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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Baylands: A South Bay Bird Sanctuary in Palo Alto, CA

Recently I wanted to practice photographing birds in flight so I asked my friend Dan if he'd like to get together for lunch then go shoot for a bit. Dan's a professional photographer who has been kind enough to give me photography tips and explain how my camera works. He said sure, so we met up just after dawn at the 1940 acre Baylands Nature Preserve.

A Willet (left) and Western Sandpiper (right) in Palo Alto, CA

The Baylands Nature Preserve is located off HWY 101 at the Embarcadero Exit. As you exit head north on Embarcadero towards the bay, not Palo Alto. Because it takes 2.5 hours to drive to Colusa to visit the wildlife refuge there, I went on Google to find a place to shoot birds closer to home. That's how I found out about the Baylands, a sanctuary I've basically driven by probably over a hundred times and never realized it was there.

The only downside is the refuge is adjacent to the Palo Alto Airport so every ten to fifteen minutes it seemed like another small plane was either taking off or landing. If you don't want to hear the planes go before or after the airport's business hours from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

If you need a bite to eat I would also recommend dining at the Town and Country shopping center on El Camno Real. With restaurants like Calafia Cafe, the Mayfield Cafe, Hobee's and more it's a great place to grab a delicious bite. CLICK HERE for the restaurant directory on the Town and Country website.

The Baylands have several different water areas you can view and photoraph. There are mudflats, marshes and ponds. All are surrounded by footpaths. Some, not all, of the paths allow bicycle riding and dog walking. CLICK HERE to view their map of all the trials and their names. There are also several parking lots. I'd recommend parking and walking the trails. There were lots of walkers and runners using the trials. I wish I lived closer, I would visit more often too.

A dramatic re-creation of how I fell.

Pretty much the first thing I did was fall into a ground squirrel burrow. It was pretty funny. Dan and I were walking side by side and all of a sudden my foot slipped into the burrow which must have been a perfect size 6 hole. I had just enough time to say out loud "I'm falling!" and think to myself, *do NOT twist my ankle, just fall straight down.* Fortunately I did and avoided re-spraining my ankle. I don't ever want to have to wear the Frankenfoot ankle brace again!

And here we go! This post is a bird identifier resource to let you know which species of birds you might see if you visit the Baylands.

Though it's simple this is one of my favorite photos. It's of the mud flats just as the sun is rising and those are tiny little Western Sandpipers, a very plentiful species at the refuge.

I was very excited to see my first Green-winged Teal. The male had a beautiful green strip on his head and I was able to snap this single shot of the female exposing the green in her wings as they fed in the mud flats.

A resting Canadian Goose.

The coots were also plentiful. They're pretty cute and travel in flocks. With their black feathers, light grey beaks and red eyes they are striking little birds.

And what a shock! I think my favorite moment of the day was seeing this Ring-necked Pheasant. I saw him along the Marsh Front Trail. You have to look everywhere because the wildlife appear and disappear quickly. As I drove in that morning I even spotted a Jack Rabbit along the side of the road. It was there for all of two or three seconds. I probably had less than 30 seconds to get this shot of the pheasant all the while trying not to spook him.

The American Avocets were also plentiful. They are so delicate and graceful.

And I was thrilled to spot several pairs of Ruddy Ducks feeding in the water on the west side of the Duck Pond Loop. These are the same birds I saw at the SF Zoo.

A Black-necked Stilt

I should have gone in The Lucy Evans Nature Center but I didn't. I was having too much fun outside. Next time I'll go in. I did walk out onto the observation deck that extends directly into the marsh behind the center out towards the bay. The building itself is home to swallows that swoop around the building and nest along the eaves in their little mud nests.

A Clark's Grebe

This was the first time I've ever seen a Clark's Grebe. It was rather fluffy and downy looking. This is a diving bird. As it disappeared beneath the surface of the water I'd scan nearby to see where it would pop up which was usually a short distance away.

A Snowy Egret

It was neat to see a Snowy Egret close enough to see that unlike the Greater Heron we saw at Colusa with the green face, the Snowy Egret has a bright yellow face and eyes.

And then I photographed something I never would have anticipated, a mating pair of Cinnamon Teals! I'd seen ducks mate before. It's not what I'd call courting behavior. The male basically bullies the female until he is on top of her. He then proceeds to hold her down by forcing the female's head underwater with his bill!

In the series of four images above the top image is the male forcing the female beneath him. The center left image he's holding her head underwater. The center right image he's released her and she charged at him, causing him to lift his wing away from her. The bottom photo is her moving away from him.

He then proceeded to repeatedly throw his head underwater. . . I love how the water is running over his body. Wow this was so cool to see and photograph!

And she, several times, reared up opening her wings wide and flapping them.

Much to my shock he suddenly rose up out of the water and flapped his wings too! I LOVE how this picture shows all of the blue feathers on his wings. When you look at the first pictures of him you see how there's just the smallest spot of blue you can see when his wings are folded. I had no idea the blue feather coloration was so extensive.

This mating took place along the Mayfield Slough on the northern side of the refuge just west of the Lucy Evans Nature Center.

There was another parking lot along the eastern side of the Mayfield Slough. There I found a number of artists setting up to spend the day painting at the refuge.

I saw one Monarch Butterfly and two Swallowtails. One landed for just a few moments allowing me to capture its image.

And then I spotted another Ring-nekced Pheasant!

Another one of my favorite photos today was this Black Crowned Night Heron. I've seen them at the Colusa Refuge but they're further away not allowing for much detail in the images I've taken of them and they always look a more drab grey. This one was very close but up in a tree. Immediately I could see the blue in its feathers and the red of its eyes. It was so gorgeous! The two thin, white lines you see coming off its back are two long feathers that start on the crown of its head. Despite the branches blocking its body I really love this picture.

Did I mention the reason I wanted to go to the Baylands was to practice photographing birds in flight? I'm finding my camera has a hard time focusing in on a single bird but an entire flock of seagulls was no problem.

The Baylands Nature Preserve - website
1305 Middlefield Road
Palo Alto CA 94301

Hours vary by season: CLICK HERE

Phone: 650-496-6962

Cost to enter: Free

Cost to park: Free

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