Trail Guide for the Buena Vista Lagoon Ecological Reserve
Welcome! Please remember to take only memories and leave only footprints as you enjoy the quarter-mile Nature Trail loop. Thank you.
As you stroll around this trail, we hope you’ll ponder the questions, “How are these plants special?” and “How have they adapted to survive in this Mediterranean climate, with the hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters?” Look for different kinds of leaves. Try to figure out the advantages of their structure. (e.g., thick, waxy, fuzzy, spiny, etc.) These stations are numbered, clockwise around the trail.
#1 Lemonade Berry, Rhus integrifolia
The lemonade berry shrub’s leathery, green leaves cover it throughout the year. In the late winter and early spring, you will see clusters of small, sticky, pink flowers and perhaps glimpse a hummingbird stopping by to sip nectar. By the end of spring a red, block-shaped fruit has formed. It has a tart flavor that gives the plant its name. These berries are an important source of food for birds and small mammals. This shrub is also a great spot for animals to find shelter. If you stop awhile, you are likely to see small birds hopping among its leafy branches.
-- If there are berries, feel one. Is it sticky? Rub a finger over one and smell the juice. Does it remind you of lemon?
-- Feel the thick waxy leaf. How do you think it helps the plant survive hot dry summers?
-- Close your eyes so that you can concentrate on your sense of hearing. What do you hear? Do you hear any birds?
# 2 Torrey Pine, Pinus torreyana
This large, stately tree, the rarest pine species in the U.S., only occurs naturally along the S.D. County coast and on one of the Channel Islands. Some cultivated Torrey Pines, such as this one, are planted away from the coastal wind and have grown quite straight and tall. In contrast, wind often bends and shapes the trees you see on the coastal cliffs in Torrey Pines State Reserve. The Torrey Pine has adaptations that help it find water. Coastal fog provides enough moisture to gather on the long needles. The water drips from the needles to the ground where the tree’s shallow roots gather it. The tree also has a tap root that goes deep into the earth.
-- Look for a bundle (fascicle) of unbroken needles on the ground. Count how many needles are in a bundle.
-- Can you locate a pinecone on the ground? Smell it. Shake it. Do you hear any loose seeds? When they mature, the cones contain large seeds.
-- What lagoon animals might eat these seeds? Do you see any partially chewed cones on the trail?
# 3 Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
Notice the distinctive bark of the Western Sycamore. A water-loving tree, it is happy growing beside the lagoon. It is a deciduous tree, meaning it sheds leaves in the fall. Depending on the time of year, you may see bare branches stretching above you, be under a canopy of large green leaves, or notice brown leaves overhead and on the ground under your feet. Look up and notice the round balls hanging from the branches. In the late winter and spring these are flowers that will later mature to spiky seed balls. Those seeds are yummy food for birds! In the spring and summer months you may see caterpillars of the Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly munching on the leaves.
-- Feel the underside of the leaves. Hummingbirds use the fuzz to line their nests.
-- Take a closer look around your feet. Turn over some leaves or pieces of bark. Does anything scurry out from underneath? Insects often hide under debris.
# 4 East Dock / California Tule or Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus
Did you notice you went down a slight hill after leaving the sycamore tree and are now “in” the lagoon with water on both sides? Our raised trail allows us to walk out into the lagoon and explore the wetland habitat. California Tule or Bulrush is one of several reeds growing in the lagoon. Can you find it among the others? It has tall green stems topped with brown tassels of flowers and seeds. Their dense roots provide cover for young fish.
-- If one is within reach, feel the shape of the reed. How many sides does it have?
Look in the shallow water by the shore. What do you see? These little fish (Gambusia affinis) are known as “mosquitofish” so named because they eat mosquito larva. These freshwater fish have been used more than any other fishes for the biological control of mosquitoes.
-- What animals might eat the mosquitofish?
# 5 Spiny Rush, Juncus acutus
Spiny Rush is a common salt marsh perennial (meaning that it does not die every year but persists over time). It grows in clumps or tussocks in fresh and salt wetlands and grasslands.
-- Carefully feel how sharp the tip of a reed is. Ouch! If you were a lizard, would under this plant be a good place to hide from predators?
--Take a minute to look around. See any openings in the reeds or tromped-down grass that could be paths used by raccoons or squirrels? Though we don’t often see mammals along the trail. Many are nocturnal or avoid humans. But we do see evidence of their presence. Keep your eye out for tracks and other traces.
# 6 Pickleweed, Salicornia pacifica
Pickleweed is a low-growing succulent that dominates wetlands. These plants are described as “salt-loving” or halophytic, which means they can tolerate brackish environments. These plants accumulate salt and store extra in their tips, producing the reddish top segments at certain times of the year. When the storage cells are full, these tips turn red, die, and fall off. Pickleweed is an important part of the marsh food chain, eaten by rodents that in turn are food for predators, including birds.
-- Do you see any reddish tips on the plants?
# 7 Cattail Reeds, Typha domingensis
Do you see anything that looks like a cat’s tail or a hot dog on a stick? These are the pollinated flowers of the cattails. They develop into fluffy seeds, blowing across a pond in autumn breezes. Their flat blade-like leaves can reach heights of 3 to 10 feet. They are one of the most common plants in large marshes and on the edge of ponds. Cattails not only spread by their many seeds but also spread through their root system. The thick, white, root-like stems called rhizomes, grow underground near the edge of ponds. Cattails have a tendency to grow in thick, nearly impenetrable stands, blocking the view of open water. They can eventually take over and cover a pond.
-- Can you find any birds among the reeds?
-- Can you spot any nests?
# 8 West Dock
Take a moment to view the lagoon and the life in and around it. You are standing in California’s first Ecological Reserve. This important wetland habitat covers 223 acres, creating a home for at least 103 bird species, 18 mammal species, and 14 amphibian and reptile species. Buena Vista also serves as a valuable wetland habitat for migrating bird species from fall through spring.
--Do you see any birds on the open water, in the reeds, or in the air?
--If you were a migrating bird flying along this coast, would you stop here? Why or why not?
Thank you for visiting and enjoy the remainder of your trail walk.
Conservation Through Education, Advocacy, Land Management, and Monitoring
Buena Vista Audubon
PO Box 480
Oceanside, CA 92049
Tuesday 10 am-1 pm
Thursday 10 am-1 pm
Saturday 10 am-1 pm