San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge

If you’ve ever driven California State Highway 37 between Novato and Vallejo, you’ve been by the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and they are making efforts to restore this area to a vibrant wetland it once was. They’ve put up interpretive signs at the entrance that provide a good introduction to the area.

It’s wonderful to imagine the abundant bird and animal life that once called this area home.

Interprative Sign SPBBWR 2:20:16

Click on this picture to read the display.

People say that the best way to get people to care about the natural world is to get the public outdoors where they can enjoy and learn about it. To that end, the USFWS have opened hiking trails in the region.

Better still, not too long ago, the Service installed facility for launching canoes and kayaks. It is approximately 3 miles west of the bridge that spans the Napa River. (You can enter the launch area only from the westbound lanes, so if you’re coming from Marin or Sonoma County, you have to drive beyond the facility, travel east all the way to Wilson Ave. exit, and then circle back.)

Jono invited me to explore this area, new to both of us.

We were the first visitors to arrive this morning.

Jono & Dan SPBNWR 2:20:16

9:00 AM in the parking lot

A great egret was working the shallows in the pond west of the parking lot.

Great Egret SPBNWR 2:20:16 Great Egret 2 SPBNWR 2:20:16The new launching facilities are well-designed—with paddlers in mind. The slips are just right for canoes and kayaks. The docks float just above the surface of the water.

Jono gets in 2:20:16

It is easy to get into and out of the boats, even for aging paddlers with bionic body parts and rickety joints.

Dock SPBNWR 2:20:16

Fog made it hard to approach birds with the camera. By the time birds came into view, our nearness spooked them, and they took off. This black-crowned night heron stayed long enough for one through-the-mist picture.

Black Crowned Night Heron 2:20:16

He took off the instant after the shutter closed.

Jono brought his canoe, a good choice for this paddle, as canoes are easier to get into and out of than kayaks.

Jono in Wenonah 2:20:16

The fog lifted by 10:30. Our quiet gray world turned blue.

The Slough 2:20:16

South Slough

With a little bit of searching we found a place to get out of our boats. A short walk across crackly marsh brush led us to a levee thickly covered with luxuriant ice plant. We sat ourselves down and each enjoyed a thermos of hot tea.

Calm waters and wide open spaces provided a good setting for conversation. We had hoped to see a lot more migratory bird life than we actually did, and just at the end of our trip a large murmuration of sandpipers put on quite a show. No pictures, sadly.

For more information about the refuge, visit San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Here’s a map of our visit that makes it appear that we were paddling our boat across dry land, which of course ain’t so.

6 thoughts on “San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge

  1. Looks like a wonderful spot Dan. When I can start going out again kayaking, I’d love to check the San Pablo Bay launch out.

  2. Very good photos Dan; very ‘atmospheric’.

    I think you are very spoiled having such great kayak launching facilities! I could do with the same when I go paddling!

    The ‘Disappearing Wetlands…… ‘ map makes sobering viewing and reading – 95%! lost! that’s quite alarming especially considering how wetlands (amongst many other functions) are part of the life cycle of fish.

    As you indicate, getting people involved and visiting natural areas is the education that is required to help in saving and preserving these important areas.

  3. Alden, you know I did feel almost spoiled when I used that facility. I wish they were more common. It makes kayaking almost posh. Jono pointed out that a facility like that would make kayaking much more accessible for paraplegics, which is reason enough in my book to start building them all around the USA. Having them everywhere would encourage people to get out on the wetlands in small boats, and then people would want more wetlands to paddle on, and we’d start converting our “reclaimed” land back to the wetlands they once were. Yes, the greater Bay Area has lost 95% of its wetlands, very sad to contemplate. It’s time to turn that around. Recently we’ve at least begun to turn the tide, so to speak, and increase wetlands in this part of California.

  4. Dan, That second photo of egret came out really well. Great report.
    Remembering our paddle through the breech, I happened upon this…

    The following s hard to believe.
    At the SF Flyway event and I bump into Don Brubaker the guy in charge of flooding the old islands around highway 37, he likes BASK. He tells me that four people with kayaks NOT KAYAKERS were paddling along Dutchman Slough when they went by one of the breeches into the new Cullinan wildlife area, the water was moving out at a good clip and three of the four were flipped over. Someone calls the CG and I guess they send a boat up from Vallejo and pull the people with kayaks from the gaping maw of death. Dutchman Slough is not a difficult area to paddle. The water moving into flooded islands could suck you in if you get within 10-15 ft. I guess but you would really have to be inattentive . But being turned over by water coming out of an island is hard to believe. Details…details…don’t have any, just questions.

  5. Thanks, Jono. I think it’s the reflection in the water that makes that egret photo pop. My favorite photo from that day is the silhouette of you in your canoe.

    I thought about mentioning something about paddling through the breaches. At the launch I noticed warning signs explaining that things can get dicey paddling through the breaches.

    The tidal changes we experienced that day were not exceptional. I had to paddle pretty hard against the current the make it up to the slough. The current must have been close to 4 mph. which is close to my top speed in my rec. kayak. I was glad that I didn’t go sliding back into the washing machine downstream. My guess is that the day VT Don relates had bigger spring tides and stronger currents. That said….

    I have almost no experience paddling in water moving that “fast.” I’m well aware that for most people 4 mph is not fast at all. In 1971 I nearly drowned in whitewater on the Umpqua River in Oregon. I know enough to realize that unexpected things happen on the water and that moving water can make matters worse in a hurry.

    These day, I want the unexpected things in my outings to be delights, not dangers.

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