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The Tijuana Sloughs

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One Perfect Day In Imperial Beach

Everyday is a perfect day in Imperial Beach. The mayor, Serge Dedina, is a surfer and community activist who hopes to turn the inland streets of the city into golden steps, but you can already take an incredible stroll along Seacoast Drive.

IB is the South Bay’s resort town. It’s also the most southwesterly city in the nation. This week, I focus on more of IB’s delights. For breakfast, you can have a late start at Stardust Donut Shop. Then amble your way down the outdoor Surfboard Museum, stopping along the way at the skate and surf shops. The premier strip is Seacoast Drive, where you can have a drink on the patio at the new Sea 180 Coastal Tavern located inside the Pier South Resort hotel. Finally, head on over to the iconic IB Pier.

The Tijuana Sloughs

At the tail end of Seacoast Drive, you’ll see the Tijuana city landscape in the hazy distance and you’ll come to the Tijuana Sloughs. Not heavily laden with tourists, this small strip of land has a fascinating geological, animal and human history.

At one time, people actually lived in the sloughs. During the 1940s and 1950s, this area became a premier big wave spot for surfers. Thanks to hard working activists such as the Tijuana Estuary staff as well as Mike McCoy and SWIA, these sloughs are one of the last remaining that are not crossed by a railroad or freeway. It is also the largest salt water marsh in Southern California.

Malcolm Gault-Williams’ “Legendary Surfers: A Definitive History of Surfing’s Culture and Heroes,” provides a wonderful glimpse into the history of these sloughs, especially as it relates to surfing. According to him, Allen “Dempsey” Holder first surfed the Tijuana Sloughs in 1937. For ten years, Dempsey rode the Sloughs on redwood planks before getting an improved surfboard that mirrors the ones we have today. If you’re a surf enthusiast, you’ll want to read Gault-Williams’ account as well as get John Elwell’s Surfing in San Diego.

There’s also a very old book written by Mary Richards called Sand In My Shoes: Life in the Tijuana Sloughs, 1931-1944.

The Pacific Flyway

Along the estuary you can also enjoy the placards that explain a bit more about the Pacific Flyway. This is where over 370 species of birds migrate during the year. I’ll share a few of my favorite placards, so you can get a small on-line tour:

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A Nursery For Baby Fish

The area is protected within Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge and probably the most interesting fact about this estuary is that it provides a kind of nursery for baby fish. Instead of the strong and dangerous ocean, the salt marsh gives fish and birds calm protection as well as food and a place to grow.

 

Two of the most important birds in this region are the least tern and the light footed clapper rail. The gulls are also a romantic part of the shores. Take a look at these charming placards:

 

The Least Tern

Every year the smallest tern comes to the beach dunes of Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge to do three very important things–find a mate, make a nest and raise their young. Female California least terns create cereal-bowl sized scrapes in sandy beach dunes along the ocean. In these scrapes sit sand-colored eggs that blend into the surroundings. This camouflage pattern protects the eggs from predators.

 

Light footed clapper rail

To build their nests, endangered light-footed clapper rails weave the edges of their nest into the tall stems of living cordgrass. When the tide flows in and out of the slough, the nests move up and down like elevators. Tijuana Slough was once a dumping ground for used tires and garbage. Restoration projects within the slough have created more cordgrass habitat. By creating more cordgrass habitat we create potential homes for clapper rails.

 

Gulls

Gulls are valuable members of the community helping to keep harbors and beaches free of marine debris. Inland they scavenge garbage dumps in addition to feeding on small rodents and insects.

Most gulls seen along the California coast are winter visitors. In the spring they migrate north or inland to nest – only a few remain throughout the year.

Using air and wind skillfully, gulls are masters of strong, graceful flight, soaring above cliffs or flying effortlessly into the face of a strong wind.

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Up Next: The Serenity Garden, IB Bar Hopping and IB Outdoor Art.

Don’t forget to check out my IB restaurant reviews of Barrels, The Wave Cafe and Sea 180 Coastal Tavern.

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