The Great Journey in Photography

Up Before the Bell

Snowy Egret at Bolsa Chica-1

420mm f7.1 200iso 1/1250sec

Those who read this blog regularly already know that I am a frequent visitor to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach California. It was acquired by the State in 1973 and expanded in 1997 and 2005 to its current 1200 acres. It sits adjacent to a rather large plot of undeveloped land used for oil drilling and in total provides a nice wetland area that has become home to many different birds. Originally Bolsa Chica was a fertile hunting area for Native Americans and in the early 1900’s it was home to the Bolsa Hunting Club, a prestigious duck and fowl hunting club and rumor has it, fox too. Today the reserve is a sanctuary to a large number of birds, some year round others migrating in for the Winter. Among my favorites are the Brown Pelican, Osprey, Great Egret, Long Billed Curlew, Great Blue Heron, and Least Tern.

The wetlands are a mix of fresh water run off  from the Wintersburg Flood Control Chanel and sea water from the ocean inlet at Huntington Harbor. This Ecosystem produces four distinct seasons depending on the amount of runoff from the surrounding area which affects the level of salt in the water. One of the greatest bummers of the Bolsa Chica is that there is no direct access to the beach. If the wetlands and salt marshes were directly adjacent to beach area it would be a truly spectacular place to photograph. Instead the two are separated by the Pacific Coast Highway, parking lots, vendors and all the other modern amenities associated with a public beach. The other bummer is that the flood control channel brings a significant amount of trash and refuse into the wetlands and there are times when the area is littered with plastics and even bits of furniture and appliances. From time to time the area is plagued by graffiti and vandalism. Sadly, sometimes I think the number one export of Southern California are the disgusting, filthy, selfish pigs that call themselves human.

I have depended on Bolsa Chica as a test facility for every piece of gear I own. When I have a new piece of equipment it gets broke in at Bolsa, new techniques are first tried at Bolsa, when I need a day of practice I head out to Bolsa. The first couple of years I usually tried to make Sunrise shoots but now my focus is around the Sunset magic hours. There are two reasons for that. One, the winds usually favor shooting at the end of the day and second is the absolutely spectacular opportunities to shoot the Tern Feeding frenzy at the end of the day during the Summer months. Bolsa Chica is by no means the most attractive area in Southern California, it is almost impossible to do a landscape with out an oil well or house in the scene, but it’s location serves millions in the Los Angeles area. Any one who wants to enjoy the surroundings and the birds for only the price of a short drive from the inland is welcome.

It has been a tough year at the wetlands. Starting the Winter before the last there was a sudden die off of Brown Pelicans in the Southland possibly due to extreme cold and rain. Last Winter the Browns did not return in any significant numbers and the entire population of Wintering birds was down. Egrets and waterfowl were sparse and the Great Blue Herons abandoned their usual nesting trees. There were many times I visited and the entire area was consumed by a stench of sewage and decay. I believe that there was some sort of toxic runoff this year as a result of the near epic rainstorms. I also suspect that the local ocean water was also less than healthy as local beaches were closed several times the past year due to contaminated water. Whatever the case, the birds stayed away. I was prepared to cut back on my visits to Bolsa Chica because there just was not anything there to shoot anymore. A couple of weeks ago I gave it one more shot. I wanted to give that place I have come to know so well a last chance to show some signs of life before making the decision to stay away. I am happy to report that I saw signs of great improvement. The stench was all but gone and the water was as clear as I have ever seen. There were not many birds but it is that time of your when the population is down anyhow, my favorite Osprey was at its post high above the fishing hole after months of absence. It would seem that Bolsa was down but not for the count. She has begun to heal her self and is up before the bell to fight another round. I look forward to the return of the birds next season.

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