FAIRFIELD — This was not Samrya Lima’s first nature walk.
In fact, much of what she heard during Thursday’s walk into the Suisun Marsh – at the 55-acre site of the future Pacific Flyway Center – she had learned before, but it was nice to get out into the world of birds, beavers and crawly things just the same.
“I like to be out in the wildlife,” said Lima, 11, a fifth-grader at Nelda Mundy Elementary School.
Various Nelda Mundy fifth-graders were guided through a mile-long nature walk, with various learning stops, by volunteers from the International Bird Rescue.
Some of the students went out on Tuesday, others on Wednesday and the final group on Thursday.
Lisa Seto, a self-described “bird nerd,” was one of those volunteer docents on Thursday, which is why she got so excited when a barn owl graced the sky in front of the students as they were walking to the nesting site of a pair of great-horned owls.
“That’s my favorite owl,” she hooted.
Hummingbirds and various song birds, as well as a circling hawk, also paid the students a visit.
But the nocturnal, orange-toothed rodents that built a dam and pond area, were nowhere in sight under the bright, warming blue sky above the marsh area.
However, the students were able to see evidence of a tunnel system the beaver had built as well.
Other learning topics included the anatomy of feathers, the importance of protecting the natural habitat – including a “trash your trash” discussion – and a lesson or two about the International Bird Rescue.
The students also were given information about the Suisun Marsh, including its natural and human histories.
“We mentioned the Patwin Tribe to the students. This land used be the Patwin Tribe’s, and we taught them how important this land is to the Patwin Tribe and that there are still Patwin people alive today,” said Devin Bergeles, projects specialist for International Bird Rescue.
This was the first year for the Cordelia School Education Program. It was born out of other site activities by the rescue group, including the release of rehabilitated birds that have been in its care.
JD Bergeron, chief executive officer for the rescue organization, sits on a planning committee for the Flyway Center.
The annual winter bird count also is conducted on the property, but not just the 55-acre Gold Hill site, but the entire 900 acres owned by the Pacific Flyway Foundation, and the whole of the Suisun Marsh for that matter.
The Audubon Society of Napa-Solano also takes bird-watching trips. There have been 93 species of birds identified on the property, the most recent being an American bittern.
The Suisun Marsh, at 116,000 acres, is the largest brackish marsh on the West Coast.
It is part of the Pacific Flyway, a north-south migratory path that extends 10,000 nautical miles from Alaska to Patagonia. Billions of birds fly all or parts of the route each year, including more than 6 million waterfowl in California.
And that is what attracted Ken Hofmann, the former owner of the Oakland A’s who had land interests in the marsh and a vision for the $75 million Pacific Flyway Center to be centrally located in the flyway.
And that it where it will be, east of Interstate 680, south of the Gold Hill Road overcrossing and adjacent to Ramsey Road. It will be within about an hour of where more than 10 million people live.
It will include a miles-long Walk in the Marsh, with interpretive displays and “viewing hides,” and a 28,000-square-foot Education Center. A kayak launch area will offer opportunities to experience the marsh from the water.
It will be built out in phases, with the Marsh Walk and habitat restoration first on that list.
Area officials believe the center will be a major tourist destination. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife has reported there are more than 50 million birdwatchers in the U.S. alone.
Veronica Cornett, a Pacific Flyway Center project staff member who was out on the school event, said the project representatives just held their final permitting meetings with Fairfield and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
Cornett said the conservation permit from the BCDC, which allows the work in the marsh, is expected to be in hand by June 1, and the grading permit from the city should be approved by June 15.
Work on the three pond areas should begin near the end of June, Cornett said.
A groundbreaking ceremony is being planned.
Unfortunately, Hofmann will not see what is now being fashioned as a legacy project. He died in April 2018.