Monthly Bird Survey at Ellis Creek: July 2019

by Aug 5, 2019Bird Survey, Miles & Teresa Tuffli, News

Tuesday, July 23, was the bimonthly bird survey at Ellis Creek for the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance (PWA). The fog was burning off just in time as we set out at 7 AM.

Looking southwest toward Olomapli State Historic Park – foggy

Looking southeast – all clear

At the previous Ellis Creek survey in May, we observed two nesting pairs of Western Kingbirds. Much to our delight, this juvenile Western Kingbird greeted us as we set off on the path!

Western Kingbird juvenile

Just look at that remnant of a gape, the crisp feathers, and the beautifully subtle yellow belly.

Western Kingbird juvenile

Though we only saw a single juvenile in this tree, it sounded like there was another nearby. The slightly descending begging calls and light “pip“-s were a treat to hear.

The gang posed for its traditional group shot…

[L-R] Deb, Cynthia, John, Andy, Sharon, Len, JJ, Dave, Peter, Rob, Teresa (not pictured – Miles)

… which was no small feat, considering this is what the group typically looks like!

How does that phrase go…? “It’s like herding birders”???

This young Downy Woodpecker was a nice surprise in the coyote brush. The red on the top and front of its head indicates a juvenile male; an adult male’s red patch is restricted to the back of the neck (aka the “nape”).

Downy Woodpecker juvenile

This American White Pelican flew by gloriously close.

American White Pelican

Though a fairly common sight around the Petaluma wetlands, the stately Great Blue Heron is picturesque every time.

Great Blue Heron

As beautiful as the Great Blue Heron is, the same might not be said of its croaking flight call!

Hmmm, this Pied-billed Grebe sure looks poofy on its back… Oh! That’s because 30 seconds prior, a tiny chick hopped up and tucked in under its parent’s wing – looks cozy!

Pied-billed Grebe

The group encountered a Marin/Sonoma Mosquito & Vector Control District employee collecting mosquito surveillance traps, presumably to test for vector-borne diseases.

All in a day’s work!

This month yielded a brand new species for the Ellis Creek surveys – Wild Turkey! Two adults are prominent in this photo. But, take a closer look… can you see the camouflaged young birds (known as “poults”)?

Wild Turkeys

Green Herons are skulky by nature, so it was nice to spy this colorful adult sitting out in the open.

Green Heron

The ever-elegant Black-necked Stilt is the opposite of skulky, and plenty waded about conspicuously.

Black-necked Stilt

A lone Caspian Tern flew by quite low over a Barn Owl box.

Caspian Tern

It treated us to a closer look as it doubled back around. Those angular wings make it look like it came right out of a stapler!

Caspian Tern

As we walked by a pond lined with reeds, an insistent call emanated from within.

After many minutes of searching, we finally located the source – and boy, were we glad we persisted. It was a Marsh Wren fledgling, and we had the pleasure of watching it get fed!

We apologize in advance for this barrage of photographs of the youngster – they were all too cute not to post!

Marsh Wren fledgling

Marsh Wren fledgling

Marsh Wren fledgling

Marsh Wren fledgling

Marsh Wren fledgling


Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming with this Song Sparrow foraging along the pond’s edge.

Song Sparrow

This Snowy Egret performed a one-legged balancing act.

Snowy Egret

Watch closely in this video for a classic foraging method used by Snowy Egrets called foot-stirring. Foot-stirring is the act of quickly vibrating a leg and foot to stir the mud and water in order to stab at prey that reacts to the disturbance.

We want to give a shout-out to the newly published Petaluma Wetlands Field Guide. Thanks to this terrific book, we identified the reeds below as Common Tule/Bulrush, and learned that they help control erosion and filter water contaminants in these treatment ponds. Get your copy of the Field Guide today!

Ellis Creek in summer

An Ellis Creek survey wouldn’t be complete without a hunkered-down Black-crowned Night-Heron sighting.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

As we rounded the last bend, we spied an American Crow making off with a tasty crawfish meal.

American Crow

Nearby, this Northern Mockingbird performed its characteristic “wing-flashing” behavior. Although ornithologists haven’t concluded why a mockingbird performs this wing dance, it is speculated that abruptly flashing its large, white wing-patches may startle insects and/or serve as a territorial display.

Northern Mockingbird wing-flashing

By the end of the morning, the team had tallied 70 species. In the following days, an additional species (Long-billed Dowitcher) was located by a team member returning to Ellis Creek, bringing the grand total to 71 for PWA’s July 2019 survey – the highest July species count in 10 years!

This has been your in-the-field recap of the PWA’s July bird survey. These monthly bird surveys are just one of the many ways the PWA fulfills its mission statement:

Dedicated to the stewardship, restoration, and expansion of wetlands and associated wildlife habitats.

We’re Miles and Teresa Tuffli of I’m Birding Right Now. We are PWA members and bird survey volunteers. Check back for future reports!

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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Let us know what you think…




    Absolutely marvelous photo- video report on the survey day.

  2. Deb

    Fabulous reporting! Always a joy to bird with you both, Teresa and Miles!

  3. Eric W Scholz

    Great job folks! Good photos and storytelling.

  4. Sharon Mansfield

    I enjoyed the lively commentary of each photo as well as the bird sounds. Great reporting. Nice shot of the Kingbird youngster.


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