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Hotspots Near You

2. Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve, Santa Barbara, California

Find the threatened Western Snowy Plover along the Pacific Ocean on the campus of the University of California Santa Barbara.

Named for natural petroleum seeps that lie offshore, this 150-acre reserve is one of the finest remaining coastal wetlands in southern California. There’s always something interesting to see: shorebirds feeding on the mudflats; waterfowl floating on rain-filled Devereux Slough; seabirds flying offshore in spring migration, including Brant, Surf Scoters, and Pacific Loons; threatened Snowy Plovers nesting at Sands Beach.

You never know what will show up. Back in the late 1970s, I was lucky enough to see two of the reserve’s most famous rarities: a Roseate Spoonbill (1977) and a White Wagtail (1978). What I like best, though, is the variety of waterbirds that drop in during migration or spend the winter.

Many species of ducks and geese, Great and Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Greater and Lesser (fall) Yellowlegs, dowitchers, and Western and Least Sandpipers frequent the slough, and the rare (state-endangered) “Belding’s” subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow nests in the pickleweed surrounding it. Out at the point, at low tide when rocky reefs are uncovered, Surfbirds, Ruddy (uncommon) and Black Turnstones, and Wandering Tattlers forage over the rocks.

Most exciting is the reestablishment of a breeding colony of the (state- and federally) threatened Pacific population of the Western Snowy Plover at Sands Beach. One chick fledged in 2001; in 2005 the plovers fledged nearly 50. Protected by a low rope fence and monitored by docent-naturalists, the birds have recolonized a location where they have not nested for decades. — Joan Easton Lentz

Joan Easton Lentz is the author of Introduction to Birds of the Southern California Coast. She also wrote about San Elijo Lagoon, San Diego County, California, Hotspot Near You No. 27, and Lake Los Carneros Ecological Preserve, Goleta, California, No. 70.


2. Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve, Santa Barbara, California


Coal Oil Point Reserve is located on the Pacific Ocean on the West Campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, about 12 miles west of the city. To get there, exit U.S. 101 at Storke Rd./Glen Annie Rd., and follow Storke south (toward the ocean). Look for signs for UCSB West Campus, and bear right onto Slough Rd. when Storke (now El Colegio) turns sharply left.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location: 34°24’26N 119°52’41W

Coal Oil Point Reserve
West Campus
University of California at Santa Barbara
(805) 893-5092


Near-shore waters, rocky intertidal, dunes, coastal lagoon and mudflat, coastal sage scrub, introduced trees and grassland, vernal pools.


Flat. A nature trail (Pond Trail) traverses the western portion. Access the heart of the reserve along Slough Rd.; stop at pull-outs. A path leads from the west end of Del Playa Dr. in Isla Vista.


Western Snowy Plover, “Belding’s” Savannah Sparrow, plus a variety of waterbirds and landbirds. Allen’s Hummingbird, Cassin’s Kingbird, and Hooded Oriole breed in the vicinity, and warblers, vireos, and sparrows show up in migration.

When to go

Largest numbers of species present August-April. Best time to observe nesting Snowy Plovers and “Belding’s” Savannah Sparrows is May-July.


A portable toilet has been set up out at Coal Oil Point, but no other restroom facilities are available.


Part of University of California Natural Reserve System. Admission free. Along Slough Rd. stay within sight of car to avoid ticket. Park free at west end of Del Playa Dr. in Isla Vista (about one-third mile from reserve). A permit is required to park in Lots 41 and 42 on reserve: UCSB Transportation and Parking Services,, (805) 893-5388. Bus 24x stops at Camino Corto and El Colegio. More info: Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District.


Bring a spotting scope. Mornings are best for birding the slough, but more birds often roost in the late afternoon. In a year with below-average rainfall, the slough becomes a dry salt pan; fewer bird species are present late summer through fall.

For more info

Cristina Sandoval, Ph.D., reserve director
Marine Science Institute
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9610
(805) 893-5092.

Santa Barbara Audubon Society
5679 Hollister Ave., Ste. B
Goleta, CA 93117
(805) 964-1468

Santa Barbara County Birding Listserv
Santa Barbara RBA, (805) 964-8240.

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