The Bell View Trail (owned by OC Parks no entrance fee or parking fee) offers spectacular views from many locations and has two main access points both off Robinson Ranch Road – the eastern portion which is near the top of Robinson Ranch Road and western which faces Dove Canyon. Both the East and West entrance do connect along the southern hillside. A map below illustrates where Robinson Ranch Road is located. Major cross streets would be Santa Margarita Parkway where it ends at Plano Trabuco. For those coming in from the Santiago Canyon area, take Trabuco Canyon Road toward O’Neill Park up the winding hill and follow to Robinson Ranch Road and make a left at the light.
Summary: In the fall of 2012 I was using Google Earth “flying around” and seeking local wilderness areas that contained water habitats thinking there would be perhaps a larger variety of bird species that could be found. Over the course of the last two years I’ve continuously gone back to both ends of the Bell View Trail and enjoyed a variety of species ranging from Northern Shovelers and American Wigeon to the Rock and Cactus Wrens. Upon discovery, the “Bell View Trail” was not listed in Google Earth and unmarked at the time in 2012. I had written Google maps and offered GPS coordinates with the proper name and ownership by OC Parks. Shortly thereafter, both sections of the Bell View Trail were listed as they are today in Google Maps. Oddly enough, this trail does not appear on the OC Parks list of trails on their web site, thus somewhat of a hidden gem.
Good birding can be found here year round. As of today, October 3, 2014, 83 unique species have been recorded since my first checklist in December of 2012.
I’ve included numerous photos below if you are not familiar with this trail. The trail is rugged in most areas. There is one uneven steep decline just before you reach the main reservoir. At the base of this decline, if you look to the right, there’s typically a family of Acorn Woodpeckers that can be found year round. Also in this area (depending on time of year) I have seen Northern Flickers and Cedar Waxwings. Cooper’s, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks can be seen year round as well as the Sharp-shinned Hawk from October-April. You can also reliably find the Cactus Wren year round. The best locations for this species are approximately 1/3 of a mile from the main entrance and once you reach the bottom of the decline at the ridge of the reservoir, bear left. At the next intersection bear right and walk just past the gate. On the hillside facing south (your left), there’s typically one or two Cactus Wrens. Here’s a photo from December 2013 of two Cactus Wrens at this approximate location: 33.642408, -117.565733 which is here in Google Maps.
With respect to other wildlife as the sign suggests below, yes Mountain Lions and Rattlesnakes (Southern Pacific) as well as Bobcats do co-exist here. I personally have not seen any at this location but have in other adjacent and surrounding areas such as the Arroyo Trabuco Trail. Here’s a large adult Southern-pacific Rattlesnake I had photographed summer of 2014
Once you reach the reservoir, there’s no need to hike back in the direction you came. Follow around the ridge of the reservoir and once you cross over the creek (creek is fenced and below the dirt trail with the pond on your left), simply bear left and follow along the dirt trail adjacent to the pond (don’t venture up the hill where it forks). The trail will descend and you’ll be heading east toward the Saddleback Mountains. Look for White-breasted Nuthatches, Oak Titmouse and Western Scrub-Jays along this section. Finally, the dirt trail becomes paved an concludes with a gradual incline that ends at the parking lot.
Here are several photos taken in Spring and Fall to offer further insight as to what you can expect on the Bell View Trail West. Images 1-9 are in order as you approach the parking lot. Images 10 – 15 are not in order of occurrence.
#12 About face on main trail. On left below slope is the trail back to parking lot (not visible) taken 4-14-14