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Tour the Tijuana Estuary National Estuarine Research Reserve for a look at some of the 400+ species of birds that visit or nest here.

Four square miles of marshes, tidal creeks, and sage-and chaparral-covered hillsides in and around the Tijuana River Estuary enjoy federal protection under the tongue-twisting title "Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve." The area includes Border Field State Park, fronting the international border, and undeveloped tracts of land adjacent to the communities of Imperial Beach and San Ysidro.

Unlike the remnant bits of salt marsh surviving along other parts of the Southern California coastline, the broad Tijuana Estuary has survived, relatively unscathed, the advance of urbanization and its attendant destruction of wetland habitat. It is quite startling to gaze upon a vast, flat variegated carpet of gray and green, scored by a network of curving tidal creeks and brackish ponds, and realize that you are also looking deeply into California's past.

It's best to begin your exploration of the Tijuana River estuary and marsh with a stop at the reserve's visitors center on Caspian Way near Third Street in Imperial Beach (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily). As you approach the entrance, your footsteps take you across a stylized map of the Tijuana River drainage, which includes parts of the Laguna Mountains and a large section of Baja California. In addition to interactive exhibits inside the visitors center, a demonstration garden outside shows off various species of the typical yet fast-disappearing coastal sage-scrub vegetation that once blanketed San Diego's coastal mesas and hills.

This time of year, the big attraction in and around the marsh is birds. More than 400 species have been logged here so far, which is no surprise since the estuary is a key stopover on the Pacific Flyway -- the equivalent of Interstate 5 for bird-migration traffic. The reserve's best-known endangered inhabitants are the light-footed clapper rail and the California least tern. Visiting birds include ospreys, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons.

From the visitors' center, you can follow wide, marked trails west or south around the perimeter of the tidal basin -- the area subject to the incursions of both seawater and freshwater. You can also follow a path south from the end of Fifth Street, which will take you farther south and west toward the Tijuana River. Or you can start at the south terminus of Seacoast Drive for a walk along the beach (but not the dunes alongside, which are closed to protect nesting terns).

Call the visitors center, 619-575-3613, for more information about the reserve or to learn about and make reservations for guided nature hikes and special events.

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Four square miles of marshes, tidal creeks, and sage-and chaparral-covered hillsides in and around the Tijuana River Estuary enjoy federal protection under the tongue-twisting title "Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve." The area includes Border Field State Park, fronting the international border, and undeveloped tracts of land adjacent to the communities of Imperial Beach and San Ysidro.

Unlike the remnant bits of salt marsh surviving along other parts of the Southern California coastline, the broad Tijuana Estuary has survived, relatively unscathed, the advance of urbanization and its attendant destruction of wetland habitat. It is quite startling to gaze upon a vast, flat variegated carpet of gray and green, scored by a network of curving tidal creeks and brackish ponds, and realize that you are also looking deeply into California's past.

It's best to begin your exploration of the Tijuana River estuary and marsh with a stop at the reserve's visitors center on Caspian Way near Third Street in Imperial Beach (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily). As you approach the entrance, your footsteps take you across a stylized map of the Tijuana River drainage, which includes parts of the Laguna Mountains and a large section of Baja California. In addition to interactive exhibits inside the visitors center, a demonstration garden outside shows off various species of the typical yet fast-disappearing coastal sage-scrub vegetation that once blanketed San Diego's coastal mesas and hills.

This time of year, the big attraction in and around the marsh is birds. More than 400 species have been logged here so far, which is no surprise since the estuary is a key stopover on the Pacific Flyway -- the equivalent of Interstate 5 for bird-migration traffic. The reserve's best-known endangered inhabitants are the light-footed clapper rail and the California least tern. Visiting birds include ospreys, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons.

From the visitors' center, you can follow wide, marked trails west or south around the perimeter of the tidal basin -- the area subject to the incursions of both seawater and freshwater. You can also follow a path south from the end of Fifth Street, which will take you farther south and west toward the Tijuana River. Or you can start at the south terminus of Seacoast Drive for a walk along the beach (but not the dunes alongside, which are closed to protect nesting terns).

Call the visitors center, 619-575-3613, for more information about the reserve or to learn about and make reservations for guided nature hikes and special events.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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