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Bay Area Hotspot: El Polín Spring

From The Gull, the newsletter of the Golden Gate Audubon Society (read the full newsletter here):

My first impression of Upper Tennessee Hollow was of an unfinished project. The plant growth seemed low, much of it very fresh, stakes still marking plant lines. Then, as I walked farther along El Polín Spring, the centerpiece and focal point, I heard the distinct mcWEEdeer call of an Olive-sided Flycatcher, followed by a Red-tailed Hawk’s shrill cry, a cacophony of finch calls, Violet-green Swallows overhead, and an Ash-throated Flycatcher perched on the west slope. Oh boy, this was a place for the birds.

Situated at the southern end of Mac-Arthur Avenue in San Francisco’s Presidio, El Polín Spring and the Upper Tennessee Hollow have recently been restored. It turns out that half the growth is quite mature, and the flanking Monterey pine and redwood groves are long settled. The year-round spring and the varied habitat make the area a bird magnet. The archaeological excavations (from a Spanish/Mexican settlement in the early 1800s) and ample graphics complement nicely as added points of interest.

The Presidio Trust went to great lengths to capture the spring as a feature, creating slightly sunken spillways across the path—which the birds use continually for bathing—and forming a series of small ponds with weirs that flow into one another through wetlands. A Great Blue Heron has adopted the uppermost pond, sharing it with a Snowy Egret. California Towhees, Black Phoebes, American Robins, Whitecrowned and Song Sparrows, Bushtits, and hummingbirds (Anna’s and Allen’s) were in abundance on the day I visited. Fledgling House Finches lined up in the sun, two Lesser Goldfinch youngsters came to the spring, and a Hairy Woodpecker brought three small, fluffy young to a small oak right by the trail. I had to say “awww!”

The upper bowl is partial grasslands, and the Lesser Goldfinches, American Goldfinches, and House Finches, as well as a pair of Lazuli Buntings, enjoyed the grasses and seeds. The woods and fringe attract Pygmy Nuthatches, flycatchers and woodpeckers, Western Bluebirds, Chestnut- backed Chickadees, Hutton’s Vireos, and more. Overhead I saw Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, an American Kestrel, Barn Swallows, Western Gulls, Common Ravens, a Double-crested Cormorant, and a Caspian Tern.

Winter trips to Upper Tennessee Hollow are sure to add warblers, more vireos, kinglets, and the odd vagrant. No matter what time of year, the Hollow and El Polín Spring are a great stop for birders.

— David Anderson

David Anderson is vice president of the Golden Gate Audubon Board of Directors and chair of the San Francisco Conservation Committee. For several years, he led Audubon of Florida and, prior to that, was director of the San Francisco Zoo.

Photo by Bob Gunderson
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