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Huntington Beach, California Bird Watching Information for Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve Location and Information

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is one of California's most significant coastal wetlands. This 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.

Bolsa 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.

Special events

Special 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 North America.

In 1821 Mexico became independent from Spain. In 1834 the missions were secularized. The 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 era.

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 enemy invasion.

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.

This calendar does not guarantee accuracy of information as events are subject to change.

<">Huntington Beach Events

<">Huntington Beach Birds

<">Bird watching areas

<">Bolsa Chica Wetlands

<">Central Park

<">Nature organizations

<">Amigos de Bolsa Chica

<">Bolsa Chica Conservancy

<">Bolsa Chica Land Trust

<">Friends of Shipley Nature Center

<">Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy

<">Note: Events are subject to change. Call numbers provided before going and please credit Huntington Beach Events as your source so we can check accuracy and make updates as needed. copyright siteprivacycontact

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