The Beach at Mugu Lagoon Inlet

(Biological Lens)

I recently visited the Mugu Lagoon inlet, and I was impressed by both the solitude and abundant life I found there.

Mugu lagoon is located at the mouth of the Calleguas Creeks, which is on Point Mugu Naval Air Station.  The lagoon itself is a sandy saltmarsh. It is the largest coastal estuary between Morro Bay of San Luis Obispo and Bolsa Chica Lagoon in Orange County. The entire estuary is owned by the department of defense. Mugu lagoon is an important wetland area that supports over 60,000 shore birds in Spring, and 10, 000 in winter.

I go on regular hikes throughout Ventura County, and I usually don’t observe large gatherings of animals. That’s why I was delighted and surprised when I arrived had arrived the Mugu lagoon inlet on December 2.  I arrived at 3:52PM and it was low tide. Until sunset at 4:46PM I was the only person on the beach. Because it was low tide the usually small beach behind the coastal armoring was extended out 200m along the shoreline toward Mugu Rock in the distance. There I observed hundreds of birds, along the sandy shoreline and in the lagoon. I observed many species of birds such as western gulls, sanderlings, brown pelicans, and willets. I am certainly no regular bird watcher, but I did find some happiness seeing so many of these birds going about their day, many standing still, others such as the sanderlings were feeding in the sand.

Western Gulls, Sanderlings, and Brown Pelicans on the beach

I continued my animal observations on the nearby rocks and found even more interesting animals.  These large rocks were placed here for coastal armoring by the department of defense around a parking lot right at the edge of the inlet. On the rocks furthest from the water, around 35m, I found the rocks covered in California Acorn barnacles, as I moved closer to the water the layers of barnacles transitioned to layers of exposed Aggregating Sea Anemones; all of them had withdrawn their tentacles and were covered in sand as both camouflage and to prevent themselves from drying out. Moving even closer to the water I started seeing Giant Green Anemones along the bottom edges of the large coastal rocks. The rocks here were also covered in mats of California Mussels and Pacific Acorn Barnacles intermixed with one another.

Giant Green Anemone
Gooseneck Barnacles, Pacific Acorn Barnacles, and California Mussels.

My visit to the Mugu Lagoon inlet was very pleasant. I am used to being around lots of people when I visit local beaches, and I was nice to have my time at this beach alone with the animals. Overall it would appear to me that the Department of Defense is doing a good job of ensuring that the estuary remains a healthy habitat for the many animals that depend upon it.

11 thoughts on “The Beach at Mugu Lagoon Inlet

  1. lydia.rios685@myci.csuci.edu says:

    Anthony, you provided beautiful pictures, and you provided the names of the animals you encountered. It’s crazy to know that such a drastic amount of birds leave for the winter. Your post made me think about the ecological system between all of these species and their contribution to the environment. Mugu Lagoon looks to be doing fine through the images you provided.

    • Anthony Herrera says:

      Thank you. I know it was only a superficial assessment that this beach was healthy, but this beach had one of the highest number of animals I have ever seen on a California beach. I didn’t mention it in the blog, but approximately 500m in the inlet there were hundreds of harbor seals resting on the sandy shores of the lagoon. It’s their breeding season.

  2. Alyssa Dearo says:

    Hey Anthony. I am pleased to have read such an intriguing and descriptive blog post. I love that you looked at this beach from a biological lense and explored the different birds and life in the water as well. I am interested in the amount of different species of birds you found. Birds are so interesting to watch and it’s so peaceful while sitting on a beach.

    • Anthony Herrera says:

      Hello Alyssa. I’m glad you liked my post. The only species of birds I could identify were the Brown pelicans, western gulls, willets, and sand pipers. There may have been other species present, but I couldn’t tell because I did not bring a pair of binoculars.

  3. Ramie Klocko says:

    Awesome post Anthony! I’ve been wanting to learn more about this unique and vital habitat but it never seems to be of great focus in any of my classes which is surprising, so thank you for sharing such valuable insight! A family friend of mine used to work out at the base many years ago so I went there as a child but haven’t been back since. How did you access this beach? I would love to go check it out but I thought you had to have clearance to get to it. Also, are you a biology major or just an iNaturalist wizard? Super impressed with all your species identifications!

    • Anthony Herrera says:

      Thank you Ramie. I don’t think the beach is open to the general public. I just work at a job that gives me base access. I am not a biology expert, while I was familiar with some of these species, I did use iNaturalist to identify those that I was not familiar with such as the giant green anemone and the aggregating sea anemones.

  4. ethan.ladenheim600@myci.csuci.edu says:

    Hi, Anthony! I have never been to Mugu Lagoon but it looks amazing! From the initial photo, one might not see much aside from a flat surface but at low tide, the look of the estuary is quite unique. I, too am no bird watcher but there is a certain beauty in watching these graceful organisms as they gather, free of worries such as cars and just seeming to enjoy the peaceful evening just as we might. I’m not sure how much wrack was spotted since there is only about 2 collections of it but if there were more, I could imagine the beach supporting many smaller birds and a possibility for even more biodiversity.

    • Anthony Herrera says:

      Hi Ethan. There wasn’t a wrack line there because this particular beach is mostly a sandbar that is underwater during high tide. There was only the occasional bits of kelp randomly scattered around.

  5. Lewis Adnan says:

    Hi Anthony,
    I love the picture of the long stretch of sand at low tide. I have never been to Mugu Lagoon, but I am now planning a trip as I write this. I love it when there is low tide and you can walk far out into where there used to be an ocean.

  6. vanessa.guzman434@myci.csuci.edu says:

    Hi Anthony,
    This beach sounds amazing, and I would have to visit it if I am ever in the area. Thank you for the pictures as well, they were even a bigger reason to visit. I would have to stop by around the low-tide.

  7. Timothy Koehler says:

    Wow, amazing pictures!! How were you able to enter the base? I would really love to surf there but I’ve heard you need a military ID to get in. Anyways, what was the water quality like there? Do you know if the lagoon breaks through to the ocean ever?

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