Wild Valley ~ Teri Shore

Teri Shore Teri Shore is a long-time environmentalist and journalist who has lived in Sonoma Valley for more than three decades. She is an avid hiker, backpacker, and wilderness advocate. As an environmental campaigner, she championed winning campaigns to preserve greenbelts and open space, create safe havens for endangered species, and clean up marine pollution for nonprofit advocacy groups.


A stroll around Lake Suttonfield

Posted on June 4, 2024 by Teri Shore

On a recent morning, I strolled l around Lake Suttonfield at the former Sonoma Developmental Center. It is in the heart of the wildlife corridor where I’ve walked for decades.  I was dazzled by the wildflowers and birds that I might have missed had I been pushing for an aerobic work-out.

After decades spent hiking and backpacking as much as I can, as fast and hard as I can, my body is forcing me to take it slow. Over the past year leg pain diagnosed as tendonitis has taken a toll on me despite trying just about everything. Finally, I’m realizing, and accepting, the benefits of easier walking. When you walk slower, you see so much more.

Right away, bright yellow Mariposa Lilies aka Gold Nuggets stopped me in my tracks. These elegant flowers are tiny sunbursts popping up from grass that has already mellowed to tawny hues. When the Gold Nuggets appear, summer heat soon follows.

Deep purple Wine Cup Clarkias stretched up in the grasses and bushy yellow St. John’s Wort lined up along the trail. But most wildflowers were done blooming, giving way to the leafy oaks and golden hills for the rest of the season.

As I admired the peaceful scene, a small, shy waterbird flushed from the shore. Mostly brown and gray with a short, sharp bill, it was a Pied-billed Grebe with three stripe-headed grebettes, as the chicks are called. The adults look a bit like coots or mud hens. One way to identify this grebe is the vertical black stripe on the bill. The grebettes have cool black and white head stripes, for camouflage I assume. I had never seen a grebe family here before. The birds quickly pushed out to safety in the center of the lake  

A bit further along, I heard a cry from the treetops. Often rowdy Red-shouldered Hawks are squawking and soaring around the lake. The reliable Red-tailed Hawk also is a regular here with its recognizable shrill call. But this was high-pitched and short. Scanning the canopy, I spotted an Osprey spreading its narrow, angled wings from the white fuselage of its body as it emerged from the oak woodlands. I wondered if perhaps a nest was hidden in the trees. The osprey is a rare sight for this location.

When I got around the corner from the main body of the lake, I stopped to watch a female Mallard hen and her one remaining duckling happily munching on pondweeds and bugs close to shore. Where was the male?

I looked up and a few feet away was a unit of big, bad Canada Geese giving me the evil eye. Intimidating alone, this crew was circling a fledge of meek mid-sized goslings. Not gonna mess with these birds! You never know, so I gave them a wide berth, making a semicircle off the trail and up the hill with my dog on a short leash. They didn’t budge but watched me retreat.

Next I heard a ruckus in the sky, and saw a feisty kestrel repeatedly dive-bombing a twitching, very annoyed Cooper’s Hawk. The small falcon wouldn’t let up, probably trying to ward off the sleek accipiter’s hunting for small birds in the woods, like maybe young kestrels?

Along with the birds mentioned so far, I heard or saw about 20 species of mostly resident birds that morning including: Spotted Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow, Acorn Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, Lesser Goldfinch, Killdeer, Violet-green Swallow, House Finch, Raven, Black Phoebe, House Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco, Mourning Dove, Oak Titmouse, Northern Mockingbird.

What a wild valley!

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