Monday 2 December 2013

Palo Alto Baylands, San Francisco, November 2013

A full day in San Francisco was mine to exploit as I saw fit. My first reaction was to look at hiring a car but, recalling how expensive it is to park a car in the city and how vigilant the parking attendants are, I fell back on old posts to remind me of the possibilities that were mine through the medium of public transport.

CalTrains leave from San Francisco Station at the bottom of Fourth Street (Google Earth ref; 37 46 35.96N 122 23 41.54W), just a few blocks from the hotel and with an 8-hour body-clock head start, the 06.11 was a breeze. I had hired a bike the night before and strapped it into the bike compartment for the hour or so ride to California Avenue (Google Earth ref; 37 25 44.22N 122 8 29.23W). From here, it is about 4-5kms to the Palo Alto Duck Pond and The Lucy Evan’s Baylands Interpretative Center. 

American Robins, California Towhees, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Cedar Waxwings enlivened the ride until I arrived at just before 08.00. The top of the tide was 07.50, so there were plenty of birds pushed up onto the roosting areas.

One of these spots was immediately beneath the approach path for the local airport and a small prop plane came into land and put a fun-sized mixed flock of American Avocet, Willet and Marbled Godwit to flight.

I wanted to move quickly on to the boardwalk to see if any rails had been pushed up out of the marsh by the high tide. It was predicted to reach 2.3m this morning, but as it turned out, 2.3m is not quite enough. The tide tables show that it does get higher than this with 2.9 and 3m tides due over the following week. I guess that would inundate most of the marsh and the rails would be up on the boardwalk. Timing.

The surge had forced a few Least Sandpipers up onto the edge of the marsh and they were very cooperative, gleaning and bathing very close to the platform at the end of the boardwalk. A small mixed flock of Dunlin and Western Sandpiper joined them and they all looked anxious to get back to the mud as soon as the water receded.

This would likely be a while, so I returned to the slough and the duck pond to watch large numbers of Northern Shovelers and Canvasback.

On the western side of the pond was an unlikely pair of branch-fellows. A White-tailed Kite perched slightly above a Cooper’s Hawk.

The duck pond held more shovelers (actually if I mention any bird associated with the water, even if my writing tone sounds a little moist, make a mental note that there were lots of shovelers in view at the same time. That will save a lot of repetition), Mallard and a few Ring-billed Gulls. The Boneparte Gulls were seen on the slough but were reluctant to come onto the (fresh water?) of the duck pond.

The water should have receded a bit by now and a few birds were flying out from the roosts to make first tracks in the fresh mud.

Rail Alley, a wide ditch in the marsh that passes beneath the boardwalk already had some very rail evoking prints, but the bird was not to be seen. Out on the bay, the water was fantastically still and a Brown Pelican nearly stalled as it flew over and suddenly spotted something near the surface.

Clarke’s Grebes kept a respectable distance from the platform, but the Least Sandpipers were content to feed near the margins and leave the tide-chasing to the other species. A Song Sparrow sat in the good light a waited for me to trip over my tripod before firing off a couple of shots.

As I returned to fetch my bicycle to continue on towards Mayfield and Charleston Slough, I happened to turn back and notice a Northern Harrier making a perfect flypast of the platform and boardwalk. Timing.

Birds seen; 57

Canada Goose 35, Gadwall 4, Mallard 25, Cinnamon Teal 2, Northern Shoveler 800, Northern Pintail 30, Green-winged Teal 55, Canvasback 60, Lesser Scaup 2, Ruddy Duck 4, Pied-billed Grebe 1, Clark’s Grebe 4, Double-crested Cormorant 12, Brown Pelican 2, Great Egret 1, Snowy Egret 4, Turkey Vulture 1, White-tailed Kite 2, Northern Harrier 1, Cooper’s Hawk 2, Peregrine Falcon 2, American Coot 65, Black-bellied Plover 2, Black-necked Stilt 35, Greater Yellowlegs 2, Willet 25, Long-billed Curlew 3, Marbled Godwit 35, Western Sandpiper 3, Least Sandpiper 25, Dunlin 3, Short-billed Dowitcher 25, Boneparte’s Gull 8, Ring-billed Gull 15, Western Gull 1, Glaucous-winged Gull 1, Mourning Dove 2, Anna’s Hummingbird 2, Black Phoebe 3, American Crow 12, Common Raven 2, Bushtit 4, Bewick’s Wren 1, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2, American Robin 25, Northern Mockingbird 1, Cedar Waxwing 30, European Starling 6, Yellow-rumped Warbler 1, California Towhee 2, Song Sparrow 5, White-crowned Sparrow 2, Golden-crowned Sparrow 6, Dark-eyed Junco 1, Red-winged Blackbird 2, Brewer’s Blackbird 3, House Finch 5.

 From here, I had to move quickly to return my bicycle. I took the route out past Mayfield and Charleston Slough.

From Terminal Blvd at Google Earth ref; 37 26 0.61N 122 6 0.17W, San Antonio Road runs south for 3kms, crossing the Highway 101 to the San Antonio Caltrain Station at San Antonio and Alma (Google Earth ref; 37 24 26.94N 122 6 26.93W). A day-ticket on Caltrains cost US$ 14 AS AT December 2013.

For more posts from Palo Alto, use the links below;
Visit the dedicated USA and Canada Page for more posts from San Francisco, including; Golden Gate Park and the Nudist Beach


  1. It looks like a good spot to visit with some nice images, so I'll keep it in mind for January!

  2. Hi Happy, it is a great place to notch up a lot of common birds and easy to into and around. Have fun