(credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the most diverse collections of bird species in North America and most certainly in the world. Indeed, the San Francisco Bay itself is the largest estuary on the West Coast, and the wetlands surrounding the bay and elsewhere provide a vital habitat for marsh birds and hundreds of other common and endangered bird species. One of the most fascinating times of the year is approaching, as millions of migratory birds will stop and rest in the Bay Area before proceeding along the Pacific Flyway. While there is a multitude of extraordinary places to enjoy bird watching all over the Bay Area, here are just five of the very best.
Baylands Nature Preserve
2500 Embarcadero Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303
Encompassing 1,940 largely undisturbed acres, Baylands Nature Preserve is described as one of the largest tracts of marshland in the Bay Area. Easily one of the best bird watching spots on the West Coast, the tidal and freshwater habitat is home to more than 150 bird species, including the endangered California clapper rail, found primarily within the marshes along San Francisco Bay. The clapper rail can be viewed during the fall, winter and spring near the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center. During the winter months, several species of wintering ducks such as mallards, pintails and shorebird species traveling across the Pacific Flyway can also be found near the interpretive center. In the springtime, birdwatchers can enjoy other fascinating bird species, such as cliff and barn swallows and nesting black-necked stilts, American avocets, black-crowned night herons and snowy egrets along the hiking trails, also not far from the interpretive center.
Doran Regional Park
201 Doran Beach Road
Bodega Bay, CA 94923
Doran Regional Park is just one of several outstanding birdwatching spots around Bodega Bay, located along the spectacular Sonoma Coast. Acclaimed as one of the finest birdwatching spots in North America, Bodega Bay lies along the Pacific Coast avian migration route and features hundreds of bird species, primarily pelagic species like gulls, black-footed albatross, cormorants and shearwaters. Other recommended bird watching spots around Bodega Bay are Porto Bodega, Owl Canyon, Campbell Cove and Bodega Head. Made internationally famous after the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror classic “The Birds,” Bodega Bay is among the American Bird Conservancy’s list of Globally Important Bird Areas.
680 Point Lobos Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94121
An important segment of the sprawling Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Land’s End is one of the best birdwatching spots in San Francisco. Over 200 migrant and resident bird species including flycatchers, oystercatchers, herons and warblers have been spotted here, and the best time to visit is during the fall migration through October. Land’s End features spectacular ocean views, scenic trails and important points of interest, such as Seals Rocks, the Cliff House, Sutro Baths and the USS San Francisco Memorial. Other recommended San Francisco birdwatching spots include Golden Gate Park and the Presidio of San Francisco, known for having one of the most diverse bird populations of all the world’s urban parks.
Point Reyes National Seashore
1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Often heralded as one of the Bay Area’s most beautiful places, Point Reyes is also acclaimed as one of the best birdwatching destinations in the country. Spread over more than 71,000 acres of protected habitat, including salt and freshwater marshes, beaches and estuaries, the national seashore represents the largest number of bird species in a single Bay Area location and by far the most diverse among all segments within the entire National Park System, From Bolinas in the south to Tomales Bay to the north, there are several outstanding spots for birdwatching, including Bolinas Lagoon, Drake’s Beach, Estero Trail, Point Reyes Lighthouse and the Giacomini Wetlands at the southern end of Tomales Bay.
Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary
376 Greenwood Beach Road
Tiburon, CA 94920
Located north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary is described as the largest estuarine reserve of the San Francisco Bay. Operated under the guidance of Audubon California, it protects 900 acres of habits in the San Francisco Bay and houses an educational center that’s open to the public. The center hosts free monthly bird walks the second Thursday of each month and is open to all levels of bird watchers. Each winter the center holds a waterbird survey of the thousands of migratory birds that descend upon the sanctuary, including ducks, loons, cormorants and grebes. Visitors may also be interested in visiting the historic Lyford House, an elegant 19th-century Victorian house overlooking the bay.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.