Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve

- David Herlocker, Marin County Parks Naturalist, April 2, 2015     Click here for printable pdf version

Lark SparrowMount Burdell is a hotspot for Lark Sparrows, one of our most handsome sparrows.
Local photo from Mount Burdell by Larry Scheibel.

Some of the birds described below arrive over the course of April and are easiest to see in May and the following months. April visitors to Mount Burdell will still encounter many of these migrants, as well as singing and nesting resident birds and green hills rich with wildflowers. So visit multiple times! Marin Open Space generally leads wildflower-focused walks on Burdell in April and bird-focused walks in May—check their calendar for upcoming walks.

Mount Burdell is a great place to enjoy nature at any time of the year, but it is particularly rewarding during April and May as the migrants return from their wintering grounds. Mount Burdell lies near the northeastern corner of Marin, where the open grasslands dotted with majestic valley oaks attract some species that are less often encountered in the cooler coastal parts of the county.

To enjoy a great morning bird walk, start at the San Andreas trailhead off of San Marin Dr. As you head north up the fire road, listen and look for blue-gray gnatcatchers as you are serenaded by warbling vireos and orange-crowned warblers. As you crest the hill an enormous meadow comes into view. Scan the road surfaces here for lark sparrows and western bluebirds. The wire fence on the left is a great place to see western kingbirds, but remember to scan the lower wires where you might find grasshopper sparrows. Continue straight toward the huge oaks at the far edge off the meadow which are very popular with Bullock’s orioles who weave their pendulous nests in the fresh new leaves. These mature trees are riddled with cavities that provide nesting opportunities for white-breasted nuthatches, western bluebirds, violet green and tree swallows, and a variety of woodpeckers. Expect to hear house wrens – usually more than one will serenade you as you explore this area.

Return to the fire road and head up the hill and you will come to a grove of trees where the Deer Camp fire road and the Middle Burdell roads meet. This area is usually alive with birds, listen closely and you are likely to hear the distinctive song of the lazuli bunting. If you watch for a while, you will be able to figure out the favorite singing perches of these dazzling males as they patrol their territories. You should be able to position yourself for great looks at one of our most beautiful birds.

From this spot, you can go left up toward Joske Grove, passing through more prime lazuli bunting habitat along your way. Ash-throated flycatchers and western wood-peewees are also common along this route. The grove is a great shady retreat where Bullock’s orioles and black-headed grosbeaks can be found. If you want a longer walk, try heading up the Middle Burdell fire road to pass Hidden Lake – a gorgeous vernal pool. Then you can loop back across the south facing slope and enjoy one of the best wildflower displays in the county.

Mount Burdell is an open space preserve managed by Marin County Parks. David Herlocker leads bird and nature walks throughout the county open space system, including multiple spring walks on Mount Burdell. Visit the website at and you can find maps to all of the preserves (here's a direct link to a printable Mount Burdell map). If you open the events calendar (or the newsletter) you will see that they offer a variety of free outings, including David’s upcoming walks at Mount Burdell.


- Go to Birding Sites Homepage -

Valley Oak by Larry Scheibel

Mount Burdell has some of the county's finest oak savanna with large, widely spaced valley oaks.

Lazuli Bunting - Larry Scheibel

Lazuli Bunting.
Local photo by Larry Scheibel.

Bullock's Oriole

Male Bullock's Oriole