Hike by Lou Sian, originally published in the October 2007 issue of Bay Nature magazine
For many birds, Lake Merced in San Francisco's southwest corner is the place to be in the fall. Near the coast, the lake offers habitats from freshwater wetlands to deeper water, all with access to beach and ocean. This fall, take a break from the city and check out the waterfowl arriving in droves, coming and going like planes at a metropolitan airport.
The largest of San Francisco's three natural lakes, Merced was once a single body of water, but it is today divided into North, East, South, and Impound lakes. Bird-watchers mark their sightings here by a few main landmarks: the concrete bridge, the boathouse, the wooden bridge, and Sunset Circle. You can visit them all by bicycle or walking on a flat, mostly paved trail of about 5.4 miles.
Near the boathouse, look for piedbill, eared, and horned grebes, cinnamon teals, and northern shovelers. At Sunset Circle, at the south end of Sunset Boulevard, walk past the statue of Gaspar de Portola (who led the first European expedition to find San Francisco Bay) to the wooden bridge, where willows and bulrushes attract vireos and warblers.
Go to South Lake's concrete bridge and pier for views of large flocks of mallards and coots. Check beneath the pier walkway for ducks feeding within an arm's reach.
Getting there: From the south, take Skyline Boulevard. From the north, take Highway 1 south until it intersects with Skyline Boulevard. Take the first right on Westmoor Avenue, then turn left on CA-35 N. Make a slight right on John Daly Blvd, then left on Lake Merced Blvd. Entrance is on the left of Lake Merced Blvd.