VALLEJO — A cruise aboard the River Dolphin this Saturday will show off the abundant bird life of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge along the Mare Island Strait and Napa River. If the seas are calm, the cruise will venture into San Pablo Bay around the southern end of Mare Island.
Agricultural lands and the old Leslie/Cargill salt ponds along the Napa River are being restored to a marshland that’s become a treat for birders. A high concentration of nesting osprey, egrets, great blue herons, swallows, raptors and a large variety of waterfowl now thrive in these wetlands.
Most of the Napa River wildlife refuge is only accessible by boat. “Hardly anybody, unless they own a boat or their friend is a member of the yacht club, they don't get to go out on the rivers here,” Mare Island Heritage Trust president Myrna Hayes said. “It’s a rare opportunity.”
The osprey population of the San Pablo and San Francisco bays has increased dramatically since the first nest was observed on Mare Island in 2001. Formerly described by wildlife experts as occasional visitors to the area, ospreys now nest atop abandoned cranes and light posts left on the former Navy base. Seventeen osprey nests were confirmed along the Mare Island Strait and Napa River in 2022.
Mare Island is also home to many great egrets. Hayes says it is fun to see them from the river, because the large white birds look like ornaments that “turn the eucalyptus into Christmas trees.”
Great blue herons nest early in the year, so their young are now fledglings. They can be seen in tall cedar trees around the island’s old naval ammunition bunkers.
The River Dolphin is a double-hulled catamaran and provides a stable ride. Its low draft allows access to waters too shallow for a single-hulled boat. The rooftop deck and large windows in the salon below allow optimal viewing in all kinds of weather.
Hayes is an experienced river guide who exudes enthusiasm and a deep appreciation of nature as well as an in-depth knowledge of the history of Vallejo and Mare Island. She began doing boat trips in the area over 25 years ago when she was on the board of the Carquinez Strait Preservation Trust and has been cruising the Mare Island Strait for the last 15 years.
Marine biologist Captain Ronn Patterson formed Dolphin Charters LLC — which also runs tours to the California Delta, the Galapagos Islands and Alaska — in 1981. “He is really a tremendous guide, but his partner Barbara and I do most of the commentary,” Hayes said. “We have a pretty fun style. People ask us questions. It’s very interactive.”
The tour departs from the Vallejo Municipal Marina “K” dock Saturday, May 13 at 10 a.m. sharp and takes about two and a half hours. Guests are advised to bring snacks or a light picnic lunch, which can be enjoyed in the dining area of the salon. Tickets are $45 and advance registration is required.
To make a reservation, leave a message at 510-527-9622 or 800-472-9942 or visit Dolphincharters.com
Future Napa River cruises are scheduled on Saturday, June 24 and Sunday, June 25 at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day.
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Gretchen Zimmermann started volunteering with Vallejo Open Studios in 2010, launched the Vallejo Arts and Entertainment website in 2014 and creates mixed media sculpture at Mare Island Art Studios.
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