Details regarding the new Fernandez Ranch Park (verbose)


East Bay Birders,

A few folks have asked me to post some more details about the Muir
Heritage Land Trust's Fernandez Ranch property and I’ll do my best. Be
forewarned, I’m not an expert birder, bird tour leader, or writer. . . .

First of all, the property is open from dawn till dusk (a local
volunteer is opening the gate accordingly). Directions can be found at this link:

Trail maps are provided at the kiosk in the parking area. As for the
trails, I would suggest starting on the “Black Phoebe Trail” that is
to the left as you cross the bridge. To the left of the trail is some
nice riparian habitat and to the right is open grassland. Ironically,
I have yet to see a Black Phoebe anywhere on the property. . . .

I have seen Band-tailed Pigeons, Orange-crowned Warblers, Bushtits,
Pac Slope Flycatchers along the seasonal creek to the left, though I’ve yet to spot any bird in the open field to the right.

As the trail turns to the west, it becomes the Alameda Whipsnake Trail
and heads up the hill. Fortunately, most of the uphill parts of the
trail are in the shade. The oak woodland habitat is home to towhees,
chickadees, woodpeckers, flycatchers and the like. As the woods open
up, look for kingbirds (I assume Western);I’ve seen them on both of my
visits, but neither time close enough for a positive id.

As you move higher, watch (or should I say, listen) for Warbling
Vireos and House Wrens. We had quite a few on this last trip and on my
first visit I had a couple willing posers. Near the top, watch for
Western Bluebirds, Cassin’s Vireos, and even Western Tanagers. Also, I
think many of the open meadows at the higher elevations along this
trail would make great Grasshopper Sparrow habitat, though none have
yet been found here.

There are some beautiful spots, complete with benches to sit and take
in the views, so enjoy them. While resting, our group was enjoying
watching a sallying Western Bluebird when a Lark Sparrow popped out to
say hello.

As you continue along the trail and down the hilll you’ll re-enter
some thicker habitat, especially as you reach the seasonal creek near
the bottom. The trail crosses the creek and meets up with the Woodrat
Trail (lots of SF Dusky-footed Woodrats make the property their
home). You can either take the Woodrat Trail up through more oak
woodland habitat to the top of the property or continue down.

I have not birded the Woodrat Trail, but I would expect it to provide
similar species already covered. However, the top of the trail opens
up to higher elevation grassland and may provide some additional

Anyway, the last stretch of the Whipsnake trail parallels the seasonal
creek and overlooks a small pond complete with cattails. Here we
found a lone, but singing, Song Sparrow. The growth around the more
distant creek should have orioles and grosbeaks and certainly has
vireos and flycatchers.

The Whipsnake Trail ends at the Windmill trail, a broad fire trail
that will complete the loop back to the bridge and parking area.
Along the trail, look for bluebirds, sparrows (including Lark) and
swallows. As you’ve almost reached the bridge, the remnants of an
orchard should be scanned for a very cooperative Ash-throated

Always remember to look up. The skies are filled with raptors and I
look forward to the first sighting of a Golden Eagle visiting from
nearby Briones.

I hope I didn’t ramble too much with this narrative and I hope that
many of you take the opportunity to visit this wonderful property.

Happy birding,

Steve Hutchcraft
Alamo, CA

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