Huntington Beach, California Bird Watching
Information for Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve Location
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is one of California's most significant coastal wetlands.
300 acre sanctuary is a popular attraction for tourists and local residents.
Other nearby wetlands include Newport Beach's Upper Newport Bay State
Ecological Reserve and Ballona Wetlands near Playa
del Rey. Visitors to Huntington Beach often look for a family-oriented
outing that both educates and entertains the youngsters and adults.
Chica Wetlands or Ecological Reserve features a 1.5 mile trail loop around a water inlet.
Believed to be a popular hunting ground to native American tribes at one time,
in the early 1900's it was transformed into the Bolsa Hunting Club, a
prestigious duck and fowl hunting club with steep membership fees. A Los
Angeles Red Car train system included a stop here. In World War II, a portion
of the wetlands was used by troops to watch for enemy attacks. The facility is
now a protected wetlands. The public can park for free in a paved lot and walk
along trails, watching and learning about birds. Dogs, horses, pets and bicycle
riding are prohibited.
The best place to observe wildlife is from
the footbridge and trail adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway. Several
volunteer groups offer free tours leaving the parking lot at this location.
The Amigos de Bolsa Chica tour is on the first Saturday of each month from 9
to 10:30 a.m. The Bolsa Chica Land Trust tour is on the third Sunday of each
month from 10 a.m. to Noon. Meeting planners can arrange for private group
tours by calling the numbers
listed in the paragraph below.
Both tours follow a loop trail through the wetlands and are hosted by
trained guides who discuss identification of birds, ecology and history of
the wetlands. No reservations are required. Open to foot traffic. Trail
parking is accessible from the northbound lane of Pacific Coast Highway one
mile south of Warner (across from the Bolsa Chica State Beach entrance). For
more information contact the Amigos de Bolsa Chica at 714-840-1575. The
Bolsa Chica Land Trust can be reached at 714-846-1001.
events include organized
clean-up efforts that enhance
this public venue. The wetlands
offer limited space and as such,
there are no reservable private
meetings and functions on the
property. However, educational
tours and pre-arranged tours,
tree plantings, clean-ups and
other such civic efforts are
possible by arrangement.
Central Park, Huntington Beach, California
Huntington Central Park is a
birders' delight all year long and especially during the April/May and
September/October migrations. 228 species of birds have been spotted in
the Park, to date, offering birders an opportunity to see locals as well as
discover new species. Don't be surprised to see an occasional vagrant
exotic, as well.
The Interpretive Center near Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve,
3842 Warner Ave., (714) 846-1114
Bolsa Chica Interpretive Center is your first stop in
a walking tour of the wetlands if you are seeking literature to guide you
along the way. Free parking and ample assistance is provided for those
who venture into the trailer facility near the corner of Pacific Coast
Highway and Warner Avenue in Huntington Beach.
The Interpretive Center features displays for children
and adults, brochures to help you on your tour of the Wetlands and gift
items such as T-shirts, books, posters and cards. Be sure to take your
FREE copy of the Huntington Beach Bird Checklist before you hit the
Ecological Reserve trail.
Huntington Beach has some of the nation's best birding
with nearly half of the birds found in the U.S. spotted there. 321
out of Orange County's 420 bird species have been sighted in Huntington
Beach within the past ten years.
History of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands
While there's evidence of habitation at the
Bolsa Chica Mesa dating beyond 8,000 years, little is known about the early
inhabitants or travelers of this region. Cogged stones, charm stones and
arrow points found on the mesa date to this time, though their application
and use are not understood. Native Americans before the European arrival had
seasonal settlements along the mesa. The hunters and food gatherers who ate
game, fruit, nuts and seafood were believed to stay inland during colder
weather. Gabrielenos or Tongvas of the Shoshone tribes were accomplished
boat builders. Early pioneers called the coastal region including the Bolsa
Chica "shell beach," because of the hundreds of thousands of empty shells
left along the beaches and bluffs by Native Americans. The Shoshone, who
were the first to walk the Bolsa Chica, enjoyed plentiful supplies of fish
and shellfish in the wetlands. Evidence suggests they were able to travel
between the mainland and offshore islands such as Catalina. Long Beach and
Signal Hill were known as the Bay of Smokes for the signals sent between the
mainland and the islands and it is not unlikely that the sphere of influence
and travel extended to the Bolsa Chica mesa region.
During the Spanish / Mexican occupation of
California before it became a US state, the vast lands were deeded or
granted to individuals who mostly operated ranches or ranchos. During the
late 1700's, the Spanish monks under the direction of Father Junipero Serra
began building missions, each a day's walk from the next along the mostly
coastal region. Bolsa Chica was situated between Mission San Juan Capistrano
and San Gabriel Mission. The construction of the missions and farming of
land was often assigned to native laborers who lived on and around the
ranchos. Many died during this period from diseases previously unknown to
In 1821 Mexico became independent from Spain.
In 1834 the missions were
Bolsa Chica, or "Little Pocket" ranch was isolated by "swamps," little
pockets of dry land, and the ocean. The name, "little pocket" was given when
the vast holding of Rancho La Zanja was divided in 1834. Still undeveloped
save for the small adobe of the Nieto family, the Bolsa Chica was visited
solely by wandering cattle and their watching vaqueros. Manuel Nieto grant divided
Rancho Las Bolsas, giving his widow pockets of land surrounded by
marshes; Joaquin Ruiz received a smaller grant: Rancho Bolsa Chica (little
pocket) was later acquired by Abel Stearns with individual land ownership
prevalent during this era. California was acquired in 1848 and became a
state in 1850. As the vast lands were split up and sold to private owners,
celery, potatoes and lima beans were grown near the mesa, along with sheep
and cattle ranching to supply food to other regions, including California's
gold towns and camps. A tour of the Bixby Ranch or Rancho Los Cerritos in
Long Beach offers a glimpse into the lifestyle of the region during this
In 1895 a Gun Club bought Bolsa
Chica. It is ironic that this very location became a sanctuary for hunted
fowl who are now protected under the law. Visible remnants and newspaper
stories fill in the blanks to the use of the Bolsa Chica during the 1920 oil
strike. The land was leased to Standard Oil, then Signal Oil for drilling.
As evidenced along the coast, World War II artillery mounts and bunkers were
built on this vantage point hill to keep an eye on the waters for potential
In 1970 Signal Oil bought the land for
development but two short years later, in 1972
The Coastal Act became California law. In 1976 Amigos de Bolsa Chica
(Friends of Bolsa Chica) was formed to save wetlands from development. Bolsa
Chica Ecological Reserve was developed in 1979 as a lengthy struggle between
development and preservation ensued. One plan proposed by a development firm
would have created a marina for pleasure craft. In 1997 the State of
California purchased 880 acres from Signal Oil using mitigation credit.
Much of the undeveloped area that has been a working oil field since World
War II is pockmarked with rigs and wells. The ground is contaminated with
oil, heavy metals, PCBs and mercury — a legacy of decades of drilling.
In 2000, public ownership of
Bolsa Chica grew to 1200 acres. Beginning in 2001, the restoration of 550
acres of historic Bolsa Chica lowlands was proposed and completed. With the goal of returning the wetlands to its
pre-1900 condition as a major wildlife stop where millions of birds travel,
rest, feed and nest, restoration of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands includes a new ocean channel, tidal basins, island habitats and
pedestrian bridges that connect the wetlands to the beach via Pacific Coast
Highway. Funded largely by the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports, restoration
comprised 370 acres of full tidal and 180 acres of muted tidal habitats. The
first phase, which included cutting a tidal inlet through the south end of Bolsa Chica State Beach and across Pacific Coast Highway,
was a success.
does not guarantee accuracy of information as events are subject to change.