A Bird Walk At San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary
The San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary is a well hidden secret right in the middle of the Irvine, in Orange County California. This park is tucked in between big roads full of traffic and tall buildings looming in the distance. The park is free to the public and open from dawn until dusk, seven days a week. This hidden oasis is a wonderful and unique place to go for an easy walk.
We are local to the Irvine area, so we have likely driven past this oasis many times without any clue that it was hidden there. Just off the major 405 freeway, and all of the busyness of Jamboree, there is a maze of trails surrounding ponds full of birds. It’s an unexpected place, but a welcome retreat so close to home.
According to the Sea and Sage Audubon, there are about 12 miles of trails throughout the sanctuary. They have recorded over 200 species of birds being spotted here. The most notable aspect of this place is how quiet and peaceful it it. We walked about 3 miles here, and frequently, felt that we were not in the “city” anymore. The birds are so fun to spot, and the ponds are a beautiful sight in this typically dry place.
The Sea and Sage Audubon House is located at the main parking area, and provided information and education. Parking is free and available at 5 Riparian Way, with overflow parking available in an adjacent parking lot. There is a small nature park right by the house and parking, which has a butterfly garden and some other features.
On our time around the park, we visited every pond and saw a great variety of birds. We saw lots of ducks and big pelicans, a feisty hawk, swooping swallows, and a few hummingbirds, wrens, and various other birds. We heard owls a few times, but never spotted them. And we’re pretty sure we heard some frogs a couple of times! Courtesy of all of the rain of late 2018 and early 2019, the wildflowers were blooming in force and the bushes and trees were all bright green. The colors in SoCal right now are just amazing, and makes us wish it could stay this bright and colorful. The sage brush was bigger and more green than we’ve seen in Orange County, and as fragrant as you’d expect!
For us, this was a great option to hike while all of the OC Parks and Laguna Canyon trail systems were closed due to all of the rain. We respect those trail closures to protect the places we love to hike and bike, but it leaves us without many options for getting active outside. This marsh sanctuary is a perfect option for a post-rain, all of the trails are closed, hiking day. Bikes and dogs are not allowed. Restrooms and a small picnic area is located at the main entrance.
The paths are all dirt, which was somewhat muddy in places after all of our rain. The trails are all flat and very easy to walk. Grab a map from the Audubon House or the sign at the parking area. The trails are easy to follow, but it can get a little maze like in places! If you have binoculars, bring them along - if not, check out a pair at the Audubon House!
A fun bit of history, this park dates back over 100 years. This used to be the site of a duck hunting club! No shooting these days, since it’s a beautiful sanctuary, but there is some history here as this place has been around for a very long time!
This park is worth a visit, even if not local, but as locals, we will definitely be returning to visit more in the future. The 300-acre freshwater San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary is a treasure. For bird watching or a walk in nature, this is a special place.