I first learned about Heron's Head Park in March 2008 when I took that Ecology of the Bay class at City College. I didn't have my camera with me the day we came here so I didn't blog about it then.
"Before the Gold Rush in 1850 changed California forever, San Francisco Bay was ringed by wetlands. In the 150 years since, over 90% of these wetlands have been lost to development...I'm quoting from "A Field Guide to Heron's Head Park" edited by Mark Chambers and published by City College of San Francisco in 2004. Heron's Head Park is so named for the shape of the peninsula, which looks like a heron's head when viewed from the sky, as shown below (north is at the bottom of the picture).
Today Heron's Head Park is one of the few wetland areas protected on the City of San Francisco's bay coastline. It was born in the early 1970s, when the Port brought landfill to India Basin to create what was to be Pier 98, a shipping terminal. But the project never materialized and the newly created peninsula went untouched. Over time, the fill settled and eroded into the bay, leaving portions of the intended pier slightly below sea level. Aquatic plants began to take root, trapping silt nutrients from the bay's tidal flows. Eventually a salt marsh emerged on the site. Soon shorebirds and aquatic wildlife were attracted to the area, transforming the accidental marsh into a valuable natural habitat. Today Heron's Head Park serves as an important rest stop for migratory birds along the Pacific flyway, supporting eighty or more species of birds annually."
Heron's Head has a new visitor center, paid for with federal stimulus money. Um, thanks? It seems like San Francisco pays for a lot of its virtue with federal money. The City, like the state, is so financially over-extended and mismanaged, it would be a very different place indeed if all the federal money coming in suddenly dried up. On the other hand, California sends a lot more money to the federal government than many other states, so I guess we've got it coming.
The building is still under construction, but I see solar panels and a green roof.
The tidal marsh runs along the peninsula's south side. It has the look of tidal marshes everywhere, but with an urban-industrial backdrop.
San Francisco had a busy port once, but that all goes to Oakland now. You'll have to find some other blog to tell you what's going on. We're just here to look around.
I don't know much about birds, but I believe that's an American avocet (Recurvirostra americana). Other long-billed birds you may see at Heron's Head include curlews, whimbrels, and godwits--all of them in decline or imperiled.
Is that a snowy egret (Egretta thula)?
Western gulls (Larus occidentalis, below) are distinguished from California gulls (L. californicus) by the bright red spot on the bill (Californians have a black spot)
You can watch the birds from a number of observation stations adjacent to the marsh.
Marshland has a special beauty, doesn't it?
In addition to being a haven for wildlife, Heron's Head also serves the community as an accessible natural space. Life in the surrounding community is grim for many; it is among the region's poorest.
I'm better acquainted with the plants than the birds, of course. Last year's buckwheat inflorescences (Eriogonum latifolium):
California sagebrush (Artemisia californica):
Ah, I found some bees behind the coyotebush (Baccharis pilularis)
You find all the usual California-native plant suspects at Heron's Head, none of them looking especially fabulous in January. I noticed that a lot of the weedy fennel had been flamed recently to manage its spread. There were burned-out crowns everywhere.
At the Heron's Head peninsula tip:
Looking west from there,
Zooming in for a view of my beloved Bernal Hill, through the January mist.