There are a number of different habitats within the Upper Newport Bay. A habitat is a type of place where a particular animal or plant or group of animals and plants are most at home. In this type of place the general combination of food, water, shelter and space allows these plants and animals to thrive. Within any one geographical area there may be several habitats. The classification of habitats is a subject of much debate among naturalists. Some bird watchers, for instance, feel that as few as five habitats are sufficient to define where birds are seen at Upper Newport Bay. On the other hand some botanists have defined as many as 13 different habitats and as many as 21 distinct plant communities here at the Bay.
The set of six habitats shown below has been found to be of most benefit in categorizing the plants, birds, marine life and other life of Upper Newport Bay in a simple and consistent manner:
Open Water. – The bay itself as distinct from the bottom or the shores of the bay. Fish swim in open water and seabirds are seen overhead. The water is teeming with plankton. Seaweeds (algae) and submerged marine plants such as eel grass may be present.
Mudflat. – The areas of the shore exposed at low tide. As the name implies these areas are generally muddy and flat. Plant life is limited to algae. Worms, mollusks and other marine critters are found in abundance in the mud and shore birds are seen pecking at the surface or probing below the surface of the mud for food.
Saltmarsh. – The area of the shore from the mud flats to the high tide line. The plants in this area are adapted to being submerged in water and growing in salty soils. Cord grass thrives from the mid tide region upwards. Pickleweed is found in abundance in the high tide region and adjacent dry land which has salty soil.
Freshwater Marsh/Pond. – Water-loving plants such as cattails and sedges grow in and around the water. Many of these plants can tolerate mild to moderate salinity. Freshwater fish, crayfish and other critters live here. Numerous ducks will be found here, particularly in winter.
Riparian. – The area along side a river or stream or on the banks of a lake or pond. The plants in this area like moist soil but do not necessarily grow in the water. Willows are common. Cottonwoods and other trees and large shrubs are found. Bushtits, finches and hummingbirds will be seen here.
Upland. – The bluffs, cliffs and undeveloped mesas around the bay make up the upland habitat. The dry slopes abound with sagebrush and drought-resistant succulents such as dudleya and cactus are found. Turkey vultures and other birds of prey are at home here. They are seen soaring effortlessly in the upward currents of warm air along the bluffs.
Loss of habitat was identified as a major threat to the wildlife of California. While the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve and Nature Preserve are protected areas, this does not mean that UNB is not affected by loss or degradation of habitat. One key loss has been the loss of grassy upland areas on the bluffs surrounding the bay during the past decade. The development of Bonita Creek and San Joaquin Hills means that top predators like the coyote are less able to reach Upper Newport Bay. This enables other predators to thrive, possibly at the expense of endangered species.
Habitat Restoration projects replace invasive, non-native plants with native vegetation.
Non-native plants are a serious threat to upland habitats. Although they may look attractive, non-native plants provide little food or nesting opportunities for wildlife. They also tend to be aggressive, growing quickly and crowding out more valuable habitat.
Coastal Sage Scrub is a unique habitat found only in Southern and Baja California. At Upper Newport Bay both Coastal Sage Scrub and grassland environments have been subjected to an invasion of non native species and less than thoughtful recreational use.
Many plants and animals, at Upper Newport Bay depend on upland habitats, particularly Coastal Sage Scrub, for survival. Species such as the California Gnatcatcher could no longer survive here if the Coastal Sage Scrub habitat was depleted. Management efforts are helping maintain viable populations of this sensitive species.
The County of Orange, OC Parks, California Department of Fish and Game, the California Coastal Commission and the Newport BayConservancy (Volunteers) are committed to protecting and restoring the crucial habitats of Upper Newport Bay.
Resource management becomes necessary when natural areas become islands of open space surrounded by development. Habitat Restoration is an ongoing management effort to protect and restore healthy and diverse flora and fauna populations. For resource management to be successful, site user cooperation is important.
Staff and volunteers work together to restore the uplands by limiting recreational uses, removing non-native vegetation and replanting native vegetation. Please do your part by using only marked trails, keeping your dog on a six foot leash at all times and avoiding areas that are being restored. You DO make a difference.
“Never doubt a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that can.” – Margaret Mead
If you are interested in helping with our restoration efforts there are scheduled monthly restoration days open to the public. We can also arrange restoration projects for groups. (Scouts, High School or College Classes etc.)
Please contact Park Ranger Ellen Loftin at 949-923-2294.