At 116,000 acres, the Suisun Marsh is the largest contiguous brackish water marsh remaining on the west coast of North America and represents more than 10% of California’s remaining natural wetlands. This beautiful area of land located right in Fairfield’s backyard provides essential habitat to more than 221 bird species, and is a resting and feeding ground for thousands of waterfowl migrating on the Pacific Flyway.
Year-round, the birding and wildlife viewing opportunities in the Suisun Marsh are impressive. There’s also an abundance of river otter, a herd of Tule Elk, 45 animal species, 16 different reptilian and amphibian species and more than 40 types of fish. But it is the winter months, when the migrating waterfowl arrive and hundreds of species of birds take to the sky, that area birding enthusiasts look forward to most.
Take a drive on Grizzly Island Road, located off Highway 12 in Suisun City, and you’ll find both Rush Ranch (3521 Grizzly Island Rd) and the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area (2548 Grizzly Island Rd). Both locations have areas where motorists can safely park their cars and walking trails to explore.
- Rush Ranch, 3521 Grizzly Island Road, is a working cattle ranch that borders the Suisun Marsh. One of several area properties owned and managed by the Solano Land Trust, Rush Ranch includes hiking trails into the marsh, historical exhibits and a working blacksmith shop. In addition to the horses and cattle that live on the ranch, visitors will see and hear the wildlife. As you walk the trails, you’ll hear the birds all around you, perched in the tall trees. Many hawks and other “birds of prey” have nests here. Stop in the old barn and see if you can spot the barn owls who have lived inside for years.
- Grizzly Island Wildlife Area (2548 Grizzly Island Road), is a popular spot for fishing and bird watching. Please note, the wildlife area is only open to all visitors February-July, and is closed due to restrictive access during hunting season (Aug – January) Grizzly Island encompasses over 8,000 acres in the heart of the marsh. It’s a true haven for wildlife. There’s a self-guided driving tour available that will lead you to several lookout points where you can watch for birds and other animals. Look in the ditches or sloughs and you may glimpse an otter or two!
(Grizzly Island photo by Karen Mickens, @kmmickens on Instagram)
Meanwhile, while not in the marsh, Fairfield’s Rockville Hills Regional Park and Lynch Canyon also offer fantastic birding opportunities on their trails. Both parks see an influx of birds in the winter months, especially from the wintering birds of prey such as hawks, raptors, and eagles. The Solano Land Trust regularly hosts Birds of Prey hikes at both Lynch Canyon and Rush Ranch in the winter months. Check out their events calendar for more information!
- Rockville Hills Regional Park, 2149 Rockville Road, encompasses over 600 acres of grasslands and oak woodlands. Hikers, mountain bikers, and families can enjoy native trees and plants, rock formations, picturesque views and more than two dozen trails to explore. The rich, biological and diverse habitats provide shelter to a variety of wildlife that make the park their home. Rockville Hills is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Daily passes can be purchased at the main entrance.
- Lynch Canyon, 3100 Lynch Road, serves as an important buffer of open land between the cities of Fairfield and Vallejo. Buckeyes, oaks and wetland meadows provide shelter for deer, fox, bobcat, waterfowl, and many raptors, including red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, and the majestic golden eagle. Lynch Canyon is open to the public year-round Friday-Monday. Parking is $6.
What types of birds can you find in the Suisun Marsh? According to Audubon –
“An endemic race of Song Sparrow, the Suisun Song Sparrow, has essentially its entire global population (c. 20,000-50,000) within the Suisun Marsh (Important Bird Area), and it is believed to be the only area in the world where the Saltmarsh Common Yellowthroat, another Bay-Area endemic, is common. Suisun Bay is one of the few areas of California that supports more than 100,000 waterfowl during the winter, with ‘dabbling ducks’ (Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler and American Wigeon) especially well represented. Suisun is one of just three wintering areas for the rare ‘Tule’ race of the Greater White-fronted Goose.
With its mix of freshwater and tidal marsh, nearly every wetland bird species in the region occurs here, often in exceptional numbers. The number of California Black Rails here and in the adjacent Carquinez Straits rivals that of San Pablo Bay just to the west, which holds about half the global population of the taxon. Short-eared Owl winters in large numbers and many still breed, the only regular nesting locale along the coast of California. The diked wetlands support breeding colonies of Tricolored Blackbird, American White Pelican have recently begun summering in large numbers and may conceivably begin to breed. The hundreds of Great Egret breeding at Suisun represent an estimated 35% of the San Francisco Bay Area population.”
Suisun Wildlife has identified all of these bird species as wintering guests and residents in the Suisun Marsh