Shorebirds and Terns at Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve

The fog drifted in and out of the wetlands as I emerged from my rental car in the parking lot at the south end of Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve in Huntington Beach, California. A Song Sparrow sang at the top of a bush and refreshed me. My morning started at 4 am in Albuquerque in order to catch a 6 am flight and spend time birding at one of my favorite southern California spots before my visit with my family.

I paused to allow a group of energized school children to finish crossing the walk-bridge and took the opportunity to read the interpretive sign. The fact that the area is designated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (formerly Department of Fish and Game) to protect a coastal wetland and its resident threatened and endangered species jumped out at me – a department that sees their mission as beyond fishing and hunting. I checked out their mission when I got home – “maintains native fish, wildlife, plant species and natural communities for their intrinsic and ecological value and their benefits to people. This includes habitat protection and maintenance in a sufficient amount and quality to ensure the survival of all species and natural communities.” (The bolding is mine.)

As I crossed the walk-bridge, I stopped to admire a Forster’s Tern, a year-round species at this location.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern


At the far end, I noticed that the volunteer’s lawn chair and spotting scope and stopped to chat. This was the second week of the Snowy Plover and Least Tern monitoring season – part of the Eyes on Nest Sites program. “The Least Terns haven’t arrived yet,” she told me, “however, some of the western plovers have wandered over to explore potential nest sites.”

Western Gulls and a couple of lingering White Pelicans lounged on a spit beyond the monitoring area.

An oil pump, visible through the fog, is a reminder that the entire area had once been owned by Signal Oil Company.
CA-Bolsa-Chica-wetlands
I followed the levee road along saltmarsh and mudflats exposed the by the receding tide where Willets

Willet

Willet


And Marbled Godwits
Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit


probed for crustaceans.

Flocks of sandpipers swerved in and out. The Western Sandpipers were particularly colorful as they molted into their breeding plumage before heading for their nesting grounds on the western edge of Alaska.

Western Sandpipers

Western Sandpipers


I searched in vain for Red Knots that winter in the area, but are easier to identify as they molt into their reddish plumage.

A Semipalmated Plover, while usually solitary, associates with sandpipers.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover


Brown Pelicans and
Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican


Elegant Terns
Elegant Tern

Elegant Tern


perched above a water inlet and then dove into the water for fish.

As I returned, I stopped to watch a Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron


as well as both Great and Snowy Egrets. I stopped to chat with a couple of college-aged students who appeared to be collecting data. “We’re counting the number of times a Great Blue Heron is successful in catching a fish,” they told me.

It was a wonderful visit to the wetlands that was clearly fulfilling its mission of restoration and hands-on learning.

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