Field Trip: Northern Sonoma Coast

Date: Saturday May 12, 2012

Time: 8:30 AM

Trip report added on 5/21/2012. (NSAS Event)


Leader: Lisa Hug

Trip Report: Thirteen participants joined enthusiastic guest leader Lisa Hug for a morning of birding along the coast and a afternoon of birding along Willow Creek Road. It was cool with overhead foggy blocking out the sun for most of the trip. We headed to the Russian River to look for water birds. Keith Gish decided the walk on the sand was not for him and he headed a short distance to the top of the sand dunes for a view of the ocean. He later reported startling a eagle and it took flight. We were greeted by the sight of this third year Bald Eagle being bombarded by a unhappy Raven. The eagle flew across the river, landing on a cypress tree on the hill. Later on the same hill, Michael Baucom from Citrus Heights, spotted a raptor on the hill, which Lisa identified as this year hatched Red-tailed Hawk. Michael came on this field trip with his brother Troy who is taking up birding again. Troy is going get back in the groove in no time. Lisa pointed out mergansers, grebes, cormorants and gave a lesson on identifying Common Loons. Just as the group was headed out to the coast, Sue Johnson spotted a small bird in the water which Craig Cummings promptly identified as a Red-necked Phalarope. The group rushed back to look at this solitary bird as it made it’s way to the sand bar.

We trudged our way on the sandy beach, working our way to the mouth of the Russian River We stopped to view hundreds of Western Grebes and Surf Scoters. On a distant guano cover rock sticking out of the sea, Lisa pointed out Brandt Cormorants on nests. These are large cone shaped nests. Double-crested Cormorants also build similar nests where as Pelagic Cormorants prefer to build this nest on rocky crags.

Someone spotted a whale. We all eagerly look to verify the sighting and were rewarded to the frolicking of a mother Gray Whale with her calf. Don Wong and David Kassel clicked away as mother and calf breached several times. The whales were near the mouth of the Russian River and were clearly seen where the river water pushed into the sea, causing white water. They seemed to enjoy being in brackish water. Young seals sun bathed on the sandy banks near the mouth of the river and groups of Western and Ring-billed Gulls gathered.

We drove to the opposite end of the park with an overlook. From here I spotted a Black Oystercatcher and Jim Walsh found another one, perhaps the same bird on another rock as we had our lunch. From this parking lot Lisa pointed out Pigeon Guillemots. After lunch the group took a hike along the bluff overlooking the sea and spotted a pair of Peregrine Falcons as they swooped in, attempting to catch Red-necked Phalarope on the water. Lisa was excited seeing about 30 Common Murres on Gull Rock. This is her breeding bird sector.

In the afternoon we drove up Willow Creek Road and looked for and found forest and riparian birds. Will and Karen German from Madrone Audubon was on this trip with us. They were viewing Red and Yellow Hot Poker Plants in bloom. They reported seeing Purple and House Finches, and Allen Hummingbirds attracted to the poker plants. We all spent some time checking out the finches and a Black-headed Grosbeak came in to feed. Here we saw swallows, phoebes, quails, marsh wren and a buck deer.

The trip ended at 3:30 PM.

Bird list (60 species): Canada Goose, Mallard, Surf Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, California Quail, Red-throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Western Grebe, Clark's Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Brandt's Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Black Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Red-necked Phalarope, California Gull, Western Gull, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Band-tailed Pigeon, Allen's Hummingbird, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Western Scrub-jay, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Bushtit, Bewick's Wren, Pacific Wren, Marsh Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Wrentit, Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, California Towhee, Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Brewer's Blackbird, Purple Finch, House Finch, American Goldfinch.

Pre-trip Description: We will start at 8:30 am in the lower parking lot Goat Rock State Beach, located at Goat Rock Road, Jenner, CA 95430. This is at the mouth of the Russian River and is incredibly scenic. Bring many layers of clothing, lunch and water.

Goat Rock State Beach is a wonderful place for loons, grebes, raptors, and gulls. Occasionally, Marbled Murrelets are seen from shore and Bald Eagles are possible at the mouth of the Russian River. After exploring Goat Rock State Beach, we will continue to Willow Creek Road with a variety of habitats. If time allows, we might visit a few other places along the Sonoma Coast. The field trip will end around 2:00 PM.

Lisa Hug is a naturalist and birder from Sebastopol. She has been a ranger at Point Reyes National Seashore in the past and is currently an independent biological contractor and freelance naturalist. She teaches a variety of bird-watching classes for a few different organizations. Click here to visit Lisa's web site for more information.

Directions: For carpool drivers and others, Goat Rock State Beach is on Highway 1, about 2 miles south of Jenner. It is 1.3 miles south of the intersection of 116 and Highway 1. Click here for a Google Map.

From Napa (Sweeney’s) take CA-12 / CA-121 towards Sonoma. Turn right on CA-116; left on Stage Gulch Road / CA116; turn right onto Lakeville Hwy CA 116W [becomes Lakeville St] ; turn left on to E Washington St [becomes Bodega Ave] which becomes Valley Ford Rd / CA-116W; turn slightly left on to Hwy 1 / CA-1; turn left on to Goat Rock Rd. From Vallejo {Baskin Robbins} take CA-37. Turn right onto Lakeville Hwy CA 116W [becomes Lakeville St] ; turn left on to E Washington St [becomes Bodega Ave] which becomes Valley Ford Rd / CA-116W; turn slightly left on to Hwy 1 / CA-1; turn left on to Goat Rock Rd.

submitted on April 27, 2012, at 04:32 PM PST

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