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HIKING

Bird's-Eye Views of Bolinas Bay

March 04, 2001|JOHN McKINNEY

It's not unusual for hikers to spot white egrets and great blue herons at the edges of California's lagoons and estuaries.

Audubon Canyon Ranch by Bolinas Bay offers a different view of these big birds. Here the birds nest in the tops of tall trees. This treetop colony, one of the major egret and heron rookeries on the California coast, can be observed from a viewpoint staffed by knowledgeable Audubon Society volunteers. There are 1,300 wooded acres, hiking trails, bay views and fine wildflower displays in April and May. The preserve is open to the public on weekends from mid-March through July.

Directions to trail head: From U.S. 101 in San Francisco, head north over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Highway 1/Stinson Beach exit. Follow California Highway 1 about 12 miles to Stinson Beach, then continue 3.5 miles north to the Audubon Canyon Ranch entrance on the right side.

The hike: To make a beeline for the birds, join Alice Kent Trail, which climbs moderately for 0.5 mile to the heronry overlook. After bird-watching at Henderson Overlook, you can return the way you came or by way of Rawlings Trail. For a longer jaunt, head uphill through the woods on steep Rawlings Trail for 0.5 mile to a signed junction. Griffin Trail leads right, but a better choice is to head left on Zumie's Loop (also called North Loop Trail). The trail climbs briefly to an open ridge and vistas of Bolinas Lagoon and the Pacific.

Point Reyes Bird Observatory

Situated at the far southern end of the national seashore, about 30 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, Point Reyes Bird Observatory has an exceptionally good location at the intersection of several ecosystems (each of which attracts a variety of bird species).

Arroyo Hondo Creek bubbles through a fern-filled canyon that's rain forest-like. The observatory welcomes the bird-loving public, but its chief mission is bird study, using scientific inquiry to discover solutions to the threats to birds, animals and their habitats. Palomarin Field Station's field biology program is regarded as one of the best in the U.S. Spring and summer are good times for the public to visit the station and observe the research program.

Directions to trail head: From Highway 1, about five miles north of Stinson Beach and about nine miles south of Olema, turn west on the Bolinas-Fairfax Road, which you'll follow 1.3 miles along the edge of Bolinas Lagoon to Mesa Road. Turn right and drive four miles (the road becomes gravel) to the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. Park in the lot.

The hike: Join signed Fern Canyon Trail at the east side of the parking lot. The path stays on the bluff top for about 0.2 mile before it descends into a moist ravine watered by all-year Arroyo Hondo Creek. A bridge crosses the creek. Continue on the path as it ascends steps and switchbacks on the opposite side of Arroyo Hondo Creek, then meanders by buckeye trees to a meadow, believed to be the site of a Miwok Indian village. The trail then plunges into thickets of dense brush. If there's room to ramble without laceration, follow the path up to Mesa Road. Turn left and walk 0.5 mile back to the parking lot.

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For more of John McKinney's hiking tips and trails, visit http://www.the trailmaster.com.

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