On my last visit, in July, I crossed paths with dozens of American White Pelicans, some close enough to render my binoculars pointless. I also saw five species of wading birds and charming Pied-billed Grebe chicks.
All year, Marsh Wrens chatter in the cattails, and Northern Harriers and White-tailed Kites soar overhead. Waterfowl, meanwhile, congregate from fall to spring, when ducks and coots are literally everywhere. An array of shorebirds adds to the mix.
Exploring these formerly brackish but now mostly freshwater marshes can take all day. But you should also make time for the eponymous hills that rise up seemingly from nowhere — the Spanish apparently thought they were islands upon first arriving in 1769 — as well as for the less-pristine sections of the park, including ponds where commercial salt was once produced.
I like to ride my bike to Coyote Hills, find a quiet corner, and contemplate what the Bay must have once been.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Marshlands, grasslands, coastal shrub, oak woodlands, a flood channel, and salt ponds.
Flat trails through the marshes. Moderate to steep trails through the hills.
Over 280 species. Year-round: Pied-billed Grebe, Anna’s Hummingbird, Common Gallinule, Greater Yellowlegs, California Gull, American White Pelican, herons and egrets, White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, California Scrub-Jay, Bushtit, Marsh and Bewick’s Wrens, Common Yellowthroat. Summer breeders: Tree, Barn, and Cliff Swallows. Fall through spring: Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Blue-winged, Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Canvasback, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Least and Western Sandpipers, dowitchers, Burrowing Owl, White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warbler.
When to go
Nectar garden, picnic tables, bike paths, visitor center open 10-4 Wednesday through Sunday. Birding trips led by the East Bay Regional Park District, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Ohlone Audubon Society, and San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.
Owned and managed by regional park district. Open from 8 a.m. to between 6 and 8 p.m. (depending on the time of year). Parking $5. Accessible by bike via Alameda Creek Trail. AC Transit #232 bus runs from Union City BART station to within about a mile of the park. Exit bus at Ardenwood Blvd. and Commerce Dr.
Wear sunscreen. Scope helpful but not essential.
For more info
East Bay Regional Park District
To find and photograph this large chickenlike bird, which was split from Clapper Rail a few years ago, look for it on mudflats and tidal sloughs or in very shallow water at sites around San Francisco Bay, including Coyote Hills. The marshes on both sides of Patterson Ranch Rd. are worth checking for the rail’s clacks and grunts. The bird is endangered, so don’t play its calls to lure it into view.