Saturday, January 5, 2008

Shipley Nature Center

The gate into Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Central Park
Opened in 1974, Shipley Nature Center is an 18-acre sanctuary for wildlife located in the West side of Huntington Central Park on the same side of Central Park as the original Alice's Breakfast in the Park--now Kathy May's Lakeview Cafe. Owned by the City of Huntington Beach, it is a wonderful Nature Center that has overcome past neglect and come back through the hard work of dedicated docents and volunteers who have re-created this natural sanctuary for birds and animals. From hummingbirds to coyotes, there isn't much Shipley Nature Center doesn't have. It is one of my favorite places to go birding in Orange County.

Shipley Nature Center is named after Donald DeVries Shipley, former mayor of Huntington Beach.

Shipley Nature Center is named after Donald DeVries Shipley the former mayor of Huntington Beach who was one of those responsible for setting aside the land for Huntington Central Park. Shipley was a biology professor--and not the only former Huntington Beach Mayor to come from that field--and conservation was a high priority for him. It is fitting that the Nature Center is named after him.

Map of the trails
The walking trail is .5 miles and takes about 20 minutes to walk if you don't stop, but you should stop. There is a lot to see in Shipley Nature Center that takes time. Even though it is a small nature center, it has attracted attention from around the world and even been a segment on one of my favorite shows, California Gold with Huewell Houser. You can watch it here. Stop in at the 1,500 square foot interpretive center to get a trail guide and talk to the docents. Check out the exhibits.

Near the actual Nature Center Building is the Hummingbird Garden.

The Nature Center was a great place in the 1980's, and I went birdwatching there often. But between 1980 and 2002, the Nature Center became overgrown and eventually neglected. Saved by a group of citizens who did much work to restore and improve the Nature Center including removing alien plants and restoring native plants, installing an irrigation system, repairing the trails. it re-opened less than a year after it closed. It has a great new look and is being maintained by volunteers. Shipley Nature Center is currently owned by the City of Huntington Beach, but maintained and run by the non-profit organization The Friends of the Shipley Nature Center.

Great place to sit and look for warblers in the fall and spring.

Shipley Nature Center has a variety of habitats including oak woodlands, Torrey pines, meadows, a natural freshwater wetland with mature willows and sycamores, and a small group of redwood trees.

Path heading past the redwoods to Blackbird pond.

Head out on a shady path and stop under the trees to look for warblers and other birds in the tree canopy.   There is a nice bench where you can sit and listen to the birds in the shade. You can scan the branches with your binoculars.

Ferns growing under redwood trees.

Shipley Nature Center has over 40 redwoods on .5 acres of land. About half are mature trees and half young trees. The tallest is over 70 feet high. It is one of the few stands of redwood trees in Southern California. Pretty good for an 18 acre wildlife sanctuary.

Blackbird Pond--the water level varies with the water table.

When the water level in Blackbird Pond is medium to high, you can find herons and egrets and Red-winged Blackbirds by the pond. Birds come from all over the park to drink at Blackbird pond.  

Red-winged Blackbird in a tree overlooking Blackbird Pond.

You can see birds fishing, swimming, and drinking at Blackbird Pond.   There is an observation station overlooking the pond.   It is a great place to sit and check out the wildlife.   When the water level is very high, some of the trails will be closed due to flooding.   This is because this is a natural pond whose level rises and falls with the water table as do all the lakes in Huntington Central Park. Whe n there is a drought, Blackbird Pond can become a mud puddle.  When it rains buckets for long periods of time,  Blackbird Pond can overflow into the surrounding habitat and cutoff the some trails. Both drought and flooding have occurred in the last few years.

Covered Observation station overlooking Blackbird Pond.

I often sit in the covered observation platform and watch the birds in the pond and nearby shrubs and plants.   Lots of hummingbirds come to the flowering plants near the station. The numerous bushes with berries attract many birds including the Cedar Waxwing.  You may see Lesser Goldfinches in the bush sunflowers.   Wait for a while and see what flies in.

Beautiful Cacti blooming above Blackbird Pond.

You can see beautiful flowers of many kinds at Shipley Nature Center including blooming cacti. Even the hummingbirds like the prickly succulent.

Male Anna's Hummingbird watching for insects or intruders.

In addition to hummingbirds, many butterflies can be seen in Huntington Central Park and in the Nature Center. These include Monarch Butterflies which flock to the milkweed in certain areas of the Center, Western Swallowtails, Fruittiaries, Cabbage Butterflies, Mourning Cloaks, lots of skippers. Check out the butterfly garden. 

Cedar Waxwings in a tree overlooking Blackbird Pond near some berry bushes.

There are shrubs that produce berries along the fence above Blackbird pond. One day I saw about 50 Cedar Waxwings in a tree overlooking the pond. They were there for the berries.

One reason why so many birds and animals frequent Shipley Nature Center.

There are lots of Monarch Butterflies at Shipley Nature Center in the spring and summer.  They have a section of the nature center where they grow lots of milkweed for the Monarch Butterflies which Monarch larvae eat.  The Monarchs have been known to winter in the other side of the park on the eucalyptus trees.

Monarch Butterfly near the milkweed

 You will see lots of butterflies flying around Shipley Nature Center and all of Central Park. 

Mulch Piles 

Shipley Nature Center teaches and practices good gardening habits like mulching. You can see their large mulch piles and read all about the process of mulching. Early in the morning you might see animals on the mulch piles because they are warm. Coyotes have been found there resting early in the morning.  So if you go early, be alert because seeing coyotes is common.   Coyotes move from place to place by using the drainage ditches throughout Orange County.

One of my favorite native flowers: Sticky Monkey Flower.

Birds at Shipley Nature Center. Because of the habitats in Shipley Nature Center that include shelter, food, and water, you will find lots of birds at there. You may see Anna's Hummingbirds , Allen's Hummingbirds , Townsends Warblers, Red-winged Blackbirds, Crows, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Green Herons , Great Egrets , Black-crowned Night Herons, Red-Tailed Hawks , Cooper's Hawks, American Kestrels , Turkey Vultures, Audubon Yellow-Rumped Warbler , Black Phoebes, Cedar Waxwings, White-crowned Sparrows, Mallards, Double-crested Cormorants, Northern Flickers, Downey Woodpeckers, Nuttals Woodpeckers, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Western Bluebirds, American Robins, California Towhees, Spotted Towhees, Bullock's Orioles, Hooded Orioles, among many other birds. Check the monthly bird count here. They need volunteers to help with the monthly bird count. It is conducted monthly on the last Friday of the month.

Native American dwelling display

Also in the Nature Center is a Native American Display. You can walk inside and look around.

Native Plants for sale

Next time you want a short walk where you might see a lot of great birds, butterflies, and wildlife, think about birding in Shipley Nature Center. It is a great place to go birding in Orange County.

Gulf Fritillary
Check out the tree branches for raptors, hummers and other birds who like a good perch from which to survey the area.

Black Phoebe with an insect it caught by flying out and grabbing it in midair.

"We sleepwalk through our environment...totally unaware of how little of our natural environment now remains in coastal Southern may need some natural areas much more than does our depleted wildlife." Donald Shipley

Black Phoebe chipping after a good meal.

You can reach Shipley Nature Center several ways. You can enter from Golden West and park in the gravel parking lot. Head back toward the parking lot entrance toward the fenced wildlife area and turn left on the asphalt path. Walk along the path by the fence until you reach the large iron gates. Or go on Edwards south if you are turning from Slater......Walk away from the Lake into the park and follow the path toward the fenced wildlife are. Turn right onto the path by the fence and follow it until you reach the iron gates of Shipley Nature Center. It is open Monday-Saturday from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM. On summer nights it also is open from 4PM-8PM in July and August.   Double check on the Shipley Nature Center website for exact times and dates and times of events at the nature center.

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External Links and Resources

Shipley Nature Central in Huntington Beach

Check out their website. Especially the monthly birds counts.
The official city park site for Huntington Central Park. Includes a short video.

Alice's Breakfast in the Park is now closed.

Alice's overlooks the Huntington Lake on the West side of the park. If you enter off Edwards, you will be right by the restaurant. It is a very pretty view. There are lots of ducks and you can feed them on the grass. Be considerate of restaurant and patrons and do not feed the ducks by the tables. Outside seating is not as extensive as the Park Bench Cafe or as nice--old stationary tables and chairs with no umbrellas, but the view makes up for it. In addition to ducks, you will see geese of several species, American Coots, rabbits, and lots and lots of squirrels. You can often see several species of tern fishing by diving into the lake after the fish. On occasion in the fall and winter there are a few American White Pelicans. Alice's does a lot of their own baking. Note that they have added some patio tables.

An updated cafe has taken the place of Alice's with a remodeled, neat, clean look and expanded hours and menu.   The cafe is under new management.   The outside is vastly improved with an enclosed outdoor seating area with nice, new tables and chairs.   Kudos to the owner.   Kathy May has made the decision to abide by the laws against feeding ducks.   She does not sell food for the birds at her restaurant.  Better for the park and better for the ducks and other wildlife.  Thank you, Kathy May. 

Short Article on Huntington Central Park with facts and figures.

Shipley Nature Center in Shipshape for Spring Festival
Press release about Shipley's renovation published on the Surf City website.

City of Huntington Beach website info on Shipley Nature Center.

Ask the OC Birder Girl


Orange County Birder Girl said...

This is a comment I received on the Index page where a lot of my comments go. I thought I would add it here since the comment is about this post.

"July 12, 2008 7:21 PM
stevo said...
Hello OC Birder Girl,
I came across your blog about the Shipley Nature Center and I was very impressed. As a founder member of the Friends of Shipley Nature Center and a past president it makes me feel good that all of our hard work is being appreciated.
Your beautiful pictures and excellent descriptions serve as a wonderful travel log for anyone interested in visiting. If you're ever looking for a volunteer experience please contact us at 714 842-4772 or visit our web site at
Thanks again,
Steve Engel"

Orange County Birder Girl said...

Thank you so much, Steve, for the compliment. I work hard on each post to make sure it contains good information on birding in Orange County. Central Park and Shipley Nature Center in particular has been a favorite spot of mine for years. Thanks, again.