Tag Archives: Birds

Lafayette Community Park Nature Walk

5 Jan

Length: 1.8 miles
Time: 40 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Dogs: Yes! Very popular place for nearby residents to take their dogs.
Calories: 250-300
Elevation Gain: 200 feet.
Best Season: Any season.
EBMUD Permit Required:  No
Highlights:  A surprisingly wild little open space in the middle of Burton Valley! The confluence of two creeks with a diverse array of native plants and excellent birding! A wonderful place to take family walks with kids and dogs.
Directions:  Take St. Mary’s Road to the Lafayette Community Center at 480 St. Mary’s Road.  Park in the back, near the playground.
Trailhead:  East of the parking lot, you’ll notice a bridge with some signs.  That is the entry to the Community Park and the beginning of your nature walk.

Map of Community Park and nature walk

The 68-acres of park lands was originally owned by CalTrans and reserved for a highway from Pleasant Hill to Oakland.  Thankfully, due to strong public opposition, the plan was dropped and the city was able to buy it for a park in 1983.  Now it is a beloved open space instead of a noisy, dirty highway! Some of the most treasured assets in Lafayette – Community Park, regional trail, new library, Town Hall Theatre, Community Garden – are all due to activated citizens!  Our family lives just a couple blocks away and has walked in the Community Park hundreds of times.

Start by crossing the 140’ long Kathryn Peterson bridge over Las Trampas Creek.  Kay Peterson is worth remembering.  She started the Lafayette hiking group, was responsible for the first Lafayette Trails Master Plan, and was instrumental in obtaining the easements for most of our local trails.  The creek under the bridge starts near the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness and runs adjacent to Bollinger Canyon Road and then St. Mary’s Road.  It drains over 27 square miles of land area!

The Kathryn Peterson Bridge

The bridge is a great vantage point to view the dense riparian zone along the creek. You can actually see 10 different types of trees from the bridge (Coast Live Oak, Valley Oak, Fremont Cottonwood, Arroyo Willow, White Alder, Big Leaf Maple, California Buckeye, California Black Walnut, California Bay Laurel, and Coast Redwood)!

On the far end of the bridge, on the right side, there is a large Valley Oak.  These trees are pretty amazing! They are endemic to California (especially the Central Valley), grow larger than any other oak, and live for up to 600 years.  Their acorns fall in October and a variety of mammals and birds eat them, including the acorn woodpecker, California scrub jay, yellow-billed magpie, and California ground squirrel.  And, of course, acorns were the staple food for the Bay Miwok who lived here.

Sign for Bellenger Trail

Take a left, go about 50 yards, and then take another left on the Bellenger Trail.  Stay left, even where the trail forks, and the trail will wind along the creek with a couple openings where you can see the water.

The Bellenger Trail

When you get to a sharp right turn and a poison oak sign, there are steps down to Grizzly Creek.  This is close to where the two creeks combine and is a nice spot to stop for a minute.

Acorn woodpecker

Continue on and soon you’ll reach a major intersection of trails. Continue straight across, between two good sized oaks, and up the ridge (see picture). You’ll climb through a pleasant valley oak woodland. The most common year-round birds in this habitat are acorn woodpeckers, oak titmouse, scrub jays, red shouldered hawks, and towhees.

Go up the ridge between these two valley oaks

Keep going up, passing a marvelous bench, until you reach the eucalyptus grove.  Starlings love to hang out here.  Continue through and enjoy the views as you descend down the other side.

Eucalyptus grove

Enjoy the views on the way down!

When you reach the wider trail at the bottom take a left.  This is the main trail through the park.  As you go around a bend, stay to the right.  Soon you will see a small trail on the right side.  Save that for later, and instead take the second trail on the right.  If you’re on the correct one there will be a bench right away on the left. Wind your way up the hill and watch out for poison oak in this section.

At the top you’ll see a second eucalyptus grove on the right. When our kids were little I tried to convince our youngest son and his friends that a dragon guarded a buried treasure in the middle of the grove by snoozing in a hammock above it.  They went crazy when I actually buried a treasure and gave them a map!

Take a left on the fire road that goes along the side of the hill.  Going clockwise, make a loop around the sports fields to return to the same spot (see map).

On the way back, pause at the top of the stairs to look or listen for birds. This is one of our oldest son’s favorite spots for birding. In the spring, you have a good chance of seeing Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Vireos, Warblers and a myriad of other songbirds. This a great spot because you can see right into the canopy of the oak woodland giving you a great angle to see illusive canopy dwellers like Western Tanagers.

Then wind down the hill the way you came up, except at the bottom look for a small trail that veers off to the left.  Take that and continue into a pleasant grove of California Buckeye trees and check out the overlook over the creek.  Then backtrack and take the small trail out to the main artery again.

View of Las Trampas Creek from Buckeye grove

 

Go left and return to the bridge to complete the walk.

 

Some additional resources:

Information about the Community Park on the city’s web site, including a list of trees, shrubs, birds, reptiles, mammals, and amphibians that can be found in the park.  Click here…

Community Park brochure and map

Information about native bee houses that you’ll see in the Community Park.  Click here…

Golden Gate Audubon – who organizes birding outings, including ones to the Lafayette Community Park.  Click here…

 

 

Rimer Creek Loop

24 Mar

Length: 2.5 miles
Time:  45-60 minutes
Difficulty: easy to medium hike with one short steep section
Elevation Gain: 369 feet
Dogs:  Not allowed (but they are allowed on a leash on King Canyon Trail)
EBMUD Permit:  Required (but not during coronavirus outbreak).  Get a permit.
Calories: 400
Highlights:  Most people use the Valle Vista Staging Area to access the popular King Canyon Loop Trail. The Rimer Creek Loop is a much shorter alternative if you’re looking for something quicker and easier.  And it is a nice birding loop, if you want to spend more time with your binoculars and less time hiking.
Directions:  Drive to Moraga. Take Canyon Road until you see the Valle Vista Staging Area on your left.  Park.
Trailhead:   You will see a gate and a sign-in kiosk where you enter your EBMUD permit info (not required during the coronavirus outbreak). Take the trail to the left.
Special Notes:  Bring your binoculars if you have them!

After signing in, go downhill towards the reservoir.  After a couple hundred yards or so, veer left on the path that heads into the pine forest. The trail meanders through a very pleasant mix of pines, oaks, a few young redwoods, and other flowering trees. If you’re into trees, then just before you reach the fire road, look on the left side and you’ll notice the largest California Walnut tree I’ve ever seen! These trees are native to Southern CA, but were planted all over the state (including Walnut Creek).

Hike starts through a pine forest

Take a right on the fire road, crossing the bridge over Moraga Creek, and then look for the Rimer Creek Trail and gate immediately to your left on the other side of the bridge.

Beginning of Rimer Creek Trail

The trail runs adjacent to Rimer Creek, which starts in the hills behind the Sanders Ranch neighborhood. After hiking through the woods next to the creek, you’ll emerge into a horse pasture, where the trail runs directly behind some homes, before turning uphill.

On the way up you’ll notice many teasels.  Teasels are easily identified with their prickly stem and leaves, and the inflorescence of purple, dark pink, lavender or white flowers  that form a head on the end of the stem(s). Teasels are often grown in gardens and nature reserves to attract birds, but are considered an invasive species.

Thistle

Teasels

Once you reach the top, go through the gate opening where it says “Cattle Grazing Keep Gate Closed.” On the other side is the Rocky Ridge Trail. Stop and enjoy great panoramic views of Las Trampas Peak and Rocky Ridge to the East and an arm of the Upper San Leandro Reservoir to the West.  The reservoir was completed back in 1926 by the East Bay Water Co.  The basin/watershed for the reservoir is almost 20,000 acres and 89% of it is open space! How lucky are we?

Great views in all directions!

Head downhill on the Rocky Ridge Trail. When you reach the bottom take a right on the King Canyon Trail, back towards the staging area.  After going through a gate, look out for a bench off to the left of the trail (see picture below).  This is a fantastic spot to relax in the sun for a few minutes and is also a hotspot for viewing birds.  If you think of it, bring your binoculars.  On my most recent visit, I quickly spotted Canadian geese, many American coots, some ducks, a great blue heron, and many more bird species that I didn’t take the time to identify!  A good birding book for beginners (like me) is “A Californian’s Guide to the Birds Among Us.”  For more information on birding check out the Mt. Diablo Audubon Society, which hosts about 45 field trips per year.

Bench with great views of birds

Two Canadian Geese

Continue down the road. You will pass a horse stable and either see horses there or grazing on the hill nearby.

Horses grazing

When you reach the bridge, take a quick look for birds in the water.  On my past three visits I’ve seen a pair of hooded mergansers.  They may not look unique from a distance but with binoculars you can see that the males have boldly colored oval shaped heads and brown, compact bodies (as shown).

Moraga Creek with two hooded mergansers

Then head back through the pine forest to the staging area.

 

McCosker Loop Trail

28 Dec

Length: 2.6 mile loop, starting at staging area
Time: About an hour
Difficulty: Medium
Dogs: Sorry, not allowed in this part of Sibley
Calories:
400-450
Elevation Gain: 581 feet. Starts at about 750 feet and climbs to about 1250 feet.
Best Season: Avoid after heavy rains (likely muddy) or very hot days.
EMBUD Permit Required: No
To Bring Along: Binoculars, plenty of birds and views
Highlights:  Check out a brand new staging area and hike that none of your friends know about! Reach many nice viewpoints with vistas of mostly undeveloped land, including the summit of the hike, about mid way through.
Directions:  Take Canyon Road south from Moraga. When you reach Pinehurst Road, take a right. Drive about one mile past the Canyon Elementary School and look for the new Wilcox Staging Area on your right. There are roughly 10 parking spots.
Trailhead: Just walk up the gravel road to reach the trailhead.

The Wilcox Station Staging Area and McCosker Loop Trail are brand new additions to the Sibley Volcanic Preserve. If you look at the Sibley map, you’ll now see them on the far right side.

A little quick history.. The 250+ acres that have been appended to Sibley were settled by the McCosker family in the 1870s, initially as a ranch, and later as a paving and quarry operation from the 1950s-70s. The land was part of 1300 acres that were purchased by the Wilder Development (245 home sites) and then donated to East Bay Regional Parks and EBMUD in 2011. A huge thanks is due to a group of Orinda citizens called Save Open Space and assistance from the Golden Gate Audubon Society. The story is covered in a recent Lamorinda Weekly article and Audubon Society blog post.

Wilcox Station Staging Area on Pinehurst Road (notice NO DOGS sign)

The Wilcox Station Staging Area, where you can park, is near the former Wilcox Station, part of the Sacramento Northern Railroad, an electric train that ran for 183 miles from Oakland all the way to Chico. Trains traveled through the one mile long “Redwood Peak Tunnel” from Shepherd Canyon on the Oakland side, before emerging in the canyon near the hairpin turn on Pinehurst Road.  A 1917 map shows the very first stop as Eastport Station (eastern portal) and the second stop as Wilcox Station.  The tiny town of Eastport still shows up in Wikipedia and on Google Maps!

Map of the McCosker Loop Trail

To begin the hike, just head up the gravel road. After a couple tenths of a mile you’ll reach a gate, where you take a sharp right. You’ll then pass a large metal barn that now houses EBRPD equipment. Just up the hill you’ll reach the beginning of the two-mile loop trail. You can hike in either direction, but our group went right.

Just follow the trail signs!

Hiking through woodlands (with my family on the day before Christmas)

During the beginning and end of the loop you’ll pass through oak/bay laurel woodlands and then as you reach higher elevations it will be mostly open grassy hills used for cow grazing. As far as trees go, you’ll mostly see Coast live oak and California bay laurel, but may also spot Pacific madrone, Coast redwood, Giant sequoia (planted), California buckeye, and some alders by the parking lot.

Coast live oak trees

After just a short while you’ll reach a picnic table (picture below) and then a little further you’ll pass a random patch of redwood trees on the right.

Unexpected picnic spot!

While hiking we had the amazing experience of seeing direct descendants of dinosaurs, that can fly, commonly known as birds. In just an hour we spotted swallows, crows, doves, scrub jays, anna’s hummingbirds, warblers, sparrows, and a red-tailed hawk. According to an EBRP study, this new addition to Sibley has the potential to support about 300 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, almost half of which are birds. Common birds of Northern CA…

Trail ascending towards summit

After a surprisingly steep climb and about 30-40 minutes of hiking you’ll reach a summit of about 1250 feet. The old ranch dirt road splits into two at the top. Stay to the right, and then you’ll begin to descend. The views at the top are fantastic!

Checking out view towards Sibley’s Round Top

To the north you’ll be able to see Sibley’s Round Top in the distance. In the future, the new McCosker portion of the park will be fully connected to the rest of Sibley Volcanic Preserve, The Wilder Development, and Orinda.

Pennyroyal in full bloom

On our hike we stumbled upon a couple of wild herbs that are fun to smell: pennyroyal and wild fennel.   Pennyroyal is a non-native perennial, which is a member of the mint family and quite common on the hike.

Soon the trail will reach the junction where the loop started, and then you return past the large metal barn the same way you came.

Note: You may encounter cows on this trail. No worries. Just walk in a wide arc around them and make sure not to get between a mother and a new calf. EBMUD and the East Bay Regional Park District both lease some grassland areas for cattle grazing. This is to keep the grass height down, which lessens the fire hazard during the dry season.

McCosker area map with hiking loop shown in red

Elevation map