A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Location aliases: The official name is “Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility,” but bird watchers generally refer to the place simply as “Ellis Creek,” although Ellis Creek is an actual creek nearby. This place may also be referred to as “The Ellis Creek Ponds,” “Ellis Creek Water Treatment Facility,” “Ellis Creek Water Treatment Ponds,” or “The Ellis Creek Sewer Ponds” (although this last may also refer to the bigger treatment ponds marked on the map above as “not open to the public”). When local bird watchers say “Ellis Creek,” they usually mean the water recycling facility with its ponds and trails, not the actual creek.

Location: The main entrance is near 3882 Cypress Dr., Petaluma CA 94954

GPS address: The parking lot for the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility is close to 3882 Cypress Dr. Petaluma, CA 94954. Note that this area is at the junction of a number of zip codes. Some nearby addresses may be in the 95942 zip code area.

GPS Coordinates: The main parking lot is at 38 13 35N, 122 35 08W approximately

Access: There are two parking lots, a small one immediately inside the entrance from Cypress Dr. to the right (before the actual entrance to the facility), and another, larger one, inside the entrance and around to the left from there, near the restrooms. Parking is free. Trails lead from the entrance immediately to the right towards Shollenberger Park. The main trail then heads for Pond D. Small trails circle all four of the major ponds open to the public (A, B, C, and D). Near Pond D is the start of the Petaluma River Trail, which  heads through an open expanse of low brush (marked as sparrow habitat on the map) and out to the Petaluma River. It appears to dead end, but there is an entrance to the left of the apparent end that takes you along the water. The larger ponds to the right on the map are not open to the public, but ducks on the water can sometimes be seen with a spotting scope from the Pond D area (or from the locked, gated entrance to these ponds on Lakeville Hwy).

Habitats: Water treatment ponds, creekside woods, open brushy areas, mature eucalyptus

Typical Species: Great Egret, Snowy Egret, American Coot, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, American Wigeon, Mallard, Greater Scaup, Sora, Virginia Rail, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe, Killdeer, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Long-billed Dowitcher, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper,  Canada Goose,  Mute Swan, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, White-tailed Kite, Cooper’s Hawk, American Crow, Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, Western Scrub-jay, Raven, Northern Mockingbird, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Marsh Wren, Tree Swallow, Bushtit, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, House Finch, European Starling, American Pipit, Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, American Goldfinch

Unusual birds, sightings: Snow Goose (1/19, Ron Storey); Ross’s Goose (1/19, Ron Storey); Greater White-fronted Goose (1/19, Ron Storey); Loggerhead Shrike (8/11/16, Bob Dyer); White-faced Ibis (12/22/15-2/28/16, Ron Storey); Red-throated Pipit (9/14/15, Roger Marlowe); Golden Eagle (8/24/15, Don Luz); Cackling Goose (4/4/15, Bob Dyer); Snow Goose (1/19/15, Will Brooks); Ross’s Goose (12/25/14, Ron Storey); White-faced Ibis (5/11/14, Jared Hubbell); Snow Goose (12/16/2013, Bob Dyer); Greater White-fronted Goose (5/19, 2013, Len Blumin); White-faced Ibis (4/18, 2013, Tom Reynolds); Great-tailed Grackle (4/2, 2013, Bob Dyer); Cackling Goose (2/22, 2013, Bob Dyer); Redhead (12/24, 2012, Bob Dyer); Redhead (11/19 2012, Ron Storey); Least Bittern (10/8, 2012, Craig Ross); Pectoral Sandpiper (9/12, 2012, Ron Storey); Least Bittern (8/26, 2012, Ron Storey); Great-tailed Grackle (4/29, 2012, Bob Dyer); Snow Goose (4/7, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Bonaparte's Gull (4/7, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Greater White-fronted Goose (2/1, 2012, Dan Nelson); Eurasian Wigeon (2/1, 2012, Dan Nelson); Greater White-fronted Goose (1/29, 2012, Ron Storey); White-throated Sparrow (1/28, 2012, Hugh Harvey); Redhead (11/22, 2011, Peter Colasanti), Hooded Merganser (11/22, 2011, Peter Colasanti); Swamp Sparrow (10/ 27, 2010); Swamp Sparrow (10/27, 2009-1/24, 2010, Colin Talcroft); Great-tailed Grackle (12/8. 2009).

Restroom facilities: Public Restrooms available in the parking lot just inside the entrance to the Water Recycling Facility. Restrooms also available up the road at the entrance to Shollenberger Park. See the Shollenberger Park page for details.

Restaurants nearby:  Not a lot in the immediate area of the Ellis Creek facility. If you're in a hurry, the best bet is probably the Subway close by (2620 Lakeville Highway, Suite 320, Petaluma, CA 94954 -7621 (789-9011). There is a Starbucks at 3100 Lakeville Hwy. (775-3708) for the basics as well. Otherwise, downtown Petaluma is probably the best bet for a proper lunch. My favorite has long been the Water Street Bistro at 100 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma CA 94952 (763-9563). Small, but delicious. Lombardi’s Barbecue (3413 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma CA 94952; 773-1271) has excellent sandwiches to eat in or to go. Try the pulled pork sandwich. Ask for your cole slaw IN the sandwich. Yum.

Other Petaluma-area restaurants that come recommended to me by readers in the Petaluma area include:

Aqus Cafe, 189 H Street at 2nd St., downtown Petaluma

Della Fattoria Bakery and Cafe, 141 Petaluma Blvd. North, downtown Petaluma

Velasco's North of the Border, 190 Kentucky St., downtown Petaluma 

Zocalos Latin Grill, 3120 Lakeville Highway, Suite A, Petaluma

Nearby attractions: The historic downtown area of Petaluma has restaurants, galleries, antique and other shops, mainly on Kentucky St. and the surrounding areas. Good for a stroll and shopping. This area has some good Victorian architecture.  If you’re in the mood for bargain hunting, the Petaluma Village Factory Outlets outside of town may be of interest, at 2200 Petaluma Blvd. North (778-9300). Petaluma has a nice Carnegie Library still in operation that houses a small museum of local interest. (built in 1904; 20 Fourth St., Petaluma CA 94952). For the gardener, Cottage Gardens is an excellent nursery well worth a visit, at 3995 Emerald Dr., Petaluma CA 94952 (778-8025).

Related bird watching spots: The Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility is adjacent to the ponds and trails at Shollenberger Park, another excellent birding spot. See the Shollenberger Park page for details. That page also has information on Alman Marsh.

Further afield: Continuing south on Lakeville Hwy/Route 116 from the Shollenberger Park area will bring you to Hwy 37/Route 121. To the left (west) is the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge (mostly in Solano County). To the right, you can head back to Highway 101. The Atherton Rd. exit gives access to good birding at wetlands accessible from Bahia Dr. (Marin County). Head for the intersection of Bahia Dr. and Topaz Dr. A GPS address of 500 Bahia Dr., Novato CA should get you close. 1600 Armstrong Ave. should take you close to good birding along Binford Rd., on the other side of the same area (heading toward Gnoss Field, a small airport here). Trails connect the two areas.

Notes: The most efficient way to bird the Ellis Creek ponds and Shollenberger Park is to go by car, but the two are connected by a trail and can be made into one very long walking circuit. 

The birds in the photos (top to bottom):

American Pipit, Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, November 5, 2011

Savannah sparrow, Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility

Sora, Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, November 5, 2011

All photos by the author, unless otherwise indicated

Maps by Google Maps


Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, Petaluma, 94954

©2011 Google – Imagery ©2011 DigitalGlobe, USDA Farm Service Agency, GeoEye, US Geological Survey, Map data ©2011 Google


© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.