Yes, it’s sometimes hard to find time to get outdoors this time of year, but think of the rewards—beauty, wildlife, health and fitness, peace and quiet. Bundle up and take a hike where you can see some of the S.F. Bay Area’s rich birding sites:
Lower Tubbs Island/Tolay Creek on San Pablo Bay: Travel writer Suzie Rodriguez, whose blog generally focuses on Sonoma County, recently wrote about a walk she took on the Lower Tubbs Island/Tolay Creek trail at the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. She points out that this time of year is a particularly fruitful time to hike this trail because not only will you see huge numbers of resident birds, but also ones migrating via the Pacific Flyway.
The eight-mile to ten-mile hike on the Lower Tubbs Island/Tolay Creek trail is flat, well-maintained packed earth, and runs atop levees. Rodriguez warns that about two miles along, where you find a kiosk and the entrance to the Tubbs Bird Sanctuary, the maps indicate that this is a loop trail, but it no longer is; it is now an out-and-back. Some time back there was a break in the levee and the U. S. Fish & Wildlife made the decision to leave it open for the benefit of the wildlife. Therefore, instead of turning right at the kiosk, take a left at the fork and continue on out to the edge of San Pablo Bay and around to the north until you reach the breach. Then retrace your steps.
You start this walk down a dirt road from the small parking lot off Highway 37, one-quarter mile east of the junction with Highway 121 to Sonoma. Hikers and bikes are allowed, no dogs. Click here for map.
Cesar Chavez Park at the Berkeley Marina (Berkeley): This doesn’t involve much hiking, but it could be a fine stroll to see some Burrowing Owls. Burrowing Owls have returned to winter in the northeast corner of In Cesar Chavez Park. According to the Golden Gate Audubon Society, there are presently two at the Art Installation and one closer to I-80 near the Tom Bates’ soccer fields. Sometimes it is difficult to see the owls, even when they are out of their burrows, but when volunteer docents are present, they provide scopes and binoculars for visitors to use for viewing.
Logistics: From Interstate 80 in Berkeley (Alameda County), exit University (exit 11). Drive west on University about 0.4 mile, then bear right onto Marina Boulevard. Drive north on Marina Boulevard 0.3 mile, at which point the road turns sharply left and becomes Spinnaker. Continue 0.3 mile on Spinnaker to the parking lot at the end of the road. Map here. Car-free? Click here.
Arrowhead Marsh at Martin Luther King Jr Shoreline (Oakland): This East Bay Regional Park is a prime viewing spot for winter migrating ducks as well as shorebirds, raptors and other song bird species. Pick up a map and choose among several out and back or loop trails. All are paved and also suitable for bicycles. Dogs are okay on leash (to protect wildlife). Although you probably will reach Arrowhead Marsh via a freeway, in no time at all you will forget about the proximity of Oakland Airport and the nearby highways because the water and wildlife will soon captivate you. The skies can also be spectacular from this viewpoint.
The marsh has more than one access point, but this walk begins inside the park entrance reached at the intersection of Doolittle Drive and Swan Way. There are a couple of paved parking areas inside the park. For this suggested walk, park in the first paved lot. Initially you will be walking along a canal where you will see ground squirrels climbing on the riprap and possibly an egret or two. As you continue north along the tarmac, you’ll approach the main body of the marsh. The trail rounds to the east and you’ll see some tiny offshore “islands” – start looking here for the endangered Clapper Rail. Walk out on the wooden (if possible—currently closed because structural damage) and continue studying the grassy mounds. Back on the path, continue east (passing the restrooms and another parking lot).
The trail splits. Straight ahead you can cross a wooden bridge and turn north to walk along the east side of the estuary on the Garretson Point Trail. You will find picnic tables along the way and other parking areas. (It is possible to walk all the way around the water, but it becomes a more urban than nature walk as you work your way through city streets on the north side.) Most people continue on the Garretson trail passing some picnic tables and eveningwould mean ,eound When you are ready, turn around and retrace your steps.
If you turn right at the trail split, you will walk south along San Leandro Creek. This is usually quieter bird-wise, but mallards and grebes seem to like it. You’ll also be partially circling an area being reclaimed that is surrounded by a chain link fence. Continue in this direction until you can turn west. As you reach the southern boundary of the enclosed area, look through the chain link fence and you may see jackrabbits as well as birds in the seasonal freshwater ponds. Map of the shoreline and trails
Enjoy your outings to see some of the S.F. Bay Area's easily accessible, prime birding spots.