A migrant/vagrant trap masquerading as a city park, 356-acre Huntington Central Park lies between two of Orange County’s better-known hotspots: Bolsa Chica and Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserves. Depending on schedule and whim, my husband and I make the pilgrimage to the location with enthusiasm and regularity. Good birding can be had here nearly every day of the year, but winter, spring, and autumn are best.
A variety of landscape zones — mature trees, expanses of lawn, seasonal marshy areas, ponds, and thick shrubbery — attract an array of birds transitting the Pacific Flyway. California Towhee, Allen’s and Anna’s hummingbirds, and Red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawks are residents. Peregrine Falcon and Osprey are sighted regularly. Hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and a Townsend’s or two call the park home during the winter.
Between January and May 2006, the park hosted a dazzling array of migrants and vagrants, including five over-wintering White-throated Sparrows and a Swamp Sparrow. Hooded Mergansers and Red Phalarope were seen swimming on the ponds. MacGillivray’s Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Plumbeous Vireo, and Summer Tanager were also discovered. — Catherine Waters
Urban city park containing mature exotic trees, man-made ponds and marshes, shrubbery, and maintained lawns in a coastal marine environment. Constructed on abandoned oil fields.
Changes in terrain are gradual. Wide, level, concrete sidewalks are wheelchair-accessible. Divided by north-south-running Goldenwest Street; both west and east sides are productive for birding.
Residents: Song Sparrow, California Towhee, Anna’s Hummingbird, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk. Unusual birds recorded since January 2006: Common Poorwill, White-throated Sparrow, and Gray Flycatcher. Past rarities: Brown Thrasher, Painted Bunting, Indigo Bunting, and Varied Thrush.
When to go
Every day of the year can be good, but winter, spring, and autumn are best.
Restrooms, water fountains, picnic areas, and two simple restaurants with outdoor dining. Shipley Nature Center, an 18-acre natural area within the park, is open 9-1 every day but Sunday.
Public park. Open dawn to dusk, admission free. Parking free at all lots.
The park is a popular community gathering place, especially on weekends; mornings and late afternoons are best for birding. Less than two miles away, the Pacific Ocean can produce brisk temperatures and make the park damp. Dress in light layers, and wear water-resistant footwear.