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Environment : Notes about your surroundings.

December 27, 1987

WINTER VISITORS: Many of the migrating birds seen in fall in local wetland areas have moved on to points farther south, but for many others, Orange County is the end of the line, and they will be spending their winter here before flying north again in spring for the breeding season.

The shore birds that have settled here are in their winter plumage--most bird species molt in late fall or early winter, undergoing a complete change of feathers. Among the shore birds that can easily be spotted on the coastal salt marshes are western sandpipers and marbled godwits.

Ducks, on the other hand, have passed through their "eclipse plumage" and can already be seen in their breeding colors. "At this point, they are as pretty as they're going to be all year," said Sylvia Ranney Gallagher, bird information chairman for the local Sea and Sage chapter of the National Audubon Society. Among the waterfowl that can be spotted locally are surface-feeding ducks such as the northern pintail and the American wigeon, and diving ducks such as buffleheads, red-breasted merganzers and lesser scaups.

As always, the best places for the public to observe these winter visitors are the Upper Newport Bay and Bolsa Chica state ecological reserves. Comfortable shoes, warm clothing, binoculars and a field guide are recommended equipment for an outing on the marshes. The National Geographic Society's "Field Guide to the Birds of North America" is considered by many bird lovers to be the best indentification handbook.

For those who would like a guided introduction to the birds and other wildlife of the marshes, Friends of Newport Bay and Amigos de Bolsa Chica offer monthly walking tours of their respective namesakes. The next tours of Bolsa Chica are offered Jan. 9, leaving every 10 minutes from 9 to 10:30 a.m. from the reserve parking on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway, between Golden West Street and Warner Avenue. Tours of Upper Newport Bay will be offered Jan. 16, leaving every 15 minutes from the corner of East Bluff and Back Bay drives.

Many local field trips offered by Sea and Sage include sections for beginners and are open to the public. For information on upcoming trips, call the chapter office, (714) 543-7393.

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