Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Hidden Marsh

The Orange Coast alps

I had a sinking feeling that today would be an exercise in speed-birding: it had rained for most of last week, it's supposed to rain from this afternoon through tomorrow, so today would be our only chance of the weekend to get any quality time outdoors. And I wanted our outing to pay off in a big way.

I figured that the storm might bring in birds from off the coast, so we drove to the south end of Huntington State Beach to check out the beach and Santa Ana River mouth, where I had spotted several Common Goldeneyes a few weeks ago. The Goldeneyes had appeared there—along with huge flocks of Surf Scoters and Buffleheads, and a handful of Canvasbacks—right before the last big storm, so we were hoping to get lucky again.

We started at the beach, which we hadn't visited since the end of our volunteer tour of duty at the Snowy Plover and Least Tern Reserve there last summer. Today the reserve was quiet and empty, except for a couple of good samaritans doing trash pickup. And it was nice being there without having to lecture people about not riding their bikes or walking their dogs on the beach.

We worked our way to the river mouth, and turned inland on the bike path running along the river's northern shore. From the path, the now-snow-covered mountains looked startlingly close. Alas, no Goldeneyes today—but the Surf Scoters were still around in large numbers, as were Brown Pelicans, Buffleheads, Lesser Scaups, and Redheads (but no Canvasbacks).

A Common Goldeneye we didn't see (I got this shot at the Santa Ana River mouth a couple of weeks ago).

Suddenly I saw Glenn turn onto a paved side path I hadn't noticed before. I followed after him, and we found ourselves at another marshy, bird-filled area bordered by the Pacific Coast Highway, Brookhurst Avenue, and whatever that big industrial thing is along the northern shore of the river mouth.

In this odd little marsh were Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers, and dozens of Double-crested Cormorants and gulls. There was nothing terribly unusual there, but something about it seemed promising. Glenn thought it would look awesome at sunset. And it was definitely attractive to birds, despite being tucked into the intersection of two busy roads. It would be worth a return.

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