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Tour Guide at the Napa-Sonoma Marshes
This tour guide is especially tailored for those who enjoy the outdoors through nature study, photography, bird watching, hiking, biking, dog training, and horseback riding. It provides information on various units, directions to get there, history of the area, and wildlife to be seen. Select from the menu to the right or use the scroll bars in your browser window. It is highly recommended that you print out a map of the wildlife area or contact the Bay Delta Region's office for a complimentary copy. For more detailed maps, you may obtain U.S. Geological Service (USGS), 7.5 minute quadrangle topographical maps, specifically - "Sears Point" and "Cuttings Wharf" through local map dealers or by visiting the USGS online at www.usgs.gov.
This wildlife area is best viewed from water. Please consult a tide book before embarking by boat. We hope that you take pleasure in your visit to the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area and please help us keep it clean by depositing your trash only in the receptacles provided. Also, if you see a violation occur please contact Cal-Tip at: 1-888-DFG-CALTIP.
Select an area:
- Huichica Creek
- Napa River Unit
- Ringstrom Bay
- South Tolay Creek
- North Tolay Creek
- American Canyon
Huichica Creek Unit (1091 acres)
From Hwy 12/121 turn south on Duhig Road and proceed approximately 2 miles then turn left on Las Amigas Road. Follow Las Amigas Road east until it connects with Buchli Station Road then turn right (south) on Buchli Station Road and follow the road through the vineyard areas until you cross the rail road tracks adjacent to the CDFW parking lot.
All visitors are encouraged to walk existing trails, levees and service roads south of the railroad tracks. No vehicles are permitted within the wildlife area (bicycles are allowed).
This site is part of the of the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area. The railroad tracks to the north of the unit forms the historic northern end of the marshland. "Buchli Station" refers to a former train station near the CDFW parking lot where market hunters loaded their game to be delivered to consumers along the line. Also visible nearby is the old Press Wirecast building which was once used as a private communications center. Please avoid entering this building as it is an unsafe structure. Visitors to the area will notice two large ponds (over 300 acres each) well south of the railroad tracks. The northern-most of these ponds is identified by a row of dead Eucalyptus trees in the water along the eastern pond edge. Once used as salt evaporative ponds, these ponds fluctuate with seasonal rainfall and CDFW water management between ocean-level and hyper-saline salinity levels.
This area was once tidal marsh which was diked for agricultural uses in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Hay and grain production as well as small dairy ranches once operated in the area. In the early 1950's Leslie Salt started purchasing land in the area and developing it for salt production. In the 1970's CDFW started purchasing the first land parcels that would later become a wildlife area.
The grassland areas support a population of Western Meadowlarks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Brewer's Blackbirds as well as Savannah Sparrows. These areas are also used for nesting by resident Mallard, Gadwall and Canada Goose. Burrowing Owls are commonly seen in this habitat as well as the Black-Shouldered Kite, Northern Harrier and Red-Tailed Hawk. Less frequent visitors include the Golden Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon. In recent years sightings of Bald Eagles have been an encouraging sign.
The tidal marsh areas and sections of the brackish water ponds provide habitat for the Black-Crowned Night Heron, Killdeer, American Bittern as well as the secretive Clapper Rail. Double-Crested Cormorant are frequently seen here as are Great Blue Heron.
Predominant bird species using these ponds vary depending on current pond salinity and pond depth as well as season of the year. Black-Bellied Plover, American Avocet, Least and Western Dunlin and the Black-Necked Stilt are among the shorebirds one might spot using the ponds. Eared Grebes, Bonaparte's gulls, Wilson's Phalaropes and Forster's Terns also may be observed. Diving ducks, particularly Bufflehead, are often seen resting on the ponds.
Napa River Unit (8,200 acres total)
The southern ponds (Ponds 1 and 1A) of the Napa River Unit of the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area can be viewed from State Hwy. 37 which is located just north of San Pablo Bay. Where the Mare Island Bridge crosses the Napa River travel west 3.5 miles to a parking lot and locked gate on the north side of the highway with an opening provided for pedestrian access. The pedestrian access point in the gate allows foot traffic north to the large metal power transmission towers that bisect the pond. Beyond the power towers to the north is a zone closed to hunting, fishing and trespassing. The remaining portion of the Napa River Unit is to the north of these ponds, between South Slogh and Napa Slough (refer to area map), and is accessible only by boat.
This site marks the south-east corner of the main bay water intake pond. To the east of this levee access road is the former Cullinan Ranch which is slated for restoration by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This area is part of the former salt pond system. Historically, all of these areas were tidal marsh. The land to the north of Hwy. 37 was diked originally for hay and grain production. These diked "islands" were flooded by the Leslie Salt Company to a shallow depth for salt production in the early 1950's. Even as salt ponds these areas had value as wildlife habitat. As the restoration of these areas moves forward, it is anticipated that the habitat values will continue to improve not only for bird species but for fish, mammals and crustaceans as well.
The bay water intake pond to the west of this levee accessroad is typically shallow and within the range of salinity of San Pablo Bay. Dowitcher, Western Sandpiper and American Avocet can be seen on this pond as well as the White Pelican. Although both dabbling and diving ducks use this pond due to it's relatively low salinity, primarily divers, most notably Canvasback and Scaup can be seen in large numbers from late December through February.
Ringstrom Bay Unit (396 acres)
The Ringstrom Bay Unit of the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area can be viewed from Ramal Road. From State Hwy. 12/121 take Ramal Road south. Travel approximately 5 miles where you will see a large hay barn to your right, turn here. The first lot you enter is the parking lot, owned by the Sonoma County Water Agency which maintains the Hudeman Slough mitigation and enhancement wetlands. You can access Ringstrom Bay by following the posted signs at the kiosk.
This site marks the northern edge of the Napa-Sonoma Marshes property. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife assists the Sonoma County Water Agency with resource management, oriented toward improved methods of using reclaimed water to benefit wildlife.
One can view ducks such as Mallard and Teal, various raptors including Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, and Golden Eagles. River otters and beavers have also been seen using this area.
Wingo Unit (783 acres)
From State Hwy. 121 turn south on Millerick Road. Continue along this road, following the contours of Sonoma Creek (turns to dirt) until you reach the parking lot across from the pumphouse. This is the only desginated parking for the area, as vehicles are not allowed beyond the gate. Besides committing a violation, you will be destroying valuable habitat.
Geologically, Sonoma Creek is second only in importance to the Napa River in forming the present day marshlands. This area was once open to tidal action before it was diked to create agricultural lands. The Camp 2 parcels are the newest acquistion of the individual units which make up the wildlife area. Currently efforts are being made to create seasonal and permanent freshwater ponds and planting various crops and grasses for wildlife needs.
At the present time efforts are underway to block off the Wingo Unit east of the railroad tracks to allow it to return to a natural tidal influenced state.
This uplands habitat provides an excellent area to view Golden Eagles, American Kestrels, Red-Tailed Hawks, California Quail, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Mourning Dove. On occasion you may get a glimpse of a Cottontail Rabbit or a Black-tailed Deer. During winter rains natural seasonal ponds are created, especially on the south end of the Camp 2 area, attracting mallards, cinnamon teal, widgeon, and pintail which use the ponds for feeding and resting.
South Tolay Creek Unit (150 acres)
The primary access point is located ½ mile east of the intersection of State Hwys. 121 and 37 on State Hwy. 37 (south side of the highway). A newly created parking lot and 53 acre tidally influenced pond help to enhance CDFW's original 100 acre tidal pond 2+ miles south of the parking lot.
This unit is adjacent to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's property on Tubbs and Lower Tubbs Island (which is part of the San Pablo Bay Wildlife Refuge). The USFWS road leaving from the parking lot to San Pablo Bay is for foot and bicycle use only. This area is undergoing a transformation spearheaded by a restoration effort through a combined partnership with USFWS, CDFW, Ducks Unlimited, the local Marin-Sonoma Mosquito Abatement District, and Southern Sonoma Resource Conservation District among others.
Historically this area was heavily used by migrating diving ducks, particularly Canvasbacks which sought refuge on the smaller ponds during storm events on the nearby bay. Black-tailed deer have also been seen on the adjacent pond levees.
North Tolay Creek Unit (180 acres)
The entrance to this area is on the east side of State Hwy. 121, just north and across the highway from the main entrance to Infineon Speedway. Go through the gate and follow the gravel road to the gravel parking lot. The gravel road marks the northern boundary of the unit, which extends south in a narrow strip to State Hwy. 37.
During winter rains a large portion of the unit becomes flooded grassland, attracting myriad species of ducks. Most prevalent are Mallard, Gadwall, and Cinnamon Teal. Canada Geese and the occassional Tundra Swan may also be seen during December and January.
American Canyon Unit (451 acres)
This is the only major unit of the wildlife area located east of the Napa River, which it borders. Due to increasing residential development to the east and south this unit is primarily boat access only.
Within the last several years natural breaches have opened up the levee which separates this unit from the tidal section of the Napa River. These breaches have enriched plant and wildlife use within the unit and improved habitat, especially for puddle ducks.
American Avocets, Greater Yellowlegs, Willets and several other shorebirds can readily be seen in the surrounding mudflats. Mallards, Northern Pintail, Wigeon, and Green-winged Teal are also commonly observed in the area, while the Napa River itself affords excellent views of Great Egrets, Bufflehead, American Coots, and Common Goldeneye.