With so many waterways and so much open space, Sonoma County is prime bird-watching territory—and autumn, when migratory birds are on the move, is one of the best times of the year to spot unusual species.
If you’re hesitating to give it a try because you can’t tell the difference between an egret and an eagle, don’t let that stop you. Everybody has to start somewhere. Besides, birding makes the perfect excuse to get yourself out of the house and onto a trail.
So grab a bird guide and binocs if you have them (definitely nothing to worry about it if you don’t), and head for one of the spots below. They’re all perfectly prime territory for observing our avian friends:
San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge: Situated along the Pacific Flyway, the Refuge and its estuary provide an important wintering area for west coast migrating waterfowl.
Among the denizens, both year-round and transitory: American white pelican, Northern harrier, American wigeon, Peregrine falcon, Ring-necked pheasant, Greater yellowleggs, Red-necked phalarope, Least tern, Western burrowing owl, and the Song sparrow. Download a complete bird list.
Spring Lake Regional Park: Located on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, the park’s large size and lake attract diverse bird species, especially during migration. You may see a variety of geese, egrets, herons, hawks, woodpeckers, owls, jays, warblers and sparrows. Read my February 2013 article about hiking at Spring Lake Regional Park.
Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail: Thanks to the unique and complex surrounding habitat of Sonoma County's largest freshwater wetlands, this trail is a birder’s paradise. More than 200 species of birds are known to reside in or feed and rest in the Laguna in the course of migration, including egrets, hawks, sparrows, finches, woodpeckers and even bald eagles. Read my March 2013 article, “Exploring the Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail.”
Bodega Bay: Sonoma County Regional Park trails in Bodega Bay offer wonderful opportunities to spot pelagic birds on the water, shorebirds in the mudflats and waterfowl on the harbor. Head to trails at Doran Beach, the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail and Pinnacle Gulch Coastal Access Trail for great birding, surf, sun and fun.
Riverfront Regional Park: Located on the Russian River west of Windsor, this park is a nesting spot for great blue herons from January through July, and you’ll see the magnificent birds throughout the year, along with hawks, coots, mallards, hummingbirds, the occasional osprey, and many other types of birds.
Tolay Lake Regional Park: Tolay Lake is prime habitat for hawks, eagles, owls, white-tailed kites and many other birds. Although the park is not yet open to the general public, you can obtain a permit to hike here on weekends by taking a free park orientation.
To learn more about birding in Sonoma County, visit:
- Sonoma Birding, for information about birding in and around Sonoma Valley, including events. One of this site’s highlights is an informative list, with map, of about 20 “Birding Hot Spots” within 30 minutes of Sonoma Plaza.
- The Madrone Audubon Society’s website, Madrone Online, for info about birding locations around Sonoma County. You’ll find an event calendar, articles, photos and birding news.
- Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots. A labor of love by local birdwatcher Colin Talcroft, this site has tons of information ranging from birding locations to field guide reviews. He also has a downloadable/printable county field list.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez