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Tomales Bay Ecological Preserve Is for the Birds

Fantastic bird song and wildlife viewing at the south end of Tomales Bay near Point Reyes Station. Two to four miles along bay shore beaches, marshlands and grassy bluffs. Dogs on leash are allowed at Millerton Point, but no dogs at the preserve.

On these clear crisp fall days the coast keeps calling us to visit. This week it was not just the perfect weather, but the call of vast numbers of shore and coastal birds serenading our visit to Millerton Point and Tomales Bay Ecological Preserve at the south end of Tomales Bay.

At end of the Tomales Bay; Lagunitas, Olema and Bear Valley Creeks merge and enter the bay through the tidal marshes. In 2007, over 550 acres of diked farmland was restored to tidal wetlands. The area is rich with wildlife. According to signage in the area, the number of waterbird species has increased 66% and the density of wintering waterbirds increased three-fold since the restoration. In addition, the California Red-Legged frog moved into new freshwater marsh habitats.

The day we visited this week we were not disappointed. We saw and heard large flocks of California Quail, Redwing Black Birds, and mixed groups of water fowl. Several Great Blue Herons were stealthily hunting in the grasslands while their close cousins, the Greater Egrets, were doing the same down in the wetlands. Numerous raptors including a Kestrel, were perched waiting for a meal to show itself. A Red Fox trotted past, giving me a glance as it headed towards the freshwater pond.

Millerton Point and Tomales Bay Ecological Preserve are two separate places just a few miles apart on the southern end and east side of Tomales Bay. Each hike is about 2 miles or less depending on the route, and they are quite different and complementary to each other.

Millerton Point is the more northern preserve and part of Tomales Bay State Park. As the title indicates it is a point sticking out into the bay. This area has nice rocky beach shoreline to walk along, or you can stay up in the grassland and head out to the point. We prefer to go in the morning. These mornings coincide with the low tide, which makes for perfect visiting conditions. This way you can walk along the shoreline and interact with the calm water and the wildlife by the shore. If the tide is low enough you can go all the way around to the north and climb up the slope where you see a large pipe going into the bay and catch the bluff trail back. Keep your eyes out along the base of the bluff on the north side. There is a large midden of sea shells several feet thick sticking out of the cliff (see picture).

Tomales Bay Trail at the Ecological Preserve is a bit longer and much richer in birds and other wildlife due to the freshwater and tidal marshes along the route. The trail starts out through pasture land. After half a mile you drop down to a large freshwater marsh with abundant bird-life singing and chattering away. Be sure to keep going until you pass over the next bluff and head down to the tidal marshes where the fresh water from Lagunitas Creek meets Tomales Bay. An old levee for the historic railroad that was here in the 1800's still exists and you can walk along it out into the marsh for a bit. This is an excellent place to sit a spell and take it all in. Double back to the parking area to finish.

Be sure to bring your binoculars and layer your clothing. There are no services, so bring plenty of water. A visit to the town of Point Reyes Station is always treat for the taste buds. Go before the outing for picnic supplies or after to dine in a civilized fashion with tables and chairs. There are amazing cheeses at Cowgirl Creamery, pastry and more at Bovine Bakery, and great local produce from the Palace Market.

See the book "Hiking Marin: 141 Great Hikes in Marin County" for more details. Click here to go the Marin Trails website, where you can find more information about the book.

About this column: Explore our weekly hikes around Marin as Brian Simon, of Marin Trails, leads you through the county.

Irene Morgan October 29, 2011 at 12:27 AM
It sounds as if the restoration (or return to nature) of these tidal wetlands has been very successful. From diked farmland to a wildlife preserve in just four years!
Albert David October 29, 2011 at 02:58 PM
The descriptions of the Millerton Point hike and the Tomales Bay Trail hike made me put this refuge on my list of things that I must visit!
Rena B October 29, 2011 at 05:04 PM
While I am a dog lover, I think it is a good idea that dogs are not allowed at the wildlife preserve. It seems like second nature to dogs to chase birds.
Richard October 29, 2011 at 08:50 PM
I've been to Tomales Bay and it is great---I saw such diversity of birds.

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