Hike a Closed Section of Highway 1 at Devil’s Slide Trail

Pacifica, Ca – Once a troublesome segment of highway, Devil’s Slide Trail was converted into a recreational trail in 2014. Visit the area to see awesome seabirds and raptors, and to learn more about the Common Murre Restoration Project that’s active in the area.

Species to Look Out For

Common murre circle

Common Murre

About the Park

Pacifica, Ca – Segment of California Coastal Trail

Science Spotlight: Common Murre Restoration at Egg Rock

Common murres are gorgeous and vaguely penguin-looking seabirds. Common murres actively breed in colonies at Egg Rock, which is visible from Devil’s Slide Trail.

The Egg Rock colony was estimated to have 3,000 birds in the early 1980’s; however, disaster struck with the 1986 Apex Houston oil spill. The oil spill delivered a fatal blow to the common murre population, eliminating the birds at Egg Rock. Scientists, determined not to let the population of common murres vanish, formed the Common Murre Restoration Project. The project, run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, set out to restore the Egg Rock population that was wiped out during the oil spill. It also sought to increase the numbers of common murres and other seabirds across Central California.

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Egg Rock, visible just offshore of the Devil’s Slide Trail.

To restore murres, the project employed social attraction techniques. Social attraction, first developed by Project Puffin to restore breeding Atlantic puffin populations, works by tricking birds into thinking that other individuals of the same species are already present at a specific location. This incentivizes breeding birds to set up their nests at that location.

To trick the common murres at Egg Rock, scientists placed common murre decoys on the island, played common murre sounds from speakers, and placed mirrors at the site to create the illusion of movement to birds flying overhead. And the result? The murre breeding colony on Egg Rock has been restored, and has increased every year since the project’s implementation in 1996.

To read more about common murres and their restoration around Egg Rock at Devil’s Slide, check out the Bay Area Naturalist article “Social Attraction: The Story of California’s Common Murres“.

Park History

Devil’s Slide Trail is a segment that was formerly part of scenic Highway 1. Frequent landslides and closures made this a particularly troublesome segment of highway, prompting talk of opening an alternative route over Montara Mountain. Local public outcry strongly opposed the conversion of the mountain into a highway, and grassroots efforts worked to advocate for the opening of a tunnel instead. In a sweeping success, Tom Lantos Tunnels opened in 2013, protecting the mountain and allowing the scenic views of our coast to be preserved.

In 2014, the Devil’s Slide segment of Highway 1 was converted into a recreational trail for joggers, bikers, and hikers. The trail is also a part of the California Coastal Trail, which will extend 1,200 miles along the coast from Mexico to Oregon once completed.

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Sedimentary rock formation along the Devil’s Slide Trail.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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Birdwatching Bonanza at Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve

Palo Alto, Ca – Some of the best birdwatching in the entire South Bay is right in your backyard. Learn more about bird diversity and plan your visit to the Palo Alto Baylands.

About the Park

Palo Alto, Ca – Nature Preserve

Science Spotlight: Bird Diversity at Baylands

The Palo Alto Baylands Park is a favorite of mine and Dan’s in the area. Considered one of the best places to go birding in the South Bay, the Baylands Nature Preserve offers tremendous bird diversity no matter the month. When visiting, we’ve found that the entrance near San Antonio Road is a great starting point.

As you enter the park, scan the tall vegetation around the creek to your left for a belted kingfisher in flight. As you continue, cliff and barn swallows can be found darting across the skies around the forebay just beyond the bathrooms to the right. In the spring and summer, be sure to look out for their mud nests on the linings of the small building near the San Antonio Road entrance. In the later stages of nesting, small fledglings can be seen waiting outside the nest for parents to swoop in with food.

Just beyond the swallow-dense area, you approach the Charleston Slough to your right. Here, we’ve seen tons of awesome shorebirds: long-billed curlews, American avocets, black-necked stilts, marbled godwits, willets, and many more in large numbers. To your left, scan the browning reeds for unusually-shaped clumps. These “clumps” are most likely black-crowned night herons.

Along your walk, check out the edges of the water for great egrets and snowy egrets. Various species of waterfowl can also be found here, depending on the season. In the distance, you may be lucky to see northern harriers – recognizable by the white patch on their rumps (just above their tail on the top side of the bird).

As if the amazing waterbirds and raptors weren’t enough, peek in the vegetation dotting the sides of the path for smaller songbirds. We’ve seen all kinds of sparrow species, house finches, and the occasional yellow-rumped warbler.

Grab your notebooks and binoculars – there’s a world of discovery at the Palo Alto Baylands!

Park History

At 1,940 acres, the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve is one of the largest protected marshland habitats in the San Francisco Bay Area. The area itself has a history in waste disposal, from landfill to recycling plant. In 2012, these operations were shut down.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

When visiting, we recommend starting at the entrance near San Antonio Road.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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Spot an Owl at Shoreline Regional Park

Mountain View, Ca – Right in the heart of the Silicon Valley, Shoreline Regional Park is a gem where you can see wildlife from burrowing owls to pelicans.

Species to Look Out For

burrowing owl circle

Western Burrowing Owl

About the Park

Mountain View, Ca – Regional Park

Science Spotlight: Burrowing Owls at Shoreline Park

The western burrowing owl is a small species of diurnal owl, meaning that it’s active primarily during the day. True to their name, western burrowing owls nest and reside in burrows in the ground – relying on sites that have already been excavated by burrowing mammals such as the California ground squirrel.

The burrowing owl has been experiencing steep population declines over the past 30 years due to habitat loss. Their population was estimated at 640 birds in the 1980’s, with three-quarters of the population residing in the South Bay alone. In 2017, the South Bay reported just 64 adults at 5 breeding sites.

The City of Mountain View employs a part-time specialist in charge of monitoring the burrowing owls, restoring their habitat, and ensuring park plans are in line with federal and state regulations protecting the owls. Local organizations, such as the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, are also involved in initiatives to help protect the burrowing owls.

For more information on western burrowing owls in the Bay Area, check out the Bay Area Naturalist article The Bay Area’s Fight for the Western Burrowing Owl.

Park History

The area around Mountain View and Sunnyvale was once inhabited by the Ohlone Native Americans. Spanish settlers arrived in the 1700’s, and established the first missions in the area in 1777.

The area that is now Shoreline Park was formerly a dump/junk site, a hog farm, and a sewage treatment plant. In 1968, Mountain View decided to renovate the park to make the space available to the public for enjoyment of the outdoors. The park was completed in 1983, relying on garbage from San Francisco and neighboring cities to provide fill for the area.

The park is near the Rengstorff House, a historical mansion built in the 1860’s. You can also see the Shoreline Amphitheater, a popular concert venue in the Bay Area.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are not allowed.

We recommend taking the trail from the Shoreline Boathouse parking lot towards the kite-flying area. Be sure to scan California ground squirrel burrows for burrowing owls!

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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Enjoy Scenic Bluffs at Wilder Ranch State Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – Winding trails which offer spectacular views of coastal bluffs and beaches make Wilder Ranch an unforgettable hiking spot. Plus, there’s incredible birdwatching to boot.

Species to Look Out For

Western Snowy Plover Circle

Western Snowy Plover

About the Park

Santa Cruz, Ca – State Park

Science Spotlight: Snowy Plovers Nesting at Wilder Ranch

Wilder Beach Nature Preserve, visible from the trails of Wilder Ranch State Park, is closed to the public from entry. The closure is for good reason – down on the beach sand, a threatened species of shorebird nests.

The western snowy plover requires sandy beaches with low vegetation to allow them to camouflage and see predators. These plovers prefer the beach zones that are also most popular to humans, and their breeding season (March – September) coincides with the period of highest beach use by humans. Disruption of western snowy plovers by human activities can result in decreased breeding success and nest site abandonment. This, along with the loss of healthy beach habitats, has resulted in the decline in western snowy plover populations.

Snowy Plovers
© Mike Baird, 2010, Flickr Photo Album, some rights reserved.

While it is estimated that their populations once numbered in the thousands, approximately 2,000 individuals are estimated to remain on our coasts today. The species was listed as federally threatened in 1993, and several initiatives on California’s beaches are actively working to restore their populations.

Park History

Wilder Ranch State Park was originally home to the Ohlone Native Americans. Their centuries of living on the land was cut short by the 1776 expeditions of Gaspar de Portolá, who transformed the area under Spanish control.

In the mid-1870’s, a portion of the land was purchased to be made into a creamery. From there, it transitioned to the control of the Wilder family. The land remained under the Wilder family’s control until 1969, when their financial circumstances resulted in a loss of the property. The land was considered for housing development, but a vote by the citizens of Santa Cruz resulted in its acquisition by the California State Park system in 1974. Thus, the area’s natural areas and rich history remain protected.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is a $10 vehicle day-use fee. Dogs are not allowed at the park.

We recommend taking the Old Landing Cove Trail (2.0 Miles), which winds easily along the coastline, offering spectacular views of coastal bluffs to the left and shrubbery to the right. If you take this trail, be sure to be on the lookout for shorebirds – especially at the viewing platform towards the beginning of the Old Landing Cove Trail.

Here are some helpful resources to help plan your visit:

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Watch Elk and Gray Whales at Point Reyes National Seashore

Inverness, Ca – Ever hear of a place where you can see migrating gray whales and a common murre colony, all while climbing down a dramatic 308-step staircase to a lighthouse? Here we have the Point Reyes Lighthouse in a nutshell.

Species to Look Out For

Common murre circle

Common Murre

About the Park

Inverness, Ca – National Seashore

Science Spotlight: Common Murres at Point Reyes

Point Reyes National Seashore has recorded nearly 490 species of birds – over 50% of the birds found in North America. This makes the area the most species-diverse park in America’s National Park System.

When hiking down to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, Dan and I caught a whiff of a smell on the breeze that brought me back to my summers spent monitoring nesting herring gulls. The smell was distinctively… seabird. Naturally, this piqued my interest. We stopped for a moment at one of the lookout sites, and within minutes found a colony of common murres in the distance.

Common murres are the most abundant nesting seabird found off the coast of north and central California, and several colonies make their home at Point Reyes National Seashore. In the mid-1980’s, the common murre suffered a severe population decline due to entanglement in fishing nets and the culmination of several oil spills along California’s central coast. Murre restoration projects have brought rising numbers and hope to the species populations, but they remain threatened by the consequences of a changing climate.

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© 2010,Allen Shimada, NOAA Photo Library (Flickr), some rights reserved.

Park History

The Coast Miwok Native Americans occupied the area that we know now as Point Reyes for thousands of years. The first known European explorer to visit the area was Sir Francis Drake, who arrived to Point Reyes in 1579.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse, constructed in 1870, rests at the second foggiest place in North America. The lighthouse was replaced with an automated light in 1975, but it still remains as a museum piece with the National Park Service.

Visit the Park

Please note that there is no entrance fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

With a total of 71,028 acres of protected land, you’ll certainly take a long time to run out of places to explore at Point Reyes. The Tule elk, a subspecies of elk only found in California, can sometimes be seen on the sides of roads or on grassy hillsides. We recommend completing the 1+ mile hike down to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which offers seasonal views of common murres and gray whales. That said, anywhere you go will be rich in wildlife and scenic views.

Please note that during whale watching season (late December to mid-April), the main road to the lighthouse is closed to private vehicles. Be sure to check the shuttle information if you plan on visiting during that time.

Here are some helpful resources to plan your visit:

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