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Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is located on the coast in western Orange County, California, USA, in the city of Huntington Beach and is separated from the Bolsa Chica State Beach by the Pacific Coast Highway. It is part of the State Ecological Reserves system, managed by the California Department of Fish and Game, and its purpose is to protect the estuarine tidal saltwater marsh habitat, with its resident, threatened and endangered species. The Reserve is a remnant of an ancient coastal wetland, originally 4000 acres in size. The area was once part of the Nieto land grant, and on Nieto's death, his son inherited 8000 acres, 4000 acres of which were coastal wetland. He named this property Rancho La Bolsa Chica, because the bigger lagoon looked like a small purse or pocket - "bolsa chica" meaning small purse in Spanish.
Bolsa Chica is a major stop-over for migratory birds using the Pacific Fly-Way. Over 200 species can be seen at the Bolsa Chica during the year. Many are resident and some are migrants which nest there. Other plant and animal species found in California coastal wetlands can also be seen.
 Notable Species
Elegant Tern (Sterna elegans). Has bred at Bolsa Chica since 1987.
Birds you can see here include:
 Other Wildlife
Animal list as PDF3, see below in External Links.
 Site Information
 History and Use
Bolsa Chica is presently about 1550 acres in size and consists of undeveloped coastal wetland and adjacent upland areas, but it was once part of a 165,000 acre Spanish land grant. Native Americans once lived here, finding shellfish and other food stuffs in the wetlands, and making their home on the upland mesas.
In 1900, the natural ocean inlet was closed, supposedly to improve duck hunting, and this destroyed the tidal nature of the wetland. During the next 70 years, the area was used for farming, raising crops such as potatoes, and also for the grazing of cattle and sheep. Oil was discovered in 1920 and Standard Oil leased the land for drilling. The lease was later taken over by Signal Oil. Coastal artillery mounts and bunkers were built during WWII. Then in 1970, Signal Oil bought the land for development. In 1972 the Coastal Act became law. In 1973 the State of California received about 300 acres of wetlands next to the Pacific Coast Highway in a controversial land swap, and in 1979 the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve was developed from a portion of the 300 acres, the rest remaining privately owned. The organization, Amigos de Bolsa Chica, had been formed in 1976 to protect the wetlands and in 1989 they were successful in reducing the plan to build a huge marina, with residential and commercial development.
In 1997, the State bought 880 acres of Bolsa Chica wetlands from Signal Oil and more acres were acquired over the next few years. By 2000, about 1200 acres were publically owned, and in 2001, planning began to restore 550 acres of the historic Bolsa Chica lowlands.
In 2004, restoration of nearly 600 acres began so that the area would become tidal again, and in August 2006, the new tidal inlet was finally opened allowing seawater to flow into the wetlands for the first time in over 100 years. Photos on the Amigos website: . Opening of inlet, see the online newsletter at: .
 Areas of Interest
The Restoration Project begun in 2004 and finished in 2006, involved the construction of a $100 million bridge to carry the Pacific Coast Highway over a newly opened inlet from the Pacific Ocean. For the first time in 100 years, fresh ocean waters were able to enter the wetlands at Bolsa Chica. It is hoped that this will restore and refresh the habitat in this important Pacific coast stop-over on the fly-way for migratory birds. The project was financed by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, in trade for acquisition and expansion of additional coastal land for port use. 
 Access and Facilities
Directions: From the north, exit the San Diego Freeway (405) at Seal Beach Boulevard and go west towards the beach. Turn left on Pacific Coast Highway and continue south past the Warner Avenue intersection. At the next stoplight, turn left into the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve south parking lot, about 1 mile south of Warner Avenue.
Traveling from the south toward Huntington Beach on San Diego Freeway (405), exit Golden West Street. Drive west to Pacific Coast Highway, turning right where Golden West ends. Continue north and at the second stoplight, turn right into the Reserve parking lot. If you get to Warner Avenue, you have gone too far, but you can turn right here and visit the Interpretive Center (3842 Warner Avenue), before turning around and back tracking, about 1 mile, to the south parking lot.
The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve boundaries are Warner Avenue to the north, Seapoint Avenue to the south, Pacific Coast Highway to the west, and residential development to the east.
For an Area Map4 see below in External Links.
There are two small parking lots. The Bolsa Chica Interpretive Center can be accessed from the north lot southeast of the intersection of Warner & Pacific Coast Highway. It is the starting point for the Mesa Trail, which leads to the overlook and rest stop at Mesa Point. The south lot on Pacific Coast Highway across from the entrance to Bolsa Chica State Beach, is the starting point for the 1.5 mile Loop Trail, which crosses a wooden bridge, passes two overlooks, and returns to the parking lot via a sand-dune trail paralleling Pacific Coast Highway.
The Reserve is open during daylight hours, 365 days a year. Parking and entrance are free.
Hiking, birdwatching and photography are popular activities at the Reserve.
For special rules to protect the wildlife at Bolsa Chica, please see page 3 of their newsletter online at:
Free public tours are offered at Bolsa Chica and leave from the south parking lot. The first Saturday of each month, between 9 - 10:30am, tours conducted by the docents of the Amigos de Bolsa Chica, will leave every 15 minutes.
The third Sunday of each month at 10am a tour is conducted by the Bolsa Chica Land Trust. For more information, call 714-964-8170 or check on the website: 
 Contact Details
Tours and Hike Information
Bolsa Chica Land Trust
 External Links
Content and images posted by HelenB
Lorax Dan's review:
There are reports that the inflow of ocean water has changed some of the local conditions so you might have to explore a bit to find your favorite birds' new 'homes' in the wetlands. For example, shallow water feeders (ducks and other diving birds, herons and other waders), might find that their previous shallow feeding places (such as around the footbridge) are now deeper.
On the other hand, I'm hoping is that high tide will deepen the water enough so the Brown Pelicans can be seen more often from the footbridge executing their spectacular dives.
The wetlands remains a terrific, easily accessible location