Hi! We’re Teresa and Miles Tuffli of I’m Birding Right Now. We are PWA members and bird survey volunteers. Below is an in-the-field recap of April’s Shollenberger Park 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.

Ahhh, spring at Shollenberger Park – what a wonderful time to be a bird survey team member for the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance (PWA). The team gathered early Monday morning, April 22, for the bimonthly bird survey, and what a beautiful morning it was! We arrived at 6:45 AM to find the sky glowing softly and count leader Andy LaCasse already hard at work amidst the bucolic backdrop.

Andy in the early morning light

A beautiful Pied-billed Grebe in breeding plumage greeted us from the water. Its tidy, white eye-ring complements the black band around its ivory-colored bill.

Pied-billed Grebe

The morning light illuminated these Gadwalls perfectly.

Gadwall male (L) and female (R)

Speaking of Pied-billed Grebes, as the group walked east Andy pointed out this one sitting on a nest. Studies show that both Pied-billed Grebe parents incubate eggs – wonder which parent this is?

Pied-billed Grebe on nest

Pied-billed Grebe eggs in nest

A spring morning with great visibility is a recipe for seeing many birds. What did the group see down this first stretch of the park?

Andy and team

A male Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage – look at that incredible shade of blue on its bill!

Ruddy Duck

An American Avocet sitting on its concealed nest. As with Pied-billed Grebes, both American Avocet parents take turns incubating.

American Avocet on nest

This Black-necked Stilt showing off its good side… ah, who are we kidding? They’re all good sides!

Black-necked Stilt

Listen below to be transported to this moment in time at Shollenberger. It begins with an American Avocet, and a Black-necked Stilt joins in at 0:09 seconds.

On this month’s survey, the team counted 79 Mute Swans at the park – a record high since 2006 when 92 swans were recorded. These non-native Mute Swans are considered damaging to the ecosystem because they consume an inordinate amount of underwater vegetation, and they also aggressively harass native birds. We witnessed this swan antagonizing a pair of American Avocets.

Mute Swan and American Avocets

Breeding season is in full swing at the park, as evidenced by the high numbers of birds carrying twigs of various sizes. This Great Blue Heron grabbed a whopper!

Great Blue Heron

The survey team was lucky to be joined again by Sonoma State University students – three this time!

[L-R] Audrey, Len, Raquel, Sharon, Patti, Aileen, Andy, Deb, JJ, JoAnn, Mary, Teresa (not pictured – Miles)

Len and Deb birding by bench

Raquel, Audrey and Aileen (from SSU), Patti, and Miles

In the Petaluma River, the team spotted a Clark’s Grebe in the same area as two months ago.

Clark’s Grebe

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you breaking news…

CLIFF SWALLOWS HAVE INVADED SHOLLENBERGER PARK!!!!

Cliff Swallow

We observed several nesting colonies of Cliff Swallows along our route. These swallows often use vertical cliff faces to build their nests made of mud. However, in areas with human-made structures, they’ll use a variety of sites near water, such as docks, bridges, or eaves of buildings.

One of several large Cliff Swallow nesting colony spots

Another Cliff Swallow nesting colony location

We watched these swallows repeatedly visit the riverbank to collect mud for their nests.

Cliff Swallows gathering mud

Yet another colony flew acrobatically around a small walkway jutting over the Petaluma River. The swallows zipped around and flew in and out of any open hole within the structure.

Incoming!!!

Listen as the Cliff Swallows approach their nests under the walkway. To us, it sounds like balloons being rubbed together.

The last colony we encountered was under the Adobe Creek bridge, where Len recently counted around 200 nests! Here are some terrific views of the Cliff Swallows and their mud nests.

Cliff Swallow neighbors surveying the scene

Discussing construction techniques

A nice look at the buffy orange rump

Adept at clinging

Listen here to the flight calls of many members of the Adobe Creek bridge colony.

Adult American Coots are plain, black birds. However, they produce comically colored, nearly bald offspring. An American Coot chick is adorned with an extraordinarily bright red-orange bill, bald red head, and neon-orange collar of down feathers. Ornithologists have determined that a young coot’s bright coloration encourages parental feeding.

American Coot parent and chick

American Coot feeding chick

This lingering Golden-crowned Sparrow sat on a branch wondering if tonight was the night it should leave for its northern breeding grounds.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

An unexpected highlight of the day was this lone male Blue-winged Teal observed near the end of our loop. In Sonoma County, the Blue-winged Teal is a less frequent sight than the Green-winged and Cinnamon Teals he was mixed in with.

Blue-winged Teal

It feels like each time we visit Shollenberger, we learn a new Red-winged Blackbird sound! This string of ringing, descending notes is a song specific to female birds.

Red-winged Blackbird female

By the end of the perfect spring morning, the team had tallied 72 species for PWA’s April 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 [email protected]

California Poppies

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