Highlighting the Beauty of the Flora and Fauna of our Wetlands
The Shorebird Sanctuary exhibit is a home for birds, fishes, and native plants. Designed to resemble a wetland such as the Bolsa Chica State Marine Conservation Area, the exhibit features several microecosystems and shelters four species of shorebirds plus a diving duck.
Black-necked Stilts, Black-bellied Plovers, Western Snowy Plovers, a Killdeer, and Ruddy Ducks provide opportunities to observe and learn about these usually migratory birds, some of which liked the California climate so well that they became residents.
A coastal wetland is characterized by soil that is saturated by saltwater or a mix of fresh and saltwater (brackish) as a result of tidal flow and fresh water runoff. These areas support a wide range of plants and animals. The Shorebird Sanctuary exhibit has a mudflat that is typical of a Southern California wetland. Much like a tidepool has different zones, a tidal mudflat has very different characteristics in the high, middle, and low zones of the marsh. Each zone is typified by vegetation such as saltgrass that may just get its roots wet or eelgrass that is often totally submerged. These plants have adapted to the salt level of their habitat in different ways. Some exclude salt while others accumulate or excrete it.
There are about twenty plant species native to Southern California wetlands, but only a few that can tolerate the heavy salt-laden soil at the lowest elevations. One of these is sea-blite, Suaeda esteroa.
Estuary sea-blite, a 3-12 inch high salt tolerant plant, has button-like diminutive green flowers. It is the favorite host plant of the western pygmy blue butterfly (Brephidium exile). Only 3/8 inches wide, this tiny animal is one of the world’s smallest butterflies. The adult butterfly lays its blue-green eggs on the leaves of the plant. The caterpillars eat the leaves, flowers, and fruit while adults dine on the nectar of the flowers. Perhaps our Shorebird Sanctuary will attract and serve as a home for this local species.
It is estimated that California has lost more than 95 percent of its wetlands—more than any other state. With only 13,000 acres of wetlands remaining in Southern California, wintering sites for migratory birds traveling the Pacific Flyway have declined markedly. It is our hope that our Shorebird Sanctuary will both bring awareness about this issue that results in stewardship, and also highlight the beauty of the flora and fauna of our wetlands.