Refuge, Retreat: Elsie Roemer’s Legacy

File photo -- Birds take refuge in the Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary as oil booms help corral an oil spill on San Francisco Bay in this 2010 photograph.

Refuge, Retreat: Elsie Roemer’s Legacy

In 1965, the Golden Gate Audubon Society began working with Alameda conservationist Elsie Roemer to stop the Utah Construction and Mining Company from filling in salt marshes on Bay Farm Island. Conservationists, including Roemer, worked to preserve some of these marshes, including one along the shores of San Francisco Bay at the southern end of Broadway. When developers wanted to purchase this marsh, the East Bay Regional Park District stepped in and made it a part of Crown Beach. 
In 1979, Roemer’s friends approached the district and asked that it create a bird sanctuary on the marsh and name it for Roemer. The Alameda Sun presents, in two parts, writer Klaus Mitterhauser’s description of his experiences at this sanctuary. 


Part one

The city of Alameda harbors a bird sanctuary and saltwater marsh for all to enjoy. A visit to this place near the intersection of Broadway and South Shore Drive is particularly enjoyable. Here, the 24-hour cycle of ebb and flow of the tides on San Francisco Bay offers an ever-changing contour of sand dunes along Alameda’s shore. 

This natural phenomenon attracts hundreds of shore birds here. During low tide, the beach may stretch out half a mile into the bay. Tiny lagoons and puddles remain along the two-mile long beach. Small streams form, and then run back into the bay. The gentle surf laps on the sand and sculpts a wavy appearance mixed with crushed sea shells. Piles of sea weed and tang lay in clumps. Footprints of joggers and hikers mark the wet sand along with feathers, drift wood and abandoned sand castles.

Here, hundreds of sanderlings, the smallest species of sand pipers — the size of sparrows — fly in swarms along the water’s edge and land in elegant choreography to feed. They scurry so fast across the sand that their thin legs become invisible to the observer as they pick tiny shrimp or other aquatic morsels. Every so often the flock rises, curves along the water in synchronized squadrons and lands again to repeat the feeding frenzy.

Sea gulls of various sizes and colors sit, sleep or cruise the sky, forever hungry, looking to feed on scraps of food or even garbage. I arrive with my bag of bread crumbs, and the fight starts at once both on the ground and in the air as I throw the food. 
Screeching and hovering two feet above my head, the gulls keep greedy eyes on me while doing aerial acrobatics to catch the crumbs. On the ground the older gulls flutter and peck at each other while young and more agile birds grab it first. The elder birds stand back screeching in protest as soon as the crumbs hit the sand. 

Next time we’ll get up close to the sanctuary’s pelicans, cormorants, geese and egrets.

East Bay Regional Park District -- Elsie Roemer in a photo taken in 1979, the year the East Bay Regional Park District named the bird sanctuary for her.