A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

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


Helen Putnam Regional Park, Petaluma, 94952

Location aliases: Usually referred to by its proper name or shortened to Helen Putnam Park.

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

Location: The main address is officially 411 Chileno Valley Rd. Petaluma, 94952, and that address in Google Maps will show you the park, but approaching on the ground, in the real world, the park is down a road called Armstrong (see map). The entrance to the park is signposted, but the sign is difficult to see, making it easy to miss the turn.

GPS address: Try 411 Chileno Valley Rd., Petaluma, CA 94952 or 800 Armstrong, Petaluma, CA 94952. (Maps show this simply as "Armstrong." Further on there is an Armstrong Rd., but that is distinct and considerably beyond the park entrance. However, GPS units may confuse the two. It's safest just to keep an eye out for the entrance to the park off of Chileno Valley Rd. on your left.

GPS Coordinates: The main parking lot is at 38.2127N, 122.6641W (or 38 12 46N, 122 39 50W)

Access: From central Petaluma, Petaluma Blvd. North (or Petaluma Blvd. South) to Western Ave. Western Ave. leads west out of the town. Look for a left turn on Chileno Valley Rd. There are two connected parking lots, just inside the entrance. There is a $7 parking fee. Holders of Sonoma County Regional Park annual passes ($65 at the time of writing) park free. A loose network of interconnected trails starts at the entrance and allows a variety of walks through the park. Walks range in length from less than half a mile to 2-3 miles at elevations from 280 to 558 feet.

Habitats: Open grassy areas on rolling hills, scattered mature oaks with denser patches of mostly oak woodland in the northeastern (most distant from the entrance) parts of the park. There is a small pond as well. The park covers 256 acres.

Typical Species: Mallard, Red-winged Blackbird, Canada Goose, Brewer’s Blackbird, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Kestrel, White-tailed Kite, Cooper’s Hawk, Downy Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Anna's Hummingbird, American Crow, Black Phoebe, Say's Phoebe, Western Scrub-jay, Common Raven, Northern Mockingbird, Marsh Wren, Tree Swallow, Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Bewick's Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Oak Titmouse, Wrentit, Dark-eyed Junco, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee, Vaux's Swift, California Quail, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, American Goldfinch

Unusual birds, sightings: Lewis’s Woodpecker (3/8/15, Cynthia Rathkey); Townsend’s Solitaire (10/20/13, Cynthia and John Rathkey)

Restroom facilities: Public Restrooms by the parking, at the start of the trails.

Restaurants nearby:  Nothing in the immediate area, but the park is not far from Petaluma, which is probably the best bet for lunch. For a proper sit-down 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., dowtown 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, at 3995 Emerald Dr., Petaluma CA 94952 (778-8025).

Related bird watching spots: Close to Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility and the ponds and trails at Shollenberger Park--two of the best birding sites in the county. Lucchesi Park is in downtown Petaluma--excellent for gulls, especially in the winter. See the relevant pages for details. Further along Chileno Valley Rd. is Lake Laguna, another promising spot, but one I haven't personally checked out yet. Chileno Valley Rd. itself has been a good spot for raptors, so it may be worth a drive down to the lake in any case, if you're not in a hurry. To the east and north is Crane Creek Regional Park. Further north, in Santa Rosa, are Spring Lake and Lake Ralphine.

Further afield: 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. (not to be confused with the Armstrong that leads into Helen Putnam Regional Park) 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: Trails can be muddy in the winter months. Beware of poison oak in the wooded areas.  

All photos by the author, unless otherwise indicated

Maps by Google Maps



© Colin Talcroft, 2009-2015

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.