With the heat of summer not yet upon us, now is the best time to take stock of ponds all over the Bay Area. In every part of the Bay Area, there are great hikes that take you to a pond or small lake that is likely home, or potential home at least, to the species we cover in our April 2007 pond-life feature Islands in a Sea of Grass.
In the East Bay hills of Lafayette and Pleasant Hill, Briones Regional Park protects two oases: the Sindicich and Maricich lagoons, each made up of two separate ponds. Although all of the ponds are fed by runoff, the Sindicich also draw from a nearby spring, so they are well watered throughout the year. Among the Sindicich and Maricich’s inhabitants are California newts and California red-legged frogs, which breed successfully in this hill-top haven. In addition, the southern Sindicich pond supports a breeding population of Sacramento perch. For more information, visit the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) Briones page.
Farther east, and a bit south, the Sunol Regional Wilderness has quite a few ponds. For a hike that passes up to four ponds, start at the visitor center and head up Hayfield Road to Cave Rocks Road and make a loop to Cerro Este and McCorkle Road, which returns to park headquarters. EBRPD Sunol page.
In San Francisco, head over to Mountain Lake in the Presidio, which we covered in our October 2006 article Unearthing Mountain Lake. To the south, take a stroll to Stern Grove, where Pine Lake, also known as Mud Lake or Laguna Puerca, hangs on as a bit of habitat in a highly altered landscape. The lake is natural and surprisingly shallow, a reflection of the high groundwater table. Over the last few years, the lake has experienced a drop in water level and has been repeatedly smothered by an invasive aquatic primrose (Ludwigia hexapetala) that carpets the lake surface, effectively choking out all other plants and wildlife.
In Point Reyes, head over to Five Brooks Pond. Five miles north of Bolinas Lagoon on Highway 1, take the signed gravel turnoff west of the highway for a quarter mile. During their winter spawning run, salmon can be seen from the bridge near the trailhead as they work their way up Olema Creek. The short trail to Five Brooks Ranch loops around the pond, which was originally excavated to transport timber from Inverness Ridge to the Sweet Lumber mill. Today it is a habitat for frogs and turtles, and a migratory stopover for green-backed herons, hooded mergansers, and grebes. For more, check out the National Park Service Point Reyes wildlife viewing site.
Also in Marin County check out Hidden Lake in Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve. Situated halfway up the oak-studded slope of Mount Burdell, the quarter-mile long pond frequently dries out completely during summer, making it one of the few examples of a true vernal pool in the Bay Area. This annual cycle in water levels makes the area perfect for a variety of specially-adapted native plants, including coyote thistle, quillwort, and Baker’s navarretia. Lovers of rare native flora should be sure not to miss it. Marin County Open Space District’s Mount Burdell site.
In the South Bay, visit Alpine Pond and Horseshoe Lake, a pair of ponds in the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve. Set amid coast live oaks and Monterey pines, both are fully wheelchair-accessible from parking lots on Skyline Boulevard, and are connected by a mile-long trail for those on foot. Visitors with children should be sure to visit the David C. Daniels Nature Center (open for the season starting March 31) on the shore of Alpine Pond. The center has exhibits with examples of local habitats and features some of the inhabitants of the pond and surrounding area. Take the half-mile loop trail around the pond and look for coots, crayfish, and western pond turtles. Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s Skyline Ridge page.
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The harmful algae bloom that sickened marine mammals and caused the closure of California's crab fishery this winter is slowly dissipating, while researchers are still trying to understand what caused it to happen.
Habitats: Freshwater, Bay, Marine