At the Edge of the Bay

A Black-necked Stilt in the treatment ponds at Las Gallinas.

On this perfect spring day, I took an early-morning stroll at Las Gallinas Valley Santitary District’s sewage treatment ponds, one of the richest places on Marin’s bayshore for wildlife (sewage ponds, worldwide, are a favorite habitat for finding birdwatchers).

The light was crystalline, the air warm and still but ringing with birdsound. At the bridge where the trails begin, several hundred Cliff Swallows whirled and filled the air with twitter. They rushed en masse under the low bridge where they build their colony of mud-gourd nests and streamed back out the other side. Safe  in numbers, they ignored a pale merlin that flew directly under them.

Red- winged Blackbirds clacked and konk-a-reed from every cattail clump, Marsh Wrens chattered like demented sewing machines, hundreds of musical Salt-Marsh Song Sparrows competed for female attention. A summer-butter Wilson’s Warbler perched for an instant a handspan from a masked male Yellowthroat, who ignored his bursting into song.

Ducks. They arrowed in twos and threes over the narsh in pursuit of sex, bringing the embarrassing rubber-ducky squeaks of male Wigeon and the reedy quacks of Gadwall.

A Greater Yellowlegs called out beyond the saltmarsh, geese honked. I heard the serial grunts of Virginia Rails and the endangered Clapper Rail.

American Goldfinches have arrived; a dozen or more like this one sang from weed patches. Can you see his imperfect black crown? Goldfinches are among the few small songbirds to take several years to achieve full, resplendent male plumage.

This wasn’t a flower walk, though there were plenty of flowers: millions of white, yellow, brassy or lavender blossoms of Corkseed, the European ancestor of radishes, and muddy patches here and there golden with the massed bloon of salt-tolerant Brass Buttons, an arrival from South Africa. But in an hour of walking, except for the vegatation in saltmarshes and the sloughs, I saw only three native plants: Coyote Bush, California Bee Plant (one clump) and California Poppies (probably seeded from horticultural stock).

It was still a grand tour of the living world at the verge of San Pablo Bay. And just to keep me in line, this Raven supervised my visit in silence.


  1. Irene Brady said,

    April 7, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    a nice little side detour. tnx!

    • billnoble said,

      April 7, 2010 at 1:31 pm

      I know you don’t have saltmarshes in Ashland, but do you have sewage ponds? I bet they’d turn up really interesting birds! ‘Course, we don’t have the Rogue River, or Crater Lake, or . . .

  2. epicswife said,

    April 7, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    Awesome reflection on the first shot !!! I love it 🙂

    • billnoble said,

      April 7, 2010 at 10:06 pm

      The whole morning had that quality of stillness and reflection. We haven’t had a day like that in ages and ages. Thanks for your comment.

  3. epicswife said,

    April 7, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Your welcome – Gotta love days like that !!!

    • billnoble said,

      April 7, 2010 at 10:11 pm

      Ohmygoodness, you’re here in real time. 🙂

      Do you remember the image in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” of the two young men with flying scarves, imagined as striding into the sea until nothing was left “but the smoke of their inextinguishable briars”? Different weather, but the water was so limpid that you felt almost that you could simply walk out on it and keep going. An expansive day.

  4. Michael said,

    May 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    i like the goldfinch the best.

    i have this weed flower i found in my uncles yard i dug it up before he cut the grass anyways it has 5white petals and multiple flower buds on top,

    the flowers stem and it has long skinny green leaves spread out on the stem and the flower buds look like a rose before it opens up and the center where the pollen is at is blue at first then once the pollen things fall off it leaves the stigmas and they are all white and not blue anymore man i wish i new what kind of flower this is even know that its a wild weed flower its still a pretty flower im gonna take a guess that its in the rose family because of how the flower and the stigmas look

    oh here’s what the flowers kind of looks like they kind of look like whats on a male holly tree and its flowers and it has a very weak sweet smell a bit like grapes and its leaves look like short hosta leaves the all green hosta plants thats what the wild weed flowers leaves look like to me im still going to search for it i almost forgot to say that the flowers petals looks kind of like clovers but not the heart shape and at the ends or tips of the petals it has a few teeth and the flower is the size of a dime.

    • Bill Noble said,

      May 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      Michael, not sure what your mystery plant might be. In bloom this early, if you’re in the US you must be either in the South or the coastal West.

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