A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

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


Jenner, Russian River, Goat Rock

Location aliases: Nomenclature can be confusing here. Various names are used because the area includes good bird watching sites near the town of Jenner, at the mouth of the Russian River, at Goat Rock, and at Goat Rock Beach, and birders use all of these names fairly loosely. Sometimes birders just call the area "Jenner Estuary" or "the Russian River Estuary." "Jenner Headlands" is often used for parts of the area, while the Jenner Headlands Preserve is a specific 5,630-acre property just north of Jenner (see notes at bottom of page). The island at the mouth of the river is known as Penny Island. The bridge across the Russian River here may be referred to as the Bridgehaven Bridge.

©2011 Google – Imagery ©2011 DigitalGlobe, USDA Farm Service Agency, GeoEye, Data CSUMB SFML CA OPC, Map data ©2011 Google

Location: The town of Jenner is on Hwy 1, 11 miles north of Bodega Bay, about 16 miles south of Fort Ross.

GPS address: 10480 Hwy 1, Jenner, CA 95450 will take you to the south end of the town of Jenner.

GPS Coordinates: The center of town along the highway is at 38.4496N, 123.1150W (or 38 23 44N, 123 05 34W). The parking lot at Goat Rock is at 38.4410N, 123.1260W (or 38 26 28N, 123 07 34W).

Access: Several roadside pull-outs north and south of Jenner are good for surveying the river and the ocean with a scope. Free parking at Goat Rock Beach. Goat Rock and Goat Rock Beach are approached via a turn-off from Hwy 1 south of the bridge over the Russian River (see map). Goat Rock Beach is a very good area to survey the coast and open ocean from. Be sure to walk along the beach far enough to also turn around and scan the mouth of the river and Penney Island. The road down to Goat Rock is one of many that give access to the Sonoma Coast Trail which runs along the bluffs at the coast here. Kayak rental is available nearby for the more adventurous. 

Habitats: Coastal woodland, rocky coast, open ocean, residential, Russian River estuary

Typical Species: Goat rock is a good spot for watching gulls and shorebirds that prefer rocky coastal areas, including Wandering Tatler and Surfbird. Otherwise, typical species include: Common Loon, Red-throated Loon (I have seen as many as 90 here all at once), Horned Grebe, Western Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Brandt's Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Surf Scoter, Black Turnstone, Black Oystercatcher, Western Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, California Gull, Herring Gull, Bonaparte's gull, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Say's Phoebe, Brewer's Blackbird, European Starling, Savannah Sparrow and others. On the river look for ducks such as Mallard, Greater Scaup, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Northern Pintail, and Common Goldeneye.

Unusual birds, sightings: Glaucous Gull (Mark Stephenson 12/19/15); Bald Eagle (1/8/14, Ken Wilson); Franklin’s Gull (5/3/14, Rick LeBaudour) Greater White-fronted Goose (5/18, 2013, Peter Colasanti); Barrow’s Goldeneye (Feb 23, 2013, Scott Carey); Broad-winged Hawk (Sep 19, 2012 Jenner Headlands, Gene Hunn); Glaucous Gull (Feb 21, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Slaty-backed Gull (Feb 20, 2012, Don Kirker); Glaucous Gull (Feb 16, 2012, Floyd Hayes); Bald Eagle (Dec 12, 2011, David Barry); Bald Eagles (Nov 24, 2011, Becky Olsen). Can sometimes be a place to see Black Kittiwake. Burrowing Owl has been reported on Penny Island.

Restroom facilities: The Jenner Sea Store (by the gas station; it says "Jenner 'C' Store" on the side of the building) has outside portable restrooms. At River's End Restaurant north of town there are restrooms, but probably accessible only to customers. There are restrooms at the Sonoma Coast State Park visitors center, at the south end of town, across from the Jenner Sea Store. If you're headed south from Jenner, Bodega Bay is about six miles away where the Tides Restaurant at Tides Wharf has easily accessible restrooms. Some of the beaches marked along the coastal highway have restroom facilities in their parking areas, but not all. Some of these may be closed because of state budget cuts.

Restaurants Nearby:  The Jenner Sea Store has a deli with sandwiches and the like (10438 Hwy 1, Jenner, CA 95450, 865-2906) at the south entrance to town, or, if you feel like something more substantial, try the River's End Restaurant just north of the town (11048 Hwy 1, Jenner CA, 95450, 865-2484). There is also a new restaurant called Café Aquatica at 10439 Hwy 1, Jenner, CA 95450, across the street from the gas station, but I don't know anything about this place yet.

If you’re coming from the north and headed south to Bodega Bay, it may make sense to eat in Bodega Bay because there is more available (see the Bodega Bay Overview page for restaurant suggestions), but there are choices along the highway in the vicinity of Jenner as well. On the south side of the bridge over the Russian River (on the map it looks like it's on the north side of the bridge, but that's just the label)  is The Sizzling Tandoor, which offers good if not exciting Indian food (I've heard it's best in the evening) with a good view (9960 Hwy. 1, Jenner, CA 95450, 865-0625; bring your binoculars out on the deck in the summer). To get into Jenner, you take the left fork in the road after the bridge if you're approaching this area from the south and are aiming further north on Hwy 1. The right fork, however, will take you east, away from the coast, into the town of Duncans Mills where Cape Fear Café (long one of the better restaurants in the North Bay area--although I haven't been recently) offers very good food with a southern flavor (25191 CA Route 116, 865-9246). Continuing further east on State Route 116 will take you toward Guerneville, Sebastopol, and Santa Rosa.

Nearby attractions: Fort Ross (pictured) at Fort Ross State Historic Park is 13 miles (about 15 minutes) to the north, at 19005 Hwy 1, Jenner, CA 95450 (847-4777 for general information). The fort and associated buildings were built in 1812 as a Russian fur trading hub and supply outpost for Russian traders as far north as Alaska. There is an $8 parking fee. The museum is worth a visit. You can also walk down to the coast from here to do more birding. See the Bodega Bay Overview page for attractions to the south.

Related bird watching spots: Duncan's Landing is about five miles to the south. The Bodega Bay area is another six miles to the south from there. See the Bodega Bay Overview page for information on Bodega bay birding spots. Willow Creek Rd. (the road just to the south of The Sizzling Tandoor restaurant) is an excellent spot to look for raptors (winter) and migrants at the appropriate times of the year (mostly around April and November).

Notes: Some GPS devices may call Hwy. 1 "Coast Hwy. 1." Some devices will put you near Los Angeles rather than around Jenner if you input addresses using Hwy 1, depending on how their databases code the name (using Hwy 1 or Coast Hwy 1 or California Hwy 1, etc.). Before starting off using a GPS, be sure you are, in fact, headed where you want to go.

2. Jenner Headlands Preserve is not at present open to the public, but ranger-led hikes can be arranged. For information, call 328-5543 or 328-8539, or see the Website for details.

3. Gasoline is expensive here, but if you're low and going north, best to fill up in Jenner as there is only one other small, very expensive station between this area and Gualala, nearly 40 miles to the north.

All photos by the author, unless otherwise indicated

Maps by Google Maps



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

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.


The bird in the photo: Glaucous Gull, Goat Rock Beach, February 21, 2012