Bird Season Takes Off at Audubon Canyon Ranch

The wildlife sanctuary Audubon Canyon Ranch is the kind of spectacular natural resource that makes the Bay Area such a great place to live. This thousand-acre property, north of Stinson Beach, is home to Douglas fir and Redwood trees, as well as badgers, deer, foxes, bobcats, raccoons, and rabbits. But the real show-stoppers are the majestic Great Blue Herons and Great and Snowy Egrets.
Every spring the large birds migrate here to perform mating rituals, build nests, lay eggs, and raise their young. The saltwater estuary at Bolinas Lagoon serves as their feeding ground. As many as 100 pairs of birds, mostly Great Egrets, are here on a given season. (At summer’s end the birds continue their migration.)
The birds’ heronry lies in a steep canyon, flanked by hiking trails. There are eight miles of trails in all, but a 15-minute walk gets you to the main look-out point. Bring your own binoculars, or use the telescopes there to zoom in on the birds. Tours are self-guided, but on weekends ranch guides are on hand to answer questions.
Children enjoy the “bird blind” a camouflaged structure birds enter from the back, with windows in front. Kids can also see newts here, and use nets to scoop them out of the pond. (The ranch hosts Pond Day on May 15, where kids can explore the pond’s ecosystem in greater depth through interactive activities, with guides and equipment.) A small bookstore has toys and books for kids, and there’s a display hall with information about the ranch, its history, and its inhabitants.
To make a day of it, stop in Stinson Beach on the way up to the ranch and swing into the Stinson Beach Market for picnic supplies (about 3.5 miles south of ACR). Once you’ve worked up an appetite birding at ACR, enjoy a packed lunch or snack at the grassy area with picnic tables. (No food is sold on site.)
When: Open Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays March 20 through July 11, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Weekdays (except Mondays) by reservation only. Call (415) 868-9244. No fee required. Donations encouraged.

—Kristen McClusky