Don’t forget your binoculars!
by Libby Smith
The mouth of the Santa Ynez River opens up west of Lompoc and spreads out in a wide body of water before emptying into the ocean at Ocean Beach Park. The river travels 92 miles through canyons, campgrounds, cities, farms, ranches and several dams to end up at a wild and remote area known for fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing. Low tide, high tide, morning, evening it’s so different every time I go!
What’s this large body of water called-marsh, slough, delta? Geologists define it as an estuary, a partially enclosed coastal body of water with one or more rivers flowing into it with a connection to the sea. I call it great bird watching! An estuary can also be called a bay, lagoon, sound or slough.
The estuary at Ocean Beach is a Bar Built estuary, which is created when sandbars are formed due to ocean currents pushing sand and sediment towards the shore. Low volume rivers flowing into the area form a lagoon when unable to push through the sandbar. After the first heavy winter rains, watch the river break through the sand bar and flow into the sea!
Estuaries form a brackish transition zone between fresh water and salt water and provide an environment for plants and animals that can’t survive in rivers or oceans. This makes for a unique and productive habitat and a great opportunity to see a variety of plants, mammals and birds. I usually see egrets, terns, cormorants, herons, pelicans and hawks when I visit.
To visit Ocean Beach Park, take Highway 246 (West Ocean Ave) towards the coast and turn right on Ocean Park Road to the park entrance. The park is open 8:00AM to sunset. Don’t forget your binoculars!
Note: The beach is closed from March 1 to September 30 for Snowy Plover nesting season but the estuary is always open.