California poppies, the state’s official flower, are common throughout the 300-acre sanctuary.
Nesting boxes throughout the marsh have hatched more than 5,000 tree swallows since 2000, reviving their population in Orange County.
The marsh attracts a variety of birds: waterfowl, shorebirds, fish eaters, insect eaters, seed eaters and birds of prey. Some migrate here for the summer; some for the winter; some live here year-round.
More than 40,000 people visit the marsh each year, including serious bird watchers and bird photographers.
Western tiger swallowtails, painted ladies and red admirals are among the butterflies that bask in the sun each summer in the sanctuary’s butterfly garden, built in 2005.
California bulrush provides shelter for marsh wrens; it provides food for sparrows and finches; and bacteria in the bulrush roots helps clean pond water of excessive nitrogen.
The sanctuary is home to more than 38,000 native trees, 24,000 native shrubs—and more than 10 miles of trails through willow, sycamore and natural woodlands that provide solitude from city life.
The marsh features nearly 70 acres of manmade ponds, many with islands that provide a safe haven for birds that nest on the ground.
The Sea & Sage Audubon Society offers many field trips throughout the year, including bird walks, butterfly walks and wildlife walks.
Tree swallows arrive each spring from Mexico, raise their young throughout the summer, and return home in the fall. These aerobatic birds dine on flying insects.
The San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, at 5 Riparian View in Irvine, Calif., is open from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. It is free to the public.
The marsh is not only home to birds and butterflies. It provides a home to skunks, squirrels, rabbits, weasels, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats—and at least two species of bats.
Marsh restoration replaced non-native vegetation with native vegetation. California wild rose, California poppy and bush sunflower are abundant, as are riparian (streamside) shrubs like mugwort, California buckwheat and California sagebrush.
Spring is the best time to see flowers at the San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. Brightly colored flowers attract insects and hummingbirds that help pollinate them.
Anna’s hummingbird can pause in mid-air to sip flower nectar. It also can fly backward—and straight up—in pursuit of small insects that it likes to eat.
Some marsh denizens spend their lives hugging the ground, namely the Western fence lizard (the most common lizard at the marsh), the gopher snake and the California kingsnake.
The many ponds attract a host of waterfowl: Mallards, coots and teals are dabblers, which dunk only their heads to feed; grebes and ruddy ducks are divers that dive completely underwater to catch food.
The marsh also attracts birds of prey, which catch small animals and fish with their talons. These fish-eating osprey successfully raised the marsh’s first chick in 2010.
Pond islands serve as small communities providing safety to many bird species at once, including white pelicans, coots and other waterfowl.
The water level in some of the ponds intentionally is kept low for waterfowl and shorebirds that prefer feeding in shallow water.
This 300-acre oasis, with its abundance of ponds, wildlife and native vegetation feels, like a world within a world in the heart of Orange County.
The San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary has become a popular spot for those seeking respite from the hustle and bustle of a busy world.
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