Madrone On Line Birding in the North Bay

Bodega Bay

Map of Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay is probably the hottest birding spot in Sonoma County. More rare birds have been spotted here than in any other area in the County. Owl Canyon, "Hole-In-The-Head" and the bushes below Diekmann's Store have consistently yielded great finds. Madrone Audubon organizes many birding trips to Bodega Bay, including Walkabouts, Field Trips and Beginners Bird Walks. This is also a prime spot for the Christmas Bird Count.

By the Month
JULY is the quietest month for birds because most shorebirds are breeding in northern climes. Still, look for a few non-breeding loons, Willets, Marbled Godwits, and occasional early migrating phalaropes- all of these on open water or mudflats in the harbor. The Owl Canyon has also produced some accidental Eastern migrants- warblers and vireos - on the 4th of July weekend in the past. On Bodega Head Pigeon Guillemots and Pelagic Cormorants will be nearly done nesting on the Pacific facing cliffs south of the parking lot that overlooks the Pacific. Early in July both Western Gulls and Black Oystercatchers fledge young from nests on the largest sea stack at this parking lot. A walk on the trail around the headlands (allow at least an hour for the whole loop) around "the Head" will uncover our local coastal breeding race of the White-crowned Sparow, as well as Savannah Sparrows. Early migrating shorebirds- possibly Semipalmated Plovers, some other 'peep', Black and Ruddy Turnstones - will be seen in late July on the mudflats of the harbor. Look for both pelicans, especially 'White' on U. C. (Bodega) Marine Lab mudflats. Young Black-crowned Night-herons may still be hiding in the bushes facing the viewing platform at the end of the wooden boardwalk at the "Hole-In-The-Head."

AUGUST sees the real start of the return of the migrating shorebirds. If you are looking for rarities, keep your eyes open for Baird Sandpipers and Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Many other sandpiper species will gradually fill in the mudflats on the harbor. Land birds are scarce now, with many of our breeding birds heading south already. Elegant Terns may be seen flying or loafing within the harbor, and both Forsters and Caspian Terns as well.

SEPTEMBER is exciting! Rare Eastern migrating landbirds will begin to show up in the trees in Owl Canyon, and in the willows at the "Hole-In-The-Head". More migrating shorebirds will arrive, and who knows what else. The harbor mudflats across from the first paved parking lot at Doran Park, Doran Pond just before the Doran Park toll booth, Spud Point, and the mudflats seen from Smith Brothers Rd. across from the Bodega Bay Post Office should all be checked.

OCTOBER is just like September, only more so! Keep your eyes open everywhere. If you see a Kingbird on the fence leading up to the headlands, it probably is a Tropical, so check every bird carefully.

NOVEMBER sees more stability as most birds are no longer passing through, but rather are settling down for the winter. Some waterfowl will be here; look for Eurasian Wigeon in the harbor. Look for unusual birds near the boat launch ramp at Westside Park (Emperor Goose and Steller's Eider have hung out here in the past.) Late in the month Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawks may be seen. Look off-shore from the headlands for pelagic species that may have been blown close to shore by storms. A few very rare Eastern migrants may still be found in Owl Canyon or in the trees lining the road to the "Hole-In-The-Head".

DECEMBER is Christmas Count month. Much of what was said for November applies now, as well. Over 100 species of birds can be seen here almost any day during this entire month. Look for lingering rarities almost anywhere. The Japanese Maples under the parking deck at Diekmann's Store may harbor Selasphorus hummers, or rare warblers. The mudflats seen from there can have Northern Waterthrush. Look for Swamp Sparrows and rails in the marsh on the left as you walk on the wooden boardwalk out toward the "Hole-In-The-Head" pond.

JANUARY is like December, except you know where all the rare birds are because they were found on the Christmas Count and the information is on the Rare Bird Hot Line - (415)681-7422.

FEBRUARY sees the waterfowl beginning to leave, but most of the shorebirds are still hanging out on the mudflats in the harbor.

MARCH marks the beginning of the real migration of the shorebirds northward and the return of our locally breeding neo-tropical migrants. Swallows are about the first. Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets may begin nesting about now in their heronry on the hill above McCaugheys Store on the west side of the harbor.

APRIL is quiet on the mudflats, but willows, Bodega Dunes Campground and other stable vegetation host breeding land birds that are secretive and difficult to catch in the act of nest building. But we know the Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, the hummers and others are busy. The Pelagic Cormorants show white flank patches as they begin colonizing the cliffs south of the main Bodega Head parking lot overlooking the Pacific. The Black-crowned Night-herons are building nests at the "Hole-In-The-Head" pond. Can you find them?

MAY is like April with few shorebirds remaining, but the Owl Canyon can produce a surprise vagrant at any time of year. There is exciting nesting activity (Pigeon Guillemots, Pelagic Cormorants, Black Oystercatchers, Pigeon Guillemots) on Bodega Head near the parking lot facing the Pacific.

JUNE- Try the Owl Canyon for vagrants, and look for baby Black-crowned Night-herons at the "Hole-In-The-Head" pond. A few shorebirds will be on the mudflats, and Western Gulls and Black Oystercatchers are nesting on the big rock off of the highest viewpoint of the headlands parking lot, facing the Pacific. The Pelagic Cormorant and Pigeon Guillemots are nesting along the cliffs just south of the parking lot, too.

JULY - We've been around the calendar. See top of this report.

Places to Bird at Bodega Bay
DORAN REGIONAL PARK (camping available)(flush toilets and telephones in two paved parking lots plus picnic tables and beautiful beach) is on the sand spit that separates Bodega Bay (which is open to the ocean) from the harbor where the town of Bodega Bay is located. On the ocean side pelagic birds can be seen on the water or in the air, and Snowy Plovers live above high tide line on the beach, especially at its east end near the toll booth. Shorebird flocks gather on the mudflats and waterfowl use the open water on the harbor side of the park along the eastern half of the sand spit.

DORAN POND is a tidal pond visable on the right hand side of the road as you approach the Doran Park toll booth. Wildlife viewing pullouts are available on each side of the road. Watch for shorebirds and waterfowl except in summer and listen for rails in the marshes there all year round.

SMITH BROTHER'S ROAD - Shorebirds, gulls, terns, pelicans and large raptors can be observed from the roadside on the mudflats below. Pull off carefully and watch for poison oak.

DIEKMANN'S STORE PARKING LOT overlooks shrubbery that harbors migrants and vagrants. It is courteous to patronize the store if you use their parking lot.

THE RAIL PONDS start at the intersection of Bay Flat Rd. and Westshore Rd. and are divided by a short connecting road where a wrecked potato boat has been decaying for years. There are Virginia and Sora Rails in here year round, and the Virginia's have bred here. Look for warblers in the willows lining the ponds.

SPUD POINT MARINA may have lurking loons and alcids seeking refuge from storms.

SPUD POINT is the next mudflat southeast of the marina. Shorebirds, gulls, and windsurfers frequent this spot depending on the tides.

WESTSIDE PARK BOAT LAUNCH - (Flush toilets and telephone)(Be sure to walk in or pay day use fee.) There is a good view of birds floating on the harbor's open water from here, and occasional rarities show up right here. (There is camping 'next door' in this park.)

U. C. (BODEGA) MARINE LAB is generally closed to the public but good viewing is available from Westside Road onto the mudflats. Depending on season and tides, shorebirds, gulls, terns, pelicans and raptors can be found there.

OWL CANYON (a widely used but unofficial name) is accessible from the very large pull out on the right (west) side of Westside Road by seeking out a steep, sandy and narrow trail that climbs up into the second eucalyptus grove at south end of pull out. There are Great Horned and Barn Owls who live in this canyon and in the other eucalyptus nearby. This canyon with its clear flowing fresh water stream and dense riparian cover is a trap for errant migrants almost all year long, but especially in the fall.

"HOLE-IN-THE-HEAD" (Good picnic area, with tables, pit toilet and great view) is a deep freshwater pond with marshy area and stream leading through willows to the beach. The wooden boardwalk makes the viewing platform at the pond wheelchair accessible. Rails and Swamp Sparrows can be found in the marsh in winter. Breeding Black-crowned Night-herons are at eye level across the pond in spring and summer. Migrants and vagrants may be hiding in the willows.

BODEGA HEAD PARKING LOT - facing the Pacific -(pit toilets) is the drop off point for several birding and whale watching adventures. From the highest view point at the south end of the parking lot rocky shorebirds can be seen on the sea stacks (rocks) below. Pelagic Cormorants and Pigeon Guillemots nest on the cliff face to the south. A loop walking tour (allow at least an hour) on a safe but narrow trail around "The Head" will take you past many more nesting cliffs, sea stacks, Sea Lion rocks, and open coastal plains and bluffs. Gray Whales and other cetaceans can be seen off shore in winter and early spring. There is also a great walk north of the parking lot toward the U. S. (Bodega) Marine Lab.

How to Get There
From Santa Rosa, take Highway 12 west to Sebastopol. From there continue west on Bodega Highway 10.8 miles to Highway 1. Turn north on Highway 1 and continue 5 miles to the town of Bodega Bay. To get to the west side of Bodega Harbor, continue north of town to Eastshore Road and turn left. At the bottom of the hill turn right on Westside Road to drive around the Harbor to "Hole-In-The-Head" and Bodega Head

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