Adventure: Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline

A Winter Afternoon at Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline by Bob Coomber

I'm so pleased to share my first hike with you. While I typically enjoy dusty, rustic and dramatic trails around the District, this one is a favorite that should appeal to anyone.

Let's count the positives:

  • Long, flat, paved trails
  • Secret picnic spots
  • Birds and wildlife, including a very rare visitor, everywhere
  • Beautiful bayside vistas

It's got to be Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline. A few minutes gazing across the water will have you pinching yourself in disbelief that this setting is deep in an industrial neighborhood. Almost any time of year is a good time here, but during winter the feathered visitors are too numerous to note. From diving ducks to waders, geese to hummingbirds, towhees to house finches, birds and the calming influence of water are the attractions for me.

Although there are a couple of entrances to the park, my favorite is the Damon Slough trail head at the western foot of Oakland's 66th Avenue. Getting my wheelchair out of the car and ready, I heard a Canada Goose honk as it flew overhead. Broken clouds quietly passed in a gentle breeze, which urged me on. A construction project closed the trail to northbound hikers, but with several creeks and sloughs on the southbound route I figured I couldn't lose. It was nearly high tide, and the aroma of the Bay drew me closer.
The first item to note was the smooth and wonderfully flat paved surface. For this wheelchair hiker, the easy roll on this path was hard to beat. Today was about birds, not pushing up hills. That'll come later. 

I'm a fan of water in our parks. This Shoreline has no shortage. In the first 20 yards I was on a bridge crossing Damon Slough. I stopped for 10 minutes to watch a couple of my favorite wading birds, a godwit and a stilt, walk together along the north bank of the creek. Each had its chosen route - the godwit picking bugs off the rocks while the stilt dropped its head under water to feed. Several ducks watched, from the ubiquitous mallards to pintails and canvasbacks - again, in the first 20 yards.

Bold ground squirrels raced each other across the trail in front of me. As I moved closer, they scurried into their holes. I expected to see more members of the raptor community given the abundance of fresh squirrel, and they didn't disappoint. Rolling south from Damon Slough I heard my first Red Shouldered Hawk. Usually seen in pairs, the urgent squawk of these hawks is unmistakable. It was difficult to travel more than a few yards before some natural wonder presented itself.

But roll I did, south toward Elmhurst Creek, the next crossing. Between these creeks were some wildflowers that weren't aware it was still midwinter. The abundant rain and above average temps had fooled them into believing it was time to bloom - and I was better for their failure to read the calendar. I've been here in Spring and the flowers are delightful and inspiring.

I'd chosen a route which on which I'd travel a little more than 3.5 miles when my hike was finished. For those intimidated by mileage figures, please take my word for it - you'll never imagine you've walked or rolled that far for the natural distractions found in abundance. I passed a team of volunteers from Save the Bay who was planting native grasses and some native flowering shrubs, like monkeyflower. They'll be planting through March, and they keep a small facility at the shoreline to start the plants and acclimate them before placing them in the marshy ground. I made a note to return once the weather turns warmer and plants start blooming - it'll be a sight to behold.

Once past Elmhurst Creek, it's just a short stroll to San Leandro Creek, which runs in from the south. I sat on the observation platform overlooking the marsh near the main parking lot on Swan Way, just north of Doolittle Drive. The marsh was filled with ducks as well as two Great Blue Herons and a Black Crowned Night Heron. From this platform

I managed to sight only 3 of the endangered Clapper Rails, frequent visitors to this wonderful shoreline park. Listening to them "clap" their beaks during nesting season is a draw all by itself. It was almost the topper of the day.

However, the high point this day was as I was near the end of this stretch of trail. A familiar "peep" from high above found an Osprey gliding in quite the Osprey - ish fashion -in wide circles, rising effortlessly in elevation without so much as a flap of its huge wings. I had hoped to see a dive as it went fishing for lunch, but had to be content with watching this beautiful bird glide overhead.

At the fishing pier, I turned back. Being in no hurry, I stopped several times to view the drama of the marsh as each creature stakes its territory or finds a partner. I watched as several hummingbirds took advantage of some blossoms on a tree, talking to each other as they hovered, drinking nectar. The roll back was easy, where one could concentrate on all the happenings around them instead of tiring from steep hills.

Parking is limited at the Damon Slough gate, but there's always a space at the Swan Way entrance. The Bayside parks are at their best this time of year, so please don't delay your visit. I look forward to sharing stories about your next visit!