Sunday’s Revisit: Bird and Birdwatching Heaven at Shollenberger Park

Back in January 2010, we made this walk at Shollenberger Park in Petaluma. It was a time of freezing ear, plenty of water and plenty of birds. Lately, due to the drought this park has been dry much of the year. Here’s hoping for a wet winter and happy migrating birds. — Don’t forget to visit Alman Marsh to the north and Ellis Creek (to the line of eucalyptus in the distance in this picture.)

Shollenberger at Cader

Last Sunday we were greeted by the soprano section of red-wing blackbirds and the alto section of geese as soon as we got out of the car. After going up an incline to the raised path, we got a better view of the birds and the birdwatchers.

The birds weren’t all posing nicely at the shore like these swans (who were almost constantly feeding with their heads in the water).

Swans at Shollenberger

Many people had telescopes on tripods or binoculars and would still answer rookie questions – “no those are Northern Shovelers.” These birds are butt up feeders, have vibrant coloring in the males, sophisticated browns in the females and long upturned beaks.

We started out to the southwest circling left around the dredge ponds on a 2-mile loop. Bundled up against the wind and fog we spotted coots, mallards, buffleheads, Canada geese. We saw more birdwatchers than we’ve ever seen on a non-birdwalk day as we dodged them, puddles and mud on the gravel and dirt path.

Shollenberger Park is a City of Petaluma park built on land inhabited for thousands of years by the Miwok. Due to smallpox and losing out to other people who took the land, the Miwok virtually disappeared. The land was then used for agriculture. Chard still grows on its own and dilapidated post-and-wire fences remain in some of the wetland areas. The Park is surrounded by Hwy 101, Petaluma River, Adobe Creek and a business park.

The dredge ponds were formed when the slough was dredged to become a river. In the 19th century, Petaluma was the largest city in Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties because of the traffic in goods on that river. The river is still dredged so the water in the ponds alternates in levels of salt and fresh water. The ponds attract the large seasonal populations of migratory and native birds.

Not a colorful wildflower place, the vegetation is more subtle, such as pickleweed in the marshes.

This is however a good place for a science project with its wetland, tidal marsh and mudflat environments.

Shollenberger to Ellis

At the first turn in the loop, there is an additional trail to Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility. Too wet and too far for us on this chill day, this wetland restoration project needs more exploring. I later read about a study of draining different parts of the marsh that would get rid of the predator bullfrogs and protect the California Red-leg frog. (Twain? Jumping frog? Yes, that one.)

After the turn to river, heading southwest, egrets stood in the marsh to left, shore birds worked over small islands in the pond to the right. In a wetter part of the marsh we saw diving canvasbacks. We also started to hear Hwy 101 traffic. Hawk and egret crossed at about the same time just overhead with slightly different trajectories.

Wetland to Petaluma River

Continuing northwest back along the river, you’ll see a gravel yard with barges. This is the site of the proposed Dutra asphalt plant. One more challenge to a stressed area. The path becomes paved here. Hey! Asphalt!

Pier at Petaluma River

The tidal mudflat (the area between the tidal marsh and the river) is supposedly alive with small critters. This is another science project. How does 40k organisms in a handful of mud sound?

Heading back northeast the paved path follows Adobe Creek. Coyote bush and Toyon line the creek in this more consistently fresh water environment. Hwy 101 is really loud here.

Farther along this area are picnic tables. You are headed back to the parking lot at Cader Ln. If you had started out to the right, this is the first area you would come to.

Check out all the other information below including amenities and other access points.

See you on the trail.

Lynn Millar

Pictures by Mike Millar

Where: East of Hwy 101 off of Lakeville Hwy (116) go south on McDowell Blvd. South Ext. cross Adobe Creek and turn into a narrow driveway named Cader Lane. There are 20 or so spaces. Even on busy Sunday, we found a spot. I don’t know how friendly business are to park parking. The City of Petaluma lot is free. At the entrance to the loop is a display kiosk with a self-guided tour that explains many of the attributes to Shollenberger Park.

More bird information: PRBO, now apparently called Point Blue. Headquarters is off the trail.

Other access: Off Lakeville Hwy (116) near Hwy 101 take Baywood Dr. turning into what looks like the parking lot for the Sheraton. At the south end of the parking lot is access to Alman Marsh. This path runs along the river and meets up with the Shollenberger Park trail. Even though, it’s closer to the noise of Hwy 101, I think I  like this route better, when the ponds are dry at Shollenberger and there are fewer birds. It’s about a mile long.

If you work in the area and don’t have to worry about parking, you can access the Shollenberger Park where McDowell Blvd. S Ext. crosses Adobe Creek.

Shollenberger bicyclists

Bikes: Are okay. The  gravel path discourages warrior bikers looking for faster, longer trails. It’s mostly younger kids.

Rocky Memorial Dog Park

Dogs: Dogs on leash at Shollenberger and Alman Marsh. But! Take Casa Grande Rd. south off of Lakeville Hwy and go to the Rocky Memorial Dog Park. Only a dog could love this place. There’s a big area for them to run free. (It’s built on a capped land fill.) There are lots of rules (city license, 3 dogs limit, shots, older than 4 mos, etc.) Can you access on foot from other trails? Anyone?

Wheelchair: At the Cader Ln entrance the path to the right is paved to the river. Which is good but there is an obstacle in the zig-zag meant to slow down bicycles. What it does is make a chair difficult to maneuver, as one group informed me.

Bathroom: Cement block building, 2 single toilet rooms with cold-water sink, near Cader St. parking lot.

Fountains: Adult, child and dog levels near the bathrooms.

Food: There’s always Starbucks. The closest one is at Adobe Creek strip mall, at corner of McDowell Blvd S. Ext. and Lakeville Hwy. Other food-like places there and along Lakeville Hwy heading north to Petaluma. I suggest taking it to D Street, go left, cross river, take a right on Petaluma Blvd. S. At the corner of Western is Central Market, delicious if pricey. (Ate there on 2-15. Wonderful food. Good service, neither “you’re-not-good-enough- to-be-here” nor “hey guys, want to be my new best friend?”) At B St.  and the river is the Apple Box for more modest fare. There are some other choices here, but also a general lack of parking. We went to Java Amoré in Penngrove. It’s on the way home. Update: We’ve come to like Sugo Trattoria in a little strip mall behind the movie theater – 5 Petaluma Blvd. S.

Meanwhile back to walking…

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