Foster City

Spring Summer Fall Winter

Central Lake - Leo Ryan Park, April 2009 (Leslie Flint)


Foster City is situated at the western end of the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge between San Francisco Bay and the Bayshore Freeway (US 101). It is essentially a group of islands with a network of lagoons winding through the city. It is surrounded by Marina Lagoon, Belmont Slough, and San Francisco Bay. Habitat for water birds and shorebirds, including most west coast species, abounds, as well as for marsh and wading birds; this is its chief attraction. Parks, vacant grassy and scrubby areas, plus trees planted throughout the developed areas (pocket parks) provide habitat for appropriate species. Raptors patrol much of the shoreline, marshy areas, and fields.

Over 165 species have been observed including such rarities as Tropical Kingbird, Virginia's Warbler, Lesser Nighthawk, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted and Harlequin Ducks, Cattle Egret, Greater White-fronted, Cackling and Snow Geese. The most famous of these visitors was the Smew that wintered here from 1981 through 1984. Red Knots winter here in fairly large numbers. Hooded Mergansers, Peregrine Falcons and Merlins have been found each winter.

The best birding period is October through March when water-oriented birds winter here by the thousands. Birding during the balance of the year is not too productive. Barn and Cliff Swallows are present in good number in the summer. Hooded Orioles are a fairly common nesting species (April - August) in residential areas - check in the vicinity of Fan Palms. Forster's Terns are common along with a few Caspian Terns. Least Terns occur infrequently (in late summer and fall). A few Elegant Terns are present in late summer and early fall.

In 2003, the lagoon at Leo Ryan Park (Central Lake) was dredged and the dredge spoils deposited in the seasonal pond at Sea Cloud Park. Since that time, the number of water birds, particularly ducks, has plummeted and very few can be found at the lake. In particular, Barrow's Goldeneye has not been seen in Foster City since the dredging of the Lagoon. For the most part other water birds can be found along Marina Lagoon and in the various ponds located within the condo/apartment complexes, along Belmont Slough and in the Bay.

Tip: You'll find a spotting scope very useful when birding Foster City!

Directions are provided to each of the birding areas. However, the accompanying map should be consulted for better orientation. Since the birds (particularly water birds) are spread throughout the city, it may be necessary to visit several locations to find your "target" species. Some of the areas are near residences. Residents' privacy must be observed at all times. To cover all of the areas would take most of a day. However; the main areas can be covered in a half day (morning is best).

The Main Foster City Lagoons

Many of the lagoon areas are not readily accessible, but there are enough vantage points to provide observation of water-oriented birds without intruding into people's back yards. Other species can be seen in adjacent grassy and scrubby fields, bridges, and nearby trees and shrubs. Electric transmission towers should be scanned for perching raptors.

Central Lake

[See photo of Leo J. Ryan Memorial Park/Central Lake]

Central Lake is located at Leo J. Ryan Memorial Park, on the south side of Hillsdale Boulevard, between Edgewater and Shell Boulevards (1.2 miles from US101). You'll find a parking lot on the west side of Shell Boulevard south of the intersection with Hillsdale Boulevard, between the Recreation Center Building and the tennis courts. Park here and walk to the lake. The lake is used by boaters and wind surfers in spring, summer, fall and sometimes on milder winter days, particularly on weekends. Observation is best early to mid-morning and late afternoon. If you'll look to your right as you face the lagoon, you'll see a gazebo built out over the water. This structure provides a good observation point where you won't disturb or be disturbed by the joggers and bikers who use the lakeside paths. It is, however; necessary to move along the shore to observe the entire lagoon.

Wintering birds start arriving in early October; peak in December, and tail off in late January and February. Since the lagoon was dredged in 2003, the numbers of birds has declined. A few Mallards, American Coots, and diving ducks are usually present, along with grebes, mergansers and Double-crested Cormorants .

Rarities have been observed here, including a Smew (winters of 1981-1984), Common Mergansers, and Red-necked Grebes. Barrow's Goldeneyes and Hooded Mergansers used to be regular winter visitors.

Restroom facilities are available in the Recreation Center buildings as well as in a small building near the gazebo.

When dispersed from the lake, birds can often be found in the canals extending from the lake and behind apartment and condominium buildings. The walkway along the western side of the lagoon is restricted to residents of the apartment complex and is blocked by a fence.

This canal can also be observed from Isle Cove. To get there drive south on Edgewater Boulevard from its intersection with Hillsdale Boulevard about 0.5 miles and look for a left turn across the boulevard onto Dorado Street and into Isle Cove. Drive onto Dorado and across a small bridge to Andromeda Street, turn right and park in the lot on the left. A walkway extends completely around the island. Many birds that have dispersed from Central Lake can be seen here at close range. Look both north toward Central Lake and south toward a large arched bridge.

An alternative is to drive south on Edgewater Boulevard past Dorado Street to the Edgewater Place Shopping Center at the corner of Edgewater and Beach Park Boulevards. Park and walk onto or under the bridge on Beach Park Boulevard. Many birds can be observed from the bridge.

The walkway on the eastern side of Central Lake passing the tennis courts can also be followed for about a mile passing under a bridge on Shell Boulevard to the bridge on Foster City Boulevard. It is possible to exit at a parking lot on Foster City Boulevard, just before the bridge. From the entrance to the parking lot walk a short distance west to Bounty Drive and continue to the left to Shell Boulevard where a right turn will take you back to Central Lake.

Despite this long description, Central Lake is no longer as productive as it once was and it is difficult to estimate the time needed to restore the food supply and thus the return of the ducks. However, keep checking each winter for improvement. Leo J. Ryan Memorial Park is named after the congressional representative from this district, who went to investigate conditions at Jonestown. He was murdered on the tarmac in Guyana by followers of Jim Jones in 1978.

Marina Lagoon

[See photo of Marina Lagoon]

Marina Lagoon extends about 3 miles, from near the intersection of Port Royal Avenue and Rock Harbor Lane at the Lantern Cove housing complex in a generally northern direction to an outlet on San Francisco Bay at J. Hart Clinton Drive (East Third Avenue). Birding is possible along most of the lagoon and this is where you will find most of the ducks.

Port Royal Avenue can be reached by turning right from Hillsdale Boulevard (when coming from US 101) onto Edgewater Boulevard, and proceeding about 0.8 mile past the Edgewater Place Shopping Center to a right turn on Port Royal Avenue. (Note that Port Royal is a circular drive and has two intersections with Edgewater. Take the second right onto Port Royal). Drive to the intersection with Rock Harbor Lane at Lantern Cove and park in the lot to the right. Walk ahead to a paved path leading to the lagoon (toward the freeway). Hooded Mergansers (check under the bridge) and Semipalmated Plovers are most easily found here where the Lagoon begins. All along the lagoon, water birds, shorebirds, and waders can be found in fall, winter, and spring. In addition to diving ducks look for dabbling ducks such as Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Gadwall. Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, and Spotted Sandpiper may be present anywhere on the shoreline along the lagoon. White Pelicans frequented the lagoon in the winter of 2008.

A paved path follows the lagoon for almost three miles, passing under three bridges and ends at Shoal Drive and Armada Way. You can walk the entire way. If you have two vehicles, leave one at the Port Royal Avenue-Rock Harbor Lane parking area and the other on Shoal Drive just off of Armada Way. This eliminates backtracking. To reach Armada Way, take Edgewater Boulevard (which soon becomes Mariner's Island Boulevard) north from its intersection with Hillsdale Boulevard for about a mile and turn left on Armada Way.

If you are driving, other parts of the lagoon can be observed from various paths along Beach Park Boulevard and Port Royal Avenue. To reach these turn south from Hillsdale Boulevard onto Altair Avenue (first traffic light after entering Foster City from Route 101). At a "Y" turn right onto Polaris Avenue and a little further take a right turn onto Beach Bark Boulevard. Drive slowly along the Boulevard and look for paved paths leading from the right between buildings to the lagoon. Good spots are near the Shell Cove housing development and opposite the intersection with Virgo and Polaris Lanes. When you reach Jamaica Street turn right and shortly turn right again onto Port Royal Avenue. Along Port Royal look for several paths on the right before you arrive at the beginning of the lagoon near the intersection with Rock Harbor Lane.

San Mateo Shoreline Parks, Bay Marshes Open Space and East Third Avenue Bayshore

[See photo of Bay Marshes Open Space with walkway]

East Third Avenue extends from San Mateo east into Foster City. It can be reached from US 101 by a clearly marked exit. From Foster City it can be reached by traveling north on Edgewater or Foster City Boulevards from their intersection with Hillsdale Boulevard.

San Francisco Bay borders the north side of East Third Avenue from the east end of the Ryder Park for 2.3 miles where it dead-ends just past Foster City Blvd. The San Francisco Bay Trail, a paved path, extends along the bay joining the Foster City Bicycle Path/Pedway at Mariner's Island Blvd. and extending under the San Mateo Bridge and along Beach Park Boulevard. The entire Foster City bike path is 9 miles in length and is a great way to visit the major birding areas of Foster City (although it may be difficult if you carry a scope, which is recommended).

Just after crossing Norfolk Street, East Third Avenue becomes J. Hart Clinton Drive. At .5 miles, turn left into Seal Point Park. This and Ryder Park to the west have been newly renovated and are called San Mateo Shoreline Parks. From the left parking lot, you can access The Bay Trail and walk east around the landscaped landfill (large mound in middle of park). This path can be productive, particularly in the colder months. On all the paths along the bay the main attractions are shorebirds and waders, particularly at low tide. Diving ducks, terns, loons, grebes, and mergansers can be seen further out. Surf Scoters are usually present and White-winged and Black Scoters are possible. Long-tailed Ducks have also been seen here. If you follow the path extending northerly in a semi-circular pattern around the landfill look for a Burrowing Owl among the rocks on an embankment on the bay side of the path (not seen in 2008).

From Seal Point Park drive east to the next stop light at Anchor Road. Turn left into the parking lot. Walk up to the levee and out onto a newly constructed observation platform built in 2008 by the City of San Mateo. This is now called the Bay Marshes Open Space. From the walkway, scan the PG&E transmission towers for raptors, particularly Peregrine Falcons. Red-tailed Hawks, Accipiters, White-tailed Kites and Common Ravens are often present. One or more Peregrine Falcons have been present every winter for many years. This is the most reliable place in San Mateo/Foster City for Clapper Rails. Since the marsh has matured, rails can be heard early in the morning and during high tide. Sora is also present. During extreme high tides in the winter months, this walkway and platform can be good for Nelson's Sharp-tailed (rare), Swamp and Lincoln's Sparrows as they sit up on the vegetation to escape the rising tide.

The lower end of Marina Lagoon can be observed walking across Third Avenue at Anchor Road. On the west side of Anchor Road you will find a path leading to Bayside-Joinville Park. Follow the path to a bridge crossing a slough. The lagoon is visible from here. Once again, water-oriented birds are the main attraction. Spotted Sandpipers are common.

Leaving the parking lot at Anchor and J. Hart Clinton Drive, turn left. Turn left again at the next traffic light (Mariner's Island Blvd.) into the golf driving range. Drive into the parking lot and park on the farthest left side. From there you can access the paved pathway through a gate in the fence and walk north along the mudflats to the Bay. These mudflats can be very productive in winter during high tide. Hundreds of shorebirds roost here. Note the south end of the mudflat closest to the street is a recently completed (2007-08) mitigation project that attracts many of the smaller shorebirds in winter (particularly Least Sandpipers). The bayside portion is Foster City and unfortunately the number of shorebirds using this portion of the mudflat has declined in recent years, probably because windsurfers use the shoreline and feral cats are present in large numbers. In winter, thousands of waterbirds can be seen from the edge of the Bay along this path. Take your scope!

From the driving range, turn left again onto East Third Avenue. Near Foster City Boulevard look toward the Bay and scan the ponds (in wet years) for shorebirds and dabbling ducks. In past years both Red-necked and Red Phalaropes have been present. A Wandering Tattler has been found on the rip-rap along the bayfront in late August and September. Anywhere along the walkway check out the weedy areas for sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Pipits. American Kestrels, White-tailed Kites and Loggerhead Shrikes often patrol these fields.

The San Mateo County Fishing Pier and the Foster City Bayfront Levee (the Shellbar)

[See photos: Shellbar at low tide; Shellbar at high tide; Red Knot getting breeding plumage]

The San Mateo County Fishing Pier has been closed for renovation since 2001. The pier is one end of the old San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. Approximately 1500 feet long, it was, as its name implies, principally used for fishing, and was an ideal place for observing the various bay birds. November, December, and January are some of the best months for observing the large number of species which use San Francisco Bay for feeding and resting, including Canvasbacks, both scaups, all three scoters (often the best spot in the county for White-winged Scoter), Ruddy Ducks, Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, loons, and grebes. It should be noted that in recent years Clark's Grebes have outnumbered Western Grebes in Foster City. Near the San Mateo-Hayward bridge look for Pelagic Cormorants (rare inside the San Francisco Bay) in the water or perched on the underside of the bridge. There is a nesting colony of Double-crested Cormorants on the tall towers alongside the bridge, visible from the paved pedway.

You can get there by going east on Hillsdale Boulevard from US 101) approximately 2 miles or from East Third Avenue by turning right on Foster ?ity Blvd. and then left on Hillsdale Blvd. (which becomes Beach Park Blvd.) The entrance to the fishing pier parking lot is closed but parking is available along Beach Park Blvd. Park along the levee as close to the bridge as you can and walk along the Bay south of the fishing pier. It's worth the short walk to the bridge/fishing pier to check for Pelagic Cormorant and White-winged Scoter. From the path along the levee you can see larger shorebirds roosting at high tide and both large and small shorebirds feeding at low tide.

A mile south of the bridge (near the Beach Park Shopping Center on the right and a kiosk on the left) you'll find a large spit extending into the bay. This spit is composed of clam and mussel shells and so it is locally known as the Shellbar. At high tide (the best viewing is just before and after the peak of the tide) from September through April you can see thousands of shorebirds resting here. Some are present all year. This is the best spot in the county to see Red Knots, (which will be in basic (winter) plumage without a trace of red). Willets, both Dowitchers, Marbled Godwits, Dunlins, Western and Least Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Long-billed Curlews, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, and Black and Ruddy Turnstones also use the shellbar as a resting place. Gulls and Terns share the spit with them. In early April, while the numbers are reduced, this is a great place to see birds showing breeding plumage - Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlin with black bellies, even Red Knots showing some red! In late summer and early fall look for Elegant Terns. At all times be alert for raptors, particularly Merlins and Harriers surveying the shorebird flocks. This is one of the best locations in the county, even in all of Northern California, for observing shorebirds.

Belmont Slough

[See photo of Belmont Slough from Sea Cloud Park access]

Belmont Slough extends from San Francisco Bay near the intersection of Halibut Street and Beach Park Boulevard toward the south end of Marina Lagoon. A narrow canal connects Belmont Slough and Marina Lagoon. A paved path extends along these waterways all the way to Marina Lagoon. A marshy area of varying width lies between the path and the slough.

Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons, as well as Great and Snowy Egrets, shorebirds and waterfowl all feed here.

If you want to walk the entire length of the slough, park on Beach Park Boulevard (Bayside) north of Foster City Boulevard. Be careful that you are not in the red-curbed no parking zone. If you have two vehicles you can park one here and the other in the parking area near Lantern Cove (described in the section on Marina Lagoon) and therefore avoid backtracking.

If you decide to drive, parts of the Slough can be viewed from the side streets. From Beach Park Blvd. or from Hillsdale Boulevard follow Edgewater Boulevard south to its end (about 2 miles) at Balfour Street. Drive straight into the Schooner Bay Development and take the right-hand fork and park where you can. Walk forward to the slough. While here also walk into Quadrant Lane (on the right) to a series of ponds around some residence buildings. In winter these ponds are usually filled with dabbling ducks, particularly American Wigeons, and Canada Geese. Eurasian Wigeon is often either in these ponds or on Belmont Slough in winter. Also look for Wilson's Snipe on the lawns.

After viewing this area return to Balfour and turn right. Go approximately .2 mile, turn right and then left into the parking area. From here you can park and walk to the Slough. Both viewing areas are good for Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal and sometimes for Hooded Merganser and Barrow's Goldeneye. The Eurasian race of the Green-winged Teal has been seen in the slough in this general area. Scan the electric transmission towers here for a Merlin. In late 1992 a Golden Eagle used these towers for several weeks.

Sea Cloud Park, accessed from Edgewater Blvd. via Pitcairn (discussed below), is a good place to park and walk out to the slough. At a cemented intake, there are several benches and good views of the slough. Eurasian Wigeons can often be found here in winter and Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal in spring. Clapper rails have been seen here at extremely high tides. Barn Swallows have nested under the intake in summer. A large flooded pond (in wet years) between Sea Cloud Park and the slough hosts many shorebirds. These are mostly larger species (American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Long-billed Curlew, Whimbrel, dowitchers, and Willets) resting on the small islands in the pond. Several species of gulls and a variety of dabbling ducks are also usually present. Caspian Terns also use this as a rest area in summer. A walk around the pond, sometimes to see the birds in better light, can be rewarding. While taking this walk, view the lagoon to the west of the pond for more water birds, including grebes, loons, merganser, and Brown Pelicans. This pond was used to dump the dredge spoils from Central Lake in 2003/4. It has provided poor habitat since then but with the rains in 2009, there is now water in the "pond" again and Avocets seem to be nesting this year.

Keep looking for Song and Savannah Sparrows in the marsh and grassy areas. American Kestrels, Merlins, White-tailed Kites, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers and Turkey Vultures may perch on the transmission towers near the slough. In some years Short-eared Owls have also been seen over the marshy areas. Particularly check the PG&E transmission towers across the slough near the intersections of Beach Park and Foster City Boulevard's for Peregrine Falcons. Check the overhead wires for perching White-tailed Kites.

Other Lagoon Areas

With the dispersal of water birds through Foster City in recent years it may be necessary to visit several areas to see most of the species. With the decline of water birds on Central Lake, however, it may not be worth your time to check the areas below, but they are included in case water birds return to the lagoon in larger numbers in the future.

San Miguel Lane
While proceeding south along Edgewater Boulevard turn left on Pitcairn Drive. Follow it to San Miguel Lane (about 1/2 mile) and park at a levee near open water. Look for mergansers and Common Goldeneye, as well as other waterfowl. This connects to Central Lake and may have few birds.

To the right of Pitcairn Drive is Sea Cloud Park. The park is used heavily, particularly on weekends. However, land birds including pipits, meadowlarks, sparrows, blackbirds and occasionally a flicker can be found in the grassy areas and trees. Rarities have included Palm Warbler and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Park here to get access to Belmont Slough and the seasonal pond nearby. Most importantly, there are restrooms at the park.

Corsica Lane
After checking these areas back-track on Pitcairn Drive to Corsica Lane. Turn right and proceed to an intersection with Trinidad Lane. Park near the intersection and walk forward between the buildings to an open lagoon. Water birds like those mentioned above can be found here.

Ponds on Port Royal Avenue [See photo of BCNH roosting]
Return to Edgewater Boulevard and continue south from Pitcairn one block. Turn right at Port Royal Avenue. In a short time you will see several ponds on the left in front of some residences. These ponds are sometimes full of dabbling ducks and gulls. Eurasian Wigeons and Hooded Mergansers are often found here in winter. Check the trees along the edge of the ponds. Black-crowned Night Herons roost here. This spot can be checked on your way to Marina Lagoon at Lantern Cove and Port Royal Avenue.

Birding Foster City by Bicycle
In the text above many references were made to paved paths along the levees and lagoons. Using these it is possible to bicycle (or walk) completely around Foster City. Bicycling allows you to cover a greater area and thus see more birds. If you're coming from out of town it's best to park in the parking lot off J. Hart Clinton Drive and Anchor Road and start with the bike path along the Bay toward the east. The path covers about 9 miles and extends along the bayshore along East Third Avenue, the Bay Front levee (Shellbar), Belmont Slough, and Marina Lagoon to Fashion Island Blvd. It will be necessary to leave the bike path just before going under the third bridge over Marina Lagoon (about 9 miles from the starting point) and take a right along Fashion Island Boulevard to Mariner's Island Boulevard. Turn left and bike along Mariner's Island Boulevard (in the bike lane) to its intersection with East Third Avenue. Cross Third Avenue and enter the bike path running along the Bay. At this point go left back to your parking space. You can continue from there to Coyote Point. Before proceeding along Third Avenue check the transmission tower for raptors, particularly Peregrine Falcon. These bike paths are very popular and heavily used on weekends and holidays. Plan on taking a full morning to cover the entire bike path.

Look For These Birds

Canada Goose, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter, Black Scoter (uncommon), Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Barrow's Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Clark's Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Brandt's Cormorant (rare at this location), Pelagic Cormorant (uncommon at this location), Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-heron, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, White-tailed Kite, Cooper's Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Virginia Rail, Ridgway's Rail, Sora, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Snowy Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Black Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Snipe, Red-necked Phalarope, Mew Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Western Gull, California Gull, Herring Gull, Thayer's Gull (rare), Glaucous-winged Gull, Caspian Tern, Forster's Tern, Elegant Tern (late summer-early fall), Black Skimmer (unusual for this location), Parasitic Jaeger (rare), Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Anna's Hummingbird, Northern Flicker, Black Phoebe, Say's Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Western Scrub-Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, Bushtit, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, American Pipit (uncommon), European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, California Towhee, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Brewer's Blackbird, Hooded Oriole, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, House Sparrow

Rarities Seen Here

In this guide, "rarities" are defined as those species given an County Abundance Code of 4, 5, or 6.

Snow Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Redhead, Tufted Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Harlequin Duck, Smew, White-winged Scoter, American White Pelican, Cattle Egret, Pacific Golden-Plover (2011-2012), Wandering Tattler, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, Least Tern, Black Tern (2013), Burrowing Owl, Short-eared Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Tropical Kingbird, Horned Lark (2012, Seal Point Park), Virginia's Warbler, Palm Warbler, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Black Tern (2009)


Foster City can be reached by traveling east from the Bayshore Freeway (US 101) at the Hillsdale exit, SR 92 or Third Avenue exits. From the East Bay it can be reached via the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge (Highway 92) exiting at Foster City Boulevard or Edgewater Boulevard South. Public transportation is available but a car or bicycle is needed to cover a variety of areas.

Interactive Map

Red Markers: Parking Area or Trail Head
Hover mouse pointer over marker, or click marker, for identification.


All of Foster City is gloriously free to birders. Just don't make the mistake of getting onto the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge: that turnaround will cost you $4!


Most of the places described herein are accessible 24/7.


Traffic may be your biggest concern here: this is a congested area on city streets. Don't leave valuables visible in parked cars. There are some spots where ticks might be present, but they are not as prevalent here as in many other parts of the county.


There are plenty of places to eat in Foster City, ranging from delicatessens and fast food to large dinner restaurants. Service stations are easy to find, but only on the main streets. Several shopping centers of varying sizes dot the city with their grocery stores, drugstores, and specialty shops. Restrooms can be found in Sea Cloud Park, Leo Ryan Park, gas stations and restaurants.


There is no single contact point for all of these sites. The Foster City Parks Department can be contacted at 650-286-3380, or at


Avian Research Status

Currently there are three listed hotspots in eBird for Foster City: Foster City Shellbar (14 of 48 time quadrants for 77 species), Seal Point Park (4 of 48 time quadrants for 42 species), and Foster City Lagoon (9 of 48 quadrants for 71 species). The most valuable of these are the Foster City Lagoon (keeping in mind the caution in this article that the habitat was affected by the dredging, and has not yet returned to its glory days) and the Foster City Shellbar. More hotspots may be added to Foster City in the near future. Always record your sightings in eBird, and given the diffuse nature of good locations in Foster City, be as precise as possible about where you are seeing the birds when you input the data.

The San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO) is conducting a long-range study of gull movements in the Bay Area. California Gulls have been leg-banded with plastic colored bands. If you see any of these gulls, please note the leg and the color of the band; if it is possible to read the number on the band, record that also. This information can be shared directly with Carly at SFBBO ( If the birds also have a metal band, and you can read that number, too, please report that to the National Bird Banding Lab.

Additional Photos

Black Tern along the Foster City Shell Bar, August 2013 (Luis Villablanca)

Marina Lagoon looking north, April 2009 (Leslie Flint)

Bay Marshes Open Space, high tide, April 2009 (Leslie Flint)

Foster City Shell Bar, low tide, April 2009 (Leslie Flint)

Foster City Shell Bar, high tide, April 2009 (Leslie Flint)

Foster City Shell Bar, Red Knot getting breeding plumage, April 2009 (Leslie Flint)

Belmont Slough from Sea Cloud Park access, high tide, April 2009 (Leslie Flint)

Black-crowned Night-heron, Port Royal Ponds, April 2009 (Leslie Flint)

Author: Nick Coiro and Leslie Flint, Uploaded: April 7th, 2009
Last Update: September 25th, 2014, 1:18pm

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