Friday, May 24, was the bimonthly bird survey at Ellis Creek for the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance (PWA). A cloudy but pleasant morning greeted us at 7 AM. Vibrant greenery from recent rains made for a beautiful walk around the park.
Amid another busy breeding season, this female Red-winged Blackbird watched her surroundings closely.
While the birds busily built nests, tended to young, and sang their hearts out, us humans kept our pace slow and easy.
This female Great-tailed Grackle collected nesting material.
Meanwhile, this male perched on an interpretive sign and let loose with some characteristically noisy honks, squeaks, and whistles.
Great-tailed Grackles have an amazing arsenal of vocalizations – here are two different calls heard throughout the day.
Tree Swallows are a staple at Ellis Creek in spring, and many nest boxes were in use. This adult kept a look out while perched above a nearby youngster.
New life around the wetlands makes our spring surveys extra exciting! We observed many recently fledged young, including Song Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Bewick’s Wrens, Tree Swallows, and Canada Goose goslings.
This Marsh Wren nest was one of many in the tules. Male Marsh Wrens build multiple “dummy” nests throughout breeding season, so many of these nests aren’t actually used by a female to lay eggs.
According to the research database Birds of North America, ornithologists postulate several theories for dummy nest-building: to provide shelter for future young; to demonstrate the male’s fitness; and perhaps most ominously, to counter the destructive behavior of other Marsh Wrens. Marsh Wrens are known to destroy the nests and eggs of other breeding pairs, so each dummy nest constructed by a Marsh Wren may serve as a decoy or as a backup plan in case its active nest is demolished.
An aggressive defender of its breeding territory, the Marsh Wren would never dream of allowing us – or any other creature – to pass by without loudly proclaiming ownership of its turf.
This hidden individual sang from the reeds.
We encountered a Mute Swan on its nest, with its mate swimming just 15 feet away.
Three American Bullfrogs kept their eyes peeled.
Birds weren’t the only ones showing off their new young! The group was lucky to observe a family of Striped Skunks rustling through the vegetation before heading into their den. This was the last of several kits headed underground.
Hmm, wonder what everyone was so interested in…
… A Western Kingbird nest! We spotted a second nest later in the day. Western Kingbirds are a species in which only the female incubates eggs, so we assume this is Mama’s tail here below!
Her mate perched vigilantly in a nearby oak.
The two Western Kingbirds periodically called while we studied them.
In front of some tules posed this regal Great Blue Heron.
This crisp Savannah Sparrow sang several rounds of his song to declare his domain.
Notice the prominent, high-pitched, insect-like buzz towards the end of his song – this is characteristic of Savannah Sparrows.
We also observed this pair of Savannah Sparrows sitting a foot apart, “chip“-ing back and forth to each other.
The two individuals followed each other around, calling constantly. You can also hear a third Savannah Sparrow singing in the distance.
Farther down the road, we encountered a juvenile Savannah Sparrow. It sat quietly in a tree, presumably waiting on its parents to come by with a meal.
Fledglings, nesting birds, a family of skunks, and fine company – there’s no better way to soak up the lively energy of a spring morning! By the end of the morning, the team had tallied 61 species. In the following days, five additional species were located by team members returning to Ellis Creek, bringing the grand total to 66.
This has been your in-the-field recap of the PWA’s May 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 [email protected]