Rush Creek Fire Road

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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 year round.

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 person.

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


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