Newport’s Back Bay is a haven for birds, plants and humans – Orange County Register

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A wake of turkey vultures sits in a dead tree, prickly pears bloom on the cliffs above, and herons traverse swamp grass, feeding on small fish and critters.

Nearby, bikers, hikers, and runners all surround them on the 10.5 mile trail that forms part of one of Southern California’s most beautiful and diverse watersheds: The Nature Reserve. and Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve.

The views it offers to visitors can be breathtaking, making it a pleasant getaway among the urban sprawl of Orange County.

A hiker walks along the Delhi Canal at Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif. On Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
A great blue heron rests on a branch as a willet passes Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif. On Thursday, October 7, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
A cyclist rides on Back Bay Drive, which is part of the 10.5 miles of trails and residential streets that surround Back Bay in Newport Beach, California. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
A wake of turkey vultures sits in a dead tree along Back Bay Drive in Newport Beach, Calif. On Thursday, October 7, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
A hiker walks along the Delhi Canal, one of the tributaries of Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif., On Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)

In the 1960s, there were plans to develop the upper part of the bay with houses and boat docks, to dredge the swamp, and to reconfigure the shore. After a lawsuit and public campaign brought attention to the region’s ecological significance, it was designated a reserve in 1975.

Additional areas have been added over the years and today approximately 1.5 square miles of habitat have been preserved.

Estuaries such as The Back Bay (as the locals call it), where fresh and salt water combine with little wave action, serve many purposes for Mother Nature, and this also means visitors can enjoy everything from bird watching to paddle sports near its marshes.

The region is a flyway for the Pacific Flyway, a stopping point for more than 190 species of birds.

Willows hover over the water’s surface in Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif. On Thursday, October 7, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
A kayaker paddles through Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif. On Thursday, October 7, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
A turkey vulture soars at Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif. On Thursday, October 7, 2021. The birds have a wingspan of 6 feet but typically weigh only 2 to 4 pounds. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
A cyclist rides on a trail near Jamboree Road overlooking Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, CA, Tuesday, September 28, 2021. The trail shares a section of the longest Mountains-to-Sea trail. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
Two paddlers pass each other in Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif. On Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
Cyclists circle a bend on Back Bay Drive in Newport Beach, CA, Thursday, October 7, 2021. The route is part of a combination of trails, roads and residential streets that surround the Back Bay. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
Snowy Egret flies over the grasses at Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif. On Thursday, October 7, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)

It’s also a kind of nursery, said Ellen Loftin, OC Parks ranger, providing a safe haven for ocean fish to lay their eggs and young to mature.

Eventually, these fish return to the ocean and begin the cycle again.

In addition to supporting the varied wildlife and marine life that visitors will notice, the estuary’s abundant flora filters freshwater from waste and sediment from urban runoff and San Diego Creek mixing with water from the ocean.

It all comes together to make a functional and beautiful oasis.

And, if the path around Upper Newport Bay isn’t enough for you, it’s also connected to the 35-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail that runs from the Pacific Coast Highway to Newport Beach inland through Peter’s. Canyon and Irvine Regional Park in Orange. and up to Weir Canyon in Anaheim Hills.

An easy way to access the trailheads of The Back Bay is at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, 2301 University Drive, which offers free parking from 7 a.m. to sunset. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Events for the community are regularly organized.

OC Parks will be hosting their first Boo at the Bay Family Halloween Party at the Interpretive Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on October 30. Scary stories, science experiments, crafts and living animals are part of the event.

A prickly pear blooms on the cliffs of Castaways Park overlooking Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif. On Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
Upper Newport Bay and the buildings around Fashion Island can be seen from Castaways Park in Newport Beach, Calif. On Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
A dog checks the water at Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif., Tuesday, September 28, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
Red-headed vultures, seen along the Bayview Trail in Newport Beach, Calif. On Thursday, October 7, 2021, average 2 1/2 feet tall with a 6-foot wingspan. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
A view of Castaways Park shows PCH flying over Newport Harbor in Newport Beach, Calif. On Tuesday, September 28, 2021. The park is one of many scenic stops on the Back Bay Loop Trail. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)


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