Bird Watching

Head to San Rafael’s Loch Lomond Marina for Easy Birdwatching – Marin Independent Journal

Marin has two shores: the ocean and the bay. When thinking of wilderness, many people might think more of the ocean coast than the bay shoreline, which is relatively developed and closer to our cities and population centers. But there are plenty of birds to see along the bay, birds that can be seen easily, up close and close to home. One of my favorite demonstrations is at San Rafael’s Loch Lomond Marina.

The marina offers a short public footpath of approximately 800m level, paved path on the surrounding breakwater, popular with locals exercising, dog walkers, picnickers, fishermen and families. Reach the marina by heading approximately three miles west of downtown San Rafael on Point San Pedro Road, turning right onto Loch Lomond Drive. As you pass Andy’s local market and enter the marina, turn left and follow to the end to reach the trailhead.

The path begins at a small seasonal pond where dabbling (surface feeding) ducks can be seen up close. Mallards are the most familiar species, but they are joined in winter by shovelers with their spectacular spoonbills, gadwalls with elegantly understated plumage and wigeons, traditionally known as bald for the spot. pale buff on top of their iridescent green heads. Song sparrows and black phoebes roost in the surrounding plants.

A short distance ahead of you is the bay itself. Compared to the shallow seasonal pond, the deeper, more expansive water invites a variety of diving ducks, sometimes in large rafts of hundreds of birds stretching into the distance. Scaups and web-backed scaups are generally the most numerous, with a lower number of lesser buffleheads and goldeneyes. The long-necked black and white diving birds are grebes, with all of our possible local species here, from the great American grebes and western grebes to the smaller horned and eared grebes, as well as the lesser brown-billed grebes, which often favor protected species. waters inside the marina).

Grebes are strange creatures, highly adapted to life on water, but part of an evolutionary line quite distinct from that of ducks. This is clearly seen in their feet. While ducks and geese have familiar webbed feet, grebes have webbed toes, with separate water-pushing paddles surrounding each finger.

Large deep waters attract more than ducks and grebes. Ospreys hunt in the bay year-round, while brown pelicans return from Mexico to be seen here in late summer and fall. Mainly coastal birds like Surf Scoters or Brandt’s and pelagic cormorants will venture into the bay in small numbers and can occasionally be seen here. Kingfishers, colorful birds with striking crests, soar and fish like mini ospreys.

Photo by Angelina Pavlosky

The attractive Wigeons are one of the dabbling ducks seen at Loch Lomond Marina.

As you walk the short path to the end of the breakwater, admire the birds from both sides, inside and outside the marina. This is perhaps the best place in Marin to see rocky shore birds up close. Some of the birds you’ll see here are common and widespread, such as egrets, willows and sandpipers. But with limited space to spread out and a steady stream of passing people throughout the day, they are often exceptionally tolerant of human approach. Loch Lomond is the best place I know to take photos of shorebirds without needing a bassoon length lens.

Other waders are specialists in this type of rocky shore, which is not very abundant on the shore of Marin Bay. Black turnstones roam in small flocks, stocky birds that shove small rocks in search of food as they are aptly named. Spotted sandpipers may not seem to do the same thing (they only become ragged during breeding season), unless you know their traditional names “tip-tail” and “rocker-peep,” both of which recognize their charming almost constant tail habit. jumping. The most striking of all rocky shorebirds is the black oystercatcher, a chicken-sized bird with intensely black plumage paired with an even more intense orange eye and a long red beak.

You don’t have to go far to find exciting birds. You don’t have to avoid people to approach them. Proximity to the causeway does not mean “less wild” or “less precious” — the nature we can visit every day is the most precious of all.

Jack Gedney’s On the Wing airs every other Monday. He is co-owner of Unlimited Wild Birds to Novato and author of the forthcoming book, “The privacy of public birds.” You can reach him at [email protected]