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Birders Take a Walk on the Marsh Side

March 10, 1994|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition. and

Once, freshwater marshes stretched for wide spaces near Southern California's shore; most long since have been drained and developed. One of the largest remaining patches is in Irvine, a 580-acre remnant of a much larger wetland.

The San Joaquin Marsh is a delicate reserve in the process of restoration, and much of it is closed to the public. One 28-acre parcel under the control of the Irvine Ranch Water District is open daily, however, and it offers a good cross-section of the marsh's habitats.

Two ponds purposefully are kept at a low water level to provide mud flats, attractive to such shore birds as dowitchers, stilts and avocets. Deeper ponds nearby attract a variety of ducks including shovelers, teals, ruddy ducks and buffleheads.

This season also has brought a canvasback, an unusual visitor to this part of the country.

"It's really an excellent place to view all sorts of birds," says Virginia Chester, president of the local Sea and Sage chapter of the National Audubon Society. March is an excellent time to visit: Some wintering birds remain; spring migrants are passing through, and summer breeders have arrived.

Sea and Sage maintains an office and bookshop, at the entrance to the reserve, Audubon House, open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. And chapter volunteers offer guided walks through the reserve on a monthly basis, one for adults and one for younger visitors.

The next walk for adults is Sunday. Led by Chris Obaditch, it will leave Audubon House at 9 a.m. Mark Singer will lead a bird walk for 11- to 16-year-olds on March 19 starting at 8:30 a.m.

Sea and Sage will loan binoculars to those who don't have their own.

Reservations for the walk are not required, and there is no charge. For those who would rather explore on their own, the reserve is open daily from dawn to dusk.

What: Guided walk, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

When: Sunday, March 13, at 9 a.m.

Where: Audubon House, Irvine.

Whereabouts: From the San Diego (405) Freeway, exit at Jamboree Road and head south. Turn right at Michelson Drive and follow the road to the Irvine Ranch Water District Plant. Then follow the paved road and signs to Duck and Gun Club Gate No. 3, and follow the signs to the Audubon House.

Wherewithal: Free.

Where to call: (714) 261-7963.

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