The Point Reyes Bird Observatory is a non-profit organization started back in 1965 to conserve birds and other wildlife, and their respective ecosystems, through scientific research, education and related activities. Through the decades, it has attracted thousands of supporters and volunteers, and has expanded its operations from its original field station in southern Point Reyes National Seashore, near Bolinas, to Petaluma. However, the original “Palomarin” field station, as it’s called, continues to be an active scientific and education site, and one where the public is welcome to visit and observe the biologists and interns perform their “mist-netting” activities.
This morning my father and I drove out past Bolinas to the field station and were welcomed very warmly by the two biologists who were working today. We learned all about this fascinating process and how the data gathered is used. So, for the uninitiated, “mist-netting” is where an extremely fine, soft black net is raised like a pleated Roman curtain up to about 12′ and stretching about 25′ in length. The birds do not see the net and fly into it, and fall into one of these soft pockets of netting, where they are retrieved by the scientists who check the nets every thirty minutes. Once captured, the birds are placed in a small cotton sack with a drawstring and transported back to the field station, where they are weighed and a small aluminum band is placed on one of their legs. This band contains an ID number, the date and organization, so that if caught again (and about 30% are) the location and age can be added to the database and scientists can analyze it for all sorts of things, for example species population trends, health, migratory patterns, etc.
The scientists and interns are really welcoming to visitors, and provide a wonderful explanation as you walk with them from net to net, of the work that has been done, the species typically seen, the predators they’ve encountered, and colorful stories about unusual occurances (like the fox that was caught recently staking out one of the nets!). You see interesting things along the way, too, like the huge Wood Rat nest just off the path (seeing it truly makes clear the meaning of “pack-rat”). The walk takes about 20 minutes and is very leisurely, so it’s an easy outing for little ones or those with some mobility challenges.
The Visitors Center is actually super cool (sorry – I’m going to go a bit nerdy on you here) with drawers of skulls and bones that you can handle, and fully stuffed birds in a glass drawer that you can get just a couple of inches away from. I’ve never seen most of these birds that close up and it’s amazing to see their beaks, feather patterns, and colors in such detail. I think most kids would love this stuff.
There is no need for any reservations unless you’re coming in a group of 8 or more. Right now, they’re running these nets every day of the week from about 6:30 to 12:30. Some days they catch as many as ten birds, some just a couple. Regardless, it’s a fun and captivating outing.
Where: Point Reyes Bird Observatory Palomarin Field Station, Mesa Road, Bolinas, CA (map)
When: Mist-netting demonstrations are performed year-round from approximately 15 minutes after sunrise until around noon. Days/hours are subject to weather, so call 415.868.0655 x 395 to check before coming out.
- May 1 – Thanksgiving: Tuesday – Sunday
- Thanksgiving – April 30: Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday