A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

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


The whitest of the sandpipers in most plumages, as the latin name alba suggests. Usually found on tidal mudflats and on sandy coastal beaches. Probably most easily observed in Sonoma County at Bodega Bay. Sanderlings begin arriving in the county usually in mid-July. The birds are then common in appropriate habitat through early May of the following year, when numbers start to diminish. Mostly absent here in June and into mid-July. Usually in small groups but sometimes seen in large flocks as well. Commonly mixes with other shorebirds. Sanderlings are especially active, often running quickly along the beach or playing tag with the waves.  

Lower breast, belly, and vent white in all plumages. Always has a clean, crisp look. Bill and legs black. Sanderling shows little color besides black and white except in full breeding plumage, when it gains bright rusty tones on the head, back, upper breast, and upper flanks--a plumage we very rarely see in Sonoma County. Immature birds in winter (non-breeding) plumage, like the one pictured above, have a distinct, black, white, and grey pattern above that suggests tweed, all white below. Adult birds in non-breeding plumage are more uniformly pale grey above, all white below, but often show a black edge along the bottom of the folded wing (photo below). In flight, Sanderling has a clear white wing stripe (see below) and a dark patch on the leading edge of the wing at the bend is often conspicuous.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 55

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 235

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 178

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, pg. 190

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 146

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 224-225

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 156

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 168

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 174

Kaufman, Advanced Birding, 1990, pp. 64-67 (general notes on shorebird ID), p. 66

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 210-241 (general notes on shorebird ID), pp. 96, 211, 214, 220, 239

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, p. 107, 109, 111-112

O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson, The Shorebird Guide, 2006, pp. 139-144, 400-402

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 31

Paulson, Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, 2005, pp. 279-284

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 152, 162-163

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 142, 160-161

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 140

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 164

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 257

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 153

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Sanderling



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011.

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.


Sanderling (young bird), Westside Park mud flats, Bodega Bay, September 27, 2011

Two Sanderlings in flight showing wing pattern. Non-breeding plumage, with Marbled Godwits (Limosa fedoa)

Westside Park mud flats, Bodega Bay, September 27, 2011

Adult winter (non-breeding) plumage. It is this plumage we most commonly see.

November 22, 2010, Alameda (Alameda County), CA


Calidris alba

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated August 24, 2013

EBird-reported occurrence in Sonoma County