YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Duck! Stroll Through Marsh Takes Fowl Turn

November 17, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to The Times Orange County Edition.

Ducks hang out in salt marshes, salty dogs hang out in a museum, and an assault from Team Caffeine keeps landlubbers sailing along the county's northwest coast.

8 to 8:20 a.m.: Cappuccino-To-Go-Go claims to be the county's first drive-through espresso bar; the "NOW OPEN" sign is misleading, since it opened three years ago. Gourmet coffee is $1, espresso $1.50 and cappuccino $2; all drinks are served with double shots, and tax is included. Hot chocolate and decaffeinated coffee are also available. Bagels are $1.25 and assorted pastries range from $1.25 to $2.50.

I went for the Depth Charge, made of two shots of espresso and regular or flavored coffee ($1.75); within moments, all guns were firing.

8:20 to 10:20: At Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, executive director Phil Smith and I spotted American avocets, house sparrows, rock doves (pigeon), starlings, half a dozen snowy egrets and several great egrets--the great egrets have a yellow bill and black feet, Smith pointed out, the snowy egrets have a black bill and yellow feet--five species of tern and a whole herd of dunlins. ("Uh, flock--we call 'em flocks, " Smith said.)

And that was just in the parking lot.

A hundred years ago, a creek flowed from what is now Westminster into the ocean. In 1899, the Bolsa Chica Gun Club built a dam with tide gates across the creek for duck-hunting purposes, and the lowlands began to dry. Around 1940 came oil production, and wells still pump there. In 1978, the tide gate was opened and seawater again poured into the wetland. The reserve now totals 530 acres, 200 of which are restored salt marsh.

Ducks were seen in the millions around 1825; there were reports of skies dark with flocks of waterfowl. The area around the reserve remains controversial; developers would like to build houses on the mesa and in the lowlands. For now, the five habitat zones are sub-tidal, inner tidal, marsh, uplands and salt pans. A swamp would have trees; instead, we saw beached ulva--sea lettuce--and three kinds of pickleweed, which are succulents shaped like teeny-tiny pickles.

The water is clear enough to see an abundance of horse mussels and horn snails, which Smith likened to little brown ice-cream cones without the ice cream. "We get them by the gazillions," he noted. The incredible Mr. Limpet takes his name from a tenacious mollusk that you can see attached to rocks. You might also spot round stingrays, which look like frying pans, and tan-speckled sea hares the size of footballs; sightings of smoothhound sharks are not uncommon near the tide gate.

Unlike brown pelicans, far less common white pelicans cooperate when they fish, lining up abreast and herding fish before gobbling them up. We saw six doing just that. Busy taking photos, regular visitor Peter Knapp recalled seeing 150 white pelicans on one amazing day and believes that right now is one of the best times of year at the reserve. The return of the terns in spring is also very exciting, he said. In the meantime, a pair of peregrine falcons proved exciting enough.

Guided tours are offered the first Saturday of each month, but you can visit the wetlands anytime. To be mailed a free trail map, call (714) 969-3492, or stop in at the Huntington Beach Visitors Bureau (2100 Main St., Suite 190). If Smith is in his office at the reserve's northwest parking lot (at the corner of Warner Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway), he'll be happy to provide a map and answer any questions.

10:20 to 11: King Neptune's Nautical Museum and Restaurant is a quirky place, to say the least. Out front is a yellow and blue tugboat called Queen Neptune. In the front window is a life-size scene from "Mutiny on the Bounty," with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard mannequins--which is which is anybody's guess. A sidewalk of fame featuring the hand-scrawled names of Miss USAs, Internationals and Universes dating back to 1953 borders the building. A dolphin flies over the roof.

On the walls inside are a World War II article about 1,900 sailors being recruited for anti-VD research, Coast Guard guidelines "for the use of gun and rocket apparatus for saving lives from shipwreck," and a copy of the decree instructing all county residents of Japanese descent to "evacuate." In glass cases are intricately carved scrimshaw, metal from the wreck of the battleship Maine (destroyed near Havana in 1898) and a quarterpike from the frigate Constitution circa 1797.

Whole walls are covered with battleship plaques, vintage telescopes, binoculars, pistols, knives and swords, and lobsters. There are also several female figureheads, a massaging health chair, a piece of the Berlin Wall, an arm hanging out of a shark's mouth overhead and a stuffed beaver on the bar. The kitchen isn't open till 5 p.m., but complimentary soup's out when the doors open, a welcome respite after a wintry morning in the wetlands.

* Times Line(tm): 808-8463

To hear brief capsules of other "3-Hour Tours," call TimesLine and press * 7150


1. Cappuccino-To-Go-Go 17220 Pacific Coast Highway (310) 592-1996 Open Monday through Friday, 5 to 11 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 6:30 a.m. to noon.

2. Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve Entrance at Pacific Coast Highway south of Warner Avenue (714) 846-1114 Open daily, daylight hours. 3. King Neptune's Nautical Museum and Restaurant 17115 Pacific Coast Highway (310) 592-4878 Open daily 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. PARKING/BUSES

Parking: There is ample free parking in lots at each location. Buses: OCTA bus 72 runs east and west on Warner Avenue with a stop at Pacific Coast Highway. Bus 1 runs north and south on Pacific Coast Highway with a stop at Warner Avenue.

Los Angeles Times Articles