Nesting Terns at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

The harsh, almost scolding, call note of Forster’s Terns lured me as I stepped from my car in the southern-most parking area for Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve (BCER) near Huntington Beach. As I approached the bridge over the inlet, I stopped to watch one after another hover helicopter-like over the water,

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern


and then plunge to capture a fish.

In addition to the Forster’s Terns, I was able to identify a couple of Caspian Terns dive-bombing around me.

From the bridge I could see a couple of females nesting in the pickle weed.

nesting Forster's Terns

nesting Forster’s Terns


I paused to watch Great and Snow Egrets fishing in the estuary and a mega-lens photographer taking pictures of a Reddish Egret before I continued across.

The bridge led to a fenced-off beach that bordered on the tidal basin. A woman with a clipboard was sitting on a portable chair, her scope nearby.

volunteer monitor

volunteer monitor


“Are you monitoring the terns?” I inquired.

“Yes, the Least Terns,” she replied. She then pointed out the tongue-depressor-like markers set up on transects to assist the volunteer monitors to record the exact location where a tern will pick for its nest site.

Least Terns are listed as Endangered by the state of California and the USFWS. Preservation and habitat restoration at BCER has been critical to increasing their viability.

According to the Sage and Sand Audubon Society whose volunteers monitor the terns at Huntington Beach, the beach terns were well into their nesting season. According Julie, the volunteer I chatted with, the Least Terns along the tidal basin had not yet started laying eggs and incubating, although they appeared to be trying out potential sites.

Least Tern

Least Tern


“The larger terns nest on that island,” she pointed further south along the estuary where I could see Caspian and Elegant Terns and Black Skimmers.

“The Forster’s Terns are what I like to call the photogenic ones,” she laughed. She went on to tell me that she became interested in birds after she and her husband adopted a macaw and enjoys her two-hour weekly stint on the reserve.

I left her to her monitoring and wandered north along the fenced area, stopping to watch a Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, which is a state listed Endangered Species and also nests in the pickle weed.

Belding's Savannah Sparrow

Belding’s Savannah Sparrow


Double-crested Cormorants and Western Gulls shared a spit. The gulls appeared to be nesting.
Western Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants

Western Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants


Willets and a couple of Marbled Godwits foraged on the far side of an inlet.

As I made my way back to the parking lot, I stopped to capture an image of one of the ‘photogenic’ Forster’s Terns.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern


I was grateful for the opportunity to spend a glorious hour with the terns before heading to my friend’s house.

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