Green and Gray

American avocets at Corte Madera Marsh Ecological Preserve

After our extreme drought, it rained buckets in a single record-setting storm. The reservoirs that are the primary source of our drinking water rose 19% in two days. Beneath the gray skies, the first green of the year is sprouting from the previously parched soil.

I visited the local wetlands adjacent to the northern San Francisco Bay Estuary, where the first of the wintering birds have arrived for the season. Thankfully they now have more watery options to rest and feed after their migration from Canada and Alaska. They’re here in their drab plumage, after the summer molt when they shed their colorful breeding feathers and grew new flight feathers to make their long journeys.

The first cluster of birds I saw were nearly all mallards, gathered in the flooded agricultural field adjacent to the constructed regional water treatment ponds at Las Gallinas Sanitary District. It’s been years since there was enough water for these natural ephemeral pools in the field. The birds there were clearly not the local mallards that beg for food in city parks, instead swimming away when they saw me get out of my car even at a significant distance.

Arriving at Las Gallinas at high tide, the channel at the entrance was full with incoming water, the wrong time to look for ducks and waders that would be searching to feed in the shallows. But as I crossed the footbridge and walked further, I had my first sighting this season of a few cinnamon teals, who took flight soon after. I walked around one of the permanent water treatment ponds that are designed as year-round habitat, and saw that it was full to the brim for the first time in ages. There were just a handful of early arrivals, ruddy ducks and a couple eared grebes. In a month there will be a lot more of these and other species.

American avocet

I then visited Corte Madera Marsh Ecological Preserve, a gem for wildlife that’s bordered on three sides by shopping malls and a freeway. It felt good to walk on spongy damp ground instead of the hard pan of the past year. From the greening edge, I silently said hello to the locals and welcomed the early migrants. I love the company of all of them.

American white pelicans
American avocets, black-necked stilts, northern shovelers, and one American wigeoncan you find it?


  1. I was wondering what happened to your blog. So happy you were able to get out and take a few beautiful shots! Hope all is well.

  2. Great pictures and a heartwarming story about a re-freshening of the land and seeing some old friends in the wake of the downpour. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  3. Glad to hear you are okay and so are your surroundings. Bit behind as a near or direct lightning strike fried my computer, printer, phone, etc. but most things are back up and running.

  4. Wonderful pictures of places that I know well and have been missing. I enjoy reading your well-informed newsletter. All the best – Bob

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