Rush Creek Fire Road
Fall is a good time to head to Rush Creek Open Space as you’ll see all sorts
of migrating birds that left for the breeding season return.
This 3.5-mile “lollipop” — a loop on an out-and-back stem — on
Pinhiero Fire Road, North Levee Trail and Rush Creek Fire Road is an easy,
level loop if you wear boots. There are two places on the North Levee Trail
that would require those without boots to balance on a piece of lumber and a
rock if they wanted to keep their feet dry.
The hike starts at Pinhiero Fire Road, named for Frank Pinhiero, who bought
the ranch in 1940. As you start the hike, look for white berries on the
snowberry bushes. This plant was first collected on the Lewis and Clark
expedition and with Thomas Jefferson’s help soon entered the nursery trade
as an ornamental. There are three species of oaks — black, valley and coast
live oak. Look carefully at the leaves of the valley oaks and you will see
what looks like red chocolate chips. These are the galls of a tiny cynipid
wasp, only about 2.5 millimeters, which does not sting people. The galls,
with the larvae inside, will drop to the ground and the larvae will pupate
inside the gall. This generation, which is all female, will emerge in
February. (The spring galls look different and the generation that includes
both males and females emerge in May.) With luck, you might find the
less-common yellow wig gall on the midrib of the underside of a leaf. This
fuzzy gall is made by a different species of cynipid wasp.
Marin can be confusing to new residents who have the idea that “birds go
south in the winter.” In reality, most of our ducks and shorebirds go north,
to Canada and Alaska, to breed in the summer. We also have birds that fly up
from South and Central America to breed in Marin, and those birds leave us
when the breeding season is over. This makes Marin “south” for some birds,
and “north” for others. Of course, there are also resident birds to enjoy
Two types of ducks that have returned are the Northern pintails and American
wigeons. Both are dabbling ducks, which put their heads down and tails up to
feed. Both breed as far north as northern Alaska. Female Northern pintails
return in mid-August, and American wigeons arrive in late August. By now,
you’ll be seeing lots of male Northern pintails as well.
You’ll also likely see the black-necked stilt, a black-and-white bird with
bright red legs. These stilts began breeding in Marin in 1978. This month
residents will be joined by birds that bred to the north in Oregon and
Washington, and to the west in Nevada and farther in the interior.
While many people enjoy seeing mute swans, the California Department of Fish
and Game considers them an invasive species. They were first introduced to
the United States in the 1800s as ornamental birds for private estates,
parks and zoos. Escapees have a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems,
eating as much as 8 pounds a day of the underwater plants many birds, fish
and invertebrates rely on.
In a little less than 1.5 miles you’ll see the North Levee Trail on your
left. There is no sign. This is the start of the loop. The Levee Trail is
about ¼-mile long and passes through wetland plants, mainly pickleweed, salt
grass and goosefoot. At the end, turn right on the unsigned Rush Creek Fire
Road to circle Cemetery Marsh clockwise. This brings you back to Pinhiero
Fire Road. Follow the “stem of the lollipop” back to the entrance.
To get to Rush Creek Open Space, take Highway 101 to the Atherton Avenue
exit. Go east and make the first left on Binford Road. The Open Space gate
is on your right. Dogs on leash are allowed with a limit of three per
Wendy Dreskin has led the College of Marin
nature/hiking class Meandering in Marin since 1998, and teaches other nature
classes for adults and children. To contact her, go to wendydreskin.com.