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Where to Witness Fall Migration in Newport Beach

October 15, 2019

Sometimes a gray blip is just a gray blip. But sometimes—particularly if you’re paying close attention and even more so if you have binoculars on hand—it could be a California gnatcatcher, an endangered bird that dwells in the coastal sage scrub of Newport Beach’s Back Bay. In fact, Newport Beach is a playground for all sorts of roaming creatures, especially in the fall, when certain species of birds and whales pass through on migration. Whether you’re an avid birder, an animal enthusiast or just a casual hiker, here’s where you can spy on wildlife this fall.

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve (aka the Back Bay)

Sprawled across 1,000 acres of coastal wetlands, the Back Bay plays host to migratory waterfowl that journey from the Pacific Northwest to the warmth of our neck of the woods. Lather on some sunscreen, pack your binoculars (these birds won’t let you get too close) and hit the trail to spy on some unusual duck species like the bufflehead, which boasts a striking black-and-white patch on its head. Or the northern shoveler, which stands out thanks to its long, shovel-shaped bill. Or the northern pintail, which can be recognized by its slim neck and pointed tail. To increase your chances of spotting these winged creatures, arrive a little after dawn when they are most active and can be found busily foraging out in the water. (Because as the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm).

Whale Watching at Newport Coastal Adventure and Davey’s Locker

If you’re looking to get a closer look at sea creatures on their winter commute, hop aboard one of the whale-watching cruises offered by local businesses like Newport Coastal Adventure and Davey’s Locker. If you venture out anytime from October till the end of the year, you’ll have a good chance of spotting a minke whale. (Look for a white band on their flippers and a low, bushy blow when they surface for air). As they begin their migration from Alaska to Mexico, gray whales can also be seen in scattered groups. You might also see—if you’re so lucky—the long and sleek fin whale and the snub-nosed Risso’s dolphin. Nothing is a guarantee, but you can safely count on encountering common and bottlenose dolphins on any given trip. Not to mention, you might also spot California sea lions and harbor seals lolling about by the buoys. Word to the wise: check the business’ websites for a sightings log that’s updated daily.

Crystal Cove State Park

Calling all spider enthusiasts. It’s mating season, which means you might see a lot of creepy crawlers around Crystal Cove’s backcountry trails. (The 2,400-acre park encompasses 15 miles of backcountry trails and a 2.5-mile trail that runs along the coast bluffs). It’s especially true for tarantulas, as they come out of their burrows looking for love in the fall. If you’re squeamish, there’s still plenty for you to explore. On the coastal side, you’ll spot snowy plovers and white-crowned sparrows, which are almost a telltale sign of the seasons changing. In the backcountry, you might encounter yellow-rumped warblers, orange-crowned warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets. Might is a keyword here, as these little creatures are not so easy to identify by an untrained eye. Which is why the park hosts a slew of guided nature tours—fall migration bird walks, almost-full-moon hikes, seaweed and sea creatures walks—throughout the fall.

Written by Mariam Makatsaria

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