common species include loggerhead shrike, prairie falcon, ferruginous hawk and horned lark.
In the Fort Ord National Monument you will find common landbirds such as the California quail, chukar, California towhee, acorn woodpecker, western scrub-jay, wrentit, California thrasher, Hutton's vireo, and tri-colored blackbird. Rails and several species of heron populate the vernal pools on the former Fort Ord in the wetter months.
The nearby coast offers some of the best birding available in North America. Here you will find sea and wading birds, including loons, cormorants, jaegars, grebes, scoters, pelicans, snowy plovers, sanderlings, dunlins, western and Bonaparte's gulls, and Caspian terns.
Traveling inland towards public lands in the Diablo Range, you may surprise a flock of wild turkeys as you drive Coalinga Road in southern San Benito County. Roadrunners, yellow-billed magpies, and turkey vultures are frequently sighted. Golden and bald eagles are also seen. Other raptors which frequent the rolling grasslands and surrounding chaparral include northern harriers white-tailed kites, merlins, and Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks.
The San Benito Research Mountain Natural Area offers an interesting assemblage of species because of the elevation. At 5,247 feet, San Benito Mountain is the highest mountain in the southern Diablo Range and you might be surprised to see or hear a black-chinned sparrow. Clark's nutcrackers have been seen near San Benito Mountain. Other species found here include the sage sparrow, mountain quail, Cassin's finch, Townsend's solitaire, Oregon junco and Audubon's warbler.
Hernandez Valley Tule Elk herd.
Throughout the Field Office area you may be lucky to spot the black-tipped tail of a mountain lion as it glides out of sight, or perhaps you'll see a bobcat or red or grey fox. Other common mammals found in this area include coyotes, ground squirrels, black-tailed deer, racoons and skunks. Badgers are not so commonly seen, but these large, fierce mammals make their homes throughout the lands managed by the field office.
For those of you interested in spiders, October is the season to look for tarantulas migrating. As you travel the back roads of southern San Benito County watch for these large spiders as they walk across roads and fields.
Tarantula on the trail.
Unusual and rare animal species include the San Joaquin kit fox, the giant kangaroo rat, the San Joaquin antelope squirrel, and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. The kit fox, characterized by its small size, black-tipped tail and huge ears, is a nocturnal species favoring the Panoche Valley and edges of the Panoche and Tumey Hills. Groups of little haystacks around burrows, called "precincts", are evidence of the work of the giant kangaroo rat - this nocturnal animal clips grasses and stacks them outside its burrow to dry the seeds for later storage underground. The blunt-nosed leopard lizard is an animal (about 18 inches from nose to end of tail) which will run on its hind legs when running for safety. Watch for it as you travel on Panoche Road which bisects its habitat in the Panoche Hills and Tumey Hills.
Rattlesnakes and gopher snakes are common - watch out for and avoid hitting them as they stretch across roadways and trails to warm themselves in the sun.
Rattlesnake moves among the rocks.
Rarer amphibians and reptiles include the southwestern pond turtle, yellow- and red-legged frogs, and the two-striped garter snake. The animals inhabit many of the riparian corridors in the Hollister Field Office area. In fact, the perennial streams draining from the New Idria serpentine block surrounding San Benito Mountain are some of the few places in California where yellow-legged frogs are still common.
Yellow-legged frog in a pond.