Monthly Bird Survey at Ellis Creek: January 2019

by Jan 29, 2019Bird Survey, Miles & Teresa Tuffli, News

Hi! We’re Miles and Teresa Tuffli of I’m Birding Right Now. Last year, we began volunteering for the PWA’s bird surveys. It’s been so much fun that we decided to document them. Below is the second of these installments. If you missed the first, you can read our December recap here. We’ll keep you up to date with an in-the-field perspective from these monthly counts – check back for future reports!

Friday, January 18, 2019 was the monthly bird survey at Ellis Creek. As you know, the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance is “dedicated to the stewardship, restoration, and expansion of publicly accessible wetlands and associated wildlife habitats.” Its monthly bird survey (alternating each month between Shollenberger Park and Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility) is just one of the many ways the PWA fulfills its mission statement. Tracking the number of bird species (as well as numbers of individuals within each species) provides valuable data that directly reflects the health of the wetlands habitat.

January’s survey was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but was rained out due to a series of storms. On Friday, the prospect of a rain-free day greeted the team.

Birders at Ellis Creek bird survey

[L-R] Eugene, Patti, Andy, Craig, Malcolm, Mary, Teresa, JJ, Len (not pictured – Miles)

When we arrived, everyone was eager to start counting species for the day though there was barely any light. Two Barn Owls flew in and out of the trees near the parking lot – one of the first species of the day!

Birding at Ellis Creek at dawn, Petaluma, California

Birding by streetlight

The early bird gets the worm, and the early birder gets the lovely sunrise.

Oak tree sunrise at Ellis Creek

Sunrise at Ellis Creek

Armed with scopes, ‘nocs, and 10 pairs of eyes – we set off on the trail to survey the scene.

Birders at sunrise at Ellis Creek

And off we go!

This Turkey Vulture eyeballed us from its perch as we passed by.

Turkey Vulture at Ellis Creek

Turkey Vulture

Birding at Ellis Creek, Petaluma California

Teresa’s on something!

Along the edge of the first seasonal pond, a group of Long-billed Dowitchers foraged while quietly chatting about the menu selection.

As we rounded the corner toward the reedy ponds, we enjoyed a nice look at this Pied-billed Grebe in the soft morning light. In their non-breeding plumage, we like to call them “Peanut-buttered Grebes.”
Pied-billed Grebe at Ellis Creek

Pied-billed Grebe

This adult Black-crowned Night-Heron was doing its best impression of an evil henchman.

Black-crowned Night Heron at Ellis Creek

Black-crowned Night-Heron

But wait – we also caught this Great Blue Heron doing its best impression of a Black-crowned Night-Heron doing its best impression of an evil henchman!

Great Blue Heron at Ellis Creek, Petaluma, California

Great Blue Heron

The group encountered these feather remains alongside the trail. Speculation was they were from a Eurasian Collared-Dove. The swift work of a Cooper’s Hawk, perhaps?

Feathers of dead bird at Ellis Creek, Petaluma California

Whose feathers are these?

Our group split into two, and we joined Gene to cover a side trail. We noticed a distant perched raptor and homed in on it.

Eugene Hunn and Miles birding Ellis Creek, Petaluma, California

Gene and Miles checking out the mystery raptor

It turned out to be the Peregrine Falcon that Len had earlier spotted in the distance. It was nice to get a closer look.

Peregrine Falcon at Ellis Creek

We see you, Ms. Peregrine!

Gene picked out a lone Forster’s Tern sitting on the mudflats, and the three of us were delighted when two more flew nearby.

Forster's Terns at Ellis Creek

Forster’s Terns

As we headed back to meet the group, several Killdeer called loudly from the soggy fields.

We then came across some Least Sandpipers preening in the morning sun.

Least Sandpipers at Ellis Creek

Least Sandpipers

Ellis Creek is a great place to see a wide variety of ducks. This survey we counted 13 species: Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, and Ruddy Duck.

You may have already noticed we have a fondness for duck butts. Can you tell which pair of dabblers this is?

Gadwall duck butts at Ellis Creek

Whose duck derrières are these?

We joined up with the rest of the group as the sun finally poked through, providing nice light for photographs.

Birding at Ellis Creek, Petaluma, California

Mary, Malcolm and Teresa

The Great Egret is a common bird around the Petaluma wetlands, but a stunning one nonetheless!

Great Egret at Ellis Creek

Great Egret

This American Pipit vocalized from a tree, which was interesting since they’re more commonly seen on the ground.

American Pipit at Ellis Creek, Petaluma, California

American Pipit

The team made it back to the parking lot to say their goodbyes. However, it’s always hard to stop birding – really, when are we ever not birding?? A few of us set off to scour the parking lot for some last minute species to add to the tally.

Birding at Ellis Creek

Can’t. Stop. Birding. Umm… you passed your truck, Craig!

Wetlands are great, but birds frequent parking lots too.

Western Bluebird at Ellis Creek

Western Bluebird

This Ruby-crowned Kinglet posed beautifully and showed off all the field marks differentiating it from a Hutton’s Vireo.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Ellis Creek,

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

A flock of Bushtits floated through the willows, but not before this adorable male stopped to show off his plumage.

Bushtit at Ellis Creek, Petaluma, California

Bushtit (male)

By the end of our Friday count, the team had tallied 80 species. On Saturday and Sunday, 11 additional species were located by team members who returned to Ellis Creek, bringing the grand total to 91 for PWA’s January 2019 survey.

It was another enjoyable day collecting data for the PWA. High numbers of bird species indicate a healthy wetlands habitat, making for happy bird surveyors!

Birding Ellis Creek bird survey with leader Andy LaCasse in Petaluma, California

With count leader Andy LaCasse

If you have any questions about this particular count or if you’re interested in participating in future counts, please contact the coordinator/compiler for these surveys, Len Nelson, at


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