Sarah & I went for a lovely hike today at the Audubon Canyon Ranch Bolinas Lagoon Reserve just north of Stinson Beach. The reserve, privately owned by the Audubon Society, is open only for a few months out of the year, and only on weekends then.
They’re well-known for their heronry, which these days is populated mostly by nesting Great Egrets. I recall as a child in the late 70s and early 80s seeing many Great Blue Herons nesting here, but now they’re mostly across Bolinas Lagoon.
Admission to the reserve is free, but a donation is requested, and they have extra binoculars at the parking lot available for checkout for those who don’t have any. Another very nice features is the installation of several spotting scopes at each of the several viewing platforms they’ve set up.
We started up the Kent Trail, which has two viewing platforms, both with scopes. The Great Egrets were fairly far down-canyon, though, so we didn’t get great views, and certainly much too distant for photos. Since the Kent Trail loop is very short (under a mile), we decided to make a longer hike of it, and continued northeast on the Griffin Loop Trail, which climbed mercilessly for about a mile. Fortunately the trail was well-shaded, and was mostly in a lovely redwood forest as we climbed the crest of a ridge.
Although many birds were heard, very few showed themselves, and I’m not much good with birdsong. After a while of climbing, we came to a fork and bore left on the Zumie Trail, descending through a verdant redwood and fern grotto to a crossing of babbling Garden Club Canyon Creek, then climbing back up the other side, now in a bay and laurel grove, studded with occasional redwoods.
A bit more climbing brought us to a very welcome feature — smack in the middle of the woods was a large wooden bench, suspended from a frame, perfect for taking a break and swinging to and fro! As we rested, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitted about below a nearby pine tree.
This would be the perfect picnic place, except that no food is allowed on any of the trails at Audubon Canyon Ranch. When we’d had our fill of resting, we continued, now heading south-east on the Zumie Loop, soon emerging from the forest and hiking in the open through poison-oak-studded chaparral. Birding was a bit better here, with Anna’s Hummingbirds soaring and diving noisily, a Red-tailed Hawk overhead, along with a number of Turkey Vultures (it wouldn’t be a hike in West Marin without lots of TVs!).
We were glad we’d hiked the loop in this direction, as the climb up exposed Zumie Loop Trail would be less pleasant than our shady ascent on the Griffin Loop! Douglas Iris and hybridized Marin Irises were everywhere here (it wouldn’t be a hike in West Marin in spring without loads of Irises!). A bit more descending brought us to a junction, and we continued east to the Clem Miller Lookout, a very nice platform with yet more scopes, and a volunteer to loan out binoculars and talk to visitors.
This Lookout is above Bolinas Lagoon, and we saw many more birds here than we’d seen elsewhere on this hike. An Osprey flew by, fish in beak, and a pair of Caspian Terns (my first in a few years) fished with some success. It was lots of fun watching them dive through my scope. Green-winged Teal, Long-billed Curlew, and a few Northern Pintail rounded out the birds here.
A few hundred yards brought us back to the visitor’s center – we got our picnic lunch out of the car and ate it in a grassy area with nice views of the nesting Great Egrets far above.
We both really enjoyed this hike, even though the nesting egrets were distant, and having been to the Palo Alto Baylands heronry recently, where one is just a dozen feet from the egrets, had we seen nothing but the nesting egrets, it would have been disappointing. The rest of the hike was lovely, though, and outside of the viewing platforms near the parking lot, we saw only 1 other party, a couple with their 2 children.
Unfortunately conditions were poor for photography, and I don’t have anything worth sharing from the trip – a good excuse to return!
Distance: ~3 miles
Hike time: 1h 15min
Stopped time: 1h 20m
– Aechmomorphus sp. (Clark’s or Western Grebe)
– American Wigeon
– Anna’s Hummingbird
+ Caspian Tern
– Chestnut-backed Chickadee
– Common Raven
– Great Egret
– Green-winged Teal
– Long-billed Curlew
– Northern Pintail
– Red-tailed Hawk
– Red-winged Blackbird
– Ruby-crowned Kinglet
– Scaup sp.
– Turkey Vulture
– Western Gull
* = life bird, + = year bird
– Anagallis arvensis (Scarlet Pimpernel)
– Camissonia ovata (Beach Sun Cups)
– Castilleja sp. (Paintbrush)
– Eschscholzia californica (California Poppy)
– Fragaria chiloensis (Beach Strawberry)
– Iris douglasii (Douglas Iris)
– Mimulus aurantiacus (Sticky Monkeyflower)
– Myosotis latifolia (Forget-me-not)
– Ranunculus californicus (California Buttercup)
– Rubinus ursinus (California Blackberry)
– Trillium ovatum (Western Trillium)
– Zigadenus fremontii (Fremont’s Death Camas)