I had barely begun my hike into Rush Creek Open Space Preserve and I already felt like I was worlds away from the freeway nearby. Birding is the biggest draw at this 522-acre preserve, where birders have recorded 196 regularly occurring species.
Starting at the Pinheiro fire road trailhead, I headed east, with the open expanse of the marsh on my left and the forested hillside on the right–two distinct and active bird habitats. After a few bends in the fire road, I darted into the mixed oak woodland. A Cooper's hawk swooped through the trees just in front of me, coming low, then reclaiming a position in the branches.
The fire road takes you farther east to Cemetery Marsh, where you can connect to the Bahia Trail, which leads to the Petaluma Marsh Wildlife Area. Grebes, cinnamon teal, and dunlin were just three of the many waterfowl and shorebirds I saw there.
In about four hours, I hiked the entirety of the Bahia Trail to the park's other entrance on Bugeia Lane, then made the loop back by crossing over the hill on the Bahia Ridge Trail.
Birds aren't the only flying attractions here: Signs along the way mark the locations of three feral honeybee hives.
Getting there: To get to the main entrance, take the Atherton Avenue exit off of Highway 101. Head east on Atherton, then turn left on Armstrong. Park along the road near the gate. No facilities.
Hike by Richard Karevoll, originally published in the January 2012 issue of Bay Nature magazine