Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Salt Marshes Reclaimed: The Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge

The Don Edwards National Reserve encompasses 30,000 acres in three different sections of the southern end of San Francisco Bay. We went to the main nature center, at the Fremont end of the Dumbarton Bridge.

Driving up, we were greeted by the sight of six egrets poised in a pond -- a good omen for drive-by birders. We found the afternoon wind very strong, and opted to drive several miles alongside the bridge approaches, to a fishing pier on the piers of the old bridge.

If you've driven across the Dumbarton Bridge, you've probably noticed the salt evaporator ponds in their various stages, turning red with brine shrimp, or drying out with great chunks of salt blowing like in the wind. Now the ponds are being slowly reclaimed, left to leach out in the rains. And the birds are happy. We saw the usual gulls, a chorus line of red-legged stilts, all facing the same direction and turning with Rockette precision, then a flurry of tiny black and white birds scudding around the surface of the ponds.

The tiny birds sailed around like kids in bumper cars, dipping down for food from time to time. "Phalaropes!" I cried. They were described as swimming in circles, to stir up the brine shrimp, and the nature center said they were coming into season. We did not know how tiny they were, much smaller than the gulls.

So at last we saw pharalopes swimming in circles. James invented a new word game, "Shorebird or Musical Instrument." (Phalarope? Calliope? Whimbrel?) And I got some fine shots of the artistically weathered structures around the salt ponds.

While we were in Fremont, James wanted to check out what he calls the "Fake Lake", in a subdivision near Ardenwood. I had low expectations of seeing anything beyond the hordes of Canada geese that never leave Fremont for Montreal. But something large and white caught his eye. He stopped the car, and darned if there weren't two white pelicans joining the omnipresent geese.

No comments: