Today D. and I spent the afternoon at Ravenswood Open Space Preserve, right on San Francisco Bay. We had to drive through East Palo Alto to get there, and frankly it was off-putting. Once we got past the huge spiffy Ikea store right next to the freeway, the scenery shifted slowly from shabby, low-income residential to run-down industrial. It was odd to have a nature preserve right there cheek-by-jowl with a junkyard, a trailer park and some kind of waste facility, with high-tension power lines running overhead right through the marsh.
But the preserve itself was really nice, created from reclaimed marshes which used to be salt evaporation ponds. In town the day had been hot and muggy, but at the preserve, in the open air on the Bay, it was pleasantly warm in the fresh breeze. The place was just about deserted; we had it pretty much to ourselves. That was not surprising, given the kinds of neighborhoods people had to travel through just to get there.
Ravenswood is part of the Pacific Flyway, and thus provides food, shelter and habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife. It is a crucial winter refuge for millions of migrating birds that stop over each year. The tide was just beginning to go out when we arrived, so as the mud flats got more and more exposed we saw more and more birds showing up to eat the critters that fed on the algae and microorganisms exposed on the mud. We saw 2 kinds of swallows (cliff [which I suspect nest on the nearby Dumbarton Bridge] and barn), plus a couple of egrets, a hummingbird, a mockingbird, lots of ducks, what was probably some killdeer (they were a bit too far away for the binoculars), and a couple of white-tailed kites hovering over the marsh grasses and mudflats.
And we saw several ground squirrels, one of which spent a long time scrutinizing us from atop a rock on the other side of some tall grasses as we sat on a bench scoping out the waterfowl. It looked like it had either 3 ears or else a horn on its head (we couldn't get a close-enough look to figure it out). The others we saw looked normal (thank goodness!).
Another cool thing was all the snails we saw. There were scores of estivating terrestrial snails on one side of the trail, on the benches, all over the branches of the bushes and small trees, on the fenceposts and trail markers, their shells bleached almost white from the strong sun; and once the mudflats came into view in the ebbing tide, all the little marine snails began crawling around on the mud to have some lunch. They'd nibble for a couple of seconds, then creep forward just far enough to get another mouthful, grazing for a second or two then moving forward a half inch, leaving little trails in the soft mud.
After dinner we took a stroll through the neighborhood and made friends with a cute puppy going walkies and a pretty flame-point Himalayan cat whose tag said "Dharma" (who had killer tuna-breath!!), as well as greeting another feline friend we met a couple of weeks ago. A very pleasant afternoon and evening.