By Ilana DeBare
Bay Area birdwatchers have long flocked to Audubon Canyon Ranch’s flagship Martin Griffin preserve along Bolinas Lagoon, which for years hosted dozens of egret nests.
But almost no local birders have set foot on another ACR property—its dramatic Toms Point preserve on the northern edge of Tomales Bay.
Toms Point is a 70-acre promontory near the mouth of the bay with striking views of Point Reyes and the largest intact dune ecosystem in this part of California. Protected by ACR since 1985, it’s normally off-limits to the public.
Now—through our online Birdathon Adventure Auction—Golden Gate Audubon Society is offering an extremely rare guided tour of Toms Point led by the site’s former steward, Dan Gluesenkamp.
“Toms Point is a magical landscape, a promontory where cold Pacific winds meet the soil of North America, where ocean currents mix with the rich waters of Tomales Bay,” said Gluesenkamp, who spent a decade in the early 2000s as Director of Habitat Protection and Restoration for Audubon Canyon Ranch “You have the diversity of intact habitats, the feeling of the wind, the magic of the location…. Anyone who visits will understand how special this place is.”
Reaching Toms Point requires exiting Highway 1 for a dirt road and passing through a private cattle ranch and multiple locked gates. The last gate opens onto ungrazed land—primeval scrub land blasted by sea winds.
The site contains a surprisingly large number of distinct habitats, from coastal sand dunes with rare dune annuals, to salt marsh and grasslands. The San Andreas Fault crosses the property, with each side holding a different ecosystem. The eastern side of the fault is sandstone with invasive grasses; the western side is unconsolidated marine sediments that support California native grasses.
“It’s a Disneyland of different habitat types,” Gluesenkamp said. “Like stepping from Tomorrowland into Frontierland, you can step from one habitat to another.”
There are no structures on Toms Point, not even a toolshed or restroom. Its open grasslands often bring sightings of Grasshopper Sparrow, White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier, and Western Meadowlark, while the Tomales Bay shoreline offers loons, grebes, cormorants, and Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers.
Gluesenkamp’s personal expertise is plants—he’s the former Executive Director of California Native Plant Society, and currently the executive director of the California Institute for Biodiversity—and he easily identifies native wildflowers such as popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys) and beach starwort (Stellaria littoralis). Toms Point is home to 270 plant species, including four rare taxa.
The property was donated to ACR by a couple who wanted it to remain wild and unburdened by human traffic. “They didn’t want it to be loved to death,” he said.
As director of restoration, Gluesenkamp undertook removal of invasive ice plant and European bunch grass. The Golden Gate Audubon tour will be a rare opportunity to view the outcome of these restoration projects, more than a decade after they were completed and left to nature’s devices.
It will also be an opportunity to enjoy a picnic lunch on the bluff overlooking Tomales Bay and the far shore of Point Reyes—with perhaps a harrier overhead and a meadowlark singing.
Finally, it’s an opportunity to support Golden Gate Audubon and its work on behalf of Bay Area birds and their habitat. Winning bidders will be among the first humans to set foot on Toms Point since the start of Covid: While the site is normally closed to visitors, during the pandemic it has even been closed to ACR staff.
“More than just another Audubon chapter, GGAS has stepped forward to fight for conservation across the Bay Area and beyond,” said Gluesenkamp. “I‘m grateful GGAS acts to save our biodiversity and want to help it stay strong. I’m donating my time and work in the hope others decide they can dig deep and make an extra special donation, to help GGAS keep helping the creatures we all hold dear.”
Golden Gate Audubon is auctioning this tour to two groups of four people each. The tour will be scheduled once Audubon Canyon Ranch lifts its Covid restrictions, on a day that is mutually agreeable to the two winners and Dan Gluesenkamp. Tours will last two to three hours and can be tailored to the interests and needs of the winning bidders. Participants have the option of bringing their own lunches, or meeting in the town of Tomales Bay before the tour to buy picnic provisions.
We are deeply appreciative to Nils Warnock and Audubon Canyon Ranch for donating this spectacular, singular experience to support the work of Golden Gate Audubon.