Discover Abbott’s Lagoon, the Bird Sanctuary of Point Reyes
|Abbott’s Lagoon. Photo by Frog Mom|
A stone’s throw away from the quaint town of Point Reyes Station, Abbott’s Lagoon is Point Reyes’ bucolic answer to the Pescadero Marsh or the Richardson Bay Audubon: a bird sanctuary. This flat 1.5 mile walk combines a lagoon where fresh waters meet the sea, green pasture hills and more birds than you’ve seen in a while – especially if you drop in during the winter migrations. We spent a day around the Point Reyes peninsula and Abbott’s Lagoon was a spur of the moment pick for a sunny afternoon. I’m glad we went as it was way more than I expected.
In itself, the drive from Point Reyes Station along Tomales Bay was a scenic delight. We drove past the small town of Inverness, the renowned rustic and romantic Manka’s Inverness Lodge, and past the junction to the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm. On our way, I pointed out to the kids the Russian “Lipnosky’s” dacha, an elaborate Russian-style wooden house perched above Tomales Bay on stilts – they loved it. At the split on Sir Francis Drake Hwy where signs point to the lighthouse or Pierce Point and Tomales Bay, I had a moment’s hesitation and made a right towards Pierce Point. Fortunately, it was a good choice. Since I only navigate with paper maps and by memory, I could have made a wrong turn. I continued on Pierce Point Road and it took a while but finally I saw the sign for Abbott’s Lagoon and pulled over in the parking lot.
At the parking lot, our girls were excited. I went with my friend Becky and she had borrowed another little girl along her daughter so we had four girls with us ages 6 and 8 years.
Coming out of a post-lunch ice cream, the young ones clearly needed to shake their sillies out. Looking out west, we could see all the way to the lagoon and if we squinted, the golden hues of the sandy beach. I decided to quit the squinting and start walking.
Within a quarter mile, the wide path led us to an oval pond where we saw our first birds. We had brought with us our Local Birds of Marin County laminated guide and the girls unfolded it hastily to identify the birds. They weren’t ring-necked ducks, the beak color didn’t match. They weren’t mallards, the head and neck were off. They weren’t red-throated loons either and as tempting as the pointy beak shape suggested, they weren’t western grebes either. What then?
Gracefully gliding along the reeds was a pair of American Coots, one of the most common waterbirds and yet we felt it was an accomplishment.
When you go on a wildlife hike and the wildlife is actually there for you to see (as in “howdy!” – right on cue), I can’t tell you how great it feels.
Eventually the coots shied away from us and moved to thicker shores where we couldn’t see them. Semi sad face. We moved away too and walked towards the beach.
What wasn’t our surprise when we heard the deep mooing of a cow coming from across the pasture. A cow? Why of course, we were on the Point Reyes peninsula after all and there’s all these A, B, C and so forth ranches.
Abbotts Lagoon elbows Ranch H so I’m guessing the mooing cow was a Ranch H mooing cow. However it’s not the Ranch H mooing cow that got our girls’ attention, it’s a handful of mule deer.
Deer was not on our birding program and came as a complete surprise. What were they doing there during the day anyway? They must feel pretty safe from predators to hang out in the open like that and they felt so sage that we were able to get just a few feet away. Unevenly scattered on a hill, five or six deer grazed and chewed and grazed some more. What a life.
Past the herd, the packed dirt trail gave way to a curving boardwalk a few feet off a marshy area. When in season, I bet you the marsh is all flooded but with our dry winter, the ground and the cattails crackling dry. The girls couldn’t have cared less, boardwalks seem to trigger an irresistible urge to fool around. Which they did.
After the boardwalk the ground was visibly more sandy until we gradually reached enough sand that we knew we were at the beach. A small bridge crossed over the lagoon, a snowy white egret waddled in the distance, and after that the trail disappeared underground.
Buried in sand. Swept by the sand. Quietly swallowed by the sand dunes. What a startling change of scenery.
Before we could object, the three oldest girls ran up the sand dunes and took off their shoes and socks. If they could, they would have stayed a whole day playing in the sand.
I tend to forget how much children like to play in sand, what pleasure they get just out of digging their toes deep in the fine grains and wiggling them free. It didn’t take long for the youngest one to join the unruly ranks of girls gone wild in the dunes.
Becky and I explored the area where the bright flowers of sand verbena brought color to the dunes otherwise crisscrossed by the long stringy runners of beach strawberries with their bright waxy leaves.
Above us a flock of brown pelicans flew low to the ground, barely a few feet above the lagoon and probably scanning for fish.
All good things have an end and we had to drag the girls out of the dunes, shake their sandy socks and put the shoes back on. Though they were disappointed they showed signs of weariness.
On the way back we observed a couple of turkey vultures circling above the northern end of the lagoon and I took several photographs of the birds in flight so I could blow them up on my camera and show them to the girls.
After checking the bird’s red head and looking at the silhouette with the slightly raised wings and long “fingers”, we all agreed it was indeed a turkey vulture flying way up there. Turkey vultures may be ugly as hell up close but in the sky they are the most graceful gliders.
As the after shadows grew longer and longer, we watched the hills around the lagoon don the warm colours of a late winter afternoon. It would be dark before we got back to the city but we were glad we had stopped by Abbotts Lagoon, a unique blend of coastal prairie and lagoon.
- Hike: 2 miles round trip
- Elevation: negligible
- Trail map: you can download one here.
- Trailhead: 49 miles north of San Francisco. Driving directions here.
Where to Eat
- At Point Reyes Station, we enjoyed a scrumptious lunch of fried calamari, clam chowder and hamburger with farmstead blue cheese at the Station House Cafe. We all sat around a large communal table in the back room where the kids could move around without bothering other diners.
- For a more casual setting, the wood-fired pizza at Cafe Reyes looked and smelled fantastic – the chocolate chip cookies on the counter too.