Wetlands Tour Takes a Tern for the Better

The tern invasion continues at the Bolsa Chica wetlands.

In the past decade, increasing numbers of terns have been coming to nest on the islands in the Huntington Beach marsh. Some species, such as the black skimmer, had never even been seen as far north as Bolsa Chica until a few years ago; now there is a nesting colony.

Terns, black-and-white birds about the size of a gull, can often be seen hovering above the water in the wetlands or off the Huntington Beach Pier, waiting to dive for fish. Black skimmers fish by flying along the surface and dragging their oversized lower mandible in the water.

About 350 pairs of black skimmers are still nesting in the wetlands. An estimated 1,700 elegant tern pairs have nested this season, and 1,500 chicks have been banded by biologists, said Adrienne Morrison of Amigos de Bolsa Chica, a group that has fought to preserve the wetlands. She said 280 nesting pairs of Caspian terns have been counted, as well as three pairs of royal terns, a newer arrival to Bolsa Chica.


Amigos de Bolsa Chica sponsors monthly walking tours of the wetlands. The next walk, on Saturday, should be an ideal time to see the terns. Some nesting species that head south for winter, such as elegant terns, royal terns, California least terns (an endangered species) and the black skimmers will still be around.

Meanwhile, such year-round species as Forster’s and Caspian terns have already had their numbers swelled by the arrival of birds from breeding grounds in the Arctic. Many of them will stay the winter.

Shorebirds will be in abundance as well, including several species of sandpipers, willets, dowitchers, red knots, curlews, marbled godwits and American avocets. A number of whimbrels, which normally reside on rocky shores, have been seen in the marsh. Several gull species can also be seen.

Walking tours of the wetlands take about an hour. Groups depart every 20 minutes from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and will meet different docents along the looped path. Each docent will talk about a different aspect of the marsh, from wildlife to human history.


According to Morrison, volunteers have been working to improve the wetlands by removing non-native plants and doing other projects. “Things are really looking good,” she said. A volunteer cleanup day at the wetlands is planned for October.

Wear sturdy shoes for the walk, and take binoculars. The tours and parking are free.

What: Walking tours of the Bolsa Chica wetlands.

When: Saturday, Sept. 4. Tours leave every 20 minutes from 9 to 10:30 a.m.


Where: Bolsa Chica State Ecological Reserve.

Whereabouts: From the San Diego (405) Freeway, exit at Golden West Street and go south to Pacific Coast Highway. Turn right. After about a mile, turn into the reserve parking lot on your right, across the highway from the entrance to Bolsa Chica State Beach.

Wherewithal: Free.

Where to call: (714) 897-7003.