Tag: Ballona Creek (Page 1 of 6)

Birding Ballona Creek #3 – Lincoln to Inglewood Blvd.

Birding Ballona Creek: Lincoln to Inglewood Blvd.

This entry in my guide to birding Ballona Creek covers the 1.6 mile-long section from Lincoln Blvd. to Inglewood Blvd. The creek remains tidal for this entire stretch, and the tide can make the difference between a wide creek with few birds and vast exposed mud and rocks with lots of birds.  The birds dwindle in number and variety as you move inland. At Centinela Ave., the creek becomes thinner, with a concrete bottom and almost no vegetation. The area is covered by three different eBird hotspots: one for Lincoln Blvd. to the 90 overpass; another for the section from the 90 overpass to Centinela Ave.; and a third covering Centinela Ave. to Inglewood Blvd. I’ve divided this post into 3 corresponding sections.

I have no idea what’s going on here

Lincoln Blvd. to the 90 Overpass

We’ll start at Lincoln Blvd., and head inland. This is the first section of creek where, at low tide, you get exposed mud in the middle of the creek. As a result, you can get decent-sized flocks of gulls and shorebirds here at a good low tide. This is especially true right near the 90 overpass, where the Centinela Creek channel joins Ballona Creek. Any time of year, 100 or more gulls are often roosting on the exposed mud. This is a good spot to see westside Herring, Glaucous-winged, and (less commonly) Short-billed Gulls for those who don’t want to spend $8 to park at Dockweiler Beach.  If I were a better birder, and patient enough, I might be able to find a rare gull in these parts, but that’s still above my birding pay grade. The best I can do is the occasional Iceland Gull. During the summer, the gulls are joined by about 100 Caspian Terns. In migration and winter, Black-bellied Plovers (plus the recently regular Pacific Golden-Plover) and Willets move in at low tide. Least and Western Sandpipers are often feeding along the creek edge. 

Occasionally, again at low tide, turnstones, Surfbirds, and Dunlin make it this far up the creek. Osprey diving for fish and Peregrine Falcons harassing the Bonaparte’s Gulls and small shorebirds have provided some entertaining bird watching here. Rarities include Cattle Egret, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Black Skimmer (almost always right near the 90 overpass). As you can see, the area just downstream of the 90 overpass is the best spot in this section of the creek.

Ballona Creek pano Lincoln

Looking north from Lincoln Blvd. to the 90 overpass at low tide

The fields north of the creek attract a few different species. In addition to sparrows and starlings and Western Meadowlarks, American Pipits can be found bobbing their rumps in the little league baseball fields in winter. I’ve been crossing my fingers for years that a Mountain Plover will show up one day, but no luck yet. Maybe the fields are too small. Kestrels, kingbirds, Loggerhead Shrike, and White-tailed Kite perch on snags out in the field. Swallows and swifts love the overpasses, with Barn Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows nesting. 

Ballona creek sunset

Sunset from the Centinela Ave. bridge

90 Overpass to Centinela Ave.

This is the only section of the entire creek that is lined on both sides with vegetation. Amongst the reeds and bushes, you can find birds like Sora and Common Yellowthroat and Song Sparrow (I even saw a Virginia’s Rail here once in 2016). For some reason, the ducks like this section much better than the downstream section, so there are often a good number of Blue-winged, Cinnamon, and Green-winged Teal (depending on the season), Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Ruddy Duck, and Mallard here. Best I can tell, only Mallards breed on the creek. Greater Yellowlegs and Black-necked Stilt are the long-legged birds here, with some Dowitchers (mainly Long-billed) from time to time. Ospreys like to perch in the tall trees along the creek and can sometimes be seen diving for fish in these shallow waters. Thanks to the trees at the Milton Street Park near the Marina del Rey Middle School fields, you can find some warblers and songbirds here, too. I’ve also had Snow Goose, Egyptian Goose, and Canada Goose in the fields, and Ross’s Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose in the water. Every other January, a Common Gallinule shows up, usually close to Centinela Avenue.

Centinela Ave. to Inglewood Blvd.

The short, concrete-bottomed section between Centinela Ave. and Inglewood Blvd. (about 1/3 of a mile long) is completely devoid of creekside vegetation. It is reliable for, and rarely offers more than, Black-necked Stilts, American Coots, Crows and Mallards for most of the year.  For reasons I can’t quite explain, it’s an attractive spot for sandpipers during fall migration (September). Perhaps its tidal nature, and the shallow water, has something to do with it. I’ve had Western, Least, Semipalmated, Spotted, Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers here. In September, a couple of dozen Red-necked Phalaropes gather and feed as if on a conveyer belt. They’ll float down the creek feeding as they go, and when they reach the bridge at Centinela Ave., fly back up the creek to Inglewood, settle in to the water, and float back down again. Ospreys can’t dive for fish here, but they’ll sometimes be seen standing in the middle of the creek.

Access Points to Bike Path in this area

  • Lincoln Blvd. (no parking nearby)
  • McConnell Ave. (street parking; nearest spot to gull roost)
  • Milton St. Park (at Marina del Rey middle school)
  • Centinela Ave.

Birding Ballona Creek #4 – The East End

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. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper Ballona Creek

A Semipalmated Sandpiper stretches its wings

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.

Merlin Culver City California

This Merlin had its eyes on some Least Sandpipers in 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. 

ballona creek

An environmental destruction crew scours the creek of any and all vegetation

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.

Solitary Sandpiper Ballona Creek

This Solitary Sandpiper hung around for a couple of weeks in Aug-Sept 2018

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.
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