Relaxation: Bird Watching


When I left my house this morning, I was startled to see a pair of black eyes, a small beak, and graceful grey-tan head peering out at me from under the eves. It was a morning dove that, along with its mate, had been making what I thought to be a foolhardy attempt to build a nest directly across/above my front door earlier in the week. Well, I guess I was wrong; it looks like we have new neighbors! And today I thought, that settles it, this week I will write about bird watching in Sonoma County.

While this morning’s encounter felt a little too close, it is not unusual to observe birds in our own backyards. Here in Sonoma County, there is a rich tapestry of wildlife. While many people enjoy feeding and watching the flashing colors of hummingbirds, still others feed quail and junko, even designating their land as a backyard wildlife habitat. (see National Wildlife Federation) In every corner of Sonoma County you will encounter bird neighbors. When I lived in Rohnert Park, every night the snowy egrets would come home to nest in our trees, and now in Santa Rosa, every night the crows settle in the redwoods in our backyard.


Birds, like other animals, have a range or environment that suits them best. It is not uncommon to see overlap, but generally you will find a different set of birds along the river, in the marshes, in the dry brush, and at the ocean. There are some familiar songs which pepper the air with notes to create the score we hear on a daily basis: blue jay, quail, and redwing blackbird. Depending on the type of bird you fancy, I would suggest exploring different microclimates to see native and visiting inhabitants:

  • from turkey vultures cutting graceful circles in the sky, riding currents above the hills and valleys, hawks and other birds of prey,

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  • to the graceful blue heron and egret, hunting frogs and fish along the Russian River,

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  • to the gulls, cormorants, pelicans, and sandpipers of the ocean,

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  • to songbirds and garden birds like towhee, sparrows, and finch,

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  • to brush dwellers like quail or turkey,

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  • to the occasional spotting of a woodpecker or an owl.


Some good places to watch include: Spring Lake Park, the hills above the Russian River, the ocean and Jenner, along the Russian River, and along the Petaluma River.

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One place that definitely deserves a visit is Shollenberger Park in Petaluma off the Lakeville exit on South McDowell Blvd. Over the past year I have been coming to this park (part of the pacific flyway) almost daily, often in the mornings and afternoon. This 165-acre wetlands park is an excellent location to walk, run, and enjoy bird watching. In my time at the park, I have been lucky enough to see migrating and local ducks, geese, Canadian geese, swans, lots of beautiful redwing blackbirds with their striking crimson lapels and cheerfully captivating song, as well as coots, and three or four different sandpiper-type birds. I’ve even seen turtles. Right now you can still see fuzzy ducklings and goslings learning how to follow and swim. For a more educated way to understand the birds and their habitat, check out PRBO, located just outside of one of the park entrances. They offer educational programs open to the public including a monthly Bird and Conservation Walk. See (They also offer important information on care and feeding of wild birds.)


Here is this week’s list of birds seen at Schollenberger posted by PRBO:

  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Cedar waxwing
  • Yellow warbler
  • Least sandpiper
  • Greater yellowleg
  • Black-necked still
  • Dunlin
  • Black-necked still
  • Cinnamon teal
  • Northern shoveler
  • Green heron
  • Pacific golden plover
  • Green-winged teal
  • Ruddy duck
  • Long-billed dowitcher
  • Eared grede
  • Short-eared owl
  • Wilson’s phalarope

To be fair, I’m no ornithologist, but after a lifetime of enjoying the sights and sounds of Sonoma County, I can definitely recommend a day at play, relaxing, and watching the beauty of birds.  The ability to soar into to the blue above has made the bird an everlasting symbol of freedom, and there is something very satisfying about watching both the life cycles and patterns created by birds.  

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Many people bring bird identification books, binoculars, cameras, hats, tripods, and other gear. I find, however, that all that is necessary is a hat, a camera with a good zoom, water, walking shoes, and a sense of curiosity. (See SCBWS, or Sonoma Birding)  So get out there, take a hike, have a picnic and relax, accompanied by the sights and sounds of the birds all around us.

by Nadja Masura

Readers, can you help us identify these mystery birds spotted in Sonoma County?

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