In the Los Angeles Basin, the last significant wetland is the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. It once occupied 2,000 acres of coastal habitat, but since the 1920s, industrial encroachment, agriculture, and population growth have shrunk the area to about one-fourth of its original size.
The state purchased the property in 2003, and over several years, volunteers removed invasive plants, trash, and debris to help restore it to a flourishing marsh. A rich variety of birds has returned: Ballona’s list exceeds 250 species, and in midwinter and during migration, more than 70 species can be seen in a day. The most accessible spot is the 51-acre freshwater marsh at the corner of Lincoln and W. Jefferson Boulevards. An L-shaped, woodchip-covered trail leads along the perimeter, offering views of ducks, shorebirds, waterbirds, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and passerines. Spring visitors include Yellow-breasted Chat and Western Tanager.
Farther west, along the south levee of Ballona Creek, scan the wetlands in fall and winter for Belding’s Savannah Sparrow. In early-morning hours along the breakwater and beach in Playa del Rey, look for scoters, peeps, cormorants, seabirds, and Snowy Plover. — Shirley L. Ruhe
More than 250 species. Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, Bufflehead, Whimbrel, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt, Black Oystercatcher, Black-bellied Plover, Surfbird, Brandt’s, Double-crested, and Pelagic Cormorants, Heermann’s, Western, and California Gulls, Short-eared Owl, Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds, Black and Say’s Phoebes, Black-throated Gray, Wilson’s, and Townsend’s Warblers, Belding’s Savannah Sparrow (in pickleweed).
When to go
Bird walks organized by Los Angeles Audubon on third Sunday of each month (except December); meet at 8 a.m. at Del Rey Lagoon parking lot. LA Audubon also holds “Open Wetlands” event at salt marsh on first Saturday of each month from 9-12. Friends of Ballona Wetlands offers tours of salt marsh and dunes, freshwater marsh, and two-acre Ballona Discovery Park; see ballonafriends.org for schedule. Checklists also available on website.
State ecological reserve. No fees. Freshwater marsh and Ballona Discovery Park open dawn to dusk. Access to salt marsh and dunes through tours only. Public transportation: Take Metro Bus 110 to Playa Vista or Big Blue Bus Line 3 to Lincoln and Jefferson. Ten minutes by cab from Los Angeles International Airport.