A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

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


Spring Lake Park, Santa Rosa, CA 95409

Location aliases: Officially, the body of water is Santa Rosa Creek Reservoir, and the surrounding area is Spring Lake Regional Park. Most people (birders and non-birders alike) refer to the park as Spring Lake Park and both the park and the lake itself simply as Spring Lake. Some people confuse Spring Lake and Lake Ralphine, the smaller lake in neighboring Howarth Park.
©2011 Google – Imagery ©2011 DigitalGlobe, USDA Farm Service Agency, GeoEye, Map data ©2011 Google

Location: Main entrance is at Newanga Ave., off of Summerfield Rd., in Santa Rosa. There is another entrance at Violetti Dr., off Montgomery Dr. by way of Channel Dr. and Violetti Rd. This second entrance leads to the lagoon area. The park can be entered on foot also from neighboring Howarth Memorial Park.

GPS address: 5588 Newanga Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95409; 393 Violetti Dr., Santa Rosa , CA 95409

GPS Coordinates: 38 26 55N, 122 39 12 will take you to the Newanga Ave. entrance.

The parking lot and restrooms just beyond the Newanga entrance are at 38 26 56N, 122 39 01W.

The Violetti Dr. entrance is at 38 27 17N, 122 38 53W.

The boat ramp parking lot is at 38 27 10N, 122 39 16W.

The Lagoon parking lot is at 38 27 13N, 122 39 04W

Access: Can be accessed free of charge if you walk in. There is a $7 parking fee with a vehicle. Regional Park annual pass holders park free ($69 at the time of writing). Parking is free at neighboring Howarth Park. Starting at Howarth Park, skirting Lake Ralphine to the right (east) and walking into Spring Lake Park for a walk around the lake can provide an excellent full day of birding. Otherwise, enter through the Newanga Ave. or Violetti Dr. entrances. The meeting place often used by local bird groups is in the parking lot near the restrooms at the Newanga Ave. end of things, near the Oak Knoll Picnic Area.

Habitats: Freshwater lake, lakeside woods, urban park, grassland

Typical Species: Spring Lake and its surroundings is one of the best birding areas in the entire county. Fifty species or more in a morning’s walk is not uncommon. During migration, 60-80 species in a day is not unheard of. Typical species include: Canada Goose, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Moorhen, Wilson’s Snipe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Anna's Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Acorn Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, California Quail, Black Phoebe, Steller's Jay, Scrub jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Bushtits, Bewick's Wren, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Oak Titmouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, and American Goldfinch.

Unusual birds, sightings: Merlin (12/18/16, Colin Talcroft); Hooded Merganser (12/18/16, Gene Hunn); Black-throated Grey Warbler (12/18/16, Colin Talcroft); Red Phalarope (11/16/16, Robin Winning); Black-throated Blue Warbler (10/5/16, J.J. Ott): Northern Waterthrush (9/23/16, Tom Reynolds); Rose-breasted Grosbeak (7/1/16, tom Reynolds), Hooded Merganser (12/29-3/1/16, Ruth Rudesill); Red-naped Sapsucker (12/27-12/30/15, Lisa Hug); Eared Grebe (11/17/15, Becky Olsen); Red Crossbill (11/14-11/21/15, Ken Wilson); Bald Eagle (11/9/15, Robin Winning); MacGillivray’s Warbler (7/9/14, Ruth Rudesill), Bank Swallow (5/19/14, Ruth Rudesill); Purple Martin (5/6/14, Ruth Rudesill); Yellow-breasted Chat (5/6/14, Ruth Rudesill); Swamp Sparrow (2/23/14, Ron Storey); Swamp Sparrow (1/20/14, Terry Colborn); Bald Eagle (1/17/14, Becky Olsen); Golden Eagle (10/24/13, Becky Olsen); Blackpoll Warbler (9/21/13, Bill Doyle); American Bittern (Feb 28, 2013, Tom McCuller); Purple Finch (Feb 28, 2013, Colin Talcroft); Swamp Sparrow (2/23, 2013, Rob O’Donnell); Swamp Sparrow (Becky Olsen, Ken Wilson, 1/1, 2013); Red-naped/Red-breasted Sapsucker (12/1-12/13, 2012 Tom Reynolds, Rick Evets); Golden-crowned Kinglet (12/1, 2012 Colin Talcroft); Cackling Goose, 11/19 2012, Bill Doyle); Greater White-fronted Goose (10/18 2012, David Hoffman); Swamp Sparrow (10/17/2012, Tom McCuller); Pine Siskin (10/17 2012, Colin Talcroft); Spotted Sandpiper (10/17 2012, Tom McCuller); Pectoral Sandpiper (10/17 2012, Colin Talcroft); Red-naped Sapsucker (10/16 2012, Tom Reynolds); Pectoral Sandpiper (10/4 2012, Rob O'Donnell); Blackpoll Warbler (9/29 2012, Bob Toleno); Black-and-white Warbler (9/17-19 2012); MacGillivray's Warbler (9/17-19, 2012); Yellow-throated Vireo (9/16-20, 2012, Jim Lomax--first Sonoma County record); Black-and-white Warbler (9/16, 2012, Helen Kochenderfer); Blackpoll Warbler (9/15, 2012, Ruth Rudesill); Black-throated Grey Warbler (9/15, 2012, Ruth Rudesill); Pileated Woodpecker (9/2, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Black-and-white Warbler (12/21, 2011, Rob O'Donnell); Merlin (12/1, 2011); House Wren (November 26, 20110); Black-and-white Warbler (11/24, 2011, Helen Kochendorfer); Black-throated Gray Warbler (9/29, 2011), American Bittern (9/29, 2011), Red-breasted Sapsucker (9/29, 2011), Hermit Warbler (9/29, 2011), MacGillivray's Warbler (9/1, 2011, Bill Doyle); Caspian Tern (7/20, 2011, Dave Bengston); Pileated Woodpecker (6/8, 2011); Wood Duck with chicks (5/19, 2011); Barrow's Goldeneye, White-throated Sparrow (1/30, 2011); Orange-crowned Warbler--uncommon in winter (1/8, 2011); Bald Eagle (1/12, 2011); Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, Pacific Loon (12/14-15, 2010); Wood Duck (3/6, 2010; 10/16, 2010); American Bittern (1/6, 2010, 4/9, 2010, 9/29, 2010); Black-throated Gray Warbler (October 16, 2010); Purple Finch (11/11, 2010); American Bittern, Varied Thrush (12/19, 2010);  Pileated Woodpecker (Aug. 2010)

Restroom facilities: Public restrooms available by the parking lots at the Newanga Ave. and Violleti Dr. entrances. Restrooms at the Lagoon. Restrooms near the camping areas. Restrooms also at the upper parking lot in neighboring Howarth Park (but this is quite a walk if you are in the Spring Lake area).

Restaurants nearby: East West Café at 557 Summerfield Rd. (546-6142) has good Mediterranean-influenced, often vegetarian (not exclusively) meals. Lepe's Taqueria at 4323 Montgomery Dr. (538-8891, about a minute further up Summerfield Rd., to the right at the first intersection and then on your left) offers good informal Mexican.  Further afield: There is a deli in the Safeway at 2751 Fourth St. 522-1455. Michelle Marie's Patisserie, 2404 Magowan Dr. (575-1214) has sandwiches and full meals at lunchtime.

Nearby attractions: Spring Lake itself offers swimming at the lagoon during the summer months (with lifeguards). Canoes, kayaks, other small (non-motorized) boats and paddle boats are allowed on the main lake. Fishing (largemouth bass, sunfish, catfish; California fishing license required for those 16 and older). Hiking trails. Picnic areas. Campgrounds open seven days a week from May 1 through September 30, otherwise weekends and holidays only (539-8092 for information). Neighboring Howarth Park offers play areas for children, paddle-boating at Lake Ralphine; summer children's activities include a carousel, a miniature steam engine kids and adults can ride on, a petting zoo, pony riding. Public tennis courts. Continuing beyond Howarth Park on Summerfield Rd. and then out Montgomery Dr. to the right will connect you with Highway 12 (also known as Sonoma Highway), which leads to the Sonoma Valley wine country with many excellent wineries. Bennett Valley Golf Course is at 3330 Yulupa Ave. (528-3673). Public tennis courts next door to the golf course, at Galvin Park. There are one or two wineries also further out Bennett Valley Rd. beyond the golf course, the best known being Matanzas Creek Winery (6097 Bennett Valley Rd., 528-6464)--worth a visit for its lavender fields, usually in bloom in June.

Related bird watching spots: Next to Lake Ralphine, in Howarth Park. Channel Dr. is nearby. Melita Rd. is nearby.

Notes: Don’t miss going out onto the North Peninsula (see map). This gives an excellent view of the water birds on either side, but especially the east side. This is a good place to look for Bittern, Common moorhen, Wilson’s snipe, Coots, Great blue heron, and various ducks. Listen for rails and Sora. The West Peninsula is more wooded and can be good for various woodland birds. For complete up-to-date information about the park, see the Sonoma County Parks Website.

The birds in the photos: Above--Golden-crowned sparrow; Below--Black-throated gray warbler

All photos by the author, unless otherwise indicated

Maps by Google Maps