An Urban Layover for Birds: MLK Jr. Shoreline
by | March 22nd, 2010

Squeezed between the Oakland International Airport and the Coliseum lies one of the best kept secrets of the bay – the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Park , a birding hot spot. I had no idea.

Luckily, my eyes were opened this week on a guided hike with Golden Gate Audubon Society volunteer Cindy Margulis. What previously seemed like a pleasant marshy area to me was transformed into a beautiful and fascinating oasis for local wildlife.

Most of the wildlife we saw was actually local visitors and participants in a marathon migration originating in the arctic! The San Francisco Bay is part of the Pacific Flyway and hosts these migrating shorebirds as they head to South and Central America. Flying halfway around the world takes immense energy, and it blew me away that they chose Oakland as a staging area. Protection of these mudflats and salt marshes is therefore critical to their survival and the Golden Gate Audubon Society has been a heroic player in the story of this bay.

Before the building of highways, airports and venues, the 1800 acres of tidal marsh in the San Leandro bay was a paradise for wildlife. The construction that ensued resulted in only 72 remaining acres. Threatened with continued building and habitat loss, Golden Gate Audubon and other environmental groups led the litigation to have these acres protected and additional acres restored.

The success of this endeavor was illuminated when a female Black Turnstone that was banded in western Alaska found her way to this exact restoration site. Pleased with all it could provide for her, she has returned for four winters in a row. The success of this shoreline is also exemplified in the abundance of shorebirds and ducks we saw on our short walk: Canvasbacks, Scaups, Brown Pelicans, Willets, Stilts, Avocets, Killdeers and California Least Terns, Common Golden Eye ducks, Ruddy Ducks, Buffleheads and Pintails,  feeding and diving, floating and  flying and glistening as we looked through our scopes.

Golden Gate Audubon continues to protect this habitat through public educational opportunities.  Their Field Trips program offers more than 100 guided field trips annually for birders of all levels and explores all the phenomenal birding areas in the area and beyond.

According to Cindy, and I agree, this is shoreline is our great wilderness, our savannah or jungle, and our biodiversity hot spot to revere and protect.

See you out there!

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