Celebrate herring and waterbirds in San Francisco Bay

The water and air was alive with birds at Ferry Point, Pt. Richmond, on the east shore of San Francisco Bay this past Sunday, where Pacific herring had recently spawned. In the coming three weeks, San Francisco Bay herring, its dependent wildlife, and its commercial fisheries will be celebrated in two vibrant, free, family-friendly festivals to take place in Tiburon and Sausalito.

Black brant at Ferry Point on Sunday. Photo: Anna Weinstein

At the pier at Ferry Point in San Francico Bay, we observed many hundreds of ducks including wigeon, greater and lesser scaup, goldeneye, surf scoter, bufflehead, ruddy ducks, eared grebes, brown pelicans and even two brant geese. We had joined Golden Gate Audubon members Anthony Brake and Yvonne McHugh to observe thousands of waterbirds feasting on roe on the outgoing tide. This area hosts the largest eelgrass bed in San Francisco Bay making it a key spawning area for Pacific herring and attractive to brant geese. This beautiful sea goose feeds exclusively on eelgrass, made more nutritious with a coating of energy-rich herring roe.

These waterbirds were feeding near the shoreline as the tide receded and exposed herring roe. Noisy clouds of gulls fed on roe - mew, glaucous winged, western, Heermann’s, and even one slaty-backed individual was observed by Yvonne’s keen eye. Spotted sandpiper, willet and sanderling pecked eggs on the rocks. It was an awe inspiring view of an amazing and rare natural phenomenon. Herring fish and roe are a critical winter food resource available at a small yet critical set of locations on the west coast including San Francisco Bay.

Upcoming festivals celebrating herring and wildlife include the Sausalito Herring Festival on Sunday, January 31 from 11:00-4:00. This free festival at Gabrielson Park adjacent to the ferry terminal features herring prepared in numerous delicious ways, live music, and great people and bird watching. Then on Saturday, February 7 is the The 3rd annual Audubon Waterbird Festival at the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Tiburon. This free community and family friendly event that includes naturalist led bird walks, bird scope stations to gain a closer look at the waterbirds visiting our Bay, interactive educational activities, and expert speaker sessions. Food trucks will be on site to provide sustenance for participants.

Altogether, it’s peak time for herring and waterbirds in San Francisco Bay; get out there and enjoy the viewing, put your observations in eBird and attend the wonderful upcoming festivals!

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