I found this hike in my guide-book to Best Easy Day Hikes San Jose. It was a great find, and one of those times when I wondered why I didn’t already know about the trail, since it was practically in my back yard and had been so for 20 years or so! Palo Alto Baylands Park, as its name implies, is along the shore of San Francisco Bay. During my hike I realized that most of this particular trail is also part of the San Francisco Bay Trail system, which is another intriguing hiking project. I plan to return for a reprise hike another time, and that time I’ll treat it as an “official” San Francisco Bay Trail segment.
In any case, on this occasion I was looking for a relatively easy trail hike consistent with my then-current state of recovery from a broken hip and poison oak. I also wanted a trail hike that I could do in my running shoes rather than hiking boots. I have hiked/walked a few other places along the bay shore and thought this would be a good choice. My only concern was wind, as the forecast for that day had been for 20+ mph winds in the morning, dying down starting early-to-mid-afternoon. I started hiking just before 3pm and concluded that, out in the open along the bay shore, 20 mph winds are a bit stiff. My hooded windbreaker was welcome!
The route started near Byxbee Park with my turnaround point at another trail head near Terminal Blvd in Mountain View. An overview is shown in the GPS track.
Byxbee Park was created on top of a section of the former Palo Alto City Dump, and the area has been repurposed into this park. A distinctive feature of the park is several forms of landscape art, in which characteristics of the land are incorporated into art artifacts. Walking along the trail it is impossible to miss the forest of wooden poles that have been placed in a regular array on the hillside.
I found one location from which I could sight between rows of poles directly toward one of the East Bay peaks which still had snow from the previous day’s storm. I tried to get a picture, but the skies were a bit too cloudy to appreciate the image. I believe it was Mt Hamilton, rather than Mission Peak or Monument Peak, but I didn’t note my compass orientation to be sure.
Before long I encountered a gull performing an interesting routine, apparently oblivious to my approach. It picked something up in its beak, flew up in the air about 10 feet, and dropped the item onto the trail. This occurred several times as I approached and walked by. I presume the item was a snack that the gull was trying to open. How smart of it to do this routine on the relatively hard-packed trail surface rather than in the softer soil alongside the trail!
A highlight of this hike was the shorebirds. I was particularly interested in the avocets which were walking around and feeding in the shallow water perhaps 10 yards from the trail. Actually, during the hike I was unable to identify the bird species or even the shape of the bill (which is one of the most distinctive features to aid in species identification). And of course they were busy feeding with their heads bobbing up and down but mostly with the beaks under water. Thanks to the great zoom range on my camera, though, and taking a couple dozen pictures, I got an excellent example for identification purposes.
Here is a pair of avocets, again totally oblivious to my presence and interest just yards away.
As I mentioned previously, a storm had come through the previous day and the weather was still grey and cloudy. On this occasion, as on others, this meant that there were some interesting cloud formations – which were especially noticeable in the flat bay-shore environment.
My turnaround point was a trail head at Terminal Blvd in Mountain View. Very close to this trail head I found a series of posts with flying bird (tern) silhouettes. The Baylands bird guide-sheet indicates a Forster’s Tern and Black Skimmer “hot spot” nearby.
During my return to Byxbee Park I noticed a large grouping of birds out on the water on the Bay side of the trail, too far away for me to identify. It was an interesting jumble of bodies, so I took a few pictures to study more carefully after I got home. This picture already shows more than I could see unaided, as the zoom on my camera substitutes, at least to some extent, for binoculars.
When I digitally zoomed in even further, it became clear that part of the large group was actually tail ends rather than the usual upper part of the body visible when a bird (e.g. duck) is swimming. And the large group was actually avocets. This group had evidently found a particularly fruitful location to feed!
This turned out to be a very interesting hike in spite of the windy and somewhat cool temperatures. It will be nice to return on a warmer and calmer day to discover other shorebirds and treasures.