Enraptured by Raptors

Back in the warmer days of our Indian Summer, I visited Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands to catch a glimpse of the great diversity of raptors (a collective term for hawks, vultures, owls and other birds of prey) along their southern migration. On a sunny October day I made it to the top of Hawk Hill where I found Red-tailed, Broad-wing, and Cooper’s Hawks soaring above me as I looked out over the Golden Gate Bridge. The San Francisco Bay shimmered as I watched what looked like tiny toy sail boats glide across it from the top of the nearly 1000 ft tall mountain.

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The Marin Headlands are the last stop for these birds before crossing over the Bay on their way south. Raptors that travel within the California coastal range are funneled into the Marin peninsula, where they catch up-drafts created by warm rising air that acts as an elevator for the raptors. After getting a free ride up, they drop down over the Bay and continue their long journey south.

Coincidentally these two factors make it a great place to see these birds of prey, as they become concentrated the further they move down the peninsula and are slowed while they catch the thermal up-drafts. Sadly most of these feathered travelers have passed through the Bay (September through November is the best time to view birds at Hawk Hill or join in one of their docent programs), but if you’re looking for a good hike consider heading up to catch a few resident hawks. Alternatively you can give these guys a helping hand by volunteering at your local wetland where you can find a few Turkey Vultures, Northern Harriers, or the ever-present smorgasbord of shore birds.

5 Ways to Enjoy the Bay


Sailing on SF Bay
Photo by Rick Lewis.

Save The Bay’s restoration team and dedicated volunteers have been hard at work this summer making sure those pesky invasive plants are removed while watering the thousands of native plants that were installed during last winter. This Saturday July 20th, Save The Bay and REI are partnering for the 2nd annual Ring Around the Bay Day. Get outside with us and help restore the Bay. Sign up today!

We love working on the Bay, but we also love to play. I asked my Restoration Team what they have been up to this summer. Here are 5 fun ways to appreciate San Francisco Bay:

1. Boating. If you have been lucky enough come out to one of our Saturday public restoration events you have probably met Jon, known around the office as our “Inspector of Ingenious Innovation”. Jon works as the Restoration Project Specialist, but in between tending to his enormous garden or practicing his banjo he is learning to sail. He is well on his way to receiving his Junior Skipper certificate after long hours learning all the ins and outs of sailing on the Bay. “I grew up here and went to school at UC Berkeley, but I had never really experienced the Bay. Now I get to go out on the water and enjoy the bay up close and personal!” If you want to learn how to sail check out Cal Sailing Club.

Many of my co-workers that they have begun using the ferry more (especially during the BART strike) and they are even planning a trip to Angel Island. Many of the marshes that surround the Bay have canoe and kayak launches that can give you a unique opportunity to bird watch and explore the nooks and crannies of the salt marsh.

2. Mountain Biking. Seth is Save The Bay’s Restoration Program Manager and an avid outdoor enthusiast. When he is not running rivers as a guide in the Sierra foothills (which he explained was a part of the SF Bay’s watershed) he loves mountain biking around China Camp State Park. This park is a beautiful example of relict salt and brackish marsh with untouched upland transitional habitat.

3. Hiking. Check out the Bay Trail. It was not too long ago that the San Francisco Bay was in dire need of help. By the late 1950’s there were only about 4 miles of publicly accessible shoreline and unregulated pollution flowed freely into our water. With the help of people all across the Bay Area we have made the bay not just a body of water to drive over, but a place for every person to enjoy.

4. Rock climbing. When I asked Doug, our Nursery Manager and jack of almost all trades (he has yet to learn the rules to Jai Alai), how he has been enjoying his summer he told me about his urban rock climbing adventures. One of the best places to rock climb which puts the bay front and center is Indian Rock in Berkeley.

5. Kite flying. I was recently working at one of our many restoration sites and as the fog burned off I began to feel the summer heat. Invasive fennel is no joke! As I pick axed my way through another massive fennel plant I was beginning to feel the initial eagerness to take on such a formidable foe waning with every bead of sweat dripping off my head. But then, the cool bay breeze began to blow giving me a respite from the midday sun. I use that wonderful bay wind to my advantage when my friends and I go to Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley to fly kites. I never realized how much fun it could be to be tugged around by the wind! There are many parks right on the bay that provide a perfect opportunity to fly a kite.

I hope you enjoy the Bay this summer. Come join us for a restoration event near you. What are your favorite ways to enjoy the Bay? Tell us in the comments below.