A Sanctuary for Birds and People

Read our Community Conservation Fellow's reflection on her capstone project and time at Richardson Bay Center & Sanctuary.

In mid-April 2023, I partnered with Urban Tilth, an urban farming nonprofit from the East Bay, to lead a camping trip centered around exploring the stars at night and birds during the day. This camping trip coincidentally took place during International Dark Sky Week, an annual celebration of the night sky with a mission to highlight and combat the negative impacts of light pollution. When I first selected dates for the camping trip and decided to have a “star party,” I had no idea International Dark Sky Week existed. It was a serendipitous opportunity to inform the staff about the harmful impacts of light pollution on human health and animal behavior such as bird migration.

The night of the camping trip, as the sun set, the moon and Venus gradually came into focus. It wasn’t until we stood in complete darkness that the stars made themselves visible. Even with the lights emitting from neighboring apartments and the San Francisco skyline glittering across the bay, turning off all the lights at the Center gave way to just enough darkness to be able to see the night sky saturated with celestial bodies. It’s not necessary to have expensive equipment to stargaze, but our star party was taken to the next level because Dan Smiley and Scott Sklar, two astronomers from Marin Stargazers, volunteered to share their expert knowledge, and their telescopes to show us planets, stars, and galaxies far, far away! It was a magical night that left us in a trance of starry-eyed wonder and a newfound appreciation for the sky and the Center.

A stargazer.
Stargazing with Urban Tilth. Photo: Carly Lam / Audubon

My plan for the following day was to lead the staff on a bird walk, most of whom had never done so before. However, to my surprise, our journey into the world of bird observation began in the middle of the night while some of us were fast asleep, others were woken up by the hoots of our resident Great Horned Owl! In the morning, we officially began our bird walk, starting at our Center’s trail. One of my favorite parts of the camping trip was when we stopped at the back beach of the Center. One of the staff, Izzy, asked if she could share a water song passed down to her by the elders of the Huron Nation, a native tribe in North America. She later explained to me that it’s a song she usually offers to parts of water she’s never been to so she can express her gratitude to it and the sacred system of life that calls it home. We all stood silently along the water’s edge, listening to Izzy’s voice, crows cawing, and the waves gently lapping upon the shore. Typically, when I lead projects, I worry about staying on track and going from point A to point B. When Izzy sang her song, it was a meditative moment that reminded me to slow down and appreciate the people and nature around me. After Izzy’s song, we finished the trail and made our way to Blackie’s Pasture, where we saw a variety of birds such as Marbled Godwits scavenging for crustaceans in the mudflats and Turkey Vultures soaring overhead scanning for the scent of their next meal.

To close out the camping trip, I had everyone circle up on the Lyford House patio just as we had done at the beginning of the trip. We shared our rose, thorn, and bud of the trip – what we enjoyed, what we didn’t, and what we looked forward to. This was a moment for us to be together one last time and bond over a reflection of our shared experience. I felt truly grateful and warmed by everyone’s words. The overall sentiment of the group was that they felt thankful to be able to connect to nature, during the day and night, and that the Center was not only a sanctuary for birds, but for them as well.

The Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary is a hidden gem within Marin County, and those who are lucky enough to know about it can enjoy its preserved landscape and stunning views of Richardson Bay. It is a space for short-term and long-term visitors to build community, a sense of belonging, and a long-lasting connection to nature. I am honored I was able to share the Center with the Urban Tilth team and create an opportunity for them to deepen their appreciation for the stars and birds around us.

Tents in front of the San Francisco skyline.
Richardson Bay's view of the city. Photo: Carly Lam / Audubon

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