A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

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


Sonoma Valley Regional Park, Glen Ellen CA 95442

(also Suttonfield Lake)

Location aliases: Generally known by its proper name. Hasn’t acquired nicknames among local birders because the park isn’t heavily birded by the local birding community. The lake (see the notes at the bottom of the page) is known both as “Suttonfield Lake” and “Lake Suttonfield,” also as “Sutton Lake.”

Imagery ©2013 Digital Globe, GeoEye, USDA Farm ServiceAgency, Map Data ©2013 Google

Location: Between Kenwood and the town of Sonoma. Sonoma Valley Regional Park, 13630 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen, CA 95442 (but see below)

GPS address: While the official address of the park is 13630 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen, CA 95442, using 13875 Sonoma Hwy. should take you to the stores just across from the park entrance. Look for the sign shown at left.

GPS Coordinates: The park entrance is at 38.3665N,122.5123W, while the main parking area is at 38.3643N, 122.5122W.

Access: Approached from Highway 12 (also known as Sonoma Highway). Kenwood and Santa Rosa are to the north and the town of Sonoma is to the south. Parking available. Requires $7 parking fee, but holders of Sonoma County Regional Park annual passes park free (passes were $69 at the time of writing (2013), but see the Regional Parks website for current information). Picnic tables and barbecues near the parking area. Suttonfield Lake (or Lake Suttonfield) is accessible from the park. See notes at the bottom of the page.

Habitats: Open scrub, meadows, riparian woods, mature oak and conifer forest, lake

Typical species: California Quail, Wild Turkey, Turkey Vulture, Mourning Dove, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, White-tailed Kite, Anna’s Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Northern Pygmy Owl,  Olive-sided Flycatcher, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Hutton’s Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Scrub-jay, Steller’s jay, Common Raven, Violet-green Swallow, Barn Swallow, Western Meadowlark, Oak Titmouse, Bewick’s Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Western Bluebird, Brown Creeper, American Robin, Wrentit, Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, Lazuli Bunting, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, American Goldfinch 

Restroom facilities: Portable toilets at the parking area.

Restaurants nearby: Café Citti, at 9049 Sonoma Highway (Hwy. 12; 833-2690) is probably the closest. It offers excellent salads, pastas, and other Italian food. Otherwise, the town of Sonoma is your best bet in the immediate area. Among the restaurants, I recommend the Plaza Bistro (420 1st East, 996-4466), The Swiss Hotel (18 West Spain St., 938-2884), and La Salette (452-H First St. East, 938-1927) for dinner. Maya Restaurant (101 E. Napa St., 935-3500) is good for South American-style lunch, but there are many other choices as well.

Nearby attractions: The small, charming town of Sonoma has numerous shops, galleries, and restaurants. Plaza Bistro hosts excellent jazz nights--not to be missed if you’re a serious jazz fan. Mission Sonoma is at the north end of the town’s central plaza--the northernmost of the Spanish missions. California’s flag first flew in the square here. Otherwise, the Sonoma Valley wine country is at your feet. Wellington Vineyards is close by, at 11600 Dunbar Rd., in Glen Ellen, CA 95442 (939-0708). This is perhaps my favorite Sonoma Valley winery, with one of the friendliest tasting rooms in the area, and the wines are excellent. I particularly recommend the Rhone-style whites (Rousanne and Marsanne), the single-vineyard Cabernet wines, and the Victory bottling (exceptional years only).

Related bird watching spots: The closest birding spots to the south are at Hudeman Slough, Skagg’s Island Rd., Reclamation Rd. and Port Sonoma. See relevant pages for details. Shollenberger Park is in Petaluma. Adjacent to Shollenberger Park is Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility. On the opposite side of Shollenberger Park from Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility is Alman Marsh. See the pages for Shollenberger Park and Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility for details. Also convenient, especially if you’re coming or going through Kenwood to the Santa Rosa area, is Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, as well as Hood Mountain Regional Park. For Santa Rosa areas bird watching spots, see the front page.

Further afield: To the south is the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge (mostly in Solano County), but I've never been able to figure out how you actually get to the Refuge. To the west, you can head back to Highway 101 or Lakeville Hwy. The Atherton Rd. exit from Hwy. 101 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: Suttonfield Lake is a large reservoir on property owned by the State of California adjacent to Sonoma Valley Regional Park, and not part of the Regional Park. The lake is on the property of The Sonoma Developmental Center, a large facility for people with developmental disabilities. The lake is, however, accessible from the Regional Park. According to the best information I have, the public is allowed to walk to the lake, but no swimming, fishing, or other such use is allowed. Birders simply using the trails should not be bothered by anyone official. Note, however, that the trails are a bit sketchy and some areas are marked as out of bounds. Entering these areas is frowned upon. Don’t start walking in the lake area just before dark. You’re likely to get lost. Note that the trail markers in some places refer to the lake as “Sutton Lake.”

The bird in the photo: White-tailed Kite, February 18, 2012

All photos by the author, unless otherwise indicated

Maps by Google Maps



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

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.