Quite simply one of the most important bird
areas in southern California, the San Jacinto Valley is dominated by the
floodplain of the San Jacinto River, which runs northwest from the base of the
San Jacinto Mountains. A portion of the river periodically empties into the
ephemeral Mystic Lake (a.k.a. San Jacinto Lake), southeast of the community of
Moreno Valley, while the rest is directed southwest from here toward the
community of Perris and eventually into Lake Elsinore. The river channel has
extensive riparian habitat, also found in the San Jacinto Wildlife Area and along
San Timoteo Creek. Low hills surround the valley on the northeast (The
Badlands), west (Bernasconi Hills) and south (Lakeview Hills), which are
covered with Chaparral and Riversidean Coastal Sage Scrub and, where frequently
burned, by grassland. A series of impoundments with freshwater marsh on the
southwest side of Mystic Lake is maintained as the state-run San Jacinto
Wildlife Area and private duck clubs, and smaller areas of marsh are found at
the Hemet-San Jacinto WTP (a.k.a. San Jacinto Sewage Ponds) along Sanderson Rd.
to the southeast, and locally elsewhere in the valley (around stock ponds).
Large areas of cropland, including alfalfa and pastures, as well as native and
non-native grassland occur throughout. Sparse alkali grassland and alkali shrublands
are found around Mystic Lake. 

Ornithological Summary

The marshes of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area (SJWA) support thousands of waterbirds, one of the few remaining southern California
breeding colonies of White-faced Ibis, rails and hundreds of pairs of
Tricolored and Yellow-headed Blackbird. The cropland, particularly the vast
plowed fields southeast of Mystic Lake, are one of the few remaining areas left
in southern California outside the Imperial Valley that support winter flocks
of Mountain Plover, Long-billed Curlews, White-faced Ibis, and (historically)
Sandhill Crane. Dozens of Ferruginous Hawks, one of the largest concentrations
in the state, winter in this area, and virtually all of southern California's
raptor community is represented here, perhaps concentrated by abundant rodent
prey. Both Bald and Golden Eagles regularly occur here, and Burrowing Owls have
nested at the SJWA and elsewhere in the Valley.  A traditional roost of both Long-eared (olive
groves) and Short-eared (weedy fields) owls exists along Davis Road within the
SJWA. Depending on water levels, thousands of shorebirds
and waterfowl utilize the wetlands of the wildlife area, Mystic Lake to the
east and the water treatment plant (over 2000 dowitchers recorded at the
wildlife area on single-day surveys in spring, Shuford et al., 2002). After wet
winters, trees near Mystic Lake support rookeries of herons, egrets and
Double-crested Cormorants. A Yellow Rail present here in the 1970s suggests
that recolonization is not out of the question. The scrub on the hillsides
surrounding the valley supports high densities of resident Bell's Sage Sparrow,
which are shared very locally by California Gnatcatcher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow
and Cactus Wren. Riparian woodland at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area and along
the San Jacinto River and San Timoteo Creek support a robust population of
Least Bell’s Vireo and other riparian birds. The whole region appears to be a
critical migration corridor for certain species between the desert and the
coast for a wide variety of species. A sizable springtime movement of Sage
Thrasher, nearly unique in coastal southern California, occurs in late winter,
followed by a push of Swainson's Hawks moving north.

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Conservation Issues

This area, like the Skinner Reservoir Area (see below), falls within the WRMSHCP planning area, and similar recommendations apply. The potential for habitat restoration in this area is enormous - the marshy shore of Mystic Lake was one of the last wintering areas for Yellow Rail and breeding Black Rail in southern California, and a Yellow Rail present here in the 1970s suggests that recolonization is not out of the question. Conservation groups, as well as the State of California, have made the San Jacinto Valley a priority area for acquisitions and easements, with recent activity focusing on much of the regularly-flooded lands in and around Mystic Lake. However, pressure to develop the surrounding uplands is intense; a new Indian casino is now (2001) being constructed less than a half-mile away from the shore of Mystic Lake.

Ownership

The majority of this area is protected as the Jan Jacinto Wildlife Area. However, development pressure in the valley is intense and conservation groups have made the area a priority for acquisitions and easements.

Habitat

The San Jacinto Valley is dominated by the
floodplain of the San Jacinto River, which runs northwest from the base of the
San Jacinto Mountains.  Low hills
surround the valley on the northeast (The Badlands), west (Bernasconi Hills)
and south (Lakeview Mountains), which are covered with Riversidean Coastal Sage
Scrub and, where frequently burned, by grassland. There is a series of
impoundments with freshwater marsh on the southwest side of Mystic Lake and
smaller areas of marsh are found at the Hemet-San Jacinto WTP. Large areas of
pastureland, including sparse alkali grassland, occur throughout.

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