Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Finding Refuge at the Hayward Shoreline

Dates: November 11, 12, and 13, 2015
Place: Hayward Shoreline Regional Park, Hayward, California
Address: 3010 W Winton Ave, Hayward, CA
Length: 3.9 miles
Level: easy

Hayward Shoreline is one of the best places in the Bay Area to see wildlife up close. Mostly feathered wildlife, but others as well. Along the 9 miles trail that stretches from the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center (HSIC) in the south by CA-92 to the San Leandro Marina in the north there are sloughs, ponds, and restored wetlands and salt marshes that are year-round home to numerous species of local birds and an essential wintering grounds to many more species of migratory birds.
It is also a great recreational trail for hiking and biking, flat and easy, with great bay view and refreshing breeze.

Usually I hike the shoreline from the south and finishing the hike with a visit at the center. The hike I'm posting here is in the middle section of the shoreline, starting and finishing at the Winton Ave. entrance.
Our 11/13 Hayward Shoreline hike as captured by Papa Quail's GPS
The direct path from the parking lot to the bay is along the slough. A few green bushes, but mostly dry weeds separate the trail from the water. On one of these weeds: a black phoebe stands on watch.
Black Phoebe
Just ahead on the south side of the parking lot there is a low hill where the weeds were mowed short. The tire marks indicate that not all the mowing can be attributed to the geese.
Canada Geese
This slough, as well as others in that area, was opened in the 1980's to bring back the tide cycle to the bayshore. This was done as part of the bay wetlands restoration efforts.

I didn't expect to see any bloom at this time of year, but there was some. The California coastal region never fails :-)

The tidal water flows between the salt marsh sections via a system of sloughs and canals, moving from one to the other through pipe holes like the one at the bottom of this photo:

A little whirlpool forms where the incoming tide water flows into the pipe hole. The children watched with intense fascination.
This fascination wasn't experienced only by the kids :-)

Tidal water regularly floods the salt marsh areas, supporting the specialized plant life and the numerous birds and other wildlife that depends on the tidal cycle.
At the end of that slough there is the bay front. Any day there would be a few anglers standing there with the lines in the water. I was quite horrified to see how trashed that place is. I took some quick photos of the birds roosting on a rock pile off shore and then took off.
I continued south along the waterfront, keeping the low hill to the east on my left and a narrow stretch of salt marsh in between us.

My first hike there was right after some rainfall and the view was nice and clear. By my later hikes the air has already gotten to murky to see anything on the horizon.
Mt. Tam overshadowing San Francisco 
The dominant salt marsh plant is the pickleweed. In the cool october time it was turning rusty-red: a perfect background for the ever-present egrets.
Great Egret
Wherever a great egret can be seen there is also the less conspicuous but no less spectacular, great blue heron. These magnificent birds same the same habitats and have so many resembling features that one is almost sure to see one where the other is seen.
Great Blue Heron
Also a very common sight in wetlands is the mallard ducks. Although not normally skittish, this pair swam away quickly when they saw me. Perhaps they wanted some more privacy.
Mallard, female and male
The great egret ambushes its pray. The smaller snowy egret, however, likes to prowl, stirring the mud with its bright yellow feet and plucking whatever slithers between their toes.
Snowy Egret
The trail curves around the low hill to complete the first loop. There, in the dry weeds, I heard a loud hiss. A normal person would probably have taken more distance but I always been a bit unusual about these things, and so I approached the sound and strained to see its source.
The source turned out to be a gopher snake: a gentle, non-venomous Bay Area resident that was mimicking the sound of a rattlesnake in an attempt to scare me away.
Gopher Snake
When it saw I wasn't going anywhere, the snake stopped hissing and just continued flicking its tongue to sniff me. The funny thing is, if it had remained quiet I would never have known it was there.
Eventually, of course, I did walk away, leaving the snake alone.
A smaler slough to my south was full with high tide water on my firs hike. On my last one, however, the tide was low and the exposed mud was like open table for sandpipers and other shorebirds.
4 Least Sandpipers and a Dunlin
The second, part of my hike traverses another restored salt marsh area. The levee that confined a salt pond was removed and the tidal cycle returned. Salt marsh vegetation was reintroduced and with it, returned also the birds.
Salt Marsh
The one species I saw most in the salt marsh on my November hikes was the curlew: a large wader with an extra large beak.
The trail goes on a long bridge that crosses the breached levee area and leads once more to the bay waterfront. On a clear day, as was on my first hike there, the San Mateo Bridge can be seen bulging above the water.
The San Mateo Bridge
On the third, least clear day hike, the peninsula was entirely invisible, completely hidden behind a curtain of murky air.
To infinity and beyond.
Clearer view right overhead: a couple of cormorants in commute.
Double-crested Cormorants
There, along the bay waterfront I saw another salt marsh plant, and it too was blooming.
Alkali Heath (Frankenia salina)
Curving back eastward, a large brown building comes into view a few miles south. This building, just off to CA-92 on the eastern side of the San Mateo Bridge, is the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center. I used to visit there often when we lived in Castro Valley and the chikas were little. I love that place and the wonderful educational work they do there with people of all ages. I have posted about it in this blog a while ago.
The Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center
I waved at the building and turned north with the trail. There, swimming in another slough, were quite a few birds.
American Coot
More out toward the bay: a small group of ruddy ducks floating lazily on the calm water, hiding their bills under the wing.
Ruddy Duck, 1 female (left) and 2 males
Other, less sleepy ducks, were swimming in the slough. A large group of northern shoveler hurried away from me just when I lifted my camera. I managed to capture the slowest one.
Northern Shoveler, male
That part of the slough was apparently a very good feeding ground. Other than coots and various ducks there were quite a few grebes there, diving constantly in the water.
Eared Grebe
After properly appreciating all the waterfowl I continued north along the eastern segment of the loop trail around the marsh. Large 'islands' of smooth cordgrass patched the salt marsh area east of the trail. This grass is not native to California and is highly invasive - quickly taking over the restored wetlands and changing the habitat to exclude many species that depend on the open pickleweed grown tidal zone fields. Active efforts are taking place to remove and control the invasive cordgrass. 
Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), non-native and highly invasive
Lifting my eyes to look further away, much further away: the dome of Mt. Diablo towering to the northeast. I haven't been there in some time. As I walked along the Hayward Shoreline trail I was already planning in my head my next visit to Mt. Diablo.
Mount Diablo
Cutting through the flooded wetlands was the dry, high-ground trail. Along the trail - many ground squirrels running between their squirrel holes. It felt like the trail sides are in constant motion.
California Ground Squirrel
Constant motion - and not only because of the squirrels. Little bush birds buzzed in the tall, dry weeds and the perennial shrubs. Many of them were sparrows.
The most common sparrow there is perhaps the white-crowned sparrow. Maybe common, but still very nice to see. And this particular individual landed right next to me and gathered bits of dry vegetation with complete disregard to my presence. This is how I got this wonderful view of its crown.
White-crowned Sparrow
Another species of sparrow I saw there was the savannah sparrow. I couldn't tell myself but my elder chika passed by as I enlarged the photo on my computer screen and blurted out the identification. I think she had memorized the entire Sibley guide :-)
Savannah Sparrow
Completing the loop and going on north in the direction of the Winton Ave. entrance: on the east side of the trail there are many rabbit brush and fennel shrubs, all were alive with warbler activity.
Yellow-rumped Warbler
The (slightly) higher ground of the hill, now to my west, supports bigger plants.  A single toyon bush near the trail stands out wearing its holiday-color fruit load.
Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)
As I continued strolling along the trail a northern harrier swooped by. Also known as march hawk, this raptor is a common sight soaring over the coastal wetlands.
Northern Harrier, male
Osprey can also be seen about wetland areas. I didn't expect, however, to see one in the middle of a dry water waste compost pond. The water waste compost facility is fenced off east of the restored marsh and the osprey sat there and stayed put for the entire time. It didn't appear to be eating anything. I wonder if it was waiting for someone or something.
An American pipit crossed our path and Papa Quail, who joined us for the 4H Hiking Project hike gave it a lot of attention.
American Pipit
But the meadowlark I saw on that very spot just two days before was no longer there.
Western Meadowlark
Just before reaching the park's entrance there is a small hill east of the trail and what seems like a vehicle trail that goes up it. I walked up there a little bit before I realized it doesn't really lead anywhere in particular. It did take me, however, close enough to that white spot I saw earlier on the bushes underneath: that was another beautiful raptor: a white-tailed kite.
White-tailed Kite
Coming back down and circling the hill on the official trail I had the strange feeling I was being watched ...
Canada Geese
I wonder who they report their human sightings to.

Just before exiting the park I heard a commotion near the slough I started my hike at. Looking there I saw two huge jackrabbit running, one chasing the other. The one that was running away took a dive into the bushes and the other one sat outside and flicked its ears.
Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus). It's actually a Hare. 
Not far from where the jackrabbit a tiny burt was chirping: a male Anna's hummingbird.
Anna's Hummingbird, male
I could stand there the whole day long and look at the birds but it was time to leave, and so I left the park and walked past the inner lot to the outer one where I had parked my car. On the way I was stopped by a noisy common raven who had an opinion (on what, I don't know) and stated it loudly.
Common Raven
As a go-away gift from the park: a small bird that's usually difficult to photograph - a ruby-crowned kinglet. It stood still just enough.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
The Hayward Shoreline is a very good place for a walk or a bike ride, but it is a fantastic place to go bird watching and to enjoy wildlife. So close to the city it is, yet so rich with natural treasures. Easy, wide trails make it accessible to anyone, just keep in mind that dogs are not allowed in that part of the park, south of the slough where I hiked.


  1. great wildlife sighting! the snake was of course my favourite :-)

    1. I thought it would :-) I loved the snake encounter too. I'm not sure it loved it as much.