Estero Americano Raptor Hike – Bodega Bay

Estero Americano Raptor Hike - Bodega Bay | Smiling in Sonoma

Migrating birds of prey soaring high above the brown grasses, dolphins jumping through waves below the cliffs, whale spouts in the distance near the horizon, jackrabbits bouncing through grass, cows grazing along the coastal bluffs, deer wandering the hillsides, a pouncing bobcat in the ravine and 18 nature lovers go for a walk guided by a larger than life birder. Sounds incredible right? The hubs and I were one of the lucky ones to walk among all of this beauty! The newly acquired Estero Americano just south of Bodega Bay used to be home to a cattle ranch but will now and forever thrive as a natural preserve for migrating birds.

We had signed up for a raptor hike months ago with the Sonoma Land Trust and The Wildlands Conservancy. Same people we went on the amazing wildflower hike in the Jenner Headlands. They are so knowledgeable and passionate about the land here. This small 547 acre piece of heaven isn’t open to the public yet and is only accessible through guided hikes like this. I cannot wait for everyone to be able to experience this!

The hubs and I met up with everyone in the little town of Bodega and carpooled in a caravan over to the estero. We were just driving on a dirt road passing entrances to other ranches in the area and then all of a sudden the views opened up to the estero and beyond, then the right side dropped off into a deep ravine showing off Doran Beach and Bodega Head to us. We noticed a bobcat pouncing around in the ravine in the taller grasses. It looked like he was having so much fun! Then he saw all of us and took off like a bullet and disappeared. This was just the beginning of our adventure!

Once we reached the old ranch house and barn we gathered up and admired our surroundings as the cows and jackrabbits checked us out. Larry, our guide, explained what he was hoping to see that day and pointed out a couple of pairs of red tailed hawks that lived in neighboring cypress trees. Apparently this is an unusual occurrence and the two pairs have figured out how to coexist and share the hunting grounds. Later in our hike we had the opportunity to see them challenge each other!

We headed up the hill to the ridgetop which opened up to 360 degree views from Bodega Head, down to the estero flowing into the ocean, to Mt St Helena in the distance and out to Dillon Beach, Tomales Bay and Point Reyes. Absolutely breathtaking!! There were a couple of sightings of smaller migrating birds (I should have written the names down) so we took a break at the peak and chatted about the landscape we were seeing. From here we could see dolphins playing in the waves close to the shore and Larry took this time to explain the feeding habits of the birds. And then it happened. It was like rush hour in Santa Rosa…one bird after another came flying by. Some soaring above us some down hugging the mountainside and some appearing from nowhere out of the estero ravine.

It was sort of like a comedy show with everyone looking through their binoculars saying “I see one over there” and pointing, then everyone would shift and then another raptor would fly by and someone else would shout “over there!”. This went on for a bit and we decided to head down toward the ravine above the estero to follow the birds. This was such a great experience to be there with people from all walks of life being excited to enjoy nature. As we walked down the hillside we kept catching sight of more wildlife. Deer were roaming around and just chilling like statues in some places.

The end of our hike was along the bluffs overlooking the ocean…and this is where the magic happened. A Ferruginous Hawk that we had been looking for all day decided to glide by just above us!! He was hunting the coastline for his prey and trying to stay clear of the 2 pairs of resident red tail hawks. He didn’t care we were underneath him, he just wanted food. Larry said he was a juvenile and needed to eat every other day. Hope he found some! He swooped by us again and we all got to get a better view of him and we were even able to capture a couple of good pics. His wingspan was pretty wide and so graceful.

As we walked back up to the ranch house and barn a great blue heron decided to fly by and land in a pond on the property. I personally love these majestic creatures so I walked briskly up the hill ahead of the group to capture a picture of him. As I was coming over the hilltop I saw a calf run up the other side to check out what just flew into his pond! He was so cute and curious! Mama cow followed just behind him and guarded her babe from us strangers. The great blue heron could care less about any of us…he was there to hunt the fish trapped in the pond.

From here we could see and hear the 2 pairs of red tail hawks challenging each other. Talons down and screaming calls of war and then they would separate and stay on their own sides of the ravine and hunt separately. It was a great ending to an exciting day along the coast!

If you have a chance to sign up for one of these guided hikes, do it! The hike was about 4 miles with lots of breaks, 800 ft elevation gain and a rustic restroom in the old caretakers house. This is currently private property and only accessible through a guided hike.


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