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The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, in Huntington Beach, California, is one of the top five locations in the world for viewing birds. It lies along the Pacific Flyway which is a major north-south route of travel for migratory birds in America, extending from Alaska to Patagonia. Every year, birds travel some or all of this distance both in spring and in fall. The extensive list of species seen at Bolsa provides birders and photographers with a never-ending adventure of wildlife sightings. "Bolsa Chica" could be translated as "small bag" or "small purse." The word "bolsa" can also be used in reference to the stock market or a stock exchange (la bolsa de valores) - so if comparing two stock exchanges, one larger than the other, you could refer to the smaller one as "la bolsa chica." The history of Bolsa Chica is a long and varied one. Once part of a 165,000 acre Spanish land grant, Bolsa Chica presently consists of approximately 1550 acres of undeveloped coastal wetland and adjacent upland areas. The earliest peoples were the native Indians of California who lived on the upland mesas gathering shellfish and other edibles from the wetlands. Archaeologists have found cog stones which date back 8,000 years and are the only surviving relic of the Indian lifestyle. Their exact purpose is unknown, but speculation has centered on religious or astronomical use. In 1899 a wealthy businessmen from the area formed the Bolsa Chica Gun Club. To manage the water within Bolsa Chica to improve duck hunting, a network of dikes was created to prevent tidal exchange and form a series of ponds. This destroyed the tidal nature of the wetland when the natural ocean inlet to the wetland was closed. Since then, the area has been used for agriculture, cattle grazing, military coastal artillery emplacements and oil production. In the 1920's oil was discovered in the area and much of the site has been developed and managed for oil extraction activities ever since. During World War II, it was feared that Japan would attack California. The U.S. Military constructed two bunkers at Bolsa Chica to defend the coastline. Some of the gun club buildings were used as barracks and gun batteries were built as part of the Coastal Protection System to protect the coastline and oil resources from Japanese attack. Gun turrets were also mounted on the mesa, but were only ever fired for testing purposes. The larger of the two bunkers was demolished in 1995. The smaller support bunker still exists but is closed off from public access. All that is left of the turrets are their circular frame. In the 1960s, most of Bolsa Chica was acquired by Signal Landmark and planning for the construction of a massive marina, commercial, and residential development was quickly underway. State officials objected. In 1973, as part of a controversial land swap, the developer set aside to the state of California, 300 acres of wetlands adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway. This action satisfied state officials but not members of the League of Women Voters, who, in 1976, decided to create a new group called the Amigos de Bolsa Chica http://www.amigosdebolsachica.org/ and the 20-year battle to save the wetlands began. In 1979 the 300 acres along PCH became the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. The remaining acreage was retained in private hands. In 1990 the Amigos de Bolsa Chica and the developer, now called Koll Real Estate, entered a joint agreement to create the Bolsa Chica Conservancy. The Conservancy's mission is to educate the public about the importance of wetlands. In 1992 the Bolsa Chica Land Trust http://www.bolsachicalandtrust.org was formed by individuals who thought more of Bolsa Chica should be saved from development than just the wetlands. In 1997 the Amigos spearheaded an effort that resulted in the state's acquisition of 880 acres of wetlands, along with an additional 41 acres purchased by the state in 2005, giving the public ownership of over 1200 acres of wetland/lowland. On August 24th, 2006, the $110 million Bolsa Chica lowland restoration project http://www.bolsachicarestoration.org, financed almost entirely by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as part of the mitigation for their expansion, opened to much fanfare from the press and public. The purpose of the project was to restore portions of the wetland ecosystem of the Bolsa Chica Lowlands. The project area covers about 1,247 acres. The Bolsa Chica Lowands Restoration Project created or rehabilitated nearly 600 acres of marine and wetland habitat, restoring part of what had historically been a vast estuarine ecosystem. The restoration project had five goals. 1) Removal and clean-up of oil extraction facilities from part of the wetlands area. 2) Restoration of full tidal influence through a new inlet across Bolsa Chica State Beach and the Pacific Coast Highway, bridge construction, and excavation of a tidal basin. 3) Creation and enhancement of aquatic habitats and intertidal wetlands. 4) Creation of nesting and feeding areas for threatened and endangered birds. 5) Preservation of non-tidal wetlands. The reopening of the tidal inlet, which had been closed back in the 1920s, created the biological benefits to reinvigorate the wetland ecosystem. Tidal restoration required a direct connection to the Pacific Ocean. In 2004 construction began and ended in the summer of 2006 when seawater flowed into the restored wetland for the first time in almost 100 years. The Bolsa Chica wetland restoration was the largest coastal wetland restoration ever undertaken in Southern California history. The Bolsa Chica Land Trust has been working for the past 15 years to increase the biodiversity of Bolsa Chica and to educate the pubic about what a great natural treasure Bolsa Chica is. As part of their effort to educate people about life at Bolsa Chica, they Trust produce a yearly calendar, "Wings Over Bolsa" http://www.bolsachicalandtrust.org/store.html. I was thrilled to have three of my photos printed in the 2012 calendar, including the May cover photo. Bolsa Chica is one of my favorite places to shoot. The change of seasons brings exciting photographic opportunities as each species participates in the cycles of life and migration. I am incredibly fortunate to live close to this wonderful wildlife resource. I absolutely love to be out in nature walking or waiting the hours away on a never ending quest to capture awesome nature stories.
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