Field Guides to Bay Area Birds

The ideal field guide is one that is perfectly focused on your needs, with species selected exactly for the area where you spend your time and a helpful text that accurately describes those birds’ local range, seasonality, and habitat preferences. If you are in Novato, Marin, or really anywhere in the Bay Area, these are the best available bird guides, ranked from simplest to most comprehensive.

Loma Alta Fire Road

Loma Alta is one of the higher points in Marin, a nearly 1600’ peer of Mount Burdell. For us north Marin naturalists, the name primarily evokes the fire road that leads north from the summit to Lucas Valley Road, a hotspot for late spring serpentine wildflowers and dry, rocky grasslands ideal for a number of birds that are uncommon in much of the county, such as lazuli buntings, horned larks, meadowlarks, and grasshopper sparrows. The views aren’t too bad either!

Backyard Birds II: The Rest of the Top 20

In the first part of this two-part tour of 20 of our most common and notable backyard birds, I covered the finches and sparrows, two groups of birds that often dominate feeding stations and our consequent attention. Today, I present another ten birds, sorted into three batches: woodland birds, nectar-feeders, and a smattering of ubiquitous but non-feeder visiting yard birds.

Backyard Birds I: Finches and Sparrows

There is no better place to start learning the birds than in your own yard. It is much easier and more natural to get acquainted with the limited set of birds that you see regularly, rather than diving immediately into the thick of the full 1000+ species of North American birds. Today, I’ll introduce two of the most obvious and important groups of backyard birds: the finches and the sparrows.

Big Year #4: April Update

What are the 26 new species I’ve found recently in my Thoreauvian Big Year? What spring birds can you see now in Novato? What reasonably common birds did I finally nail down after months of unreasonable elusiveness on their parts? And where are the special hotspots of our area that hide the uncommon, range-restricted, habitat-specialist birds that most casual birdwatchers don’t know about? Let me tell you.

Big Rock Ridge

Big Rock Ridge is the defining topographical feature of Northeast Marin, dividing Novato’s Ignacio Valley from San Rafael’s Lucas Valley. At 1,895 ft, this is the second highest point in the county, and the highest that is untamed and hence unshortened by roads and motors. Some work is required to gain the pleasures of reality rather than reverie, but those rewards are real and numerous: unobstructed 360-degree views and aquiline omniscience, breathing room above the lowland hubbub, and the company of birds and plants that eschew civilization’s crowds and tethers.

Mount Burdell

If any geographical feature has risen above the flat valley of Novato’s civic and commercial life to achieve a visible prominence in the mental landscape of its citizens, that feature is Mount Burdell. It’s a name that vividly conjures up the idea of a place to thousands of Novato citizens, of a sunlit expanse of green hillsides dotted with wildflowers and vast, benignant oaks. And no time is better to visit than spring, when the mountain fills with the songs of newly arrived migratory songbirds.

How to Use Binoculars

The purpose of this blog is to enrich your perception of nature. I try to use all the tools available to me to work towards this goal: I talk to people on a daily basis, sell them stuff to attract birds to their yard, lead walks, give presentations, and when I can’t seize an individual’s […]

Stafford Lake

Up in the hills to the west of Mount Burdell are the headwaters of Novato Creek, which then tumbles down through the rolling slopes until it runs into the Stafford Dam and forms the placid Stafford Lake, which now provides around 20% of our town’s water (the remainder comes from the Russian River). Much of […]