A small herd of tule elk bounded out of the trees and into the marsh. All males with impressive racks, they splashed through the shallows startling egrets and sending a flock of ducks aloft as they raced to an open field and disappeared.
Grizzly Island, 8,800 acres of marshland is a maze of ponds, sloughs, rivers and fields. You can take the 8-mile driving tour and see wildlife, but you need to leave the car and hike the levee trails to experience the amazing abundance of raptures, waterfowl, river otters, and the elk.
We hiked in early February, shortly after the park had reopened from its five-month elk and waterfowl hunting season. Those 600-800 pound male elk will soon drop their massive antlers. In the spring, a new set will start to grow. A hungry northern harrier glided gracefully over the marsh and startled a flock of hundreds of snow geese. They rose as one with a cacophony of squawks, circled and flew to a distant pond to resettle. A pair of river otters playfully embraced and tumbled in a nearby slough. Herons and egrets grazed in the shallows. Flocks of ducks paddled and fed in small ponds. Red-tailed hawks and white-tailed kites circled overhead.
Located near Fairfield off I-80, the island is part of a patchwork of 10 separate parcels in the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area. (Directions, fee information, public use schedules or call 707-425-3828) It is in the heart of the 84,000 acre Suisun Marsh, the largest contiguous estuarine marsh in the U.S.
We saw only two other hikers and a fisherman as we hiked six miles on levee trails that leave from eight designated parking areas. The sun was nearing the western horizon as we headed back to our car, casting long shadows over Mt. Diablo. Rounding a bend, we spotted a white-tailed kite with a grey back, white head, and piercing eyes, perched atop a fence post. She stared at us. Then bored with our presence, she lifted with a few flaps, circled, and glided off. It was a beautiful sight, ending a serene day of hiking in the wildlife wonderland of Grizzly Island.
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