Written by David Cruz:
Why did the Pheasant cross the road? To get to the
Baylands Nature Preserve!
The Ring-necked Pheasant is an introduced game bird to the Bay Area, however it enjoys our native Californian Bay Area habitat.
It is common to catch it flying across the road or running through the aura-matic fennel forest, enjoying the sun at the Palo Alto Baylands.
The Palo Alto Baylands boarders East Palo Alto directly into the San Francisco Bay on the eastern side of the Peninsula.
The baylands are a network of sloughs and ponds of both fresh and salt water and is a classic California tidal marshland.
It is unique in that its heavy salt content and human-enforced, low water level have cut it off from the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area. To the West, you see the Peninsula Mountains between Palo Alto and the Pacific ocean.
Located right on the Bay water, it used to be a yacht harbor until voters closed it in 1980. After its closing, the community has reclaimed it and allowed it to restore itself with California native plants and species.
At low tide masses of shore birds comb through the pickleweed, feeding on tiny invertebrates. Duck hunting happens in the winter, and the Baylands dock is where hunters depart on their canoes.
The channel adjacent to the nature center is a salt water fishing spot where fish such as Striped Bass create a buzz amongst fishermen.
All of this noisy nature happening a few miles down the street from Stanford University.
The Palo Alto Baylands is most notably known for its duck pond, another relic from the past that once served as a salt water swimming pool in the 1930s. It is an oasis for migrating birds and nesting ground for ducks and geese.
On the south end of the Baylands are the Bixby hills, the remnants of what was once a landfill, which is now being restored to its natural state.
To the west is the Palo Alto Airport. A favorite activity of mine growing up was to witness the low-flying airplanes land and take off from the runway as I walked the Baylands trails.
The area is unique in that it has few trees and is very flat, so a bike ride could be enjoyed long into the sunset.
Currently the wooden boardwalk is under construction, so you cant visit "Rail Alley" a marsh grass highway for rare birds, such as the endangered California Clapper Rail or the extremely elusive Black Rail.
The roof of the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center, at the base of the boardwalk, is home to dozens of Cliff Swallow nests, and in the summer is buzzing with activity.
Inside the Nature Center are countless diagrams and educational tools to keep you busy.
As the sun sets, you cant go 60 seconds with out seeing a Jackrabbit (Black-tailed Hare) run across the marsh.
In the sky hawks such as Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers glide across the sky, hunting and playing their part in the ecosystem.
California ground squirrels run across the trail to rush into their sci fi holes and lizards dash into the bush, that is a what a day at the the Palo Alto Baylands is all about.
The summer is a great time to witness nesting season, for example Black-necked Stilt chicks could be seen rushing through the low tides.
Historically Bay Area citizens have have contributed significantly to the demise of this marsh through using it for human purposes, such as a harbor and a landfill.
However in the last couple of decades, we, as humans, have had a gracious hand in saving my favorite Bay Area salt marsh, the Baylands Nature Preserve.
Cruz is a photographer and an East Palo Alto native who grew up with Palo Alto and Baylands as "his backyard."