Tag: Pectoral Sandpiper

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.

L.A. County Lifer: Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpipers, L.A. River, Los Angeles, CA

Stilt Sandpipers, L.A. River, Los Angeles, CA

L.A. County Lifer: Stilt Sandpiper

After a Friday night earthquake, I didn’t manage to get up and out for a bird walk this Saturday (though I wasn’t as lazy as my 11-year-old, who slept until 11:30am). Sometimes, a delay turns out to be an advantage. As I was eating breakfast, I checked the L.A. County birds listserv. It’s the time of year when vagrants abound. There was a 20-minute old report of a Stilt Sandpiper on the L.A. River. It was found, of course, by Richard Barth. (Who knows what the twitchers would do if he wasn’t out there hustling all year finding birds for them). I’d only seen Stilt Sandpiper twice, five years ago in Texas. Sensing an easy L.A. County lifer, I grabbed a mask and headed out.

When I arrived at the spot (the L.A. River at Slauson Ave), I was surprised that no one else was there. I double-checked that I had the location right. I did. Along with several hundred gulls, dozens of Black-necked Stilts, some Avocets, and a bunch of Least Sandpipers, I found the target group of dowitchers. But the river is wide, and even walking down to the water’s edge, the birds were far off on the other shore. I didn’t see anything amongst the dowitcher flock, but I did see three birds off to themselves that looked promising. With the report not indicating the number of Stilt Sandpipers seen, I figured they were probably Yellowlegs.

I crossed over the bridge to the other side of the river and scanned the dowitcher flock again. Still nothing. Another birder showed up and agreed there wasn’t a Stilt Sandpiper amongst the dowitchers. I decided to walk a bit upstream. I passed that same group of 3 long-legged sandpipers I’d seen earlier from afar, and gave them a closer look. They all looked pretty similar, and weren’t quite right for Lesser Yellowlegs. The eyebrow (birders say “supercilium”) was prominently white, and the bill was too long. I could convince myself the bill drooped down at the end. But because there were three of them, and not one, and thinking the report was of a single Stilt Sandpiper, I decided to wander a bit further up the river.

I hadn’t walked 20 feet when the other birder called me back. He was looking at the group of 3. We stared through our binoculars. He fired off shots with his mega-lens. We exchanged bird-nerd (“bnird”) references to field marks (“Bnird.com” was my runner-up choice for website name). And we agreed that we were looking at three Stilt Sandpipers. It never feels good to stare at the rare birds and have the guy behind you ID them. But it’s better than misidentifying a regular bird as a rarity.

More From the Week: Pectoral Sandpiper on Ballona Creek

The magic of the barren concrete section of Ballona Creek between Centinela and Inglewood continued this week. One afternoon, I spotted a Pectoral Sandpiper amongst the peeps. It wasn’t my first 5MR Pectoral sighting. A few years back one showed up at the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. But it was a pleasant surprise. They only get reported every 3-4 years on the west side, and only once previously on the Ballona Creek. Maybe a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper will wander into my 5MR before the year is up.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek, CA

Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek, CA

The birds apparently get their name from a puffed-up chest display they do on the breeding grounds involving an inflatable sac on their chest. There’s a good picture at the bottom of this article about Pectorals on their breeding grounds. 



Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek, CA

Showing off those namesake pecs?

Pectoral Sandpiper, Ballona Creek