An educational visit to the Living Coast Discovery Center!

Bat ray rises against glass of an outdoor tank at the Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista.
Bat ray rises against glass of an outdoor tank at the Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista.

Before my hike through Sweetwater Marsh, I enjoyed a visit to the Living Coast Discovery Center, which is located inside the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Exhibits inside the center and clusters of wildlife tanks and enclosures outside allow visitors to see and learn about the animals that make this refuge their home. The place is just right for families, with kid-size educational displays, short, easy paths, and even some picnic tables. If I were a young kid, having a birthday party here would be really cool!

After checking out the exhibits at the Living Coast Discovery Center, I ventured over to an adjacent building that is the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex headquarters. Some great displays outside provide more information about the unique and beautiful wetland that stretches in all directions. Not far from this building, one can easily find a hiking trail that leads across the marsh to San Diego Bay.

The Living Coast Discovery Center, located in the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, is where to get Back to Nature.
The Living Coast Discovery Center, located in the Sweetwater Marsh Unit of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, is where to get Back to Nature.
A short bus ride takes one from the parking lot near Interstate 5 through the protected Sweetwater Marsh to the kid-friendly education center.
A short bus ride takes one from the parking lot near Interstate 5 through the protected Sweetwater Marsh to the kid-friendly education center.
People near the green sea turtle exhibit at the front of the Living Coast Discovery Center.
People near the green sea turtle exhibit at the front of the Living Coast Discovery Center.
Many species of reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and fish are on display inside the small center. There's even a mouse house popular with kids.
Many species of reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and fish are on display inside the small center. There’s even a mouse house popular with kids.
Outside, visitors can explore exhibits featuring sharks, rays, birds and tortoises. One can also look across the surrounding Sweetwater Marsh.
Outside, visitors can explore exhibits featuring sharks, rays, birds and tortoises. One can also look across the surrounding Sweetwater Marsh.
Actions on land affect San Diego Bay. Pollution runoff flows via creeks, rivers and storm drains into the marsh then out to the ocean.
Actions on land affect San Diego Bay. Pollution runoff flows via creeks, rivers and storm drains into the marsh then out to the ocean.
A leopard shark. They are plentiful in the waters off San Diego.
A leopard shark. They are plentiful in the waters off San Diego.
This 3-million-year-old fossilized tusked walrus skull was found in the area. 470 different species have been found as fossils here, including sperm whales and now extinct flightless auk!
This 3-million-year-old fossilized tusked walrus skull was found in the area. 470 different species have been found as fossils here, including sperm whales and now extinct flightless auks!
Enclosures in the aviary area contain clapper rails, shorebirds and ducks.
Enclosures in the aviary area contain clapper rails, shorebirds and ducks.
A blue-billed ruddy duck swims in a pool of water at the Living Coast Discovery Center.
A blue-billed ruddy duck swims in a pool of water at the Living Coast Discovery Center.
In other parts of the aviary area one can see vultures, hawks, eagles and owls.
In other parts of the aviary area one can see vultures, hawks, eagles and owls.
A red-tailed hawk.
A red-tailed hawk.
Beautiful artwork on one building's side shows a beach and birds in flight. Swallows have built nests above it near the roof.
Beautiful artwork on one building’s side shows a beach and birds in flight. Swallows have built nests above it near the roof.
Bronze sculpture of a coyote. Many other works of wildlife art can be viewed around the center.
Bronze sculpture of a coyote. Many other works of wildlife art can be viewed around the center.
Sign near an enclosure describes the Sonoran desert tortoise.
Sign near an enclosure describes the Sonoran desert tortoise.
A tortoise take a slow stroll outside the Living Coast Discovery Center.
A tortoise take a slow stroll outside the Living Coast Discovery Center.
This amazing art showing marshland birds is just outside the entrance to the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex headquarters.
This amazing art depicting marshland birds is just outside the entrance to the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex headquarters.
Large signs explain the role of a wildlife refuge.
Large signs explain the role of a wildlife refuge.
National Wildlife Refuges are safe havens for species. The first one, at Pelican Island in Florida, was created in 1903 by Theodore Roosevelt.
National Wildlife Refuges are safe havens for species. The first one, at Pelican Island in Florida, was created in 1903 by Theodore Roosevelt.
Map of the extensive San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Map of the extensive San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
The wildlife refuge contains great biodiversity. The animals and plants are all parts of a complex and sensitive ecosystem.
The wildlife refuge contains great biodiversity. The animals and plants are all parts of a complex and sensitive ecosystem.
Different forms of life can be found in subtidal channels, mudflats, the low march and high marsh. The changing tide allows birds to feed and varied species to thrive.
Different forms of life can be found in subtidal channels, mudflats, the low marsh and high marsh. The changing tide allows birds to feed and variously adapted species to thrive.
Wildlife can find it hard to thrive in urban areas. The conserved habitat of this refuge is a critical safe harbor for many native species.
Wildlife can find it hard to thrive in urban areas. The conserved habitat of this refuge is a critical safe harbor for many native species.
This place is special. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps to protect its wild residents.
This place is special. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps to protect its wild residents.
A green sea turtle, one of those residents of San Diego Bay!
A green sea turtle, one of those residents of San Diego Bay!

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Photos from a short hike through Sweetwater Marsh.

A group begins a nature hike down a trail at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
A group begins an easy nature hike down a trail at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

On Saturday I visited Gunpowder Point, just south of where the Sweetwater River empties into San Diego Bay. The marshy area is a wildlife refuge. It’s part of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, to be exact, and home of the popular Living Coast Discovery Center.

After visiting the Living Coast Discovery Center, I enjoyed a guided nature hike down a short trail through the Sweetwater Marsh.

I was pleasantly surprised by the bare natural beauty. I didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife during this visit, but I know our region’s marshes and estuaries are often teeming with birds. San Diego is part of the Pacific Flyway, a major route of migratory birds that stretches from Alaska to South America.

A map inside the nearby Living Coast Discovery Center show the location of the Sweetwater River and the marsh where it enters San Diego Bay.
A map inside the nearby Living Coast Discovery Center shows the location of the Sweetwater River and the marsh where it enters San Diego Bay.
Hiking through Chula Vista's protected Sweetwater Marsh on a sunny day. It's mid-May and the once green and flowering plants have begun to dry out.
Hiking through Chula Vista’s protected Sweetwater Marsh on a sunny day. It’s mid-May and the once green and flowering plants have begun to dry out.  In this photo I see some prickly pear cactus.  During the hike I also recognized black sage and coastal sagebrush.
Our guide shows us saltbush. It is adapted to the type of salty soil in this marsh on San Diego Bay. Its leaves taste salty!
Our guide shows us saltbush. It is adapted to the type of salty soil in this coastal marsh. Its leaves taste salty!
Sign by the trail. This area is called Gunpowder Point. During World War I, Hercules Powder Co. extracted potash and acetone here from kelp harvested offshore in the Pacific Ocean. These were used to make cordite, or smokeless gunpowder for the British.
Sign by the trail. This area is called Gunpowder Point. During World War I, Hercules Powder Co. extracted potash and acetone here from kelp harvested offshore in the Pacific Ocean. These were used to make cordite, also called smokeless gunpowder, for the British.
A sail on the bay beyond a drying field of San Diego Sunflowers.
A sail on the bay beyond a drying field of San Diego Sunflowers.
The short, easy hike is ideal for families.
The short, easy hike is ideal for families.
Some sunflowers are still yellow.
Some sunflowers are still yellow.
The San Diego Sunflower, or Bahiopsis laciniata, is often found in a coastal sage scrub environment.
The San Diego Sunflower, or Bahiopsis laciniata, is often found in a coastal sage scrub environment.
The Silver Strand and Coronado Cays can be seen across San Diego Bay.
The Silver Strand and Coronado Cays can be seen across San Diego Bay.
We've arrived at the wildlife reserve's narrow sandy shore. Birds could be seen here and there in the distance.
We’ve arrived at the wildlife refuge’s narrow sandy shore. Birds could be seen here and there in the distance.
As the group continues on, I linger to take in the sunshine and wide views. I notice what appears to be remnants of the potash manufacturing operation from years ago.
As the group continues on, I linger to take in the sunshine and wide views. I notice what appears to be remnants of the potash manufacturing operation from years ago. Some benches allow rest and meditation.
Stones and debris on a beach in the wildlife refuge.
Stones and debris on a beach in the wildlife refuge.
Some mysterious (to me) concrete ruins on Gunpowder Point.
Some mysterious (to me) concrete ruins on Gunpowder Point.
I arrived at a bird observation lookout. All was very quiet. I saw a California least tern hunting small fish along the water's edge. Few people seem to come out here.
I arrived at a bird observation structure. All was very quiet. I saw a California least tern hunting small fish along the water’s edge. Few people seem to come out here.
Depending on the tide, the area near the shore can be open water or a mudflat that supports shorebirds searching for food.
Depending on the tide, the area near the shore can be open water or a mudflat that supports shorebirds searching for food.
Bird's beaks are specially designed for feeding. Some beaks filter plants from the water, some grab flies out of the air, and some probe the mud.
Bird’s beaks are specially designed for feeding. Some beaks filter plants from the water, some grab flies out of the air, and some probe the mud.
The tide must have been out, because this platform stood above a drying mudflat.
The tide must have been out, because this platform stood above a drying mudflat.  I believe that might be bright green eelgrass in the shallow pool of water.
Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, or crystalline ice plant, is salt tolerant. My hike through the marsh produced some beautiful surprises.
Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, or crystalline ice plant, is salt tolerant. My hike through the marsh produced some beautiful surprises.
Hiking through an expanse of green in San Diego's South Bay.
Hiking through an expanse of green in San Diego’s South Bay.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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Caterpillar walks on crab beneath birds!

Bronze birds near entrance of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge and regional complex headquarters in Chula Vista.
Bronze birds near entrance of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge and regional complex headquarters in Chula Vista.

Having some fun!

Today I visited the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista. I should have a couple blog posts coming up with lots of photos.

First, here’s a fearless caterpillar that I spotted walking on a crab under some birds. The crab and bronze shorebirds are artwork in front of the wildlife refuge headquarters! The visiting caterpillar is a resident of the surrounding marsh. Perhaps it’s an art lover!

I searched the internet for a few minutes, trying to identify this particular fuzzy caterpillar. No success. Leave a comment if you know!

The representation of a crab underneath the bronze shorebirds is being visited by a living creature.
An inanimate crab beneath the bronze shorebirds is being visited by a living creature.
A fuzzy caterpillar makes its way over the crab.
A fuzzy caterpillar makes its way over the crab.
Wildlife living in the Sweetwater Marsh meets art.
Wildlife living in the Sweetwater Marsh meets art.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

A short hike in San Diego National Wildlife Refuge.

There was no need to alter this photo in the slightest way. The colors appeared astonishingly bright this morning in the sunlit mountains and hills east of San Diego.
There was no need to alter this photo in the slightest way. Nature’s colors appeared astonishingly rich this morning in the sunlit mountains and hills east of San Diego.

My 9:00 hike this morning turned out to be shorter than expected. That’s because I was the only one to show up for a scheduled nature hike in a beautiful section of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Following directions, I parked a few minutes early at the Par 4 trailhead in Jamul, near the Cottonwood Golf Course. I kept checking my watch, hoping the US Fish & Wildlife Service ranger would arrive. I was looking forward to identifying the spring wildflowers and flowering plants along the trail. But it wasn’t to be. I suppose the event was cancelled due to yesterday’s rain.

I didn’t walk far because I didn’t want to adversely impact the still wet trail. Near the trailhead the footing was packed and firm, and my shoes barely made an impression, but perhaps a quarter mile into my hike there was just too much mud to continue.

As you can see, the hills of San Diego are bright green! This winter has been very rainy. During the summer the green in these photos will vanish as the native grasses, sagebrush and scrubby chaparral dry out in the relentless Southern California sun.

During my short hike, I did capture a few photos of tiny flowers and a bird! I’m sorry to report that I can’t properly identify them. Perhaps you can!

Sign at the Par 4 trailhead includes information for hikers and those on horseback. The trail follows the Sweetwater River in Jamul.
Sign at the Par 4 trailhead includes information for hikers and those on horseback. The trail follows the Sweetwater River in Jamul.
The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex includes four areas designed to protect wildlife in Southern California.
The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex includes four areas designed to protect wildlife in Southern California. (Click image to enlarge.)
There are patchy wildlife refuges in some of San Diego County's undeveloped areas. This map shops where they are located. The Par 4 trailhead is near the top of the bigger green blob.
There are various wildlife refuges in San Diego County’s undeveloped areas. This map shows where several managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service are located. The Par 4 trailhead is near the top of the bigger green blob.
A wet trail heads west over a green landscape. Many birds were seen flying across the open space.
A damp trail leads west over a green landscape. Many birds were seen flying across this open space. The morning’s short hike was made pleasurable by a fresh cool breeze and warm sunlight.
Beautiful tiny yellow flowers and raindrops on green leaves. What this plant is, I don't know. Leave a comment if you do!
Beautiful tiny yellow flowers and lingering raindrops on green leaves. What this plant is, I don’t know. Leave a comment if you do!
I spotted this little bird perched on a twig near the hiking trail.
I spotted this little bird perched on a twig near the hiking trail.
I tried to identify this small bird, using my California Birds pocket guide, but I couldn't decide. If you know, leave a comment!
I tried to identify this small bird using my California Birds pocket guide, but I couldn’t decide. If you know, leave a comment!
I'm no expert, but I did find these tiny jewel-like lavender flowers to be beautiful.
I’m no expert, but I did find these tiny jewel-like lavender flowers to be beautiful.
Dramatic white clouds in a blue sky. Natural beauty in San Diego's East County the day after a big storm.
Dramatic white clouds in a blue sky. Natural beauty in San Diego’s East County the day after a big storm.

After this very small hike, I drove along Highway 94 to Campo, winding my way through bright green rocky mountains. Then I headed back toward San Diego via Buckman Springs and Pine Valley, without any particular notion of where to stop. Then it occurred to me: Why not hike Cowles Mountain today? So I did, as you’ll see in the next blog post!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Fun street art on Mission Center Road!

Street art on Mission Center Road north of Friars Road depicts nature along the nearby San Diego River.
Street art on Mission Center Road north of Friars Road depicts wildlife along the nearby San Diego River.

Several electrical boxes on Mission Center Road just north of Friars Road have been painted with fun street art.  This morning I took a small detour while walking to work to snap a few photos.

A snowy egret beautifully painted on a Mission Valley transformer box.
A snowy egret beautifully painted on a Mission Valley transformer.
Street art shows a mallard and three ducklings in some grass near the San Diego River.
A mallard and three ducklings in some grass near the San Diego River.
A funny sketch on an electrical box. A gull is carrying away a bag of chips!
A funny sketch on an electrical box. A gull is carrying away a bag of chips!
Welcome to Mission Valley. This street art greets drivers heading along Mission Center Road.
Welcome to Mission Valley. A rabbit greets drivers heading along Mission Center Road.
This historic old building is located a few miles to the east. The Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, founded in 1769, first Spanish mission in Alta California.
This historic old building is located a few miles to the east. Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, founded in 1769, first Spanish mission in Alta California.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Bird sightings along San Diego’s Embarcadero!

A seagull stands atop a pile of nets and floats on San Diego's picturesque G Street Pier.
A seagull stands atop a pile of nets and floats on San Diego’s picturesque G Street Pier.

You won’t believe all the birds I identified today during my walk along the Embarcadero. You really will not believe it!

Check out these fun flighty photos taken beside beautiful San Diego Bay!

American coots (also called mud hens) on rocks near the Marriott Marina.
American coots (also called mud hens) stand on rocks near the Marriott Marina.
A Canada goose on San Diego's Embarcadero! Now that's a very unusual sight! This bird seems to have joined a local flock of American coots. Maybe it was blown off course during the recent windy storm.
A Canada goose on San Diego’s Embarcadero! Now that’s a very unusual sight! This bird seems to have joined a local flock of American coots. Maybe it was blown off course during the recent windy storm.
Another strange bird near the sparkling water about to take flight! Oh, wait. My mistake.
Another strange bird near the sparkling water about to take flight! Oops. My mistake.
A female black-crowned night heron among rocks near the Embarcadero Marina Park South pier.
A female black-crowned night heron among rocks near the Embarcadero Marina Park South pier.
A gathering of pigeons on the grass at Embarcadero Marina Park North.
A gathering of pigeons on the grass at Embarcadero Marina Park North.
Rare exotic birds photographed in flight! Oops. Those are kites. Fooled me again.
Rare exotic birds photographed in flight! Oops. Those are actually colorful kites. Fooled me again!
I've arrived at Seaport Village. Okay, I'm certain these are real birds--maybe. Looks like a parrot, flamingo and some egrets.
I’ve arrived at Seaport Village. Okay, I’m certain these are real birds–maybe. Looks like a parrot, flamingo and some egrets.
Birds and sea lions await handouts of leftover fish parts. Early Saturday afternoon, and the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market is wrapping up.
Gulls, pelicans and sea lions await handouts of leftover fish parts. Early Saturday afternoon, and the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market is wrapping up.
Two sneaky gulls with watchful eyes.
Two sneaky gulls with hungry, watchful eyes.
There's gotta be some yummy fish scraps here somewhere!
There’s gotta be some yummy fish scraps here somewhere!
Commercial fishermen unload on the small dock behind this gate at Tuna Harbor. Birds wait eternally here, too!
Commercial fishermen unload on the small dock behind this gate at Tuna Harbor. Birds wait eternally here, too!
A bird in the sky above broad-winged sailboats flying across San Diego Bay.
A bird in the sky above broad-winged sailboats flying across San Diego Bay.
Seabirds love hanging out around the fishing vessels at Tuna Harbor.
Seabirds love hanging out around the fishing vessels at Tuna Harbor.
A snowy egret near the net of a live bait catching purse seiner.
A snowy egret near the net of a live bait catching purse seiner.
A double-crested cormorant flaps its wings in the water of San Diego Bay near the USS Midway.
A double-crested cormorant flaps its wings in the water of San Diego Bay near the USS Midway.
Birds above an ocean wave, painted on a ceramic tile by a young person. Many fun tile benches along the Embarcadero were created for a project titled Celebrating the Big Bay in 2004.
Birds above an ocean wave, painted on a ceramic tile by a young person. Many fun tile benches along the Embarcadero were created for a project called Celebrating the Big Bay in 2004.
Many birds in flight.
Many birds in flight.

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Kayakers, volunteers clean San Diego River Estuary!

Many ordinary people came out today to help clean up the San Diego River Estuary.
Many ordinary people came out today to help clean up the San Diego River Estuary.

Lots of good people volunteered to clean up the San Diego River Estuary today. Some took to kayaks, others walked along the shoreline, filling bags with nasty litter and debris. The river estuary, emptying into the Pacific Ocean between Mission Bay and Ocean Beach, is a very important wetland in this region, and millions of birds rely on it during their migrations. Small bits of trash ingested by birds and other wildlife can be fatal.

The estuary cleanup was organized by The San Diego River Park Foundation. Kayakers are permitted to enter the San Diego River Estuary only one time every year–during this special event. I walked along the river and saw what ordinary people can achieve when working unselfishly for the good of our world.

A sign directs people to the river cleanup.
A sign directs people to the river cleanup.
Beautiful white clouds are reflected in the calm water of the San Diego River.
Beautiful white clouds are reflected in the calm water of the San Diego River as it approaches the ocean.
Many birds make the river and its sandbanks their home, including ducks, herons and egrets.
Many birds make the river and its mud flats their home, including ducks, herons and egrets.
A photographer captures images of waterfowl swimming through grass down the river.
A photographer captures images of waterfowl swimming through grass down the river.
My camera isn't quite so fancy, but I did get an okay photo of this snowy egret!
My camera isn’t quite so fancy, but I did get an okay photo of this snowy egret!
As I walked west along the San Diego River, I noticed a number of kayaks out on the water.
As I walked west along the San Diego River, I noticed a number of kayaks out on the water.
A sign by the river describes the problem of stormwater pollution. During rains, a good deal of runoff enters the estuary, carrying all sorts of pollutants and trash. (I had to really alter this photo so we could make out what the old sign says.)
A sign by the river describes the problem of stormwater pollution. During rains, a good deal of runoff enters the estuary, carrying all sorts of pollutants and trash. (I had to really alter this photograph so we could make out what the old sign says. Click the image to enlarge it.)
A cleanup volunteer with a kayak is arriving!
A cleanup volunteer with a kayak is arriving!
Plastic bags in these kayaks have been filled with garbage found in the river.
Plastic bags in these kayaks have been filled with garbage found in the river. I learned much of it was snagged in the grass.
Dozens of caring people were on the rocky river shore, looking for trash.
Dozens of caring people were on the rocky river shore, looking for trash.
San Diego is fortunate to have many thoughtful people, concerned about our environment.
San Diego is fortunate to have many thoughtful people, concerned about our environment.
Volunteering is often a family affair, teaching the next generation about generosity and responsibility.
Volunteering is often a family affair, teaching the next generation about generosity and responsibility.
This guy is carrying his kayak back to his car.
This guy was carrying his kayak back to his car.
Another guy showed me the trash he collected. He said he found a variety of garbage. Some of it is windblown. Some comes from Interstate 5 and other bridges which cross the river nearby.
Another guy showed me the trash he collected. He said he found a variety of garbage. Some flows downstream. Some of it is windblown. Some comes from Interstate 5 and other bridges which cross the river nearby.
A tent where people can sign up to volunteer and learn more about The San Diego River Park Foundation.
A tent where people can sign up to volunteer and learn more about The San Diego River Park Foundation.
From the mountains to the ocean, we care for the San Diego River!
From the mountains to the ocean, we care for the San Diego River!
Sadly, the river isn't healthy. A grade is assigned each year based upon trash, water quality and the extent of invasive plants.
Sadly, the river isn’t healthy. A grade is assigned each year based upon trash, water quality and the extent of invasive plants.
Sign shows volunteering possibilities. (Click these sign images to read--they will enlarge.)
Sign shows volunteering possibilities. (Click these sign images to read–they will enlarge.)
Picking up garbage and readying kayaks underneath the West Mission Bay Bridge.
Picking up garbage and readying kayaks underneath the West Mission Bay Bridge.
Collected trash was placed in a nearby dumpster.
Collected trash was placed in a nearby dumpster.
Smiles in the San Diego sunlight. A perfect day to make our world cleaner, healthier and more beautiful.
Smiles in the San Diego sunlight. A perfect day to make our world cleaner, healthier and more beautiful.
Kayakers launch into the San Diego River during a special event to clean the estuary.
Kayakers launch into the San Diego River during a special event to clean the estuary.

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