Monthly Bird Survey at Shollenberger: February 2019

by Feb 15, 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 February’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.

This past Monday, February 11, 2019, we scored a break in the rain before the atmospheric river arrived and enjoyed a chilly but calm day of counting birds. It’s always invigorating to see the sunrise while doing our best to tally the gulls, blackbirds and crows exiting their various roosts.

Sunrise at Shollenberger

As is their custom, Red-winged Blackbirds greeted the sun from within the marsh.

This little fella found a snack on the path. We watched in amusement as he flip-flopped between dining in or taking it to go. Ultimately, he gobbled the morsel where he stood.

Red-winged Blackbird (male)

With no fog or wind, the viewing conditions were terrific.

Sky lightening at Shollenberger

Sharon and Patti making sure no Ruddy Duck went uncounted

Count leader Andy Lacasse identified this large flock heading north as Cackling Geese.

Cackling Geese

Stop counting birds for a moment and count these smiles!

[L-R] Andy, Mary, Miles, Sharon, Craig, Joy, Len, Patti (not pictured – Teresa)

Song Sparrows are a familiar sight at Shollenberger – and an even more familiar sound. Some males shook the rust off the ole pipes to belt out a tune. With spring around the corner, they were likely starting to stake out their breeding territory.

To identify a Song Sparrow song, listen for two or more staccato intro notes followed by a quick jumble of buzzes, whistles and trills. The entire song usually lasts between 3 and 4 seconds.

Songs are great to help ID birds in breeding season. However, calls are heard year-round, so we get more bang for our buck when learning a new call. Once we learned this common Song Sparrow “chimp” call, we realized how often one was lurking about, too buried to see.

The team spotted a grebe in the Petaluma River, but it repeatedly dove under to look for breakfast. Each time it reappeared, everyone tried their best to focus on the relevant field marks to distinguish a Western from a Clark’s Grebe.

We checked its bill color, how dark its back and sides were, and where the black on its head ended in relation to the eye. After good looks and some photos, we settled on a Clark’s Grebe in nonbreeding (basic) plumage due to its vibrant yellow/orange bill, relatively pale back, and the amount of white in front of the eye.

Clark’s Grebe

Aside from grebes, the Petaluma River offers the chance to see a variety of boat species.

Boat ID challenge!

Check out how perfectly a Say’s Phoebe blends in to its preferred winter habitat.

Say’s Phoebe

Andy – always the entertainer – recited a limerick by the late American poet and humorist Dixon Lanier Merritt as four American White Pelicans flew overhead:

A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill can hold more than his belican
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week
But I’m damned if I see how the helican


– Dixon Lanier Merritt

American White Pelicans

A Turkey Vulture feasted upon what the group guessed was a deer – check out that ear on the bottom left.

Turkey Vulture and breakfast

The Lemonade Berry shrubs along Adobe Creek had started to bloom.

Lemonade Berry

This White-tailed Kite played “king of the tree” above a flock of female Red-winged Blackbirds…

White-tailed Kite and Red-winged Blackbird females

While a Red-shouldered Hawk surveyed its domain.

Red-shouldered Hawk

We hoped a Wilson’s Snipe would make an appearance at the bridge, but our search was in vain.

[L-R] Andy, Miles, Sharon, and Patti

Downy Woodpeckers often forage on thin branches – this one was no exception.

Downy Woodpecker (male)

One of these creatures is not like the others! Is that a Western Pond Turtle, warming up alongside some resting Mallards? In 2015, the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance placed several logs in the river channel to create more space for Western Pond Turtles to bask in the sun. Could this be one of the logs?

Here’s an article from Petaluma360 on the matter: Half-shell habitat at Shollenberger

Western Pond Turtle and Mallards

Homestretch back to parking lot

It was another enjoyable day collecting data for the PWA. By the end of the count, the team had tallied 80 species. In the following days, two additional species were located by team members returning to Shollenberger Park, bringing the grand total to 82 for PWA’s February 2019 survey.

According to compiler Len Nelson, 82 species is the second highest count at Shollenberger since 2011!!

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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