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.