Meeker Slough

By Gail Kurtz

A small mudflat channel along Richmond’s southern shoreline, MEEKER SLOUGH is easy to miss. It cuts a narrow track between UC Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station and the Marina Bay residential community, eventually draining into a tidal marsh nestled against the bay.

Meeker Slough may be little, but it plays a big part in supporting the local bird population. The Bay Area has lost 90% of its wetlands since 1850, so this remaining parcel has an important role in providing habitat for a wide variety of birds. Surprisingly, the tidal marshes along this part of the southern Richmond shoreline are relatively new. Before the 1950’s, this area consisted of a mudflat and bluff, much like what one now sees at Pt. Molate. It wasn’t until breakwaters and other hard infrastructure were constructed to support World War II efforts that sediment began to accumulate behind the breakwaters. Over the next 20 years, a marsh developed where the mudflats had been.

According to eBird, 208 species have been spotted at Meeker Slough, including shorebirds, water birds, raptors, and songbirds. Many species take up year-round residence in the slough, while others overwinter here or make it an important stop on their fall and spring migrations. Meeker also offers crucial habitat and breeding ground for the endangered Ridgway’s Rail.

Much like the elusive nature of the Ridgway’s Rail, tThis special hotspot isn’t so easy to find. Be sure not to use a GPS, as they all (including eBird) direct you to closed gates in the Marina Bay neighborhood. There are two points of entry to the slough, both on the inland side (see directions in the Fast Facts section below). Meeker Slough begins here as storm water runoff from the City of Richmond and then joins a brief stretch of Meeker Creek before entering the tidal marsh. Here one finds a serene channel, a quiet scene for close encounters with birds. One also finds the blurred edges between the natural and human landscapes. Egrets perch on an old section of fence laying catawampus along the shore, Black Phoebes swoop out from metal posts to catch bugs, and several “Duck Crossing” signs pay homage to the rafts of Mallards that congregate near the banks. Continue south along the channel and be sure to watch for fast-moving cyclists. The paths here are part of the San Francisco Bay Trail, which is popular with bikers and walkers. You’ll eventually come to a bridge that crosses the slough, from which I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Ridgway’s Rails as they picked their way along the muddy banks. Soras and Virginia Rails are also present in this area.

Ridgway’s Rails (formerly known as California Clapper Rails) have been on California’s endangered species list since 1971, due to habitat loss, pollutants, urbanization, and predators like cats. The first recorded sighting of a Ridgway’s Rail in the Meeker Slough area was in the 1960s, likely thanks to the newly formed marshes. But because of industrial contamination, by the early 2000s there was almost no Ridgway’s Rrail activity here.

The land surrounding Meeker Slough was used for a variety of manufacturing and industrial purposes beginning in the late 1800s. After a century of industrial activity, contaminants were found in the soil and water of the nearby wetlands. Studies from the late 1900s show that the eastern portion of Western Stege Marsh, which lies adjacent to Meeker Slough, contained highly acidic water.

In 1999, UC Berkeley, which by then owned this section of Western Stege Marsh, began remediation and restoration work at the site to clean up this legacy pollution. The project consisted of soil removal, planting of native species like the pickleweed and cordgrass that provide habitat for rails, and eventual monitoring of the rail population. Since the project’s completion in 2005, Ridgway’s Rails have rebounded. Sightings are frequent and studies show that this rail population has numbers equivalent to others in the Bay Area. Because Meeker and Stege lie adjacent to one another, the efforts at Western Stege Marsh have benefited the rail population in both areas.

Although the greatest pollutants were found in Western Stege Marsh, Meeker Slough is also contaminated. But local agencies are hopeful that EPA grants will allow for clean up at Meeker in the near future. In the meantime, however, many birds seem to thrive here.

Moving southwest of the bridge, the trail hugs the slough as it winds into the tidal marsh beside the bay. Here benches allow you to sit and enjoy expansive views of the bay and San Francisco skyline. You can observe water birds in action, perhaps squadrons of White and Brown Pelicans as they glide overhead or fold up their
wings to dive for fish. You can also scan the marsh for shorebirds like Long-billed Curlews or Semipalmated Plovers as they sift through the mud.

Head a few yards closer to the bay to wander a tiny sliver of beach for close-up views of water birds like overwintering grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers during migration season, or Caspian Terns on their summer visits. From here you can follow the trail west as it snakes along the shoreline past the Marina Bay neighborhood to Shimada Friendship Park, another good birding spot.

If you turn back toward the bridge and head southeast along the Bay Trail, you’ll enter nearby Western Stege Marsh, an abundant wetland through which Baxter Creek winds slowly. I highly recommend including this on your trip to Meeker Slough. This hotspot is known as “San Francisco Bay Trail-S. 51 St.” on eBird, and I often begin my visits to Meeker by entering from 51 St Street, which leads onto this section of Western Stege Marsh (see directions in the Fast Facts section below).

While summer in Western Stege Marsh offers thrillingly close views of birds like Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets, winter is an especially good time to bird here. Northern Harriers and White-tailed Kites return in greater numbers to glide over the marsh, and overwintering water and shorebirds like Green-winged Teals,
Northern Pintails, and American Avocets crowd the channels and banks. Along the trail, White-crowned Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats skitter among the bushes while Says Phoebes hunt from the fence.

Although winter brings abundant birdlife to these wetlands, it also brings storms that carry human impacts on the environment. Garbage can be a problem here, whether brought from the storm water channels or the bay. Community groups are contributing a variety of solutions to the issue. The City of Richmond has installed
trash interceptor devices at the western terminus of the storm water channels that feed into Meeker Slough. The Watershed Project, a local education and advocacy group, hosts clean-up days. And UC Berkeley has hauled tons of trash out of Western Stege Marsh. While these activities have not completely solved the problem, on most days you will find these wetlands clean and beautiful.

Don’t let the occasional garbage dissuade you from visiting. Meeker Slough is a little gem. Come for the rail sightings and stay for the abundant birdlife. Sit by the bay or wander the slough’s eastern channel for some quiet observation of our resilient avian friends. While you’re here, give Western Stege Marsh a visit too. This section of the Richmond shoreline demonstrates that habitat restoration and conservation can yield beautiful results for birds and humans alike.

Location: Off the I-580 Marina Bay Parkway/South 23 rd Street Exit in Richmond

Hours/Fees: This site is not restricted. No fees

Dogs: Allowed on leash

Habitat: tidal marsh, mudflats, creeks, bay

Key Birds:

Year-Round: Ridgway’s Rail, Marbled Godwit, Clark’s Grebe, American Avocet, Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Black Phoebe, Lesser Goldfinch

Summer: Caspian Tern, Barn Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Brown-headed Cowbird, American White Pelican, Whimbrel, Killdeer, Willet

Winter: Spotted Sandpiper, Green-winged Teal, Common Goldeneye, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, Common Yellowthroat, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Says Phoebe,
American Kestrel, Northern Flicker

Ease of Access:  Parking is available on Bayside Drive, Marina Bay Parkway, or as well as S. 51 st Street. Path is paved and flat

Getting There: Do not rely on GPS for navigation, as most programs take you to closed gates in the Marina Bay complex. There are three ways to enter Meeker Slough: Navigate to a cul de sac at the corner of Promontory and Bayside Drives in Richmond off of the S. 23 rd St/Marina Bay Parkway Exit of I-580. There are parking spaces in the cul de sac and a paved trail leads to the slough. Navigate to the corner of Regatta Boulevard and Marina Bay Parkway off the S. 23 rd St/Marina Bay Parkway Exit of I-580. Park on Marina Bay Parkway and find a paved path along the slough to your east. To enter Meeker Slough through Western Stege Marsh, navigate to S. 51 st Street and Seaport Avenue off the I-580 Bayview Avenue Exit in Richmond.
Nearby Services: There are no bathrooms in the area. The nearest public restrooms are a .7 mile walk west along the Bay Trail at Shimada Friendship Park or 2.1 miles southeast at Pt. Isabel Dog Park. Nearby cafes/restaurants: Several restaurants on Marina Bay Parkway

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