Birdwatchers: This story is for you

BirdwatcherThere’s a place in Orange County you shouldn’t miss if you are into bird watching: The San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Just off of the 405 freeway near the intersection of Campus Dr. and University Dr., this coastal freshwater marsh has become a focal point for people who enjoy outdoors and seeing wildlife.

Nearly two-thirds the size of New York City’s Central Park, the marsh features six main ponds, with islands for nesting, surrounded by native trees, shrubs and grasses.

“This is a magnet,” said Ian Swift, natural resources manager for the Irvine Ranch Water District, which owns and operates the property. “Birders, recreators who come to Southern California come here time and time again to see fantastic numbers of birds.” The sanctuary is open to the public for free every day from dawn to dusk.

You can walk along 15 miles of trails and watch more than 280 bird species that have been documented at the marsh. Or you can just relax under a native willow and listen to birds chirp as the bodies of water provide a nice breeze even on hot days.

Sea & Sage Audubon Society has an office on site to provide information, educational programs and bird-watching equipment like binoculars.

“It’s one of the largest riparian areas in all of Orange County,” Swift said. “The quality of the habitat is really something you can’t find anywhere else.”

While the beautiful scenery of the ponds, birds and plants is easy to see, there’s an additional benefit this marsh brings to the area’s ecological system.

As part of the IRWD Natural Treatment System, it cleans urban runoff before it gets into the environmentally sensitive Upper Newport Bay.

“(The marsh) has added a tremendous amount to the quality of life in Irvine,” Swift said. “It’s put Irvine on the map as a leader in not only treating urban runoff, but also in creating these fantastic wildlife habitats with so many bird species.” ♦

For more information, visit irwd.com or seaandsageaudubon.org.