Bolsa Chica State Ecological Reserve is a state-managed nature reserve and public area in Orange County, California, next to the city of Huntington Beach. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) declared the reserve to conserve a coastal marsh and upland with migratory and resident vulnerable and endangered wildlife and wildflowers.
The ecological reserve’s western edge abuts two other state agency lands along State Route 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) controlled by Cal Trans and California State Parks (Bolsa Chica State Beach).
The location was part of a historic Mexican property grant known as Rancho La Bolsa Chica, and the phrase bolsa chica means “small sack” in Spanish. The reserve is also known as the Bolsa Chica Lowlands, the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, and the Bolsa Chica Wildlife Refuge.
The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is bounded to the north by Warner Avenue, to the south by Seapoint Avenue, to the west by Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), and to the east by residential development.
There are two small parking lots: one on Warner, southeast of the intersection with PCH, and one on PCH, across from the entrance to Bolsa Chica State Beach. The Bolsa Chica Interpretive Center is located in the north lot. It is the beginning point for the Mesa Trail, which leads to the Mesa Point overlook and rest stop. The 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) Loop Trail departs from the south lot, over a wooden bridge, passes two views, and returns to the parking lot along a sand-dune trail paralleling PCH.
The Reserve is bisected by the East Garden Grove Wintersburg Channel. The County of Orange began making flood control measures in December 2007 to reinforce the levees damaged in the 2005 storms and protect the wetlands. Furthermore, the Newport-Inglewood Fault runs through the reserve.
The Bolsa Chica Conservancy Interpretive Center is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and features live animal displays, aquaria, maps and information about Bolsa Chica, and education programs on wetland science. Live marine life species local to Bolsa Chica and the southern California coast are on display in the main chamber, including bat stars, ochre stars, giant-spined stars, warty sea cucumbers, Kellet’s whelks, chestnut cowries, striped beach crabs, and California spiny lobster. Live reptiles such as California kingsnakes, San Diego gopher snakes, coastal rosy boas, two-striped garter snakes, and alligator lizards can be found in a second exhibit area. Many taxidermy specimens may be found around the center, including opossums, snakes, and birds such as the great blue heron, California brown pelican, Cooper’s hawk, red-shouldered hawk, and Anna’s hummingbird.
The reserve’s wildlife includes shovelnose guitarfish, grey smooth-hound sharks, California halibut, and white seabass. Snakes can be found in the wetlands’ grassy parts, ranging from harmless kingsnakes and gopher snakes of various colors to rattlesnakes such as western diamondbacks and Pacific rattlesnakes. [Citation required] Western fence lizards, cottontail rabbits, Beechey ground squirrels, and coyotes are among the other animals.
Many migrating species visit the area in the spring and fall. In the last decade, the reserve has been home to 321 of Orange County’s 420 bird species. The endangered light-footed rail, snowy plover, Savannah sparrow, least tern, Caspian tern, great blue heron, snowy egret, double-crested cormorant, red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, and California gnatcatcher can all be found at the reserve.
Next Point of Interest: Huntington Beach Pier