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.
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.