Sunday, November 25, 2012

Along the waterfront at Point Pinole

Place: Point Pinole Regional Park, Richmond, California
Coordinates: 37.99214, -121.35626
Hike date: November 6, 2012
Difficulty level: easy

There used to be a dynamite factory in the cape of Point Pinole, in Richmond. Evidence for that violent past can still be seen in the grass-covered, decaying bunkers, the old red-brick pavement remains embedded in the hard-packed trail, or the rotting wooden poles sticking from the bay water where the old dock used to be.
Today, Point Pinole is a lovely place to go hiking.
I parked and walked across the railroad overpass that leads to the park. Looking down from the bridge I caught sight of a cute couple of California Towhees. The female came out prettier:
California Towhee, female
It can be wind-swept and cold most of the year, but on the fall day I was there, it was sunny and beautiful. Moreover - there was no wind at all, and the bay was as calm as a mirror. After crossing the pedestrian bridge I immediately turned left onto the Bay View trail.

It was a beautiful, calm day, but distance visibility wasn't all that great. On the other side of the bay I could barely see Mount Tamalpeis through the haze.
Across the bay: Mt. Tamalpeis looming
I continued north along the Bay View trail. Patches of salt marsh wetland extend between the shore and the water, painted rusty-red with late fall pickleweed and alkali grass. Numerous ducks an coots were swimming between the weeds.
The salt marshes at Point Pinole are not as extensive as the ones of the southern regions of the bay but they are no less important. They provide unique habitat for birds and other animals and function as a buffer and a natural filter for flood water running from the shore into the bay.

Salt marsh on the west shore of Point Pinole
The salt marsh coverage of the shore in Point Pinole is not complete. Where it was possible, I went down to the pebble beach. A thick line of drying seaweed marked the strandline. Lifting some driftwood, I saw many mudskippers scurrying away.

The low tide exposed the dark pebbles and mud flats, laying a feast for multitudes of shore birds.

There were many species of waders all along the shore. Some as familiar as this willet,
or the black-bellied plovers (in their white-bellied winter plumage):
Black-bellied plover
Some were new to me, like the black turnstone:
Black turnstone (middle) and Dunlin
It was quite challenging to photograph them from up close, particularly when an overly-excited dog came charging from behind me and scared them into flight.

I returned to the trail and photographed this cute little feller watching the world from atop its bush:
White-crowned sparrow
Away from the shore, the trail led me mildly up the hill an into the woods. The dominant tree in Point Pinole is the Eucalyptus - an immigrant from Australia that took root very successfully in the bay area. A rustle of leaves caught my attention and, after stalking a chickadee for a few minutes I was successful in photographing this downy woodpecker:
Downy woodpecker
Soon I came across one of the bunkers - a reminder of the park's history.
The old ruins were completely covered with weeds. Last year's dry weeds and this year's new growth. I liked the sight of fresh new shoots of fern bursting from underneath the crumpled, dry ones from the previous season.

I continued north, and almost without noticing I found myself on the edge of the cliff. Looking down I saw a large flock of coot resting on the calm water, all facing south.
Looking up, I saw this California gull hovering over me:

And looking to the east I caught sight of this pretty couple of Western bluebirds, sitting on a Eucalyptus branch:

Fall time isn't flowering season. Still, this bush displayed a nice splash of red color to the cliff edge. No, these aren't flowers, but the red berries of the Toyon bush.
Toyon bush carrying berries
Near the Point there is this beautiful, single eucalyptus, standing big and tall like a landmark.

The cliff extends all the way to the Point. The Marin peninsula across the water was completely invisible in the soupy air.
From the cliff, the trail climbs steeply down to the dock. There were a few anglers sitting there, waiting for fish. I passed on walking all the way to the end. Instead, I wend down to the shore again and looked for crabs under the rocks.

The dock
A ghost from the past: the ruins of the old dock protruding from the water next to the new dock, serving now as a bed for barnacles

and as a perch for birds.
Great egret perching on the old dock.
After exploring the dock area I continued east on Owl Alley trail and Marsh trail. The salt marsh on the north shore of Point Pinole is considerably more extensive. 

At the time of my hike there were some construction going on on the eastern side of the park. I turned south on Cooks Point trail and headed back to the park's entrance, stopping only to photograph this interesting fungus on one of the eucalyptus trees:

Out of the woods and away from the shore the view is of open grass land dotted with toyon and other bushes, to dispersed to be considered chaparral.

My entire hike was just 3.5 miles long, and very easy. Yet, it took me more than 3 hours to complete, as I walked leisurely, relishing every moment of that gorgeous day and taking in everything around me.
Less than a week after, I took the whole family for a hike there and Papa Quail caught this hawk on camera:
Red-tailed hawk
I will finish with a photograph from our first visit to Point Pinole three years ago, on a cold and very windy day, because I missed the terns this fall.


  1. Very nice bird photographs.
    It's good to see that such ares can recover so nicely from the ghosts of the past...

    1. Thank you! It's not quite what it used to be but it's given back to nature.