A Guide to the East End of Ballona Creek
This post in my Guide to Birding Ballona Creek covers the portion of the creek east of Inglewood Blvd., all the way to Syd Kronenthal Park (3.6 miles). Despite its length, this section of the creek has few birds. The creek is no longer tidal, and there’s very little vegetation in the concrete creek bed. But there are a couple of sections that regularly produce some birds, and a rarity can turn up anywhere. This section of the creek has produced a Sandhill Crane, Sabine’s Gull, Semipalmated Sandpiper, White-throated Sparrow, Tropical Kingbird, and Solitary Sandpiper.
Two eBird hotspots cover this section of Ballona Creek: one is called Ballona Creek–east of Centinela Ave., and the other is called Upper Ballona Creek Bike Path, Culver City. It’s not clear where the “East of Centinela Ave.” hotspot ends and the “Upper Ballona Creek Bike Path” hotspot begins. To add to the confusion, the “East of Centinela Ave.” hotspot overlaps with the “Ballona Creek–Centinela Ave. to Inglewood Blvd.” hotspot (a short section of the creek east of Centinela Ave.). It really should be renamed “Ballona Creek–East of Inglewood Blvd.” (in large part because the creek, and the bird life, noticeably changes at Inglewood Blvd.) Anyhoodle, I use Duquesne Avenue as my dividing line between these two hotspots for the eastern half of the creek bike path.
I’ll cover this section of the creek starting from the far east end, and make my way toward the ocean. We start where the bike path ends, at Syd Kronenthal Park. Syd Kronenthal worked for Culver City Parks and Rec for 52 years, and was the driving force behind many of the city’s parks. This is a nice park with a bunch of trees, and a big soccer/baseball field. I haven’t spent a lot of time birding this park, but it’s got some big trees, so there’s always a chance something cool is there. I did find this Merlin one January, perched in trees overlooking the creek.
From Syd Kronenthal Park, you descend a slope to hop on the Ballona Creek bike path. The first section runs north/south, and goes under a tall bridge (see picture below). There is almost always some vegetation growing at the water’s edge here, unless the city’s vegetation destruction crew has been dispatched. Black-necked Stilts breed in this section of the creek. They build their nests on raised cement areas in the middle of the creek. Black-necked Stilts are territorial and protective, and will loudly call if you pause to watch them and eggs are in the nest or chicks are around. There are usually some sandpipers here, from fall to spring, but it’s hit and miss. Mostly, they are Least Sandpipers, with a smaller number of Western Sandpipers. I did find a Semipalmated Sandpiper in this section in August 2020, a rare sighting away from the L.A. River for that species.
After a half mile, the creek turns southwest, and goes past the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook and its famous steep staircase (I used the 282 stairs as sea-level training for hiking the Inka Trail – note the nearest creek access is Duquesne Avenue). There are more Black-necked Stilts here (watch for nests and newborns), and rock pigeons on the wires over the creek. In March, Northern Rough-winged Swallows arrive. They often perch on the guardrails along the bike path, and will disappear into the holes in the concrete sides of the creek bed.
The creek widens just south of Duquesne Avenue, where a small tributary appears from beneath the houses east of the creek and adds water flow. This wide, shallow section is a good spot for sandpipers. If they are small, they are Least and Western Sandpipers, but I’ve had Solitary Sandpipers in this area (in late August and early September). After Jackson Avenue (where a pipeline bridge crosses the creek), birdlife mostly vanishes until Overland Avenue . Mallards and Killdeer are about all the action you can expect, though Walter Lamb improbably found a Sandhill Crane in this section of the creek one day.
As the bike path continues toward the ocean, it passed by Culver City High school fields (a Whimbrel is my most surprising sighting here) and native garden along the fence (a White-throated Sparrow popped out of the bushes one December).
After crossing under the 405 freeway, the bike path passes Slauson Park, which has a small collection of tall trees. Despite its proximity to my house, I haven’t explored it enough (for migrants, or a wintering songbird). From Mar Vista Gardens to Inglewood Blvd, you can often find a gull flock of shifting size. I lack Andy Birch’s obsession with scanning gull flocks for rarities, but some careful attention here could probably pull our something good during the winter. I did find a juvenile Sabine’s Gull here in October 2016 that stuck around for 4 days. You’ll likely hear the shrieks of exotic pet birds like a cockatiel or budgerigar coming from Mar Vista Gardens as you pass by. They’ve always been in cages, but maybe one will break out someday and become a non-countable escapee.
Set your expectations low for this 3-mile section of creek. The birds aren’t numerous, and the species counts won’t be big. Given its length, it is best covered by bike rather than on foot. But like anywhere else, surprises await.
Access Points to the Bike Path in this section (starting at east end):
- Syd Kronenthal Park
- Duquesne Ave. (access to Culver City Park)
- Overland Ave.
- Westwood Blvd. bridge (for a quick detour to Lindberg Park)
- Sepulveda Blvd.
- Purdue Avenue (just south of Sawtelle Blvd)
- Slauson Park.
- Inglewood Blvd.