SF Bay Flyway Festival to celebrate a silver anniversary – The Reporter

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Birders and the feathered animals they flock to see will descend on Vallejo and nearby Mare Island next weekend for the 25th annual San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival.

The three-day birding and wildlife event, which celebrates the return of more than 1 million shorebirds and thousands of ducks, geese, hawks, songbirds — and even monarch butterflies which migrate through or winter in the Bay Area — is expected to attract an estimated 3,000 people, Myrna Hayes, a festival co-founder and director, noted in a press release.

Hosted by the nonprofit Mare Island Heritage Trust, the festival, Friday through Feb. 9, boasts numerous guided nature walks throughout the region, including outings suitable for beginning and intermediate birdwatchers, and families and adults of all ages. Guided historical and nature outings are scheduled on the Mare Island San Pablo Bay Trail and in the historic shipyard area. Guided outings on the San Pablo Bay and Antioch Dunes National Wildlife refuges, at regional nonprofit organization-managed properties, such as Sonoma Land and Solano Land trusts, will happen this year, Hayes noted in the prepared statement.

The Family Wildlife Exploration and Birding Expo, traditionally a weekend-long event, has been cut back to just one day, to Saturday, due to lack of available facilities on Mare Island, she explained. That popular gathering showcases the efforts of more than 40 regional environmental organizations and agencies, commercial vendors and artists, birding and wild bird demonstrations, and art and photography exhibits. Admission is free.

The full Flyway Festival schedule will be posted online by Monday, at www.sfbayflywayfestival.com. It will include listings of all presentations at the Wildlife Expo and outings on Mare Island and throughout the region. Most activities are free. Some require preregistration at the website. If you go, dress for the weather, in layers, wear comfortable walking or hiking shoes, and bring binoculars, a camera, a hat, sunglasses, and, if desired, sunscreen.

The fun begins with an opening reception Friday from 5 to 9 p.m., and it offers a full no-host bar, live music, and a free buffet, a festival tradition. It will be followed by the Wildlife Expo from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Both Friday evening and Saturday activities will be at the Vallejo Veterans Memorial Building 420 Admiral Callaghan Lane.

Hayes noted that federal government shutdowns in 2017 and 2019 threatened to affect some of the regional outings, among them the Skaggs Island raptor-watching tours. However, in both years, a last-minute resolution allowed them to go forward, but this year nearly 30 outings and tours always offered throughout Mare Island have been hardest hit by the indefinite closure of the Mare Island Preserve by the City of Vallejo, following grass fires and canopy fires in some trees, causing city officials to cite public safety as the reason for closures over the past 17 weeks.

The Mare Island Preserve represents 44 percent of Vallejo’s open space and is a magnet for festival attendees, with its self-guided access and many guided birdwatching, nature, history and recreational outings led by volunteers. This closure includes the Navy-escorted hikes on Mare Island’s historic southshore, open during the festival and other events hosted by the Mare Island Heritage Trust, just six days a year. These closures caused festival organizers to initially cancel the event. But due to “the public’s expression” of disappointment, the local chapter of the Sierra Club offered financial support and sponsorship in an effort to help reinstate the festival, Hayes noted.

Chair of the Sierra Club, Solano Group, Joe Feller called the festival the “number one environmental event in Vallejo,” adding, “This event not only brings Vallejo’s attributes to everyone’s attention, it also introduces many children and families to the wonder of our natural environment.”

Among this year’s presentations are the return Saturday of Native Bird Connections, a wild bird rehab and education center based in Martinez. Always popular, it is expected to be a standing-room-only live bird show from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Wildlife Expo. Digital presentations include information about how to identify birds in the field and use binoculars, the history of the Mare Island Naval Hospital, the surprising nesting of osprey in San Francisco Bay — not known to have occurred in the 20th or 21st centuries until about the year 2000 on Mare Island — and the story of the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve.

Additionally, the festival offers a range of guided and self-guided outings throughout the north shore region of the San Francisco Bay Area, including birdwatching, natural history and recreational hikes, oriented to beginning and intermediate birders, led on Mare Island. Those  hikes will focus on the San Pablo Bay Trail with its up to 4-mile round-trip levee top trail along the San Pablo Bay. The trail is open daily to walkers, but Brian Collett, a naturalist and founding member of the festival’s board of directors, will guide a free raptor and birdwatching walk from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Friday.

Guided history and nature-oriented hikes will take place in the historic shipyard area and James Alden and Chapel parks. Hawk-watching outings will be led by experienced hawk specialists from the Sonoma Land Trust, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, and Napa-Solano Audubon Society. Skaggs Island, the former U.S. Navy communications facility and now a part of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife and the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife refuges, are not normally open to the public except during escorted outings such as those scheduled during the Flyway Festival.

One of the most popular attractions again this year is the self-guided and easy-to-access San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge’s recently restored 1,200 acres of tidal wetlands at Cullinan Ranch, north of Highway 37 just west of Vallejo. It opened to the Bay’s waters for the first time in more than 150 years during the first part of January 2015. There, self-guided birdwatching, walking — and even kayak and canoe access to the marshland — is allowed without permit or reservation. Self-guided access is offered to a number of other National Refuge lands adjacent to the highway for birdwatching and hiking. Self-guided hiking and birdwatching can be done on California Department of Fish and Wildlife property in southern Napa County at the Green Island Unit. American Canyon’s Wetlands Edge Trail, at the west end of Eucalyptus Drive, is a popular festival “self-guided destination for avid birdwatchers of all skill levels,” Hayes pointed out.

Hawk and raptor expert Larry Broderick will guide a “hawk walk” at the Sears Point Wetlands Bay Trail from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. Visit the Sonoma Land Trust website for details and to register. A Birds of Prey hike, also guided by Broderick, will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 9 at Lynch Canyon Open Space Park in Fairfield. Visit the trust’s website, solanolandtrust.org, for details.

For avid walkers, the Vaca Valley Volkswalkers will lead 5- and 10-kilometer walks on a designated route throughout Mare Island. For those interested, registration begins at 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and Sunday at 975 Nimitz Ave., Building 483, where walkers can receive a route map. Walkers should plan to arrive in sufficient time to complete their walks by 4 p.m. each day.

Mare Island outings will include guided walks throughout the weekend by local Audubon Society birdwatching leaders and Mare Island Heritage Trust field guides. There will be hikes and driving birding outings on the island, too. They include a guided “birding hot spots” driving tour given by a Society field guide, Wally NeVille, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Friday. Meet NeVille to form carpools at the parking lot at the corner of Walnut Avenue and Pintado Street, near 690 Walnut.

If tired of walking, birdwatching or hiking, festival attendees can visit the Mare Island Museum, open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5. The WW II era landing craft gunboat, LCS-102, at the corner of Nimitz Avenue at A Street on Mare Island will be open for tours from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.


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