The Bay shore dynamic has changed, I'm pleased to say, for the better. Dikes are being opened in the Fremont / Newark flats, allowing tidal flow into the stagnant pools of shallow salt water. There are now so many access points to the Bay that one has to be fairly seasoned to recall the times when the Bay was so abused that nary a crab could be seen on the rocks at the Berkeley Marina. Birds abound these days, in places where only gulls ruled the roost in years distant.
My love of the Bay Trail and shoreline parks is well documented, but I've somehow not included one of my favorites - Hayward Regional Shoreline at the foot of West Winton Ave in Hayward. When I want to hang out near the Bay in almost complete solitude I come here. A good hike can be a short meander around some prime bird viewing locations or a long stroll north or south to other components of the rapidly expanding parklands near the Bay. Today's walk or roll will be a short one in length, but long in bird viewing opportunity. You won't have to go far to get a chance to marvel at the airborne hunters of the Hayward Shoreline.
The Shoreline is easy to find - exit at Winton Ave from I-880 in Hayward, and follow Winton west until you can drive no farther. The parking area is free and provides access to roam the short loops around restored wetlands as well as to the Bay Trail. A good windbreaker is a "must" any time of the year, as it will be breezy. I rolled through the entrance heading south on a short loop around a former landfill. Although I enjoy long regional trails, this short loop is a favorite as it exposes a hiker to the diversity of bird life now inhabiting the Shoreline.
A component of maintaining a population of raptors is food to sustain them. Conveniently, ground squirrels have also become prolific along many places along the Bay shore. As a result, you may see kites, hawks and falcons - yes, falcons - along this loop. The falcon story is a good one, told to me by a park naturalist after I rolled along an inner trail and noticed several dead gulls. I was curious, because their wings remained fully feathered while their little bird bodies were stripped to the bone and lay in the sun bleaching. I asked myself what happened to these unfortunate creatures? Did coyotes or foxes get them as they slept? The meticulous nature of the kill and surgical precision of the predator left me puzzled, until I spoke with one of the park naturalists.
"It's the falcons", he said. "The gulls fly around at a low elevation and are suddenly taken to the ground by a falcon diving at incredible speed." That made sense to me. And sure enough, the next time I rolled out there I saw a lone falcon moving with a purpose toward a small stand of trees north of the parking lot. You have to keep your eyes open to catch a glimpse of one, but you won't forget it once you see it. I've not yet witnessed a falcon hunting, but if you have time to wait and observe, you may be in for an epic treat.
Almost every occasion I've had to hike at Hayward Shoreline I see two or three Black Shouldered Kites, another of my favorite raptors. They are excellent hunters, and can frequently be seen flying off with some unlucky rodent or small bird. If you've never watched a kite hunt, well, it's special. While cruising along this short loop, you're likely to see at least one. There are also red tailed and red shouldered hawks, the ubiquitous turkey vultures and wading birds of all sizes. Big egrets and herons are also high on my "stop and stare" list. Heading toward the Bay on this short square of a hike, you'll come upon a small tidal basin on the east side of the outer levee. I've been fortunate enough in winter months to see Great Blue Herons and Greater Egrets standing side - by - side in the shallow water, staring intently down, hoping to cancel some fish's swim - by permit. They are patient hunters that almost always come up with something to eat. I'll sit and watch for a half hour or longer as they slowly, silently walk through the water, taking care not to disturb anything.
On the map, this short trail looks like it surrounds an small area labeled "Land Fill", but the trail takes in all aspects of the park in an agreeable, manageable length. Short pitches to the top of the old landfill are the best sites to see kites and red tails, while the path on the east side is the falcon's neighborhood. The big waders? They'll hang out on the inside of the Bay levee in the small ponds. And then there's the Bay shore itself.
Progressing very slowly on this short loop, I follow the Bay side portion, paralleling the shoreline and heading north. Here is where the smaller waders congregate. It's not always a given they'll be there, either - low or outgoing tides are great for the birder, as stilts, avocets, godwits and many, many others will hang out to play in the shallow wave action of the Bay while probing the mud for dinner. Those long bills can make an impression on a sleepy sandworm or other tasty denizen of the muck, and these birds know where to find €˜em. Stilts are my favorite species of these birds - their stark black and white feathered tuxedos, always clean and pressed, set them apart on the "visually provocative" scale. As I wander along the shore, I put on my windbreaker and sit there. What might I miss if I were to allow the wind to push me back toward the shelter of the inside loop? So instead of being run off by weather, I dress for it - simple, right? It's amazing how much better a short day hike can be if you come prepared to deal with cool air, wind and spray. What might I miss if I were to let the weather win? To this bird fan, I'd rather and watch in warm splendor than be hustled back to the car by a rude, cool breeze.
A look at the map tells me that this short loop takes in just a tiny fraction of the Hayward Regional Shoreline. Head to the Bay and follow the trail north and you'll end up at Oyster Bay or beyond. South will drop you at the Hayward Area Recreation Department's cool Visitor Center, which is only open weekends now but worth a visit. Back to our short loop, as you take the turn east on the north perimeter of the loop you'll be next to a quiet slough that leads to the site of Hayward's Landing. This is the same Hayward for which the City is named, a pioneer who operated a wharf at the water's edge. The shoreline here is dotted with these historic sites, and if you look around while at the Bay's edge you'll see the old pilings that were used to support the wooden planks of the docks. It's easy to spend a lot of time here, especially if you are a fan of the Bay's teeming shoreline. Each creek crossing, slough, marsh, tidal inlet, all are fascinating and each has an appeal.
Hayward Shoreline is about nature and history, as well as an opportunity to exercise and enjoy a wonderful day hiking or just sitting, sharing a fine setting with all the fur and feathers you'd ever want to see. I make it a point to stop by whenever I'm driving into Hayward or San Leandro, and I suggest you do the same when you find yourself in need of a Bay side respite from the rigors of modern life. With any luck, I'll see you out there. Have a great hike, and tell the kites "4wheelob sent me."