Seasonal wildlife events in the San Francisco Bay area?
January 1, 2020 9:59 AM   Subscribe

My spouse and I like to go watch animals. We live in the south SF Bay area. What are some once-a-year things we should see?

For example, we know to go see the Southern Sea Otter pups in winter at Elkhorn Slough and the Tarantula mating season in the east bay hills around September.

I'm specifically looking for things that we can get to and back within a longish day, starting from Sunnyvale, using whatever mode(s) of travel.
posted by reventlov to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oh this is my area of expertise! I’m going to recommend the tour options here if they exist because that’s the most reliable way to both see the wildlife and know what your looking at, but a lot of these you can also go out to see on your own.

To start I highly recommend the Ano Nuevo guided elephant seal walks. You’ll need to book in advance, but it’s $11 and completely worth it to have someone guide you through the dunes and help point out the seal pups.

Next up would be the Sandhill Crane tour put near Lodi, it’s a sunset tour where they take you to areas not accessible to the public and set up spotting scopes so you can watch the cranes fly in. Just beautiful.

This would be a long day but while we’re on the topic of birds would you like to see 100,000 tundra swans? There’s a tour for that near Marysville.

Back to mammals if you’re interested in seeing what I consistently describe as a river of bats check out the Yolo Bypass in Davis on a warm summer night in Davis. There are guided tours but they book fast, and there’s a great place to stand right off the levee at its base to see thousands and thousands of bats fly out at sunset.

Onwards to the very small: Tomales Bay is known for bioluminescent plankton. There’s kayaking tours, or you if have your own kayak check the weather and head out, it is unworldly.

And if you’re near Point Reys there is an entire herd of elk at Tomales Point, I have never hiked that trail without seeing them.

Oh, have you seen the gray whale migration? You can do this by boat, many many whale watching org out there, but they follow the coast line so you can see them from Big Sur:

And there is no reason not to go looking for condors if you’re in Big Sur. If you are a bird watcher you’ll likely see them if you keep an eye out, but if you’d like to support a group that does wonderful work out there you can do a guided tour, it’s expensive though.

That’s all I’ve got off the top of my head, but if I think of anymore I’ll come back.
posted by lepus at 10:32 AM on January 1, 2020 [31 favorites]

Best answer: Ladybug swarms in Muir woods from November-Feb.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:40 AM on January 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Have you seen the CA condors?
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 10:47 AM on January 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Monarchs in Santa Cruz

You could try to get out to see the great white sharks near the Farralon Islands in Sharktober.
posted by salvia at 1:07 PM on January 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It’s hard to guess when (if) the flowers will bloom at Jepson Prairie, but migrating birds come through there whenever the pools are full.
posted by clew at 6:04 PM on January 1, 2020

Best answer: Late summer/early fall is tarantula mating season on Mt Diablo! It also gets ladybug swarms in the winter.

October is "sharktober" and a local marine mammal conservation group runs shark-watching boat trips to the Farralons. When I did one my group saw zero sharks, but supposedly that was atypical, and it was still a fun ride.
posted by introcosm at 7:56 PM on January 1, 2020

Best answer: At this very moment there are elephant seals all over Drakes Beach at Pt Reyes. When we were there last Saturday the beach was crowded with male seals staking out turf (and getting into occasional fights), and the NPS wildlife docents said that the female seals would arrive with their pups in the next few weeks.
posted by Westringia F. at 9:41 AM on January 3, 2020

Best answer: I was going to suggest Audubon Canyon Ranch in the spring to see the nesting Great Blue Herons and egrets, but apparently the birds have moved their nesting sites. So you might want to check the website from time to time to see whether they come back to the Martin Griffin Preserve where you can see them more easily.
posted by kristi at 10:52 AM on January 6, 2020

Best answer: The hundreds of migrating birds making an October stopover in the Don Edwards Nat'l Wildlife Refuge in Alviso and Fremont.
posted by JDC8 at 2:52 PM on January 7, 2020

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