a chronicle of Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
(a "serious" article)
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photos by chiccadee
Bolsa Chica has a timeline that compares with no other ecological reserve in the state of California. Once a rich estuary drained and developed--first into farmland, then to a gun club ) , and increasingly today, to homes of rich callous folks and oil fields--only a rigorous restoration project has salvaged the area from being an Alabaman ranch, gun, farm and all. Today, the area, although limited in size, is host to a cornucopia of species. Also, you're not allowed to shoot them.
Bolsa Chica serves as an important breeding ground. Such a statement, it seems, is thrown around carelessly these days, but Bolsa Chica deserves it one hundred percent.
Particularly important are breeding grounds for Snowy Plovers (breeding grounds shown below: note that the birds depicted are Western Sandpipers and Black-bellied Plovers, NOT Snowy Plovers), White-faced Ibis, California Least Terns, as well as massive Elegant and Forester's Tern colonies.
White-tailed Kites' numbers have plummeted in Orange County ever since the brunt of the drought hit. Being white in a rich community did not help them this time, but it might have kept them from being shot back when the gun club was around. (Note: joking ).
You can no longer see them in Southern Orange County, with N. OC preserves like Bolsa Chica and the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary being some of the last homes of these majestic kites. Now "fly a kite" has a very sad and real meaning here. I just thought of that. Wasn't it deep?
Belding's Savannah Sparrows scamper amid pickleweed and cordgrass in Bolsa Chica flats. Likely to become its own separate species soon, this endangered subspecies of Savannah Sparrow relies on the habitats of salty estuaries, marshes and...no savannahs (at all, in North America, as it happens, where SASPs are found).
Rename Passerculus sandwichensis to Sandwich Sparrow already.
BITTERNS, HERONS, EGRETS
American Bitterns are a rare treat at Bolsa Chica as plants adapted to the salty waters of the estuary lack the ability to grow tall. Suitable habitat for any skulky bittern or heron is therefore scarce. This guy quite frankly doesn't give two craps (It only gives one).
Bolsa Chica is an Aradidae paradise. The rich waters teem with young fish, crustaceans, and other tidbits that offer herons and egrets a rich buffet of yummy tidbits.
An estuary is often dubbed the "nursery of the sea," and for good reason-- in addition to the swarms of baby fish that provide nourishment for herons/egrets, young guitarfish and sharks are commonly spotted throughout the reserve.
Great Blue Heron says: "Eek. Sharks," or "Eat sharks!" depending on how you interpret the expression in the photo below.
Snowy Egret says the same thing regarding its explicit feather dandruff.
Reddish Egret sightings remain rare in almost all of Southern California, with a few exceptions-Bolsa Chica is one such exception. After restoration of the estuary, it is not uncommon to see 4-5 individuals a day.
Here is one below, doing a very impressive Big Bird imitation. Snowy Egret is not amused.
Gull-billed Terns have been recorded to be avid predator of bird chicks, Least Tern or other. Thankfully for many species of nesting birds in Bolsa, they are a rare spring or fall treat, and so their chicks are only rarely treats to GBTE.
A steady onstream Forester's Terns (three photos shown below) and their various breeding colonies is only rarely broken up by migrating Common Terns in the spring and fall. Whoever named the Common Tern did an awful job at it.
Abundant Elegant Terns, which replace the similar-looking Royal Terns also found at Bolsa for the summer, sport long carrot-orange bills and an immaculate black hood.
. They're the kids of the tern world Appearance wise, they mimic un-elegant teenagers when they sit down with their crest all shagged out. Like toddlers, they won't shut up, often drowning out the adjacent highway. They're also absolutely lovable.
*add photo of Least Tern here*
I had a good photo of one, but it got lost in my terrible photo organization.
The incredibly rich waters of Bolsa Chica support a plethora of waterfowl in the winter.
Pied-billed Grebe. "Hello. I am a very distinguished Grebe. How about you?" it inquires with an air of dignified complacency.
It looks like this Western Grebe would have flipped me the bird if only it could move its digits.
Eared Grebe set afire by the sunset glow.
Horned Grebe would set afire by the extreme heat of our current drought if it left the water for a second.
Red-breasted Mergansers are normally only seen on Orange County oceans where they are barely visible as a tiny black speck out 200 miles on the open ocean and only identifiable by use of a 100m scope. Not at Bolsa Chica.
Surf Scoters enjoy placid waters at Bolsa Chica, and plenty of fish to go with it.
Newport Bay was the only remaining site for Ridgway Rail breeding until 2014, when two black chicks were spotted with a parent rail at you-know-where. The rails had rejected Bolsa as a nesting ground for almost half a century. Restoration project: Success!
Additionally, because photographers seem to go insane whenever one of these popped around, the rails at Bolsa Chica don't qualify as rails. Seriously. They'll walk alongside birders three feet from the trail, one or two, or sometimes even three.
Yep, the video is by me. For once. Also, I have two Youtube subscribers. I feel so terribly accomplished.
Birds are not the only strange creature to be found in the waters of Bolsa--this strange and beautiful sea slug lay adjacent to the Pacific Coast Highway Bolsa Chica borders. This guy could belong in a nightclub with that neon outfit, if only they allowed sea slugs in.