Unique spot offers spectacular bird watching

July 2, 2010 7:41:43 PM PDT
You have just a couple of weeks left this year to enjoy some of the Bay Area's most spectacular bird watching. Every year, several species of birds come back to a secluded canyon along Bolinas Lagoon in Marin County.Scott Feirerabend is the new executive director of Audubon Canyon Ranch, and he's pretty excited to be there.

"What makes it so special and unique are the birds that keep coming back here year after year after year. Right now, we have over 100 egrets and herons that are setting up their shops," he said.

Most of the year you see egrets in shallow water or mud looking for food, but when they're ready for romance, they look for tall trees.

"The males come in and they display and the females pick which males they want and they nest build together," biologist Sara Millus said.

Egrets have been coming to the canyon for decades and so have human visitors. There is a half mile trail up the hill to a viewing station that puts you at eye level with the nests and high powered scopes give you an even closer view.

Mary Jorgensen and Tom Turner came from Oakland.

"It's like looking into your neighbors' bedroom. You can see everything, you can see the moms feeding the chicks, you can see the chicks trying to learn how their wings are going to work," Turner said.

The adult birds swoop in and out with twigs for their nests and food for their babies. Many of the babies are almost as big as their parents now and starting to test their wings.

Audubon Canyon Ranch is a protected area only open to the public a few months a year. Right now in addition to the egrets, you can get a great look at cliff swallows.

These are the same kind of swallows that come back to San Juan Capistrano year after year. These guys aren't as famous, but the babies are just as cute.

The swallows live in nests made of little balls of mud -- carefully built by parents who fly back and forth from Bolinas Lagoon.

"Each nest is between 800 and 1,400 mud balls, so that they say the average is about 1,100. So that's 1,100 trips back and forth," resident biologist Gwen Heistand said.

About 7,000 people come to see the birds during each nesting season.

"It's so nice to have it be close to the Bay Area, you can get here within an hours' drive. And it's pretty spectacular to have it all protected like this," Bill Hawkes from Fairfield said.

The preserve also runs programs for school children and they are looking for more docents. If you volunteer, you can come all year long.

Otherwise you better hurry; they'll only be open until July 11 -- after that you have to wait until next year.

Information:

Audubon Canyon Ranch/Bolinas Lagoon Preserve is open from mid-March through mid-July.
The 2010 public season is March 13, 2010 through July 11, 2010.


Open weekends and holidays: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., no appointment necessary.
Tuesday through Friday: by appointment only.
Monday: Closed.
A $15 donation is suggested. Donations of any amount are appreciated.

For more information, visit www.egret.org

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.


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