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Bay Area Bird Blog » day trips

Archive for the 'day trips' Category

31st 2009
Ecotourism in…Martinez? Martinez!

Posted under day trips & local wildlife & travel

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Martinez and environs are a great place to spend a day or two, if you’re a nature-lover.  Take your bikes (we used Amtrak from Berkeley, only $10 per person each way and you get great views of North Richmond and Point Pinole that you can’t get from the car).  and enjoy a lovely ride from Martinez out to Port Costa and back, along a beautiful road with no cars. (Or hike in the adjacent hills).  Return to Martinez and head out to the small but worth-a-visit Muir National Historic Site. Then do a hike in the hills from the nearby trailhead.  Head back into downtown Martinez for a snack, then do some birding at the wetlands where Alhambra Creek meets the bay.  Have an early dinner, finishing just before dark so you can head over to the beaver dam — they have beavers right in the middle of town! — and look for the beavers, and the muskrat, and the green heron that is always around, and the mink and otter that occasionally come through.  Afterwards, head just down the street to Armando’s for some music until you start to get tired. Then head over to Benicia (if you’re car-free, I recommend the local Martinez Taxi service, which has a van that you can put two bikes into, as we proved this weekend) and stay at one of Benicia’s charming hotels or B&B’s.  Get up early in the morning, bike two miles over to Benicia State Park and bird the wetlands there, then head back for breakfast.  Afterwards, head on home, or bike back to Martinez on the brand-spankin’-new Benica-Martinez bike path and catch the train back to your destination.  Put it all together, and you have a terrific 24-hour or 48-hour getaway.

The description above isn’t _quite_ how we did it this past weekend — for example, it was the hottest weekend of the year, so we swapped out some of the outdoor activities in favor of a massage by Joyce Cid (excellent).  But trust me, you can do a great weekend of outdoor activities in and around Martinez.


31st 2008
Olompali State Historic Park is fantastic

Posted under day trips

Over the sixteen years I’ve lived in the Bay Area, I have driven past Olompali State Historic Park — on US 101 about fifteen miles north of the Richmond Bridge — over 150 times.  At least thirty of those times, my wife and I have agreed that “we really have to stop by this place sometime.”  Yesterday, we finally did…and I’m sure we’ll be back a few times every year from now on.  There are some historic buildings ranging from 80 to 150 years old, with several interesting stories attached…that alone would be enough to make a single visit worthwhile; for example, there are some remains of the adobe house of the last Miwok Indian leader, dating from the mid-1800s.  (The documented history of the place goes back to 1600, when Francis Drake stopped by, but as some interpretive displays in the visitor’s center make clear, there were people living here since before the dawn of civilization.)

There is also a small “Miwok village,” though it doesn’t intend to really recreate a village.  It does have a house made of reeds, and a storage shelter made of bark. (There is a sign that suggests that there used to be a “longhouse,” too, but there’s no sign of it.  Most interesting to us was the garden of native plants, mostly dormant at this time of year, with signs telling how they were used for food or medicine.  Someday I may try to make a meal from the plants in my backyard; it’s clear that the Miwok would have had no problem doing so, even though not a single one of them is what we would now consider a food plant.

The buildings, history, and Miwok village were interesting, and I could imagine going back at a few different times of year simply to see how the Miwok garden grows, but the real highlight was the scenery and the birds.  Over the course of a five-mile walk, including all of a loop trail, plus part of the climb up a small mountain, we saw: a flock of acorn woodpeckers; a pair of varied thrush apparently building a nest; several ruby-crowned kinglets; a winter wren; a couple of hawks that we couldn’t definitively identify; a cedar waxwing; and of course many other birds that are more familiar to us, such as towhees and robins and hummingbirds (not sure exactly what variety).  Most the walk is through beautiful oak woodland, interspersed with buckeyes and bay trees.  Really beautiful.


11th 2008
Drake’s Estero trail at Point Reyes is one of my favorites

Posted under day trips & local birds

My wife and I went to Point Reyes on Saturday to do a day hike, our first time up there in several months: I hurt my foot in the spring and have been trying to stay off it.  We did the “Drake’s Estero” hike, which goes through grasslands, through a very small area of pine woodlands, over a tidal marsh, and into the hills above the sea.  It was somewhat foggy when we started out, which deterred other visitors (thank god): we saw very few people on the outward leg, but as we got back towards the trailhead there were several big, raucous groups heading out.  

It would be a beautiful hike even if we didn’t see any birds or wildlife, but in fact there was lots of bird activity.  In the little pine forest, we saw a big mixed flock of chickadees, creepers, and pygmy nuthatches. I’d never seen creepers in a flock before, and didn’t know that they like to hang around with chickadees.  In fact, this should be a big lesson to me: often I’ve seen a flock of little birds, taken a close look and said “chickadees”, and not given the flock a second thought…think of all the nuthatches and creepers I may have been missing. 


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28th 2008
Martinez Beaver Festival

Posted under day trips & local wildlife

Martinez beaver photo by Cheryl Reynolds[Photo: One of the famous Martinez Beavers, photographed by Cheryl Reynolds]

Next Saturday, August 2, there will be a festival from 3:30-6:30 PM in Martinez, California to celebrate the return of beavers to that town a couple of years ago, and their successful raising of some baby beavers.  This is a really easy trip from the East Bay, only 30 minutes by car from Berkeley or you could take Amtrak and sit in style while watching the beautiful scenery (the tracks follow the bay all the way around, unlike the freeway, so you see stuff you can’t see if you drive).  My wife and I have gone a couple of times, and I’ve even ridden my bike there from Berkeley (although I would not claim that it was easy).  Martinez is a great little town.  Once, we went to see the beavers early in the morning and then did some birdwatching at the slough farther downstream; another time, we took our bikes along and rode the really splendid bike route from Martinez to Crockett and back.  Have lunch or dinner in Martinez and tell ‘em you’re there for the beavers — honestly, that is the best way to help ensure that the beavers continue to have a home, because, believe it or not, there are some people there who want to get rid of the beavers!  So just by going to the festival and having a drink or some food at a local joint, it’s a bit like making a donation (as long as you mention that you came for the beavers).  Can’t beat that!

More about the beavers is at the “worth a dam” blog (which doesn’t prominently mention the festival because the information has been pushed down the page by recent entries, but these are the people organizing the festival).  There’s also an article on the Bay Nature website. Bay Nature is a Bay-Area-specific nature magazine (as you might, just might, have been able to guess from the title) that is really, really good — my wife and I have been getting it since it came out and it is really terrific. But I never before realized that they do stories on their website that they don’t have room for in the magazine, so even if you get the magazine you need to check out their website too.  I’ve added it to the blogroll. 


24th 2008
Berkeley’s OTHER Kite festival!

Posted under day trips & endangered species & local birds

[Ron Wolf photo of a white-tailed kite]

Birder extraordinaire Rusty Scalf sent this write-up to Diablo Audubon recently, and Corinne Paff passed it along to me:

This morning, Corinne Greenberg, Charlie Paffenberger  and I took a walk throught the ‘Berkeley Meadow’ and around Cesar Chavez Park. Highlights:

Two White-tailed Kite youngsters, obviously siblings, perched together on a Coyote Bush; Beautiful with chestnut breasts and marbled graphite gray backs.

A Northern Harrier food exchange and nest visit: The male flew from Cesar Chavez Park towards the Meadow carrying a vole and the female flew in to meet him. There was a mid-air exchange, much calling, then the female descended to the ground in a couple of big loops ending with perhaps a 10 ft vertical drop into dense vegetation.

We saw an adult and a young Barn Owl in the northeast-most box on the Cesar Chavez loop trail.

The Pelagic Cormorants are at their nest on the concrete wall on the north side of the Marina. One bird was incubating.

Harriers and kites are “species of special concern,” so it’s especially neat to be able to see them so close to the city.  And for me it’s especially great that these are very distinctive birds: even _I_ can identify them, and that’s really saying something.

If you haven’t visited the Berkeley Meadow yet, definitely stop by. (It’s just north of University Avenue, just west of the freeway).  Here’s a suggestion: start at Aquatic Park and bird there (it’s worth doing the full circuit); then cross the freeway via the pedestrian bridge to the Berkeley Meadow (stop off at the crab shack for fortification first, it’s right on the way) and look for the kites and harriers and such.  Continue with the loop around Cesar Chavez Park, then head back to the bridge via the other route through the meadow.  Finish up by walking over to fourth street, or to the fabulous Vik’s Indian place.  That, my friends, is a terrific way to spend three or four hours.  


29th 2008
Hawk Hill?

Posted under day trips & local birds

I never knew the name “Hawk Hill,” but I certainly agree that the area just north of the Golden Gate Bridge is a great, scenic spot to visit.   The “Novato Advance” (which I’ve never heard of, why not check it out?) gives a description; note that their directions assume you are coming towards San Francisco from the north.  The article says: “Hawk Hill is one of the best places in the Bay Area to see a large amount of bird life as thermal wind currents naturally funnel through the local geology, enabling hawks to cross the Golden Gate during their migration. Although September and October are the optimal months for birding, this is still a spectacular location for hiking and birding year-round.”  

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24th 2008
Plant a willow, save a beaver: Martinez willow-planting

Posted under day trips & local wildlife & volunteer

Saturday, June 7, 2008, the Martinez “Worth A Dam” group is doing a willow-planting party.  Even if there were no beavers there, this would be a great thing: willows are great riparian vegetation, they shade the water so it’s good for fish, they provide perches for little birdies, etc.  In this case the planting is even better because (1) the beavers need willows! and (2) good turnouts at events like this will help convince the Martinez mayor and others that they should allow the beavers to stay. If you haven’t been out to Martinez, this would be a great time to go.  Show up super early and you might get a chance to see the beavers before they go into their lodge for the day; then go to the good local breakfast joint a few blocks away to fortify yourself, and then go out and stick some willow stakes into the ground (that’s pretty much all it takes).  For info, go to

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18th 2008
Interview with Arnel Guanlao, local birder extraordinaire

Posted under day trips & interview & local birds

Our interview subject this time is Arnel Guanlao, the founder and moderator of a “yahoo group” called sfbayarea-birds (easily confused with sfbayareabirding, which is not the same!) Before Arnel did this interview, I knew he was a far more knowledgeable birder than me, and probably more observant and a quicker learner, too. Now, I know for sure that all of these are true. Read on for some information about Arnel, and especially about how he got to be so damn good…and where to go to see some birds!
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