Monthly Bird Survey at Ellis Creek: March 2019

by Mar 23, 2019Bird Survey, Miles & Teresa Tuffli, News

Hi! We’re Miles and Teresa Tuffli of I’m Birding Right Now. We are PWA members and bird survey volunteers. Below is an in-the-field recap of March’s Ellis Creek bird survey. Check back for future reports!

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.

This past Monday, March 18, 2019, our committed group of bird surveyors convened at first light, and the dark blue sky greeted us with the prospect of a clear morning. This month’s count leader, Craig Roth, gathered the group and we set out at sunrise.

Early bird-ers

Bird survey sunrises – a treat every time!

The theme of the day was “Spring is in the Air!” This Common Yellowthroat belted out its version of “wichity-wichity-wichity” for all to hear.

The group was lucky to be joined by two Sonoma State University seniors!

Raquel and Audrey

Smiling certainly goes hand in hand with singing birds in spring!

[L-R] Rob, Len, JJ, Patti, Craig, Cynthia, Malcolm, Mary, Miles, Raquel, Audrey (not pictured – Gene & Teresa)

A prominently perched male Anna’s Hummingbird gave us a variety of looks.

Anna’s Hummingbird

At last month’s survey at Shollenberger Park, the Song Sparrows had just begun to sing. These songsters were out in force this month at Ellis Creek.

Song Sparrow mid-song

In this spectrogram, you can clearly follow along with the two or three staccato intro notes followed by an extended buzz and then a quick jumble of buzzes, whistles and trills.

The yellow above this Savannah Sparrow’s eye caught the morning light nicely.

Savannah Sparrow

Winding our way around to the first reedy ponds

Check out this side-by-side comparison of an adult and juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron. If you focus on plumage alone, these could appear to be two different species. However, when you consider the shape, posture, and bill of the bird, it’s easy to tell they’re one and the same. Notice how the adult has a red eye, while the juvenile’s is orange.

Black-crowned Night-Heron adult and juvenile

The Night-Herons treated us to some fantastic flying looks all morning. We spotted upwards of 10 in the air at a time!

Black-crowned Night-Heron

This Red-winged Blackbird took flight, but not before repeating an interesting call akin to a grocery store scanner beeping.

Red-winged Blackbird

An early distant sighting of a flying American Bittern enthused the group, so imagine our delight when another flew directly at us!

American Bittern

Our compiler Len was taking our photo in the happy afterglow of this Bittern encounter, when suddenly a sound distracted and excited Miles…

Miles and Teresa

It was the Bittern’s breeding “oong-ka-choonk” vocalization emanating from the reeds directly beside us!!!!

A small ephemeral pond provided some up-close looks at Least Sandpipers foraging and preening.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Also in the mix was a Greater Yellowlegs, giving us just a peek at its namesake body part.

Greater Yellowlegs

A Killdeer otherwise blended in nicely at the edge of the water, but its reflection gave it away!


Atop a dead snaggy tree perched a male Great-tailed Grackle making this ringing call.

One particular vocalization surrounded us throughout the day – listen here to a swarm of acrobatic Tree Swallows zipping this way and that.

Tree Swallow

Len gave us a look into one of the nesting boxes.

Tree Swallow nest box

Here’s audio of a single bird near the nest box.

Tree Swallow

Intrepid bird surveyor Gene Hunn trekked through some wet grass to get a better look at some birds.


“What did ya see, Gene??”

Along the southeast edge of the facility, our ears perked up at a long-awaited song coming faintly from the willows.

It was our first Wilson’s Warbler of the season! We’ve been on the lookout (and listen-out) for him in our neighborhood the last couple weeks, so we beamed from ear to ear when we caught a glimpse of him here in the willows!

Wilson’s Warbler… or as we like to call him, “Willy Warbs”

Spring was in the air for mammals as well. We observed these Black-tailed Jackrabbits chasing, frolicking, and mating out in the open.

Black-tailed Jackrabbits

There’s life to observe in every direction at the vibrant wetlands habitat that is Ellis Creek!

Birds here, there, and everywhere!

It’s no surprise we saw high numbers of Canada Geese, with many already pairing up for breeding season.

Canada Goose

However, we also observed their smaller and lesser-seen cousin, the Cackling Goose. The white collars of these individuals denote the Aleutian subspecies.

Cackling Geese

As we traversed the homestretch, keen eyes spotted an elusive sight for the day – regular count leader Andy LaCasse!

[L-R] Cynthia, Miles, Andy, Len, Malcolm, JJ, Gene, Craig, Audrey

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for our first spring count! By the end, the team had tallied 82 species. In the following days, four additional species were located by team members returning to Ellis Creek, bringing the grand total to 86 for PWA’s March 2019 survey.

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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