Important Bird Areas

Orange Coast Wetlands

California

The north coast of Orange County supports some of the most important remnant wetlands in southern California (each one could be a separate IBA), and has been the site of bird research for several decades. Up until the early 1900s, this area was a vast network of coastal marshes, even supporting a commercial waterfowl hunting industry. Today, this IBA still protects some of southern California's most extensive wetlands. From north to south, they include:
-Los Cerritos Wetlands and adj. oil fields (Private)
-Hellman Property (Private)
-Seal Beach NWR/NWS (U.S. Navy; USFWS)
-Bolsa Chica (Private; State of CA)
-Huntington Beach Wetlands (Private; City of Huntington Beach)
-Santa Ana River mouth (Private, Army Corps. of Engineers)
-Upper Newport Bay (State of CA)

Ornithological Summary

Up until the early 1900s, this area was a vast network of coastal marshes, even supporting a commercial waterfowl hunting industry. Today, this IBA still protects some of southern California's most extensive wetlands, and is most notable for its numbers of breeding terns. Bolsa Chica supports the largest colonies, with 4000 pr. of Elegant, 260 pr. of Forster's, 230 pr. of Black Skimmer, 170 pr. of Caspian, 145 pr. of Least, and 15-20 pr. of Royal terns (all 1997, fide C. Boardman). Seal Beach NWR also supports breeding Least Tern (ave. 150 pr. from 1986-98). This IBA also supports around of the state's population of Belding's Savannah Sparrow scattered throughout the saltmarshes.

Huge flocks of migrating shorebirds (15-20,000 in fall, winter and spring, Page and Shuford 2000) and waterfowl, wintering geese, and foraging raptors travel freely up and down the coast here, obviating the need to treat these sites as a single unit. Predictably, sensitive wetland species are concentrated in the largest patches of healthy habitat. The vast saltmarsh of Upper Newport Bay supports over a hundred pairs of Light-footed Clapper Rail, nearly of the U.S. population. Only about 7 pairs remain at Seal Beach NWR, down from several dozen in the mid-1990s (J. Bradley, USFWS, pers. comm.). Los Cerritos Wetlands in Long Beach is currently a foraging area for locally-breeding terns, and supports a modest number of Belding's Savannah Sparrow (abundant throughout IBA in saltmarsh). Its freshwater marshes, if restored, could prove regionally important for breeding waterfowl, Least Bittern, and the endemic clarkae race of Marsh Wren. Snowy Plover maintains tiny breeding colonies in alkali flats at Bolsa Chica and at the Santa Ana River mouth. The remnant coastal sage scrub of Upper Newport Bay and (formerly?) the mouth of the Santa Ana River support the only Cactus Wren and California Gnatcatchers in the IBA.

The extensive grassland and open country of Hellman/Seal Beach, Bolsa Chica, the Santa Ana River mouth and Upper Newport Bay represents a majority of the raptor habitat along the immediate coast of the Los Angeles Basin, with the hawk and owl community of Seal Beach NWS/NWR perhaps the largest and most diverse. Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon and Short-eared Owl scarce but regular winter residents, and Burrowing Owl nests in weep holes in weapons storage units (one of two breeding colonies in coastal southern California). The sparse, flat grassland at Seal Beach NWS/NWR is one of just 4 sites in the U.S. that supports wintering Pacific Golden-Plover, and a handful of Mountain Plover has recently rediscovered the site as a wintering area. Hundreds of geese, representing all four regularly-occurring species, winter at Hellman/Seal Beach NWR, the largest concentration in coastal southern California.

Help us learn more about the birds at this IBA! Enter your birding data online at Calfornia eBird! (http://ebird.org/california/)

Conservation Issues

The two main bird conservation battles involve saving precious open space from residential home construction and reducing the threat of exotic or pest species that threaten nesting marsh birds. This includes the fight for purchase and/or protection of the Los Cerritos Wetlands and oil fields and adjacent Hellman Property, one of two natural estuaries remaining in Los Angeles County (Ballona Wetlands being the other). At Bolsa Chica, the grassy, open space of the mesa, overlooking the only naturally-functioning estuary on the site, is threatened by a massive housing development that promises to eliminate some of the most important raptor foraging habitat left on the coasts of Los Angeles and Orange Co. An education program against feeding non-native predators, especially Red Fox and feral cats, would benefit ground-nesting birds within the IBA, particularly terns and rails.

Ownership

? Los Cerritos Wetlands and adj. oil fields (Private)
? Hellman Property (Private)
? Seal Beach NWR/NWS (U.S. Navy; USFWS)
? Bolsa Chica (Private; State of CA)
? Huntington Beach Wetlands (Private; City of Huntington Beach)
? Santa Ana River mouth (Private, Army Corps. of Engineers)
? Upper Newport Bay (State of CA)

Habitat

The north coast of Orange County supports some of the most important remnant wetlands in southern California. Los Cerritos Wetlands includes a small saltmarsh with natural tidal influence within an active oil field, bounded on the south by Westminster Blvd. South of Westminster, also on active oil fields, is a small freshwater marsh and scattered patches of riparian vegetation. The Hellman Property immediately to the east is another active oil field, this in an extensive area of rolling grassland and scattered water-deprived saltmarsh, with small area of mudflat habitat where a tidal channel invades. Moving east, Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge (across Seal Beach Blvd.) protects one of the largest intact saltmarshes in southern California (1000 acres) and also features significant areas of grassland and agricultural lands, particularly north of Westminster Blvd. within Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station.

South of here is the Bolsa Chica Ecological Area and the adjacent bluff, mesa, and oil fields, separated by the marina development of Sunset Beach. Several smaller saltmarsh remnants of varying degrees of degradation may be found on the east (inland) side of Pacific Coast Highway (collectively called ?Huntington Beach Wetlands?). Just south of these, one of the largest patches of native coastal sage scrub habitat in this IBA persists in open space at the Santa Ana River mouth, also east of PCH, where additional water-deprived saltmarsh persists. Finally, at the southern end is the relatively extensive mudflats and saltmarsh of Upper Newport Bay and adjacent uplands that include pockets of coastal sage scrub and riparian thicket. Most of the grassland and coastal sage scrub habitat once found surrounding the bay was been lost to cliff-top development of Newport Beach in the 1980s.