Marin Headlands

Sunday we visited Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands, just across the Golden Gate from San Francisco. In the fall raptors gather in the Marin headlands before crossing the Golden Gate to migrate south. People from the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory count raptors from Hawk Hill in the fall.

In the above photo from Hawk Hill, the Golden Gate Bridge spans the Golden Gate, with San Francisco beyond the bridge. The shrubs in the foreground are coffeeberry, rhamnus californica, a California native plant.

Hawk Hill is the highest hill for several miles, providing a 360-degree view of the skies, the better to see raptors on a clear day. Naively, I expected to see hawks and other raptors circling above Hawk Hill. The Raptor Observatory folks, however, came prepared with spotting scope and binoculars. They told us that the peak of the raptor migration is the end of September.

Evidently birds don’t read the signs for Hawk Hill, because they kept their distance. The photo below shows a red-tailed hawk with San Francisco in the distance. The two photos of San Francisco illustrate the difference that lenses can make. Both photos were taken from Hawk Hill. The above photo with the bridge is at a 32 mm focal length, while the photo below with the hawk is at 400 mm. A telephoto lens compresses the view, making everything appear to be close together. But the hawk is much closer than San Francisco, so that the hawk appears large compared to the high-rise buildings.

red-tailed hawk
red-tailed hawk

This painted lady butterfly was sunning on Hawk Hill.

painted lady butterfly
painted lady butterfly

Hawk Hill is composed of chert, a sedimentary rock. The layers were flat when they were laid down, but they are now curved by the pressure from two tectonic plates meeting. Hawk Hill, like San Francisco, is just east of the San Andreas Fault.

Hawk Hill chert
chart on Hawk Hill

This photo from Hawk Hill shows the Point Bonita Lighthouse on the point, with the Farallon Islands 30 miles offshore.

Point Bonita Lighthouse and Farallon Islands
Point Bonita Lighthouse and Farallon Islands

We tried to walk to the lighthouse, but it closed at 3:30, and we just missed it. Instead we hiked north and saw the lighthouse with San Francisco across the Golden Gate. A fishing boat is returning to port at the end of the day.

Point Bonita Lighthouse and San Francisco
Point Bonita Lighthouse and San Francisco

We missed the nearby Marine Mammal Center. We plan to see it on our next visit.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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