Right smack in the middle of Oakland, Lake Merritt is the oldest wildlife refuge in North America, but to most of the people walking by, it is just another city park. In fact, Lake Merritt was designated as a wildlife refuge in 1870, and is home to a vast array of wildlife, including dozens of species of birds, fish, shrimp, clams, mussels, and crabs. The lake is actually a tidal lagoon, fed by the San Francisco Bay to the west, and several creeks coming down from the Oakland hills to the east.
The park on the north shore, next to the Rotary Nature Center, is a great place to see wild birds up close, and one of my new favorite places to photograph them. There are plenty of Canada geese, but the nature center is a favorite hang-out for black-crowned night herons, ducks, coots, and of course double-crested cormorants that nest in the trees on the islands in the spring. I usually see one or two great egrets, snowy egrets, and even pelicans as well.
What makes the Rotary Nature Center so great to me is that you can get close enough to these birds to observe their behavior. You can see the herons and egrets fishing, and the cormorants nesting. One pair of cormorants built their nest in the tree right above the children’s playground. If you enjoy bird watching, you need to check out the Rotary Nature Center at Lake Merritt.