Annotated Checklist of Birds of Ballona Valley, Los Angeles County, California.

 

March 2006 (includes records through mid-2005)

 

Daniel S. Cooper

Audubon California

11340 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 209

Los Angeles, CA 90064

 

Current address:

Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc.

15 So. Raymond Ave.

2nd Fl.

Pasadena, CA 91105

 

Summary

The Ballona Valley features the last coastal saltmarsh left in Los Angeles County, and one of the largest blocks of undeveloped land on the floor of the Los Angeles Basin. It is currently receiving an unprecedented infusion of funds to support land acquisition and habitat restoration coincident with the start of construction on a 642-acre housing and commercial development here, “Playa Vista”. Though much of the restoration involves improving conditions for birds, the published record on the area’s avifauna is extremely sparse and bird records have not been comprehensively analyzed since the 1930s (von Bloeker 1943).

 

Drawing from historical and current sources, including specimen data and field notes of experienced observers, I present details on 327 bird species reported from the Ballona Valley and inshore waters from the 1880s through mid-2005. I describe the current and historical status of taxa with notable regional population concentrations at Ballona (Black-bellied Plover, Bonaparte’s Gull, Elegant Tern); extirpated taxa (Light-footed Clapper Rail); taxa recently established (breeding Tree Swallow and Great-tailed Grackle); and those on the brink of extirpation (Burrowing Owl, Loggerhead Shrike). This codifies a large and growing body of observations and unpublished studies to serve an increasing demand for data to inform on-going and proposed habitat restoration in the Ballona Valley.

 

The term “Ballona Valley” here refers to all habitat west of the 405 Freeway and south of Washington Blvd. to the Westchester Bluffs, including inshore waters of Santa Monica Bay adjacent to Playa del Rey. This includes the communities of Marina del Rey, Mar Vista, Playa Vista, Playa del Rey and Westchester. The “Ballona Wetlands” refers to the estuarine, salt marsh, coastal dune scrub and grassland habitat that extends from vic. Lincoln Blvd. west to the coast. The lettered Areas A through D have been used in environmental documentation for Ballona for several decades (e.g. Dock and Schreiber 1981, National Audubon Society 1986) and so are retained below.

 

Study area

Together, these habitats now comprise some of the most significant open space left on the floor of the Los Angeles Basin, and the largest coastal wetland habitat in the 100+ km of shoreline between Mugu Lagoon (Ventura Co.) and Alamitos Bay (Orange Co.).

 

  • Inshore marine environs, including mouth of Marina del Rey harbor and associated jetties/breakwaters
    • Characteristic species: Surf Scoter, Western and Eared grebes, Brown Pelican, cormorants, Black Oystercatcher, Surfbird, Black and Ruddy turnstones, “Large-billed Savannah Sparrow”
  • Coastal strand (beach) north and south of Ballona Cr./Marina del Rey harbor mouth
    • Characteristic species: Snowy Plover, Least Tern, “Large-billed Savannah Sparrow” [extirpated]
  • Tidal flat/Estuary
    • Ballona Lagoon (north of Ballona Cr. channel)
    • Del Rey Lagoon (south of Ballona Cr. channel)
    • Tidal channels of Ballona Wetlands
    • Characteristic species: Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Marbled Godwit, Snowy Egret, Belted Kingfisher
  • Coastal saltmarsh (including salt pan)
    • Best developed near tidal channels south of Ballona Cr., north and south of Culver Blvd. (“Area B”).
      • Note: Seasonally-flooded alkali grassland (below) takes on characteristics of saltmarsh during and after rainy winters.
    • Characteristic species: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Black-bellied Plover (salt pan), Elegant Tern (salt pan), “Belding’s Savannah Sparrow”, Clapper Rail [extirpated]; Least Tern [extirpated]; American Avocet [extirpated]
  • Freshwater marsh and mudflat
    • Marsh best developed at Ballona Freshwater Marsh at Playa Vista (hereafter “BFM”), a constructed wetland that includes native coastal sage scrub and riparian plantings (southwestern corner Jefferson Blvd. and Lincoln)
    • Mudflat exposed along Ballona Creek channel at low tide (between Centinela Ave. and Culver Blvd.)
    • Characteristic species: Gadwall, Pied-billed Grebe, bitterns, Virginia Rail, Sora, Black-necked Stilt, Common Yellowthroat, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle
  • Alkali and/or exotic-dominated grassland
    • West of Lincoln Blvd. (north of Ballona Cr. = “Area A”; south of Ballona Cr. = “Area B”)
    • East of Lincoln Blvd. (adjacent to baseball diamonds = “Area C”)
      • [Formerly south of Jefferson Blvd., now Playa Vista (“Area D”)]
    • Characteristic species: White-tailed Kite, Loggerhead Shrike, American Pipit, Western Meadowlark, Savannah Sparrow, Burrowing Owl [extirpated]; Horned Lark [extirpated]
  • Riparian scrub
    • Isolated clumps along base of Westchester Bluffs and within coastal dunes (“Dune Willows”)
    • Characteristic species: Migrant Willow Flycatcher, Yellow and Wilson’s warblers; breeding Green Heron [extirpated], Black-headed Grosbeak [extirpated], American [extirpated] and Lesser goldfinches
  • Coastal scrub
    • Westchester Bluffs, east and west of Lincoln Blvd.
    • Remnant dune system at far western edge of salt marsh (“Area B”) “Area A” north of Ballona Cr. and west of Lincoln Blvd. (= the historic mouth of Ballona Cr. prior to channelization of lowermost portion)
    • Characteristic species: Greater Roadrunner [extirpated], Say’s Phoebe, Bewick’s Wren, Rock Wren [extirpated], Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Sage Sparrow [extirpated], White-crowned Sparrow, California Towhee
  • “Urban Forest”
    • Anthropogenic habitat of exotic trees and shrubs of urban and residential areas, most complex at Loyola Marymount University (“LMU”) in Westchester.
    • Characteristic species: Northern Mockingbird, Cedar Waxwing, European Starling, Townsend’s Warbler, House Finch, Hooded Oriole, House Sparrow

 

Sources of data and citations

Sight records published in (North) American Birds/Audubon Field Notes (hereafter referred to as “AFN”) or the Western Tanager (“WT”) are treated as valid records unless noted otherwise below. Details of many unusual sightings since 1980 are archived at the Dept. of Ornithology, County Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles County. Augmenting the published record, several dedicated observers who have kept field notes from regular visits to the study area for 5+ years and that provided me access to these notes include Kimball L. Garrett (early 1970s to present), Robert Shanman (RSh; 1977 to 1987, monthly) and Art Pickus (1993 to 1998) along lower Ballona Creek; Barbara O. Courtois at the Dune Willows (1990 to present); Chuck and Lillian Almdale at Ballona Lagoon (CLA; 1996-present, monthly); and Russell and Dorothy Stone in the Westchester/Playa Vista area (RDS;1996 to present). Other observers who have contributed previously unpublished sight records to me directly, or to Kimball L. Garrett are cited below by their initials: J.K. Alderfer, R. Barth, D. Bell, J. Brandt, H. Brodkin, C. Day, B.P. Elliot, L.M. Fimiani, B.G. Johnson, J. Johnson, K. Larson, J. Pickus, T.P. Ryan, A. Small and D. Sterba. Miscellaneous observations received by K.L. Garrett at the County Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles County that are considered valid by K.L. Garrett and myself but never published are cited as “LACM files.”

 

There are two other important sources of unpublished data. From 1995-1999, the Los Angeles County Breeding Bird Atlas was conducted, coordinated by the Los Angeles Audubon Society and the County Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles County. The data from this massive effort were never published, but are housed at LACM, and are cited in the text as simply “LABBA”.

 

Second, starting in late 2000, many birders have opted to post sightings on the online forum, LACoBirds (available from the World Wide Web: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LACoBirds/), which I cite as the observer/reporter followed by “LACoBirds.”

 

Place names abbreviated in text include: BFM = Ballona Freshwater Marsh; BW = Ballona Wetlands; DRL = Del Rey Lagoon; DW = Dune Willows; LMU = Loyola Marymount University; MdR = Marina del Rey; PdR = Playa del Rey.

 

Standard abbreviations for museums are LACM = Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles; MVZ = Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley; WFVZ = Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Camarillo, California.

 

Checklist terminology

This list follows the American Ornithologists’ Union Checklist of North American Birds (A.O.U. 1998) plus its most recent supplement (A.O.U. 2004). Species listed in brackets have not been recorded within the study area, but are expected to occur given their status in the region.

I follow generally accepted status designations: Common: Expected on every visit in season and hard to miss (Brown Pelican, Red-tailed Hawk); Fairly common: Expected in smaller numbers at proper season in ideal habitat (Greater Yellowlegs, Ruby-crowned Kinglet); Uncommon: Seen in season in small numbers, but somewhat unpredictable and often missed (Blue-winged Teal, Cedar Waxwing); Occasional: Occurs annually, but typically in very low numbers so not regularly detected (Red Knot, Olive-sided Flycatcher); Rare: Less than annual, but with an established pattern of occurrence, either seasonally (Northern Waterthrush) or during “invasion years” (Red-breasted Nuthatch); Casual: Irregular and never expected, with records every 10 years or so (Sabine’s Gull, Rock Wren); Vagrant: One or two records total; unlikely to occur again (Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Bar-tailed Godwit); Extirpated species (or seasonal populations) are those that once occurred locally but no longer do.

 

Birds of the Ballona Valley

 

DUCKS AND GEESE

 

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Extirpated. This species occurred as a spring transient and post-breeding visitor to the Ballona Wetlands until the early 1950s, when it mysteriously disappeared as a breeding (and wintering) species from most of California. Birds were historically recorded as spring migrants (3 birds on 28 Feb. 1923, Bird-Lore 25:202) through mid-May (Bird-Lore 27:272), but more consistently occurred during summer and fall (AFN, WT). The last known local records are up to 5 birds between 02 June and 12 July 1949 (AFN 3:252), and a single on 16 Nov. 1953 (AFN XX). A mention of breeding at “Playa del Rey” (Garrett and Dunn 1981) was in error – the nearest known nesting localities were from “Nigger Slough”, a large, lost wetland southeast of the Ballona Valley in present-day Carson (fide KLG). Though not treated by von Bloeker (1943), he apparently overlooked many species of waterfowl in his synthesis of Ballona avifauna (Cooper, In review). Future sightings, even of vagrants, are not anticipated, and recent records on the Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count (NAS 2002) are not supported by documentation.

 

Greater White-fronted Goose

Rare transient and winter visitor; extirpated as a winter resident. Five early records: 04 Feb. 1943 (Bird-Lore 45:15); 01 Feb. 1949 (WT 15:28); 05 Nov. 1951 (AFN XX); 28 Dec. 1958 (AFN XX); and “late March” 1966 (WT 32:9). After a nearly forty-year hiatus, an adult and two immatures were present on their early spring migration at BFM 25 Jan. – 03 Feb. 2004 (CD, RB). Since then, it has been recorded additionally in fall (29 over Mar Vista on 18 Sept. 2004, KL); and again in spring (one at BFM and the flooded salt pan of BW 04-05 Mar. 2005; KL, BGJ). Additionally, one adult arrived at DRL on 07 Nov. 2004 and has remained there as of this writing (early 2006; m. ob.); Apparently a much more common winter visitor to southern California historically (see Grinnell 1898), it is clear that 19th-Century hunting and continued reduction of agricultural land and marshes region-wide eliminated local habitat for this bird, and it is unlikely to ever recover to historical levels. Von Bloeker (1943) did not mention this goose in his review of birds of Playa del Rey.

 

Snow Goose

Casual winter visitor and transient; extirpated as a winter resident. Known records include a group of three apparent fall transients in “October” 1966 (WT 33:4), and singles on 10 Feb. 1972 at DRL (JBr); 09 Dec. 1982 – 08 Jan. 1983 (RSh); 07 Dec. 1997 (found “dead on beach” at MdR; LACM 110361); and “December” 2001 at DRL and adjacent Ballona Cr. (KL). This species historically wintered in large numbers on the coast of southern California, but was gone from the Ballona region by the 1940s (NAS 2002), and likely earlier: Bailey (1915) mentions one in October 1907 as being notable. Grinnell (1898) wrote: “Immense numbers feed during the winter and spring months on the Centinela grain fields (= eastern portion of Ballona Valley?)...They feed almost entirely at night; during the day they stay out at sea resting on the water in large beds a few miles off shore along with swarms of ducks.” Such behavior (i.e., marine habitat use) is currently unknown for this species in California.

 

Ross’ Goose

Rare winter visitor. One was observed with the above species on 10 Feb. 1972 at DRL (JBr), and singles wintered 1995 – 1996 (to 21 Mar., AP) and 1998 – 1999 (the latter bird last seen at the junction of Ballona and Centinela Cr. 10 Apr., per RS); and two were observed on Ballona Cr. near the 90 Fwy. on 04 Dec. 1999 (KL). One was present with domestic waterfowl at DRL more or less continuously from 2000 to 2002 (last seen in 26 March 2002, BOC). This species was probably overlooked by Grinnell (1898), but Willet (1912) wrote of seeing “many of these birds in the Los Angeles markets, brought in from the surrounding country.” It now winters in very small numbers at lakes throughout the region, often in the company of domestic waterfowl.

 

Cackling Goose

Vagrant, two records. A “Cackling Canada Goose” was reported from PdR on 14 Nov. 1981 (LACM files), and an apparent “Aleutian Canada Goose” (now considered conspecific) was at BFM on the remarkable date of 14 June 2004 (RB).

 

Canada Goose

Occasional transient to freshwater/brackish wetlands, occurring in fall and again in late winter/early spring. Unlike its status elsewhere in the U.S., the Canada Goose is far from a pest at Ballona, and it is apparently genuinely scarce (rather than rarely-reported). Most birds are present for just one day, generally as fall transients from 06 Oct. – 25 Nov. Many sightings involve birds moving overhead or circling as if trying to land. The species also occurs within a mid-winter/early spring window, evinced by records of RSh having recorded it just four times from 1977-1987, all between 03 Jan. and 11 Feb. More recent records of presumed north-bound migrants include 5 at present-day Playa Vista on 25 Dec. 1997 (RDS); 20 Jan. and 26 Feb. 1998 at PdR (AP); 27 Jan. 2001 at DRL (DSC); 2 in “February” 2003 at BFM (JP); 12-13 Feb. 2004 at BFM (BOC); 03 Mar. – 08 Apr. 2004 at DRL (DSC); and 15 Apr. 2005 at BFM (2, RB). There are no known records of the Canada Goose at Ballona prior to the 1970s, and it is also possible that the birds were essentially hunted out of the area in the early 1900s before most ornithological record-keeping. Oddly, von Bloeker (1943) did not mention this species (or any other goose) in his review of birds of the Playa del Rey area.

 

Brant

Extirpated as a winter resident; now an occasional spring transient (1-2/yr. from early Feb. – late May); casual in summer and winter. Several of these spring sightings have involved birds in the tidal channels of the Ballona Wetlands (including a group of six on 03 Apr. 2001, BOC), indicating that this species may still be attempting to use Ballona as a stopover site. Two summer/fall records include sick or injured birds in 1980 (LACM files) and 1996 (DS). The Brant was historically much more common along the coast of southern California with birds in Los Angeles County wintering on kelp beds just offshore (Willett 1912, 1933), a phenomenon that no longer occurs. Though omitted by von Bloeker (1943), this may have been an oversight; groups of up to 12 birds were attempting to winter at Ballona as late as the 1950s (e.g., WT 12:22; AFN 5:225; WT 18:23; AFN 7:234), and singles were recorded on the Los Angeles CBC through the 1950s (NAS 2002). One modern (post-1950s) wintering attempt of what was presumably the same bird on 03 Dec. 2002 (BOC) and 12 Jan. 2003 (KL). The historical status of Brant at Ballona is difficult to ascertain, as declines probably occurred so long ago. It is conceivable that Brant historically passed over Ballona en route to more favorable stopover and wintering sites north of and south of here. It is also possible that hunting in the Los Angeles area, which increased dramatically in the early 20th century (Chambers 1936), precluded this species from wintering or even stopping locally at that time.

 

Tundra Swan

Vagrant (uncommon south to central California), two records. Two immatures were observed on Ballona Creek on 27 Nov. 1994 (RB), and an adult was at BFM 23 Dec. 2004 (DSC; likely the same individual that was present for over a week until 22 Dec. at Madrona Marsh in Torrance, fide KL).  Schreiber and Dock (1980) mention the presence of a bird at Washington Lagoon from “Sept. to early Nov. 1979,” but this record should be disregarded given the early date and unreliably of other records from this report.

 

Wood Duck

Status unclear, but probably a rare visitor any time of year. The first known record is of a male at PdR (exact location not known) on 01 Dec. 1994 (AP). The next was of another male at Ballona Lagoon on 01 Feb. 2003 (D. Gould, LACoBirds). Since the creation of BFM, the Wood Duck has been recorded annually as a rare post-breeding visitor, with up to seven birds 11 July to 03 August 2003 (RB, m. ob.), 2 on 31 Oct. 2004 (KL), and 1 on 25 Aug. 2005 (RB). The Wood Duck is now a locally uncommon breeder, winter visitor and transient on small freshwater lakes and even vegetated portions of channelized rivers throughout the Los Angeles Basin. Like the Tree Swallow, its nesting is likely being supported in the southern California region by nest boxes (see Hamilton and Willick 1996, Unitt 2004).

 

Gadwall

Colonized as a winter resident; now fairly common in winter and migration; uncommon through the summer; one recent breeding record. Up to 20 birds were present at BFM during its first winter 2003 – 04, and several apparently paired birds remained here through the summer of 2003. Birds did not summer the following year (2004), but two pairs did so in 2005, with breeding confirmed on 16 June 2005 (adult with 4 chicks, RB). This species is more widespread during migration, and quickly appears on rain pools (e.g., on Playa Vista). Not mentioned by von Bloeker (1943) or earlier authors, this species was apparently a casual winter and spring transient in the Ballona Valley during most of the 1900s (three records 1950 – 1990s), with wintering noted only in 1998, presumably along Ballona Cr. (AP). The Gadwall has been expanding its breeding range in southern California, most notably in coastal lagoons of San Diego Co. (Unitt 2004).

 

[Eurasian Wigeon

Probably a casual winter visitor, but no records. Small numbers of this species are found in California each winter, generally within flocks of American Wigeon. Its absence from Ballona is puzzling, and future sightings are expected.]

 

American Wigeon

Common winter resident and fall transient, with birds arriving in September. As it feeds on both grasses (incl. lawns) and aquatic plants, this species has apparently benefited locally recently as a result of the restoration of Ballona Lagoon, Del Rey Lagoon, and, particularly, by the creation of BFM. Though von Bloeker (1943) recorded it as a “common winter visitant in the vicinity of the salt marsh lagoon and Ballona Creek”, it was only irregularly present in rain-filled pools at Playa Vista at least during 1996-97 and 2003-04 (RS, DSC); and RSh recorded it only three times in fall and winter from 1977-1987. AP recorded none in the same area during the years 1995-1998. Small numbers resumed wintering on Ballona Lagoon beginning in 1996 (CLA) and on Del Rey Lagoon more recently (pers. obs.). Nearly 80 birds were present at BFM during Nov./Dec. 2003. Interestingly, most of these birds did not remain at BFM through the winter (though 18 were recorded nearby at in the concrete box channel of Centinela Cr. at the Ballona Cr. confluence on 01 Feb. 2004, DSC). Still, the wet meadow habitat preferred by this species remains scarce at Ballona; an interesting observation was made of two pairs feeding on rain-soaked lawn at DRL on 03 Feb. 2004 (DSC). An early individual was present at BFM from 30 July 2005 through the fall (RB).

 

Mallard

Colonized as a breeder; now a common perennial resident in fresh and brackish water throughout, though actual status has long been obscured by the presence of feral birds. Though only an “occasional winter visitor” in the early 1900s (von Bloeker 1943) and absent from lower Ballona Creek/DRL from mid-Apr. to early Sept. from 1977-1987 (BSh), Dock and Schreiber (1981) considered it a permanent resident in the Ballona Wetlands area in the late 1970s, though specific locations were not given. Corey (1992) did not record this species surveying the Ballona Wetlands in 1990-91, though this was during a period of prolonged drought; surveys since 1996 at Ballona Lagoon have recorded up to 10 on May – July visits (CLA), and the species was found through the summer along Ballona Cr. as early as 1998 (AP). Since 2003, it has been numerous year round at BFM, though numbers dip somewhat in spring when paired and nesting. Successful nesting was documented on the Ballona Wetlands as early as 1995 (adult with three young on 18 April; LABBA) and more recently, several pairs have raised young each year at BFM since 2003 (ducklings appear mid-Apr.). During the non-breeding season, birds are often seen feeding in flooded grassland after heavy winter rains.

 

Blue-winged Teal

Uncommon perennial visitor; recorded every month of the year. In 2003, three individuals appeared at BFM in March (JP), and since then up to three birds have been irregularly recorded at BFM year round (and rarely elsewhere), with little pattern of occurrence or peak in numbers. Prior to 2003, just three known records: two at PdR 20 Dec. 1942 (Bird-Lore May-June 1943 XX) with one here (continuing?) on 14 Mar. 1943; 24 Feb. 1952 (Minutes of the Cooper Club Meetings 1952 XX); and a pair at Playa del Rey from “early January” 1981 to at least 07 Mar. (WT XX).

 

Cinnamon Teal

Extirpated as a breeding resident; colonized as a winter resident; now a fairly common transient and winter resident on freshwater (mid-Aug. – May); uncommon in mid-summer. Occurs most reliably at BFM, but also recorded at freshwater pools at Playa Vista, along upper Ballona Cr., and elsewhere during migration. At BFM, fall migrants arrive in mid-August (a high of 25 by the end of August 2003, DSC) and remain in variable numbers through May (but have not yet bred). This teal apparently nested at Ballona during the early 1900s “in the salt marsh” (von Bloeker 1943, which would have included brackish wetlands and tule-lined ponds) but apparently had been reduced to a transient by the 1920s (Bird-Lore 26:347). Between the early 1900s and the construction of BFM in 2003 recorded only in early spring (up to 30 from late Jan. – mid. Mar.) and fall (4 records Sept. – Nov.), with an anomalous sighting on 14 May 1998 (AP).

 

Northern Shoveler

Extirpated, then reestablished as a winter resident; currently fairly common in fall and winter at BFM; uncommon to rare elsewhere. Since the creation of BFM in 2003, fall transients have appeared at the end of August in 2003 and 2004, building to several dozen birds by midwinter, with dozens observed feeding on the flooded saltpan of the Ballona Wetlands after heavy rains in Jan. 2005 (DSC). The Northern Shoveler was not recorded by von Bloeker (1943) but was likely overlooked; early accounts (e.g., Grinnell 1898, Willett 1933) have it common or abundant throughout coastal southern California, and a count of 200 presumably wintering birds was made at PdR on 05 Feb. 1947 (WT 13:28). A dramatic decline apparently occurred after the 1950s (Table 2), and during the last decades of the 1900s, the shoveler was only irregularly recorded at Ballona, with just eight records since the early 1970s (RSh, KLG, AP).

 

Northern Pintail

Extirpated as a breeding perennial resident; reestablished as a winter resident; now uncommon in migration and winter. The first southbound birds trickle through in late August (two along Ballona Cr. 21 Aug. 2004, KL), and up to 10 remained through the winter 2003 – 04 (but rare the following winter). The status of the pintail in winter and migration has changed dramatically from its being historically very numerous (“abundant winter visitor on salt marsh lagoon”, von Bloeker 1943), declining through the late 1900s, then back to being irregularly present, albeit in greatly reduced numbers, at BFM. Examples of historical numbers include 2000 birds at a local gun club (with freshwater impoundments) in late summer 1952 (WT 19:4); and 1000 birds along Ballona Cr. on 12 Oct. 1953 (WT 20:15) and 04 Jan. 1954 (WT 20:30). This species was also historically more common offshore during migration (AFN 2:189), and it apparently nested in the historical Ballona Wetlands (Willett 1933). Though the Northern Pintail was still being recorded in large numbers on Los Angeles Christmas Bird Counts in the 1970s (NAS 2002), there are just seven known records between the 1950s and 2003.

 

Green-winged Teal

Common fall transient and winter resident. Birds are found mainly at BFM (up to 20 birds wintering here 2003-04 and 2004-05), with smaller numbers on fresh and brackish water elsewhere. This species is uncommon in tidal channels of Ballona Wetlands and has been recorded just once at Ballona Lagoon (2 on 25 Oct. 2003, CLA). Birds are now present in the Ballona Valley from late August through April, with an unseasonal record of a pair at BFM on 21 June 2005 (KL). For most of the latter half of the 20th century, this duck was rather scarce and apparently not a regular wintering species: RSh recorded it only 9 times (up to 15 birds) from 1977-87. Characteristic of well-vegetated southern California estuaries, the historic Ballona Wetlands, prior to construction of MdR, were apparently an important wintering area: a record of 250 birds at PdR on 22 Feb. 1948 (AFN 2:189) is one of the few known local counts of waterfowl prior to the destruction of most of the Ballona Wetlands. Strangely, this species was not mentioned by von Bloeker (1943), as its numbers were possibly depressed due to hunting.

 

Canvasback

Extirpated as a winter resident; two modern records of singles at PdR on 12 Jan. 1985 (RSh) and at BFM on 05 Oct. 2003 (DSC). Von Bloeker (1943) considered the Canvasback “fairly common in winter on the salt marsh lagoon,” a reference to the water body that was subsequently reduced in size and transformed to Del Rey Lagoon and Ballona Lagoon. The only other local mention is an report of this species within mixed-species raft of waterfowl in the ocean just off Playa del Rey (including Scaup, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail and Ruddy Duck) on 11 Dec. 1925 (Bird-Lore 27:22).

 

Redhead

Extirpated, then reestablished as a winter resident; now uncommon in fall and winter. Von Bloeker considered this species “occasional in winter on the salt marsh lagoon” (1943:20). Oddly, Grinnell (1898) termed Redhead “tolerably common in summer” in coastal Los Angeles Co., but this may have been a misprint for “winter,” (which he did not mention) when more expected in the region (see Willett 1912, 1933). From the early 1900s until the creation of BFM, the Redhead was known from just a handful of records of singles from Dec. – Feb. (WT 16:24; WT 18:34; AFN 10:56, where termed “irregular in numbers and occasional in this region”); with just a single post-1960 record before 2003 (02 Dec. 1994, AP). Since 2003, up to three birds have wintered at BFM (pers. obs.).

 

Ring-necked Duck

Colonized as a winter resident; uncommon at BFM through winter. A single (?) bird at PdR on 07 Dec. 1995 (AP) served as the sole local record until the creation of BFM in 2003, when up to two pairs were present during the first winter (from 03 Oct. 2003, JP) and the subsequent year (m. ob.). An early transient was at BFM on 23 Sept. 2004 (DSC), and one was at DRL on 07 Nov. 2004 (DSC). This species was unrecorded by von Bloeker (1943), so its historical status locally is unclear. However, given its preference for relatively deep freshwater ponds and avoidance of the immediate coast in southern California (Unitt 2004), it appears to be a recent addition to the Ballona avifauna.

 

Greater Scaup

Uncommon winter resident in very small numbers throughout, with birds arriving in late Oct./early Nov., remaining through March.

 

Lesser Scaup

Common winter resident, casual in summer. Birds are present in numbers from late fall into April, most commonly seen on Ballona and Del Rey lagoons. An aseasonal record was made of one at BFM from 11 June 2003 that continuing through October (RB). Though counts since at least the 1970s have not exceeded 50 birds (RSh, AP, DSC), historically, much larger numbers wintered along (pre-channelized) Ballona Creek (e.g. 200 on 31 Dec. 1954, WT 21:34).

 

Harlequin Duck

Vagrant (from the north); three records. One record of an apparent fall transient (23 Oct. 1949, AFN 4:35), and two of birds summering along lower Ballona Cr.: a male present from 03 Mar. 1972 into 1976 (Garrett and Dunn 1981; erroneously listed as 1977 – 1982 in AFN 40:334), and another twenty years later at the same location from 16 May (KL) to 03 Oct. 1999 (RB).

 

Surf Scoter

Common winter resident and spring transient; casual in summer. Though nearly absent some years, hundreds are generally present on salt water (often into lower portion of Ballona Cr.) from mid-Dec. to mid-Apr., but fewer than 25 are generally present in fall before mid-Nov. (RSh). This species over-summered in numbers during 1981 (15, RSh) and 1982, but is otherwise best considered rare at that season. It is apparently irregular at Ballona Lagoon, occurring only during the winter/spring of 1998 (CLA), when birds were common in tidal channels throughout Los Angeles and Orange Co. (pers. obs.).

 

White-winged Scoter

Irregular and rare winter visitor; casual in summer. Formerly as common as Surf Scoter (e.g. “many hundreds” off PdR and Santa Monica during winter 1960-1961 [AFN 15:75]; 100+ at PdR in Feb./Mar. 1980, [RSh]), but last wintered in numbers during 1984-1985 (fide RSh), with just 1 present the following winter. Now rare (and irregular) at best; it has been recorded only in two winters since 1994, but in 1998, c. 20 birds were present during January, with a single bird continuing to 28 March (LACM files). Interestingly, this was the same year that Surf Scoters wintered at Ballona Lagoon, where normally very rare, per CLA). Summer records came in 1980 (20 off Playa del Rey and 20 in Ballona Cr. “throughout [summer] period”) and 1998, when a single female was observed on 14 June (RB). One historical reference to the presence of “some White-winged Scoters” off PdR on 02 July 1932 (Stevenson 1932) indicates historical summering as well.

 

Black Scoter

Rare winter visitor; casual in summer. Records of this rarest scoter have come sporadically, and it has apparently always been scarce in the area (e.g. von Bloeker 1943). Known sightings include one at the “Recreation Gun Club” from 01 Feb. – 14 Mar. 1943 (Bird-Lore May-June 1943 XX); up to three birds each winter between 1980 and 1982 (AFN 35:226; LACM files); one from 05 Feb. to 05 Mar. 1998 (AP, fide KLG); and one on 07 Jan. 2003 (R. Norton, LACoBirds). Summer sightings include birds off PdR “to 31 Aug. 1979” (AB 33:897; LACM files) and on 27 June 2005 (BGJ). Recent sightings of this species (and other rare sea ducks) have been from large Surf Scoter rafts that typically form off Dockweiler State Beach, just south of PdR (fide RB).

 

Long-tailed Duck

Occasional winter visitor and rare spring transient in salt water. The first known records were obtained in the late 1940s (WT). One or two birds have been present about every three winters, with up to five birds were seen 1994-95 (MSM). In addition to these winter records, up to five sightings of presumed spring migrants are known: along Ballona Cr. from April (WT XX) to 01 May 1975 (AFN 29:908); 05 Apr. 1982 (3, BPE); 04 June 1985 (AFN 39:962) and a male (which may have wintered) 03 Mar. – 29 Apr. 2001 (KL). Dock and Schreiber (1981) also list a questionable sighting on Ballona Lagoon in “mid-March” 1979, the only known record for Ballona Lagoon.

 

Bufflehead

Common winter resident. Several dozen birds winter in salt and brackish water (esp. Del Rey and Ballona lagoons); less common in freshwater (e.g. BFM) and along Ballona Cr., where typically found downstream of Lincoln Blvd., fide JP). The Bufflehead is a very late fall arrival, with the most birds arriving in November (early: female at BFM 18 Oct. 2004, RB) and remaining to early April. Numbers may have increased locally through the 1900s, as von Bloeker (1943) considered it only “occasional in winter on the salt marsh lagoon.”

 

Common Goldeneye

Occasional winter visitor and early spring transient. First mentioned locally by Willett (1933) as “about a dozen seen at Del Rey” on 23 Apr. 1928 (spring transients?), this species was also recorded irregularly in winter at Playa del Rey through the 1940s and 50s (von Bloeker 1943; AFN; WT). Somewhat mysteriously, this species went unreported (possibly because it was not considered particularly rare?) for nearly fifty years until 2000, when three (two males and a female) were found on DRL 06 – 26 Jan. 2000 (RB). Singles were again present here in 2001 (12 Mar., RB), 2003 (14 Mar., KL), with up to two here and up to three at BFM the following winter (2003-2004). At Ballona Lagoon, single females were present 21 Jan. 04 and 14 – 16 Feb. 2004 (both CLA). The Common Goldeneye is likely still somewhat irregular at Ballona, as none was reported the winter of 2004-2005.

 

Hooded Merganser

Occasional and irregular late fall and winter visitor. The first record was of a female at “Del Rey” (probably along Ballona Cr. near present-day Mar Vista) on 27 Nov. 1913 (Willett 1933). A male was recorded 26 Nov. 1951 (AFN 6:38), and the next record involved an unusual report of “Hooded Mergansers...in the channels at Playa del Rey...early winter 1971” (WT XX). Subsequently, it has been recorded three times at DRL (21 Nov. 1975, KLG; 6 birds on 10 Feb. 1991, M.C. Long; and 16 Dec. 1993, AP). Up to four birds were recorded together at BFM here 31 Oct. 2003 to 16 Jan. 2004 (m. ob.), where will likely prove regular in small numbers: singles present here 02 Nov. 2004 (KL) and 24 Oct. 2005 (DB). In addition, RDS recorded this species along “Centinela Ditch” (now Playa Vista) during the winters of 1998-99 and in Feb. 2003. This merganser is a localized winter resident in small numbers in freshwater situations in the Los Angeles area.

 

Common Merganser

Extirpated as a winter resident; two modern records: 16 Jan. 1998 (B. Elliot); and two females on 26 Jan. 2000 (RB). Considered a “moderately common” winter visitor by von Bloeker (1943), this species now winters on large inland reservoirs in the region (Garrett and Dunn 1981) but historically was apparently more common on the immediate coast (Willett 1933, Grinnell and Miller 1944).

 

Red-breasted Merganser

Fairly common winter resident and rare transient; casual in summer. This species is found at Ballona Lagoon, Ballona Cr., DRL and inshore waters from Aug. – Apr. (peaking Dec. – Feb.. RSh notes). Two spring transients at Playa del Rey on 03 June 1949 (AFN 3:252) were exceptionally late, as were two at BFM 25-26 May 2003 (LMF). Aside from an old record of three birds “in the canal east of the colony of beach homes” at PdR 25 June – 02 July 1929 (= the historical Del Rey Lagoon?; Stevenson 1932), modern summer records limited to a single (apparently injured) female at Ballona Lagoon from 07 July 2004 on (RB, m. ob.).

 

Ruddy Duck

Extirpated, then reestablished as a breeder; now a fairly common breeding resident. Between the 1950s, when common in winter (e.g., 53 along Ballona Cr. on 31 Dec. 1954; WT 21:34) and the construction of BFM in 2003, recorded mainly in single digits during fall and winter, with peaks in late winter (Feb./Mar.) in the 1990s (AP) possibly involving early spring migrants. Since 2003, up to 30 birds have wintered at BFM, with numbers lowest in early fall (none recorded Sept. 2003, Sept. 2004). Though breeding was known from the historical Ballona Wetlands (“Formerly nested in the salt marsh [also referable to brackish wetlands] and may still do so in small numbers” von Bloeker 1943), it had apparently ceased doing so by the second half of the 20th century, when birds were present in winter only. With the construction of BFM in 2003, breeding was reestablished (8 young observed on 24 June 2003; T.P. Ryan), with additional broods the following summers (Cooper 2004; DSC).

 

QUAILS

 

California Quail

Extirpated as a breeding perennial resident; three recent records. Von Bloeker (1943) considered quail a “common resident of the meadow (= grassland habitat) and meadow slope of the dunes. Nests here between middle April and late June,” and confirmed nesting as late as 1940. This population persisted into the 1970s (15 from the Culver Blvd. bridge over Ballona Cr. on 05 Jan. 1975; KLG), and Dock and Schreiber (1981) wrote of a “small covey observed regularly throughout the year on (the area of Ballona Wetlands south of Culver Blvd.), and recorded sporadically (north of Culver Blvd. and north of Ballona Cr.).” Post-1980s records limited to a “flock” vic. Hughes airstrip, now part of Playa Vista, on 22 August 1998 (RDS); one on the Westchester Bluffs on 10 Apr. 1999 (B. Elliot); and a male and a female at BFM 17-18 Apr. 2004 (C. Day, RB, m. ob.), the male continuing to 26 July (RB). Quail remain common in the Baldwin Hills just east of the Ballona Valley (Garrett 2001, pers. obs.).

 

LOONS

 

Red-throated Loon

Uncommon spring transient on salt water, generally recorded as birds flying north offshore, sometimes in flocks; apparently extirpated as a winter resident. This species wintered offshore into the 1980s (up to 6 birds present Nov. to Apr., RSh), but apparently no longer does. Late-moving birds have been recorded into May (16 May 1996, AP), and a spring transient at BFM on 19 April 2003 (DS) is the only record away from the immediate coastline and lower Ballona Cr.

 

Pacific Loon

Uncommon winter resident and spring transient on salt water, with one or two birds present Nov. – Feb. (but often missed entirely), and higher numbers in March and Apr. during spring migration. A transient at BFM 15 – 24 May 2003 (BGJ) is the only record away from the immediate coastline and lower Ballona Cr. Rare summer lingerer: two birds on 31 July 1981 (B. Broadbrooks) and two on 05 June and 04 July 1998, RB).

 

Common Loon

Fairly common winter resident and spring transient on salt water, with up to 4 birds consistently present Nov. – Feb., and higher numbers in March and April. A spring transient was found dead at BFM 13 May 2003 (TPR), the only record away from the immediate coastline and lower Ballona Cr. Regular in very small numbers in summer and fall, with up to four birds 21 June – 09 August 1981 (KLG, RSh); plus June records in 1996 and 1998 (AP).

 

GREBES

 

Pied-billed Grebe

Colonized as a breeder; now a common and conspicuous breeding resident at BFM; fairly common fall transient and winter visitor in fresh and brackish water throughout. The first local nesting evidence came in 2003 (4 broods at BFM on 29 June; DSC, Cooper 2004). Though the Pied-billed Grebe may have bred at Ballona historically, it was rare in summer in southern California during the early 1900s (Willett 1912, 1933), and was known only as a migrant and winter visitor here prior to 2003.

 

Horned Grebe

Uncommon winter resident (Oct. – early Apr.; earliest: 29 Sept. 1996, AP). Up to 10 birds are typically present each winter offshore, along lowermost Ballona Creek and in Marina del Rey harbor, with just two records (mid-winter) from Ballona Lagoon (CLA). The first BFM record came on 13 Nov. 2003 (BGJ), and at least 2 birds wintered here 2003-04 (RB, m. ob.), joined by a third on 26 Mar. 2004 (DSC).

 

Red-necked Grebe

Rare winter visitor (Dec. – Mar.) and casual transient to salt water. There have been twelve winter records since this species was first recorded the winter of 1948-49 (WT 15:24), with birds lingering into March. Additionally there are single records of apparent transients each in spring (two at Ballona Lagoon on 27 Mar. 1998, CLA) and fall (Ballona Cr. on 23 Sept. 1976; WT XX).

 

Eared Grebe

Fairly common winter resident and transient. Daily counts of up to 20 birds have been made from mid-Sept. to Apr. (RSh) along lower Ballona Cr., Marina del Rey, Del Rey Lagoon and inshore ocean waters; up to 10 in winter at Ballona Lagoon and BFM. Formerly occurred in tidal sloughs of Ballona Wetlands (von Bloeker 1943), but now rare here. An early individual was at BFM on 05 Sept. 2003 (KL), with most birds arriving in October. Small numbers linger through the spring, but are rare by mid-summer, with two at Marina del Rey on 27 June 1978 (KLG) and one summering along Ballona Cr. from 20 July on in 2003 (LMF).

 

Western Grebe

Common winter resident on salt water; rare in summer. Though nearly absent some years, this grebe can be abundant; typically seen in large rafts just beyond breakers, or in smaller groups in MdR and lower Ballona Cr. Uncommon on Ballona Lagoon (CLA), and unrecorded at BFM. The first birds arrive in October, but do not become common until December. Counts may reach several hundred birds (high: 650 on 01 Jan. 1978, RSh) into April, or they can be virtually absent (e.g. winter 2003-04). Non-winter records are few (possibly overlooked/not reported), but small flocks have lingered through May (30 on 28 May 1976, KLG), and up to two birds were along Ballona Cr. 10-17 Jul. 2004 (LMF).

 

Clark’s Grebe

Probably an occasional winter visitor; few recent records. This species likely follows a similar pattern of seasonal occurrence of preceding one, (e.g. up to 4 on 09 Jan. 1982, RSh). Dates extend from 21 Oct. (1989, KLG) to 28 May (2 birds in 2002, KL).

 

TUBENOSES

 

Northern Fulmar

Rare and irregular visitor. This species is occasionally present well offshore throughout the year, and local records are of birds seen just behind the breakers or picked up sick/dead on the beach, especially after storms. It was historically more common; von Bloeker (1943) reported 33 known specimens from Hyperion from 30 Oct. to 17 Apr., during winter when most expected. Since the 1930s, however, birds have been recorded only during rare incursions, the most recent of which occurred during fall 2003, when large numbers of mainly dark-morph birds were seen along the California coast through summer 2004, including one “just offshore” on 16 Nov. 2003 (KL), and moribund or dead birds on Playa del Rey/Marina del Rey beach 19 Oct. 2003 (RSh) and 5 birds picked up locally in summer 2004 (CD, DB).

 

[Pink-footed Shearwater

Though considered “common in summer and fall” in the area by von Bloeker (1943), recent records from PdR are lacking, though this species remains common just offshore, and is regularly seen with the following species from coastal promontories nearby such as the Palos Verdes Peninsula.]

 

Sooty Shearwater

Irregular and uncommon spring and summer visitor to inshore waters. This species is responsive to extreme local conditions such as strong onshore winds and temporally abundant food supply, with a report of “hundreds” off PdR on 15 May 2003 (BGJ) one of the few known records. Formerly abundant just offshore, a recent increase in ocean temperature off southern California has apparently forced this species farther north (discussed in Unitt 2004).

 

[Short-tailed Shearwater

Though considered “irregular in winter off Hyperion” by von Bloeker (1943), this species has not been conclusively reported off PdR. However, a report of two small, dark shearwaters offshore PdR after a severe storm on 27 Oct. 2004 (DB) may have pertained to this species.]

 

Black-vented Shearwater

Irregularly uncommon winter visitor to inshore waters. Though present at sea c. 3-10 mi. offshore, large concentrations (e.g. 200 birds on 07 Feb. 2004, KL) are only occasionally seen from shore during periods of onshore winds and rain, or when food sources (e.g. squid, anchovies) happen to be close to the beach, generally Nov. – March (KL, via email).

 

Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel

Vagrant (uncommon offshore south to northern California), two records. One collected on 23 Oct. 1915 (WFVZ) and a single bird off the PdR jetty on 10 May 1993 (KL) are among the few records for Los Angeles County.

 

Leach’s Storm-Petrel

Vagrant (regular in small numbers well offshore), one record. A single bird reportedly seen “inside breakwater during storm” 23 Jan. 1981 (AB 35:335) was reported as having “a white rump with a black line through the center” (LACM files).

 

Ashy Storm-Petrel

Vagrant (regular in small numbers well offshore); two winter records. Dead birds have been picked up at the beach at PdR on 12 Dec. 1934 (von Bloeker 1943) and 15 Mar. 1969 (LACM 80876).

 

BOOBIES, PELICANS, CORMORANTS, ETC.

 

Brown Booby

Vagrant (from Mexico), one record. One was observed flying along Ballona Cr. 25 January 2000 (C. Ogan, LACM files).

 

American White Pelican

Rare winter visitor and transient. Seven early records from Playa del Rey through 1978 span 26 Sept. – 16 Apr. (AFN, WT), and after a nearly twenty-year hiatus, the next record was obtained on 04 January 1996 (AP), and five records have followed: 28 Jan. 1997 on Ballona Wetlands/Ballona Creek (BOC); 08 Mar. 1999 (2, BE); 07 Jan. 2002 (3, with one to 10 Feb., RB); and 28 Sept. – 01 Oct. 2004 at BFM (KL, BOC). A remarkable modern record was of a flock of six birds that wintered here from 21 Nov. 2002 to “February” 2003 (m. ob.), roosting on saltpan of Ballona Wetlands and visiting BFM; this is the only record of the American White Pelican remaining through the entire winter at Ballona.

 

Brown Pelican

Abundant late summer, fall and winter resident. Hundreds of pelicans roost on the Playa del Rey breakwater and large numbers throughout Marina del Rey, Ballona Cr. and Ballona Lagoon. High count: 2500 on breakwater 19 Oct. 1986 (AB 41:143). Much less common (though always present in numbers) from late April through July, when most are on breeding grounds. Von Bloeker (1943) termed this species a “common coastal resident.” This species is rarely observed at BFM, though several corpses (apparently killed by introduced Red Fox) have been found here.

 

Brandt’s Cormorant

Status unclear due to confusion with Double-crested Cormorant, but probably a fairly common winter resident on breakwaters of Playa del Rey. Strictly coastal; unrecorded away from ocean.

 

Double-crested Cormorant

Common winter resident, with 100+ birds recorded on breakwaters of Playa del Rey, in Marina del Rey and along Ballona Creek through fall and winter, with small numbers at Ballona Lagoon (up to 8, CLA) and at BFM (generally singles). This species becomes scarcer through spring and into summer, though a handful are generally present year round, often along Ballona Creek.

 

Pelagic Cormorant

Fairly common transient and winter resident in salt water, with up to 50 on breakwaters and in salt water from August to April (RSh), though singles often seen fishing along Ballona Ck (to vic. Pacific Ave. bridge). Strictly coastal; recorded just once on Ballona Lagoon (1 on 14 Nov. 2004, CLA).

 

Magnificent Frigatebird

Casual summer visitor. A spate of sightings in the late 1970s include: 13 July 1975 (AFN 29:1030); 30 July 1977 (2, LACM files); 15 August 1978 (WT XX); three sightings in 1979: 30 June (WT XX), 31 July (2 imm., KLG) and “early August” 1979 (Dock and Schreiber 1981); and one present from 03 July to at least 10 August 1980 (WT XX). An additional sighting was made on 13 July 1986 (AFN 40:1254), and consistent records since then to the north and south suggest limited observer coverage here during the summer may be affecting the dearth of recent sightings.

 

LARGE WADERS AND VULTURES

 

American Bittern

Extirpated as a winter resident; two modern (post-1960) records. One apparently wintered at BFM from 23 Oct. 2004 – 03 Apr. 2005 (RB, B.G. Johnson), and another was at the Ballona Wetlands on 06 Dec. 1980 (RSh). Historically, this species was much more numerous in winter and migration at PdR (von Bloeker 1943), and one here on the early date of 06 Aug. 1924 (Bird-Lore 26:347) suggests the possibility of historical nesting. Birds were recorded on the Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count through the early 1950s (Table 2), and the last local record during this period is of one at PdR 07 – 20 Jan. 1952 (WT 18:28).

 

Least Bittern

Extirpated, then reestablished as a rare and localized perennial visitor or resident; essentially confined to BFM. The first modern record was of one present at BFM from 24 July to 05 Aug. 2003. One to two were recorded at BFM through spring 2005, when one was consistently heard singing from dense reedbeds from 22 Mar. (DSC). In summer, 2005, a spate of sightings of multiple birds and a probable nest at BFM (RB, E. Read) strongly suggested local breeding. This bittern likely nested in the Ballona Valley in the early 1900s as well; von Bloeker (1943) wrote “formerly rarely seen in late spring and summer in vicinity of tule-bordered ponds and sloughs in the salt marsh. As a result of the elimination of many of the tule patches (for agriculture, Ibid), this species may no longer occur…” Subsequent to that statement and before the 2003 record, the Least Bittern was recorded just once at Ballona: a probable transient at PdR on 07 Sept. 1950 (AFN 5:38). Two other records of transients have come recently: one at Ballona Lagoon on 26 May 2005 (DB), and another picked up in residential Mar Vista in early Sept. 2005 (fide E. Read).

 

Great Blue Heron

Colonized as a breeder; now a common breeding resident, most common in fall and least common in early spring when actively breeding. Small numbers nested in the lone cottonwood on the western edge of the Ballona Wetlands at least in 1995 (KBC 1996; BOC, pers. comm.), and now breed in trees at Marina del Rey just north of Ballona Cr. (e.g., 10 nests on 16 Feb. 2002, KLG; at least 8 nests in March 2004, DSC). This heron’s historical breeding status is unknown, but it was only a transient and winter visitor by the 1920s (e.g., Bird-Lore 26:347), and breeding was not mentioned by von Bloeker (1943), who considered it “frequently observed in the meadow area and in the salt marsh,” nor was it mentioned as a breeder on subsequent surveys (e.g., Dock and Schreiber 1981; Corey 1992).

 

Great Egret

Fairly common transient and winter resident and (increasingly) an uncommon summer resident in wetlands, grassland and on jetties throughout. Like most of the local waders, most common during migration (e.g. 21 at BFM on 12 Oct. 2003, DSC; 20+ at DRL on 20 Nov. 2004, DSC). Formerly present only in the non-breeding season, with the earliest fall arrivals record recorded by RSh (1977-87) during the second week of September (14 birds on 10 Sept. 1983), and winter/spring sightings extending into April (exceptionally to 19 May 1998, AP). Spring numbers are generally low (as birds are breeding away from the region), and mid-summer records were apparently unknown until 2000 (see e.g. Corey 1992), when birds were present at Ballona Lagoon on 30 August 2000 (3), and the next year on 23 July (both CLA). Since then, up to three birds have been present here and at BFM through the summer months. Historically much less common, with von Bloeker (1943) terming it “occasionally seen in all seasons in the salt marsh”. Birds are often seen stalking rodents in flooded grassland after heavy winter rains.

 

Snowy Egret

Fairly common perennial resident (common during migration) in wetlands and on jetties throughout. Large aggregations of several dozen birds are encountered in migration and winter (e.g. 41 at Ballona Lagoon on 07 Apr. 2002, CLA). Less common during winter and mid-summer, a few can be found any month of the year. Local breeding was unknown until 2005, when 5 active nests were observed in eucalyptus over a lightly-used parking lot in MdR near Washington Lagoon on 12 May (DB, DSC). It is not known how long birds have been nesting here; they were not recorded doing so during the Los Angeles County Breeding Bird Atlas during the late 1990s (LABBA). Numbers have increased regionally since the early 1900s, when a rare sight (e.g., Bicknell 1922). Von Bloeker (1943) wrote that in the Ballona area, this species was “rarely observed in the Playa del Rey salt marsh,” although it had apparently rebounded by the 1950s: “60-100 roosting with Black-crowned Night-Herons in eucalyptus, Venice Marshes” during fall 1951 (AFN 6:37). Today, birds still utilize these large eucalyptus trees where Marina del Rey has replaced the historical marshes.

 

Little Blue Heron

Vagrant (from Mexico), four records. The first involved one at PdR on 30 Sept. 1949 (AFN XX), with two reported here the following year on 15 Sept. 1950 (WT 17:8). Two modern records, a summer bird along Ballona Creek from 22 July – 23 Sept. 1989 (LACM files), and one in winter at DRL 16-17 Jan. 2000 (LACM files). This species is normally found north to northwestern Mexico, though small numbers are resident in coastal San Diego Co.

 

Tricolored Heron

Vagrant (from Mexico), two records. One was at “Marina del Rey” 25-27 Aug. 1972 (AFN 27:120; Garrett and Dunn 1981), and another was along Ballona Creek 20-27 Jan. 1981 (AFN 35:335).

 

Reddish Egret

Vagrant (from Mexico), one record. An adult photographed at Ballona Lagoon 27 Apr. 1990 was only the second record for Los Angeles County (Heindel and Garrett 1995)

 

Cattle Egret

Occasional winter visitor and transient. Sixteen known records (several involving small flocks) extend from 17 Sept. – 06 May, with most sightings in fall (Sept. – Nov.) and early spring (March). A high count of “up to 50” were present at PdR in “late December” 1978 (AFN 32:398); oddly, this is the first known record of this species at Ballona; it may have been present earlier and simply unreported.

 

Green Heron

Extirpated, then reestablished as a breeder; now an uncommon perennial resident. Up to 4 birds have been recorded year round since the 1990s, with nesting first confirmed in 1995 (fledglings at a condominium complex near Ballona Lagoon on 16 July 1995; LACM files); breeding commenced at BFM in 2005 (2 nests, fide E. Read). Until the 1930s, the Green Heron was a characteristic breeding bird of Ballona: six egg sets were collected here between 1933 and 1935 (WFVZ), and Howsley (1936) estimated four pairs nesting in the area – about the same as the current population! Between then and the 1990s, however, it was only recorded in fall and winter (RSh, LACM files).

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Fairly common perennial resident; recent colonizer as a breeder. Though generally present in small numbers, a notable influx of young birds occurs in late summer (high: 14 at BFM on 06 Aug. 2004, JP). Typically up to five birds, mostly juveniles and immatures, are present irregularly throughout the year at Ballona Lagoon, Ballona Cr., BFM and MdR. Previously an uncommon transient, the year round population in the Ballona region has apparently increased. For example, RSh listed just 3 records from 1977-1987, in fall and early spring; and Corey (1992) lists just four sightings between June and Oct. 1990. AP (1993-98) recorded it year round in small numbers along Ballona Cr. and at BW. Recent breeding was documented vic. Washington Lagoon (3 nests in eucalyptus, 1 with fledglings, on 11 April 1995; LABBA).

 

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Vagrant (from Mexico); one record. One was present in Venice during the summer of 1951, in a “backyard near Venice” during the last week in June (AFN 5:307), and presumably the same bird at the “Venice marshes” for “several days in late July” (WT 18:4).

 

White-faced Ibis

Extirpated as a winter resident; now an uncommon fall transient (late Aug. – early Dec.), occasional in spring. In 2003, up to 20 were present more or less continuously from 20 July (3, RB) through early November (1 to 09 Nov., m. ob.). Similar numbers were present in the following autumn (2004), and birds at PdR on 21 June 2004 (RB) and 30 June 2005 (2, R. Van de Hoek, LACoBirds) were apparently post-breeding visitors. There have been six spring records (12 Apr. – 23 May) since 2003, mainly from BFM. Between the 1940s and 2003, only a handful of records known, mainly of fall migrants (some involving small flocks); but also two records each in winter (05 Jan. 1953, AFN 7:234; 3 on 06 Feb. 1999 KLG files) and spring (“April” 1990, Corey 1992; 40 on 16 Apr. 1998, AP). This ibis was apparently regular in winter and spring through the 1920s (Bird-Lore 26:131; Bird-Lore 29:285), and Grinnell (1898) considered it “of common occurrence in fall, winter and spring,” adding “a few remain through the summer in the Ballona marshes, and A.M. Shields believes that they breed here.” By mid-century, it was irregular in winter (von Bloeker 1943:13), the last records of over-wintering coming in the early 1940s (Bird-Lore 45:15; NAS 2002).

 

Roseate Spoonbill

Vagrant (from Mexico), one record. One was along Ballona Cr. from 02 - 17 July 1973 (Garrett and Dunn 1981).

 

Wood Stork

Vagrant (from Mexico), one record. One was observed at the “Gun Club” on 30 July 1925, about which F.B. Schneider wrote “the man in charge said that a large flock had been there for some days” (Bird-Lore 27:348).

 

Turkey Vulture

Extirpated as a winter resident; now an uncommon transient. Recent (post-1990s) records have also been concentrated in spring and mid-fall (Sept. – Oct.), coinciding with the peak movement through southern California (Rowe and Gallion 1996). Though over-wintering is unknown, spring migration begins as early as late Dec., with early sightings typically occurring during periods of warm, southerly air flow. A handful of late spring and summer records (e.g., Westchester on 14 June 2003, RDS) likely involve tardy migrants or wanderers rather than local breeders. Birds were apparently more common in winter in previous decades (e.g., six birds on 12 Dec. 1981, RSh). Von Bloeker (1943) termed the Turkey Vulture a “common resident” and RSh recorded it from 08 August to 09 May. It was scarce by the 1990s, with AP recording just a handful during regular visits in the 1990s, mostly in May and October.

 

DIURNAL RAPTORS

 

Osprey

Uncommon fall transient; rare visitor at all other times of year. Fall records are concentrated in the month of September (range: 05 Aug. to 02 Nov.), with two presumed spring migrants on 16 May 1995 (“JF” in AP) and 26 Apr. 2003 (RDS) and a handful of summer records both in 2004 and 2005 (m. ob.). Generally recorded singly, but four were observed together over Ballona Cr. on 05 Sept. 2005 (RDS). Virtually unknown in winter (contra KBC 1996), with four records: 11 Dec. 1925 (Bird-Lore 27:22); 25 Jan. 2004 over BFM carrying a fish (DSC, KL), and two the next year, on 23 Jan. (DSC) and 06 Mar. (KL – possibly an early spring migrant). Though not mentioned as occurring by von Bloeker (1943), numerous fall reports were published in Bird-Lore during the 1920s.

 

White-tailed Kite

Fairly common non-breeding resident from mid-summer to mid-winter; casual in spring. Two-three kites are expected at Ballona from mid-summer (late June or July) through mid-winter (January), when they apparently vacate the area to breed elsewhere. A remarkable five juveniles were seen together at the wetlands on 12 July 2003 (RB) and up to 3 juveniles were here on 10 Aug. 2003 (DSC). Kites can begin breeding as early as mid-February in southern California (Unitt 2004), and while local breeding was suspected by KBC (1996) who observed an adult and a juvenile “throughout the summer” of 1995, no details were provided that would rule out their being post-breeding/dispersing birds. A recent smattering of spring and early summer records of single birds briefly present may pertain either to north-bound migrants or to dispersing/failed breeders, e.g. 28 May and 16 June 2002 (KL); 03 and 30 May (KL) and 10 June (TPR) 2003; 18 Apr. 04 (CD). This species was historically much more numerous in the Ballona Valley, at least in winter, with occasional large winter roosts present (e.g. 20 birds together at Hughes Airport in Feb. 1978, WT XX), but now occurs in low numbers (typically 1-3 per day). This species forages heavily in the open parcels of the Ballona Valley (e.g. north of Ballona Cr.), and is clearly one of the primary beneficiaries of the effort to maximize the among land spared from urban development here.

 

Bald Eagle

Vagrant, four known records. This species was apparently always rare at Ballona, at least within recorded history. Modern records limited to presumed transients observed “over Hughes” (now Playa Vista) on 25 Nov. 1982 (RSh) and on 17 Mar. 1984 (imm., RSh). One “present for weeks” on 08 Jan. 1978 (KLG) was clearly attempting to winter during a year that brought large numbers of raptors in the Ballona Valley. Von Boeker (1943) termed the Bald Eagle “Rare; occasionally observed in soaring flight over the (El Segundo) Dunes, beach and salt marsh.” He lists (Ibid) an anomalous record of an oiled bird at PdR on 22 July 1928, a time when wild individuals were still nesting in coastal southern California (Grinnell 1898, Willett 1933). This species is now very rare and irregular in winter in the Los Angeles area, mainly found at large reservoirs away from the Los Angeles Basin. Any future records will likely be of transients, as the sole potential wintering habitat (the open fields of the Hughes property) has now been lost to development.

 

Northern Harrier

Extirpated as a breeding perennial resident; now an occasional fall and winter visitor (Oct. – Dec.). Harriers formerly occurred in winter in small but consistent numbers, but have not over-wintered here since the mid-1990s (AP, RDS). Up to two birds are recorded on the Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count each year (NAS 2002), and about one sighting per year is now expected in winter (fide RDS). A high of seven were on the Ballona Wetlands 01 Jan. 1955 (WT 21:34), and harriers nested at Ballona as late as 1953 (WFVZ; additional egg records from 1935 and 1947).

 

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Uncommon winter resident. This small raptor is as frequently seen in residential neighborhoods (esp. Westchester) as in native habitat, and unlike Merlin or American Kestrel, often perches in low, concealed spots (esp. willow clumps), waiting for small birds. Records span 04 Oct. to 06 Apr. A reference to summer records (National Audubon Society 1988) is obviously incorrect. The Sharp-shinned Hawk may increase in abundance with restoration of riparian corridor along the base of the Westchester Bluffs.

 

Cooper’s Hawk

Fairly common fall transient and winter visitor (appears as early as late July); uncommon summer resident and local breeder in residential areas. A pair fledged young in Westchester in June 2003 (BE). This species is now a locally common breeder throughout the Los Angeles Basin in residential and even urban habitats if tall trees are present, and is expected to become more common with urban development associated with Playa Vista.

 

Red-shouldered Hawk

Occasional transient and winter visitor. RSh lists just two records from 1977-87, both in winter (07 Feb. 1981 and 14 Jan. 1984). Only a handful of known local records (but likely under-reported) include one being mobbed by crows at baseball field east of Lincoln and north of Ballona Cr. (“Parcel C”) in “October” 1990 (Corey 1992); 16 Dec. 1993 (AP) at BW; 31 Dec. 1996 at BW (RSh); 24 Mar. 2002 at PdR (KL); a “juvenile seen soaring” above BW on 30 Aug. 2002 (BOC); and several records of an immature bird at LMU, BFM and PdR between 09 Aug. 2004 (RB) and 22 Jan. 2005 (DSC). This species may be most common in Westchester, as RDS has recorded it six times here between Sept. and May since 1996. Additionally, notes from Audubon’s Ballona Wetlands Program list several sightings between 1999 and 2001 (fide BOC), though exact dates are not known. There is no evidence that this species was resident at Ballona within recent history (contra KBC 1996), and given its preference for tall trees, long scarce in the region, probably did not do so historically. Von Bloeker (1943) did not mention this species in his treatment of the local avifauna. Since the species is now nesting in small numbers throughout residential areas (as well as wooded canyons) within the Los Angeles Basin where large trees have become established, future breeding is possible, particularly at LMU.

 

[Broad-winged Hawk

The reference to one wintering at PdR in 1977 – 1978 (AFN 32:399) was apparently a misprint (fide B. Broadbrooks, credited as the observer), and referable to a Rough-legged Hawk (also unusual) that wintered here that year. There are no records of this raptor from Ballona itself, though small numbers are recorded each fall in southern California.]

 

Swainson’s Hawk

Vagrant, one record. One spring transient was observed near Grandview Ave. and Washington Blvd. in Mar Vista on 13 Apr. 1998 (KL). This species is part of a suite that tends to migrate slightly inland both in spring and fall (incl. Violet-green Swallow, Dusky Flycatcher, Black-throated Gray Warbler), and is rarely recorded along the immediate coast of southern California.

 

Red-tailed Hawk

Common and conspicuous resident, with 1-4 birds generally present year round on the Ballona Wetlands, and probably as many in the surrounding residential areas. Both Dock and Schreiber (1981) and Corey (1992) recorded birds throughout the year, and it appears to be resident, breeding in the large eucalyptus grove on the south side of the wetlands (pair in courtship flight observed here 27 Dec. 2003, DSC). Interestingly, von Bloeker (1943) wrote “an occupied nest was found high in a eucalyptus tree near Palisades del Rey on March 6, 1932” – possibly the same grove of trees! Other pairs currently breed in palm trees in residential Mar Vista (fide LMF) and probably elsewhere.

 

Ferruginous Hawk

Casual winter visitor. Most post-1960 records of this beautiful grassland raptor came from the “Hughes property,” since converted to Playa Vista, including singles here on 20 Dec. 1977 (BE); 12 Dec. 1981 (RSh) and what was likely the same bird “near Sepulveda and Jefferson” on 24 Feb. 1982 (JBr); and an immature bird on 13 Jan. 1990 (KLG). One attempting to winter in grassy parcels near Lincoln Blvd. and Culver Blvd. was present 08 Dec. 2004 – 11 January 2005 (RB, m. ob.). Historically, the Ferruginous Hawk was a fairly common in winter in the agricultural areas of coastal southern California; it was regular on the Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count until the mid-1950s (NAS 2002), coinciding with the loss of much of the open land of the Los Angeles Basin to housing. It has now been nearly extirpated as a wintering species from the area, though very small numbers winter irregularly in San Pedro at the northern base of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, along the Orange County coast, and in extreme southwestern San Bernardino Co. (vic. Chino, Claremont).

 

Rough-legged Hawk

Vagrant, two records. Two birds were observed 24 Dec. 1977 – 28 Feb. 1978 over grassland that is now Playa Vista (AFN 32:399), and one was “near Sepulveda and Jefferson” on 06 Jan. 1982 (JBr). This species would have been historically more common when the Los Angeles area was largely agricultural (or grassland), but it is unlikely to occur again except as a vagrant.

 

American Kestrel

Fairly common resident. As many as six birds together were observed in winter by Corey (1992), but typically 2-3 are seen per day now, essentially year round. Though foraging habitat for this species continues to be reduced for this species, it is possible that the planted palm trees in future development will prove attractive nesting areas, as long as some foraging habitat (e.g. grassy or scrubby hillsides) are retained.

 

Merlin

Uncommon transient and winter visitor throughout Ballona Valley and adjacent residential areas (e.g. Westchester). Dates span 18 Sept. (2004, DSC) to 26 Apr. (2002, KL), with 1 per visit expected during peak movement in late fall. This species was unrecorded by Dock and Schreiber (1981) and Corey (1992). However, it is inconspicuous, very fast flying and often confused with the more common American Kestrel, even by experienced observers.

 

Peregrine Falcon

Uncommon transient and winter visitor. Since summer 2003, singles have been present from mid-summer through winter, with 1-2 birds recorded practically daily. The historical status of this species is difficult to characterize due to the paucity of records; was apparently irregular prior to 1940 (Grinnell 1898; von Bloeker 1943), with just three known records during this early period, and virtually none in the five decades between 1940 and 1990 (but see below). This falcon became an irregular migrant and winter visitor during the 1990s, and since 2003, one can usually be found in a day of birding from late summer through early spring. Known sightings prior to 2003 include:

 

·        22 Sept. 1924 (Bird-Lore 26:426)

·        11 and 29 Aug. 1926 (Bird-Lore 28:413)

·        05 Sept. 1939: one “shot by boys as it foraged at Del Rey” (LACM 86938)

·        15 Dec. 1975 – 13 Feb. 1976 (AFN 30:765)

·        08 Dec. 1991 at Ballona Wetlands (KLG)

·        20 Oct. 1994 (AP)

·        10 Jan. 1995 (AP)

·        10 Dec. 1995 (AP)

·        08 Apr. 2002 at Ballona Lagoon (DSC)

 

A spate of records in the early 1980s (28 Aug. 1980 – 22 Jan. 1983; J. Cupples, RSh) may be attributable to an individual that was released here in summer 1980 (fide KLG). Because so many recent sightings have been of birds foraging at BFM, it is fair to suggest that the creation of this marsh encouraged the Peregrine to occur more regularly and to remain through the winter. Birds are also observed at the Ballona Wetlands salt pan when flooded, but rarely away from these two areas. However, recent local increases are probably tracking regional ones; this species increased dramatically in the region through the 1990s (NAS 2002) after begin nearly extirpated in the state during the height of DDT-related eggshell-thinning in the 1960s.

 

Prairie Falcon

Casual in fall and (formerly) winter. Birds at Ballona Wetlands on 10 (2) and 17 Sept. 1925 (Bird-Lore 27:417); 13 Oct. 1975 (WT XX); and another circling above Westchester on 26 Oct. 1997 (RDS) were fall transients, and one at the “Hughes property” (now Playa Vista) on 04 Jan. 1981 (RSh) may have been attempting to winter locally. This species tends to migrate and winter well inland now (formerly more common along the coast), and remains a very rare breeding resident in the mountains surrounding the Los Angeles Basin.

 

RAILS AND CRANE

 

Black Rail

Extirpated. The last record of this cryptic rail came in the 1920s: “Adult found impaled on barbed-wire fence near Del Rey, Los Angeles County, by J. Ewan, February 25, 1928” (Ewan 1928). Ewan (Ibid) further noted “There appear to be no recent records of the occurrence of this rail in this locality,” alluding to its rarity even then. The only other local record is a sight record: “G.F. Morcom saw one at Ballona, Los Angeles County, May 16, 1895” (Grinnell 1898) which, if correct, would almost certain pertain to a summering or breeding bird. It is possible the Black Rail persisted here, at least as a wintering bird, later in the 20th Century until the completion of Marina del Rey eliminated most of the wetland habitat. Recolonization is not likely; this species has essentially disappeared from coastal wetlands in coastal southern and central California (Small 1994), although small populations have recently been discovered about 100 miles south of the U.S. border in northwestern Baja California (AFN 56:361).

 

Clapper Rail

Extirpated as a breeding perennial resident. A resident population of the Light-footed Clapper Rail (R. l. levipes) persisted at least into the 1950s, but was apparently eliminated by the creation of Marina del Rey. Four were at PdR 09 Oct. – 06 Nov. 1950 (AFN 4:35), and singles were recorded on the Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count in 1952, 1955 and 1956 (NAS 2002). This population had been long documented by specimen and egg collections (Grinnell 1898; WFVZ), with the last egg set collected 24 Apr. 1944 at “Del Rey” (WFVZ). In the past fifty years, there have been but two records, presumably of vagrants from extant populations in neighboring Ventura or Orange counties: “February” 1966 (calling bird at the Ballona Wetlands near the tidal inlets from Ballona Cr., fide MSM); and two in “January” 1995 in this same tidal channel (D. De Lange, pers. comm.; photos of one reviewed by KLG but subsequently lost).

 

Virginia Rail

Extirpated as a breeding perennial resident; reestablished as an uncommon transient and rare (or rarely-seen) winter visitor at BFM. Small numbers have been recorded here since 2003, with dates extending from 23 Aug. to 05 May (m. ob.). Von Bloeker (1943) considered the Virginia Rail “resident in the salt marsh” (but note his expanded definition of salt marsh which included freshwater and brackish marshes), and breeding was documented in 1902 (“two egg sets taken by W.L. Chambers at Ballona, Los Angeles County, April 13, 1902” in Willett 1933). The only other credible record from the 1900s was of one observed at PdR on 19 Feb. 1952 (WT 18:38); Several sightings in atypical habitat by Dock and Schreiber (1981) are not credible and may pertain to Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago.

 

Sora

Extirpated as a breeding perennial resident; reestablished as a fairly common transient and winter resident at BFM (July through May). The first modern record was of an early fall transient found mortally injured (possibly mobbed by crows or gulls) along Ballona Cr. on 29 Jul. 1998 (LACM 110576). All other recent records are from BFM since its opening in 2003 (high: 5 at BFM on 04 Jan. 2004), beginning with another fall transient on 31 July 2003 (RB). Von Bloeker (1943) considered the Sora “present in small numbers throughout the year in the salt marsh most frequently being found in vicinity of tule-bordered ponds and creeks,” and even breeding (in “April and May”). Prior to the 1998 record, the last records of Sora in the Ballona Valley were of transients or wintering birds in the early 1950s (AFN 5:225; WT 18:38).

 

Common Moorhen

Extirpated as a (presumably) perennial resident; reestablished as an uncommon transient and winter visitor at BFM. The first modern record involved a transient at BFM on 19 Apr. 2003 (DSC), with subsequent records of up to two birds every month of the year (though no evidence of breeding or paired birds). This freshwater marsh obligate was apparently lost very early; in 1924, F.B. Schneider wrote: “seen frequently in a restricted area of the marsh” during April and May (Bird-Lore 26:278), with multiple birds present that fall, temporarily displaced by drying marsh ponds until water was pumped into impoundments of a local gun club (Bird-Lore 26:426). These two references comprise the entire historical record of this species at Ballona prior to 2003; its loss was apparently overlooked by von Bloeker (1943).

 

American Coot

Extirpated, then reestablished as a breeder; now a common breeding perennial resident at BFM; still a transient and winter resident elsewhere. Prior to the construction of BFM, coots were mainly a winter visitor to freshwater portions of Ballona Cr. (upstream of Culver Blvd.) and on Del Rey Lagoon (peaks of >200 birds Sept. – Mar.; RSh). Breeding was noted at BFM its first year (2003, T.P. Ryan) and in subsequent years (Cooper 2004; DSC). Though von Bloeker (1943) found this species to be abundant in winter, breeding from mid-April to mid-June, it had apparently ceased nesting by the time the area was surveyed by Dock and Schreiber (1981) and Corey (1992).

 

Sandhill Crane

Extirpated. Cranes historically occurred (pre-1900) commonly in winter throughout the Los Angeles Basin (e.g. “A.M. Shields states that a few stay through the winter and spring months, up to May first, among the Centinela hills and grain-fields” in Grinnell 1898), it was still passing through as a migrant by the early 1930s (Willett 1933), though a “rare” migrant in the Playa del Rey area by the 1940s (von Bloeker 1943). Specific late records include a “Greater Sandhill Crane” (Grus c. canadensis) at Playa del Rey from “the latter part of January” to 27 Feb. 1949 (AFN 3:224). Prior to this, an “adult male” “Little Brown Crane” (= Greater Sandhill Crane) was collected “near Culver City" 03 Mar. 1929 (Willett 1933), possibly within the study area.

 

SHOREBIRDS, GULLS AND TERNS

 

Plovers

 

Black-bellied Plover

Common non-breeding resident. This species is most numerous in fall and winter, but at least a few are present every month of the year. The first southbound individuals arrive at the end of July, and numbers soon swell to c. 500 birds that remain through the winter from August to March. Though exact counts are lacking, this remarkable concentration may represent a majority of all wintering Black-bellied Plover in Los Angeles CountySan Diego County’s winter population, for which we have much better data, was recently estimated at just 1500-3000 birds (Unitt 2004). Up to a few dozen birds are present through spring and early summer, mainly encountered along the rocky banks of Ballona Cr. (esp. vic. the UCLA boathouse) and at DRL. During the peak season, most of the birds apparently divide their time between Ballona Cr. (at low tide) and the saltpans of Ballona Wetlands, especially after these have been moistened by rain. Birds apparently roost at night in the fenced-in Least Tern breeding area on south Venice Beach, just north of the MdR channel mouth (fide DB). This species also frequents Ballona Lagoon (fide CLA) and, in smaller numbers, the beach and outer jetties of Playa del Rey, but has not been recorded at BFM.

 

Pacific Golden-Plover

Extirpated; previously a fall transient and winter resident. The Ballona Wetlands, including the Ballona Creek channel, was a historical wintering area for this species, with records of fall transients dating back at least to the 1920s (Willett 1933 lists records from 04 Sept. to 27 Nov.). After a gap in data mid-century, the next records are of one in Feb. 1964 (WT 30:52) and two birds present in “February” 1966 (WT XX), with six birds present the following December (WT 33:6). (Owing to a paucity of published observations [of birds of any species] at Ballona in the intervening years, it should not be assumed the birds were not present). Golden-Plovers were found wintering in small numbers each winter from the early 1970s to 1983 (AFN; LACM files), arriving as early as 04 September (3 in 1974; AFN 29:121) and staying as late as 29 Apr. (in 1978; AB 32:1055). These birds would apparently roost on the saltpans of the Ballona Wetlands (Dock and Schreiber 1981), presumably with the numerous Black-bellied Plovers. Though they have not wintered since the early 1980s, however, every effort should be made to manage habitat for this species, as only a handful of regular wintering areas are known in North America. Their preferred wintering habitat seems to be large expanses of flat, damp ground near the coast with very short herbaceous vegetation. Other known wintering areas include grazed areas of outer Point Reyes, Marin Co., sod farms near Oxnard, Ventura Co., mowed portions of Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, Orange Co., and, at least formerly, sod farms of the Tijuana River valley, San Diego Co.

 

Snowy Plover

Extirpated as a breeding perennial resident; now an occasional transient and rare winter visitor. Historically an important wintering area (e.g., “more than 100 returned for winter at upper beach at Playa del Rey” in late July 1926; Bird-Lore 28:355), and several dozen birds were recorded on Los Angeles Christmas Bird Counts into the 1960s (Table 2). Numbers declined sharply in the late 1960s, but Page et al. (1986) still found up to eight birds on eight of nine winter counts in the Playa del Rey area from 1978 to 1985. By the end of the 1980s, birds were no longer wintering at Ballona (fide RSh, AP), and there have been only two winter records since the start of near-daily coverage by birders in early 2003, both of small flocks: just south of the Ballona Cr. mouth on 09 Jan. 2003 (10, KLG), and north of the Marina del Rey mouth 16 – 29 Dec. 2004 (up to 14, DB). Just south of the region, a loose wintering flock has developed on Dockweiler State Beach since the 1990s (fide RB). The Snowy Plover historically bred on the sand spit that once separated the “Ballona swamp” from the ocean (Chambers 1904; Willett 1912), and though the last local egg set was collected on 18 June 1914 by J.E. Law (WFVZ), small numbers nested here successfully as late as 1925 (Bird-Lore 27:273).

 

Semipalmated Plover

Uncommon transient and occasional winter visitor. Currently, this plover occurs irregularly in small flocks in spring and fall, with the first (presumably northbound) birds arriving in late winter, coincident with the ponding of water on the Ballona Wetlands salt pan (e.g. 8 birds on the salt pan at BW on 10 Jan. 2004; 10 here on 12 Feb. 2005; both DSC) with small numbers increasingly common and widespread into April. The first southbound birds appear in July (3 at DRL on 27 July 2003, DSC), with birds passing through into September. Von Bloeker (1943) considered it to be a migrant, although “considerable numbers” were present 16 and 21 Jan. 1923 (Bird-Lore 25:137), and up to 7 were recorded by RSh between Nov. – Jan. during the early 1980s. This species is most often observed with large groups of mixed shorebirds on wet mud along Ballona Creek, at DRL, and on peak migration days (April, July/August) at BFM.

 

Killdeer

Common perennial resident. Though the short grass and bare dirt habitat preferred by this species is getting increasingly scarce in the Ballona Valley, numbers of this plover may still be encountered year round, on mudflats (e.g. DRL), along Ballona Creek, at BFM and in undeveloped portions of Playa Vista. Small numbers continue to nest (or attempt to do so) on barren patches of dirt, and numbers swell during migration and winter; a tight flock of 20 birds was observed at BFM on 12 Oct. 2003 (DSC).

 

Mountain Plover

Extirpated, if it ever occurred regularly. Formerly apparently a rare transient or winter visitor, with known records of birds on the Hughes airstrip (now Playa Vista) on 03 Dec. 1972 (JBr); along Ballona Cr. on 30 Oct. 1976 (WT 43:6); and 02 Nov. 1979 (2) at “Playa del Rey” (WT 46:8). Because the area with the most appropriate Mountain Plover habitat has long been closed to the public (and was rarely visited by birders), and has now been lost with the build-out of Playa Vista, there is no way to know whether these records were representative of a lost coastal wintering population, or just an ephemeral phenomenon. Small numbers of birds still winter in small numbers as close as Seal Beach, Orange Co. (NAS 2002). The lack of records on any Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count, however, suggests that this species was probably gone prior to the 1940s. Historically, the Mountain Plover was more common in the region away from the immediate coast (see Grinnell 1898), though small numbers probably always wintered locally on coastal prairie.

 

Oystercatcher

 

Black Oystercatcher

Uncommon resident. Small numbers are found on the outer jetties and the free-standing breakwater of Playa del Rey, rarely seen along lower Ballona Creek. Breeding was confirmed during late 1980s (LACM files), and during the Los Angeles Breeding Bird Atlas on 05 Aug. 1999 (LABBA). A high count of 15 was made on 06 Feb. 1998 (RB).

 

Stilt and Avocet

 

Black-necked Stilt

Extirpated as a breeder; reestablished as a common perennial resident and localized breeder away from the immediate coast. Stilts are found year round in freshwater portions of Ballona Cr. (e.g., between Centinela Ave. and Culver Blvd.) at low tide; at seasonal ponds on Playa Vista; and at BFM. They nested at least once on the Ballona Wetlands proper in recent years: an occupied nest that produced four young was found on 25 June 1998 (LABBA), and bred subsequently at BFM in 2003 (T.P. Ryan), and in nearby Playa Vista property (seasonal pools) in May 2004 (DSC). Historically, the Black-necked Stilt was evidently much more common as a breeder, with nesting noted up to 1952 (AFN 6:299). Eight egg sets were collected on 11 May 1931 by L.R. Howsley (WFVZ), described in his journals as being “3/4 mi east of Del Rey Hills Calif. (near Venice). Location in swamp area between main highway and the Del Rey Hills to the west. A colony of 9 or 10 nests here. Nest placed on top of salicornia [sic] so dense as to form a mat over a wide area and then died out leaving suitable ‘platforms’ upon which to build nests – only an inch or two above the water.” During the latter half of the 1900s, however, the stilt occurred only as a transient and winter visitor.

 

American Avocet

Extirpated as a breeding perennial resident; now an occasional transient. Since the mid-1980s, there have been about 10 records (though this species is no doubt under-reported), mostly in late fall (26 Sept. – 01 Dec.), but also in spring (02 Mar. – 27 May). Historically, the American Avocet was apparently resident (breeding described at “Del Rey” in 1923 in Willett 1933). An egg set from this colony, noted as being “on mud-hump in marsh” was collected on 29 Apr. 1923 (WFVZ), and adults accompanied by young were present here the next year on 27 July (Bird-Lore 26:347), making the last year of known nesting 1924 (contra Willett 1933). Fall migrants would build through late summer (Bird-Lore 29:438; WT 16:8), and winter counts of up to 200 birds were recorded into the late 1950s (Bird-Lore 26:131; WT 13:28; NAS 2002). Numbers apparently declined through the 1960s (NAS 2002); RSh (1977-1987) recorded avocets mainly in single-digits in winter and migration, including highs of 20 birds in January and February. The last Los Angeles CBC record came in 1993 (NAS 2002), and the only winter record in the past ten years (10 Feb. 1996, AP) may have been a very early spring transient.

 

Sandpipers

 

Greater Yellowlegs

Fairly common transient and winter resident. Generally confined to freshwater habitats, with small numbers present essentially year round. RSh (1977-87) lists highs of up to 10 birds (presumably along Ballona Cr.) in mid-winter. The last northbound migrants and the first southbound birds both pass through in June (e.g. records at BFM from 01 and 30 June).

 

Lesser Yellowlegs

Rare transient and winter visitor. Most frequently recorded in early fall in freshwater, esp. along Ballona Cr. or at BFM, with several records from 03 August through early September. Historical sources (e.g., Willett 1933 include several fall records, with a high of up to 13 together on 01 Sept. 1924 (Bird-Lore 26:426). Winter records are limited to two birds at “Playa del Rey marshes” on 04 Feb. 1943 (Bird-Lore May-June 1943 XX), at that time considered the “first definitely identified in winter” in southern California; and two birds present from 25 Dec. 1980 to 23 Jan. 1981 (LACM files). Another found by the same observer the following fall on 24 Nov. 1981 (Ibid) may have been attempting to winter. The lone spring record is of one along Ballona Cr. on 29 Mar. 2003 (KL). Dock and Schreiber (1981) listed several fall and winter records, but given other problematic shorebird records therein, these should probably be disregarded.

 

Solitary Sandpiper

Probably an occasional fall transient. Prior to 2003, there was only one known sighting, on 20 July 1971 (WT XX). The opening of BFM in 2003 led to three records that year, 22 July (RB); 01 August (JP); 27-28 Sept. (DSC), and additional records in 2004 (3 on 19 Aug. 2004). A species typically found at muddy margins of freshwater ponds and rivers migration, it will likely prove regular at BFM in migration, provided proper habitat is present.

 

Willet

Common non-breeding resident, primarily in saltwater habitats. Though small numbers are present year-round, two distinct pulses in spring (Feb. – early Mar.) and fall (July – early Oct.), bringing concentrations of hundreds of individuals (high: 400 on 30 July 1996, KLG). Most of these birds concentrate along the lower portion of Ballona Cr., but Willets are also frequently found at Ballona Lagoon, DRL and along the beach and jetties. Formerly (as with several species of shorebirds and waterfowl) much more common locally, with 10,000 reported at the Venice Marshes on 18 Oct. 1953 (AFN 8:42).

 

Wandering Tattler

Uncommon winter visitor and transient, but present in small numbers practically year round, typically on outermost portions of the jetties at Playa del Rey. Though usually single, multiple birds are often seen in late summer, during fall migration. Records extend from 08 July (2002, RB) to 09 May (1995, AP).

 

Spotted Sandpiper

Fairly common transient and uncommon winter visitor. Recorded in all aquatic habitats (fresh and salt water), but not normally found on sandy beaches, and only one record for Ballona Lagoon (09 Sept. 2002, CLA). Birds are present from early fall (1 at BFM on 03 Aug. 2003) to late spring (1 at BFM on 27 May 2003, TPR). Von Bloeker (1943) did not mention the presence of this species from the Ballona Valley, which he attributed to the lack of rocky shoreline.

 

Whimbrel

Common non-breeding resident in saltwater habitats, with small numbers lingering through June along the beach, at Ballona Lagoon and along Ballona Cr. Recorded at BFM primarily as fly-overs in migration. A noticeable increase of southbound birds occurs in late summer (late July), when hundreds loaf along lower Ballona Cr. (High: 300 on 01 August 1982, RSh). Birds are much more widespread in the Ballona Valley during spring migration; a group of 11 was observed in Salicornia of the Ballona Wetlands in Apr. 1990 (Corey 1992), and there have been several recent records of singles or small flocks from BFM from mid-Mar. into April.

 

Long-billed Curlew

Extirpated as a winter resident; now an occasional transient. This species is currently recorded exclusively as a transient, generally as individuals calling overhead. Spring dates extend 08 Mar. – 31 May, and fall records are between 03 July and 31 Oct. (modern high: 16 flying south over BFM on 01 Aug. 2004, DSC). During visits in the 1970s and 80s, RSh recorded it just six times (27 August – 04 Apr.), with a single winter record of 5 birds on 06 Dec. 1980 being the last known winter sighting for the Ballona Valley. Historically a common transient and winter resident (von Bloeker 1943, Bird-Lore 26:278, Bird-Lore 26:347), curlews were recorded in small numbers on most Los Angeles Christmas Bird Counts (presumably at Ballona) through the mid-1970s, reaching double-digits as late as 1958 (NAS 2002).

 

Bar-tailed Godwit

Vagrant (from Asia), one record. One along Ballona Creek 11 Feb. – 02 Mar 1976 (AFN 30:766; Garrett and Dunn 1981) stands as one of the few California records.

 

Marbled Godwit

Common transient and winter resident on immediate coast, with up to 50 birds typically present from July through mid-March. High: 150 on 23 Feb. 1980 (RSh). Found mainly along lower Ballona Cr., at Ballona Lagoon and along the beach. Unrecorded (except for fly-overs) at BFM. Like other large shorebirds, the Marbled Godwit is likely to benefit greatly from future saltmarsh restoration that increases the amount of tidal flat habitat.

 

Ruddy Turnstone

Common transient and winter resident on lower Ballona Cr., outer jetties and breakwater, and beach, with small numbers lingering through summer. Distinct peaks in spring (Feb. – early Apr.) and fall (Sept. – early Nov.) may involve several dozen birds. The Ruddy Turnstone is unrecorded at Ballona Lagoon or at BFM and rare at DRL; three were roosting on the BW salt pan, where rare, in a flock of several hundred shorebirds that had congregated there on 12 Feb. 2005 after a heavy rain (DSC). Apparently scarce prior to the construction of the larger breakwaters and jetties at PdR; von Bloeker (1943) listed just a single record.

 

Black Turnstone

Almost identical pattern of occurrence as above species. A high count was estimated at 100+ on 12 Mar. 1983 (RSh), which undoubtedly involved spring migrants. Scarce prior to the construction of the breakwaters and jetties; von Bloeker (1943) listed just two records, both of summering birds from the early 1900s.

 

Surfbird

Fairly common (sometimes hard to detect) spring transient and winter resident on jetties and outer breakwater of Playa del Rey, with a few summer records (incl. 3 on 16 June 2002, KL). A high count of 60 was made on 20 Apr. 1983 (RSh). Like above species, scarce prior to the construction of the breakwaters and jetties, with von Bloeker (1943) only listing a single record of a spring transient. This species, along with turnstones and oystercatcher, is most readily seen along the lowermost Ballona Creek channel and jetties at low tide, when mussels and moss are exposed on the boulders.

 

Red Knot

Occasional fall transient and winter visitor; rare in spring. Typically observed in small numbers with other shorebirds, either on PdR jetties and beaches, or roosting with Black-bellied Plovers on flooded saltpans of the Ballona Wetlands. RSh (1977-87) listed 10 records of fall and winter visitors between 06 Sept. and 17 Jan., and small numbers have appeared in fall since the late 1980s (early: 16 July 1995, DSC). In 2004 – 05, two birds wintered on the saltpan at BW, roosting with Black-bellied Plovers (KL), the first confirmed instance of local over-wintering. Since 1950, there have been six records of spring transients, 11 Mar. – 12 May. The Red Knot was historically much more common during migration, presumably when the area offered more of its preferred mudflat habitat; von Bloeker (1943) considered it a “common fall migrant, less common in spring.” Examples of early fall counts include 17 on 07 Sept. 1926 (Bird-Lore 28:413) and 10 on 16 Oct. 1954 (AFN 8:42).

 

Sanderling

Common transient and winter resident. This species is generally found on the wet sand of the beach at Playa del Rey, but occasionally ventures up the Ballona Cr. channel (e.g. 14 at Beethoven St. on 05 Jan. 2003, RDS). Unrecorded at BFM, there is just one record for Ballona Lagoon, on 12 Jan. 2002 (CLA), and on the BW salt pan 12 Feb. 2005 (DSC). Like Willet, occurs in pulses during fall (Aug. – early Nov.) and spring (Jan. – early Apr.); spring concentrations can be very large (e.g. c. 1000 on PdR breakwater on 04 Apr. 2004; G. Chambers, BGJ). Two birds on 11 May 1992 (KLG) were late. Reports of birds in “agricultural fields” by Dock and Schreiber (1981) should be disregarded.

 

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Probably a rare fall transient. One was observed along Ballona Cr. at McConnell Ave. 09 Aug. 1998 (KL), and another was at DRL on 28 Aug. 2004 (KL); more records of this rare-but-regular early fall migrant are anticipated in the future.

 

Western Sandpiper

Common transient and uncommon winter visitor (July – Apr.). Birds are most common at Ballona Lagoon, along Ballona Cr., at BFM (primarily as a transient), and on the saltpan at Ballona Wetlands when saturated by rain. Numbers are apparently highest during spring migration: a remarkable count of 5000 birds roosting on the jetties of PdR was made on 25 Apr. 1985 (JKA), and 1000 were at the historical Ballona Wetlands on 22 Apr. 1951 (AFN 5:275). The last spring migrants linger into early May, and a “summer wanderer” was observed on 13 June (2004, BGJ), a full two weeks before the first fall arrivals on 03 July (6 at DRL in 2004; DSC). Thousands of birds undoubtedly fly past or over the Ballona Wetlands in spring and fall, landing instead in more extensive habitat to the north and south. This species will probably respond well to salt marsh restoration, particularly if it involves an increase of mudflat habitat.

 

Least Sandpiper

Similar pattern of occurrence to above species, but much more common through the winter, when Westerns may be absent for weeks. Earliest in fall: 4 at BFM on 30 June 2004 (DSC).

 

Baird’s Sandpiper

Probably a rare early fall transient, but difficult to identify and doubtless overlooked, even by experienced birders. Two modern records include single birds flying and trying to land at BFM on 31 Aug. 2003 (calling) and 21 Aug. 2004 (both DSC). Historically more common: Willett (1933) lists several fall records (Aug. – Oct.) from the 1920s, and four were counted “between Hyperion and Playa del Rey” on 09 Aug. 1948 (AFN XX). A purported Baird’s Sandpiper “on the mudflats” of Ballona Wetlands on the unprecedented date of 01 Nov. 1979 (Dock and Schreiber 1981) should be disregarded; as should a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (on graph only) in the same report in August.

 

Pectoral Sandpiper

Probably a rare fall transient. Just four modern records (post-1960) in late Sept./Oct.: two birds “on rocks” at PdR in “October” 1964 (WT 32:42); one on the Ballona Wetlands on 12 Oct. 1980 (RSh); and juveniles along Ballona Cr. on 30 Sept. 1998 (KL) and at BFM 17 – 23 Sept. 2004 (RB, m. ob.). These fall within the expected mid-fall passage of this species in California (Small 1994); Willett (1933) also mentions several September records from the 1920s, and one was reported at PdR on 01 Oct. 1943 (A. Stultz, Bird-lore, Sept.-Oct. 1943 XX). A reference to this species being “accidental” in winter (NAS 1988) is not credible.

 

Rock Sandpiper

Vagrant (uncommon south to northern California). This species has been unrecorded since 1-2 birds were observed on the Playa del Rey breakwater during five winters from 1957 – 1967 (Small 1959; Garrett and Dunn 1981), and is otherwise virtually unrecorded in southern California. Its appearance at Ballona is difficult to explain.

 

Dunlin

Uncommon winter visitor and spring transient. Though found in both fresh and saltwater situations during migration, this species typically appears in small numbers (single digits) on the flooded salt pan at BW after winter rains, and may be picked out of Dowitcher flocks along Ballona Cr. at low tide. Apparently more common previously, RSh (1977-87) recorded up to 50 during walks along Ballona Cr., and JKA counted up to 100 with the large flock of Western Sandpipers on 25 Apr. 1985 (see above). Early: 10 Sept. 1958 (WFVZ); late: singles at DRL on 23 May 2004 (DSC) and at Ballona Lagoon on 01 Jul. 2005 (CLA). Even before the loss of most of the wetland habitat at Ballona, the area was apparently never a major wintering area for the Dunlin, as von Bloeker (1943) termed it “occasional”.

 

Stilt Sandpiper

Vagrant (from the central U.S.), two records. One was collected at “Playa del Rey” 07 Dec. 1959 (WFVZ), and one was along Ballona Cr. on 08 Sept. 1976 (WT XX).

 

Ruff

Vagrant (from Asia), two records. One was present at PdR 06 – 15 January 1975 (AFN 29:743; Garrett and Dunn 1981) which died at the end of its stay and was preserved as a specimen at LACM; a spring transient was also observed here on 14 Apr. 1993 (D. Kahane, LACM files).

 

Short-billed Dowitcher

Fairly common transient. This species is most often recorded in late summer at Del Rey and Ballona lagoons at low tide, though small numbers also occur at BFM. In migration, small numbers of birds are present from mid-March through early May, and again in fall from late June (e.g. 1 at DRL 27 June 2004, BGJ) through Aug. (exceptionally to 31 Oct. 2003, DSC), after which time most dowitchers here are assumed to be Long-billed. High: 26 along Ballona Cr. on 19 Aug. 2004 (DSC). A bird at BFM on 10 June 2003 (TPR) was either a very early fall transient or a summer wanderer.

 

Long-billed Dowitcher

Common winter resident and transient. This species is most common from Nov. to early Mar., and at least 100 individuals now winter within the study area (e.g. 109 during low tide at DRL 19 Dec. 2004, BGJ), most dividing their time between DRL, the BW salt pan, and upper Ballona Cr. at low tide. The earliest transients arrive in late July (e.g. 1 on Ballona Lagoon on 23 July 2001, CLA) and lingerers can remain through late spring.

 

Wilson’s Snipe

Uncommon transient and winter resident in both fresh and salt marsh, as well as any damp herbaceous vegetation; most frequently seen in winter. Dates range from 24 Aug. 2003 (1 at BFM, DSC) to 13 May 2003 (3 at BFM, TPR). Away from BW and BFM, transients have been recorded mainly in fall, with singles at Ballona Lagoon on 09 Sept. 2003 (CLA) and roosting with Black-bellied Plovers in the Venice Beach Least Tern colony on 16 Oct. 2004 (DB). A high count of six circling in a tight flock over BW/BFM was made on 07 Dec. 2004.

 

Wilson’s Phalarope

Uncommon and irregular early fall transient; rare spring transient. Primarily a freshwater species, there is but one record for Ballona Lagoon: 18 August 1996 (CLA), and one record of a bird on the immediate coast (a fly-by on 22 Aug. 2004, KL). Numbers are variable – groups of 5-10 per day were observed at BFM in August 2003, yet just one was recorded here in fall 2004 (25 June 2004). Fall dates extend from 10 June to 07 Sept. It is less common in spring, with three spring records of singles at PdR on 28 Apr. 1998 (BOC); at BFM on 03 May 2004 (RB), as well as an historical record of “two small flocks” at the “gun-club ponds” at PdR on 02 May 1925 (Ross 1925). A record of one at the Ballona Wetlands in “April” 1980 (Dock and Schreiber 1981) may have been correct. In recent decades, much less common prior to the construction of BFM, which features its preferred habitat (shallow coastal lagoons). However, the Wilson’s Phalarope was termed a “common late spring and early fall migrant” by Bloeker (1943), and it was historically much more numerous as a fall transient (before construction of MdR and channelization of Ballona Cr.), e.g. 180 birds at PdR on 30 July 1949 (AFN 3:252). Along with those of Willet, Green-winged Teal, and the following species, one of the few known historical counts of wetland birds at Ballona). A reference to winter occurrence at Ballona (NAS 1988) is not credible.

 

Red-necked Phalarope

Uncommon early fall and spring transient. Most common in August, records extend from late June (1 on 21 June 1981, KLG) to mid-October (modern high: 13 along Ballona Cr. on 18 Sept. 2005, RDS). Exceptionally late birds have lingered to 16 Dec. (1951; WT 18:23) and 26 Dec. (1954; AFN XX). Prior to the construction of BFM, a rare spring transient, with just three modern records: 1 on 26 Apr. 1981 (RSh); one continuously from 22 Mar. to 02 May 1995 (AP); and 1(?) on 14 and 26 May 1998 (M. Ingalls, BOC). However, April 2004 found multiple birds each day on Ballona Cr., Del Rey Lagoon and at BFM. More tolerant of salt water than preceding species (e.g. 6 on the ocean offshore PdR on 22 Aug. 2004, KL), this species is often seen in tidal sections of Ballona Cr. Like the above species, much more numerous in the historical wetlands, termed an “abundant migrant off-shore, along shore, and on the salt marsh lagoon and sloughs” by von Bloeker (1943) and an early count of 130 birds was made at PdR on 30 July 1949 (AFN 3:252).

 

Red Phalarope

Rare and irregular visitor, mainly in winter. Essentially a pelagic species in southern California common just offshore, this is by far the scarcest of the three phalaropes, and its occurrence is associated with inclement weather at sea. Five late fall/winter records: 1 on 20 Nov. 1926 (Bird-Lore 28:70); up to 4 at PdR in late Dec. 1959 (WT 26:45); 5 on 13 Nov. 1982 (RSh); 1 from 09 – 11 Dec. 1983 (RSh); and 1 “after storms” 03 Feb. 1986 (JKA). This species may have occurred with more regularity historically (see von Bloeker 1943), but these records may have been of birds confused with the much more common (and similar) Red-necked Phalarope. Aseasonal records (e.g. 3 birds in July) in Dock and Schreiber (1981) are not credible, but a spring record (1 pr. on 03 June 1927, Bird-Lore 29:285) and two early records in fall (23 Aug. 1925, Bird-Lore 27:417 and 15 Sept. 1927, Bird-Lore 29:438) may be correct.

 

Jaegers, gulls and terns

 

Pomarine Jaeger

Rare perennial visitor; more regular just offshore. Records include birds at the mouth of Ballona Cr. or just offshore on 09 Sept. 1951 (AFN XX), 26 Sept. 1955 (8 birds; AFN XX), 28 May 1976 (KLG), 21 Feb. 2004 (KL), and 09 Jan. 2005 (KL). An unusual concentration of up to 10 jaegers (both Pomarine and Parasitic) was present for just off PdR for several days in late Apr. 2005 (m. ob.). Marine food conditions may be much more important than weather or time of year for this species’ appearance locally.

 

Parasitic Jaeger

Occasional perennial visitor. This species is far more likely to be seen from shore than the preceding species, and is often noticed harassing feeding gulls. Fall and winter records span 29 Sept. to 12 Mar., and include an exceptional group of 10 birds on 26 Sept. 1955 (AS, AFN). An unidentified jaeger on 12/13 Sept. 1981 (RSh) was described as “probably this species,” and a purported Pomarine Jaeger observed “resting on mudflats of (Ballona Wetlands)” in “early December” 1979 (Dock and Schreiber 1981) may also have been a Parasitic (assuming it was a

jaeger). Just two spring records: 20 Apr. 1978 (KLG), and several birds with the above species in late Apr. 2005 (m. ob.).

 

[South Polar Skua

One observed in flight at the mouth of Ballona Creek on 11 Sept. 1982 (RSh), while possibly correct, was not accompanied by a description. A subsequent reference to this species (National Audubon Society 1988) is inappropriate and may have been based on this report.]

 

Laughing Gull

Vagrant (from Mexico), two records. One was at PdR on 10 and 21 June 1973 (WT XX), and a first-year was at here DRL 11 Apr. – 10 May 2003 (KL). Another reported from “Venice” on 22 July 1983 (37:1027) was just north of the study area.

 

Franklin’s Gull

Rare fall and casual spring transient. This species has apparently declined as a migrant in past decades, as noted in San Diego County by Unitt (2004), and there have been just two known sightings since 1981. Prior to this, I located ten fall records from PdR/MdR extending from early August through December, and von Bloeker (1943) mentions four fall specimens collected 17 Oct. – 24 Nov. at Hyperion, just south of PdR. Oddly, the only two spring sightings are also the most recent, 30 Apr. 2000 (KL) and 16 May 2005 (L. Schmahl).

 

Little Gull

Vagrant (from Asia or the northeastern U.S.), two reports. One immature was reported on Ballona Cr. on 21 Mar. 1991 (D.M. Heindel), and another XX.

 

Bonaparte’s Gull

Currently an irregularly common winter visitor and spring transient; rare in summer and fall. Several thousand typically winter here (e.g. 3600 birds estimated on 11 Jan. 2005, DB), but are absent some winters (e.g. 1998-99, LACM files). Ballona has apparently long been an important concentration area for wintering Bonaparte’s Gulls in southern California – an estimate of 700 birds was made on 25 Dec. 1942 (Bird-Lore Mar.-Apr. 1943 XX). San Diego County, where numbers have been synthesized (Unitt 2004), rarely sees counts above the low hundreds, with large numbers well offshore. Local concentrations generally appear in November, although small numbers trickle through in fall (mainly seen offshore); there are two late summer records: 14 Aug. 1972 (5, KLG) and 27 Aug. 1978 (RSh). This species is most numerous foraging or roosting along lower Ballona Creek (esp. during low tide); at the mouth of Marina del Rey harbor, and roosting on the wet salt pan of Ballona Wetlands after rain. They also forage on the ocean at PdR just beyond the breakers, with large rafts often seen resting on the water, or just inside the breakwater during storms.

 

Heermann’s Gull

Common in summer, fall and winter along immediate coast; uncommon in late winter and spring. Recorded in maximum numbers (100+) from Aug. to December, then a sharp drop-off (as birds leave for breeding grounds in Mexico) from February to the end of Apr. (RSh). It frequents Ballona Creek and DRL but has only been recorded just once at nearby Ballona Lagoon (17 Oct. 1997, CLA); unrecorded from BFM.

 

Mew Gull

Uncommon winter visitor, though difficult for most birders to identify and probably overlooked. RSh (1977-87) lists 9 records (mostly of singles) from Oct. – Apr., but up to 5/day can be expected in winter, usually found by searching gull flocks along Ballona Ck (fide KL). Early dates include one on 04 Oct. 2002 (KL), and a high count of 16 birds along lower Ballona Cr. and the adj. beach was made on 28 Dec. 2004 (BGJ).

 

Ring-billed Gull/California Gull

Both are common winter residents and fall transients; fairly common spring transients, and uncommon summer lingerers. Both found in all aquatic habitats, and are often seen in large numbers circling overhead, dozens, if not hundreds, of each are generally present from fall through late winter. Neither species has ever been adequately surveyed here, so true numbers not known. RSh recorded a high count of 500 Ring-billed Gulls on 09 Feb. 1985.

 

Herring Gull

Uncommon winter visitor. RSh recorded 1-2 from Sept. to Feb., but up to 10/day may be found searching gull flocks along Ballona Cr. during winter (pers. obs.).

 

Thayer’s Gull

Uncommon winter visitor. Though RSh lists just a single record, 22 Jan. 1983, this was during a period when identification criteria for this species were not widely known. Based on others’ observations (KL, DB), it appears to be a regular part of the wintering avifauna of Ballona. A “Thayer’s/Iceland”-type gull was observed 04 Jan. 1987 (JKA, LACM files).

 

Western Gull

Common summer, fall and winter resident in all aquatic habitats (and often seen circling overhead); fairly common in spring (April and May). Like above species, generally overlooked, so knowledge of seasonal movements and abundance incomplete.

 

Glaucous-winged Gull

Fairly common winter resident (Oct. – Apr.), with birds generally seen near the immediate coast and along lower Ballona Cr.

 

Glaucous Gull

Casual winter visitor. This species was apparently more common than currently. Birds were at PdR on 01 Feb. 1949 (WT 15:28); 07 Aug. 1949 (“crippled”; AFN XX); 20 Jan. 1952 (WT 18:34); and 29 Nov. 1953 (WT 19:22). Von Bloeker (1943) also mentions five early specimens spanning 25 Nov. – 24 Mar. from Hyperion, just south of PdR. Just one modern record, one present at PdR from 04 – 23 Feb. 1986 (AFN 40:335).

 

Sabine’s Gull

Casual transient. Four fall records: 15 Sept. 1924 (Bird-Lore 29:438); 10 Sept. 1954 (AFN 9:57); 27 Sept. 1983 (JJ), and an exceptionally late bird on 26 Nov. 1997 (RB); two spring sightings: 22 April 1926 (Schneider 1926) and 01 May 1968 (AFN 22:576). One reportedly at PdR on 19 Feb. 1952 (WT 18:38), repeated by Pyle and Small (1961) is anomalous – this species winters at sea off South America.

 

Black-legged Kittiwake

Rare and irregular winter visitor (absent most years), lingering into spring and, rarely, through summer. Always scarce and unpredictable (see von Bloeker 1943), this species has been recorded during four winters since 1980 as follows: 1982-83, 1989-91, 1997-98 and 2000-01. A local high count of 30 was made on 28 May 1976 (KLG), and records of summer lingerers include 1-2 in 1970 (AFN 24:71); and singles in 1978 (to 16 Aug.; KLG) and 2001 (to 02 Sept.; KL).

 

Caspian Tern

Common spring transient, fairly common non-breeding visitor in summer, and uncommon during fall and winter, when only <5/day are encountered. Dozens of Caspian Terns roost with other gull and tern species along the beach just south of Ballona Cr. and on exposed mud within Ballona Cr. during low tides (c. 70 on 23 May 2004, DSC). Multiple birds can also be picked out of Elegant Tern flocks on the saltpan of Ballona Wetlands in late summer.

 

Royal Tern

Uncommon fall, winter and spring visitor to immediate coast and lower Ballona Cr., often foraging just beyond surf line (so easy to overlook) or roosting on the sand just south of the creek mouth with Elegant Terns. Dates range in fall from 16 Nov. and continue through winter into late spring (5 off PdR on 31 May 2004, feeding with Elegant Terns, KL). This species, like Brandt’s Cormorant and Common Tern, is unlikely to be seen away from salt water.

 

Elegant Tern

Common spring, summer and fall resident (both pre- and post-breeding) to the immediate coast and lower Ballona Cr. It is uncommon on Ballona and Del Rey lagoons, and has been seen at BFM just once (04 June 2004, KL). Elegant Terns roost by the hundreds on the saltpan of the Ballona Wetlands and on the sandy beach just south of the mouth of Ballona Ck in spring and late summer, foraging on small fish along Ballona Creek and at Marina del Rey. This species has only recently colonized southwestern California as a breeder (Collins et al. 1991), and is increasingly seen much earlier in the year, and in much higher numbers. Until the early 1980s, it was principally a post-breeding visitor, and RSh (1977-87) noted birds in late summer (from 30 Jul. 1983) into fall, with latest sightings (2 birds) on 13 Nov. (1982). Spring records increased in frequency through the 1990s (as the species became established as a breeder in southern California), with high counts of 200 birds “including courting and copulation” on 23 Apr. 1998, KLG (“400+” counted the same week, RB). Early dates include: 06 Mar. 2000 (RB) and 21 Mar. in 1991 and 2004 (both KLG). Fall numbers are now roughly as high (e.g. 300 on saltpan of Ballona Wetlands on 05 Aug. 2004, DSC). The first known local records of this tern came with a flock of “upwards of 300 birds” between 30 July and 28 August 1927 at PdR (Schneider 1927), but as they were known from wetlands much farther north (Willett 1933), they may have long been irregular at Ballona and simply overlooked. Still, they were rare enough to be notable through the first half of the 20th century (e.g. Small 1950), yet 1100 were observed in the Venice Marshes on 19 Aug. 1951 (AFN 5:308). As for Black-bellied Plover and Bonaparte’s Gull, the Ballona area appears to be a particularly important congregating area for this species in the Los Angeles area.

 

Common Tern

Rare and irregular fall transient. The true status of this species is difficult to ascertain due to difficulty in identification, and long-time birders may overlook this species because it was formerly much more common. Most common far offshore, flocks of 100 birds were recorded on 14 Aug. 1972 and 11 Aug. 1978 (both KLG), but the only records since then were 02 Dec. 2000 (J. Feenstra) and 28 Aug. 2004 (KL). AP recorded it twice in April 1998, with no details. The Common Tern has only been recorded on four Los Angeles CBCs since 1939 (NAS 2002). The large fall concentrations of the late 1970s, also observed in San Diego Co. (Unitt 2004), have not been repeated. The Common Tern should be watched for offshore or roosting with other terns in late summer. Interestingly, this species rarely roosts (or even lands?) in the area with other tern species (fide T. McGrath).

 

Arctic Tern

Vagrant, one record. A “disabled” individual was observed at MdR on 17 May 1981 (WT 47:9). This record is consistent with the late spring movement of this species through the region, which generally takes place well offshore (Garrett and Dunn 1981).

 

Forster’s Tern

Uncommon to fairly common (but irregular) perennial visitor along immediate coast, with numbers highly variable from year to year (e.g. absent most of fall 2004). Its abundance onshore apparently peaks in late winter and spring; AP recorded maximum numbers from Jan. – May during the 1990s (a pattern continuing today, fide DB). Just inland, it is an uncommon spring transient (e.g. Ballona Lagoon, BFM), with records into June (one at BFM 08 June 2004, KL). When present, this tern normally occurs in small numbers (e.g. 2-10 individuals per day), but large concentrations have been noted during migration (e.g. 100 birds on both 13 Sept. and 07 Mar. 1981, RSh) and historically, it was present in large numbers in winter (e.g. 400 at “Del Rey” on 20 Dec. 1942 [Kent, Bird-Lore Mar.-Apr. 1943 XX]). Clearly, more needs to be learned about its local movements and usage of Ballona area habitat.

 

Least Tern

Fairly common summer resident, with a large breeding colony (up to 200-300 pr.) within fenced-off “tern preserve” on Venice Beach just north of Ballona Cr. mouth. These birds forage widely, fishing offshore, along lower Ballona Cr., along tidal channels within BW, at Ballona Lagoon and, most recently, at BFM. Even when successfully breeding (the colony often fails due to predators or other disturbance), present during a very short period of time, with birds typically arriving in late Apr. (earliest: 12 Apr. 1983, HB), and mostly vacating by early August. The latest recent dates include 17 Aug. 1978 (RSh) and 24 Aug. 2003 (DSC), though birds have lingered later (16 Oct. 1927; F.B. Schneider in Willett 1933).

 

Historically, the Ballona area has apparently long been a major breeding locale for the Least Tern in the Los Angeles area, with birds originally nesting on coastal dunes on the immediate coast (Chambers 1908) to well inland at the eastern edge of the Ballona Valley. An early publication (Lamb 1922) has them nesting on mudflats within the historic gun club on 08 July 1922, and field notes of L.B. Howsley (dated 31 May 1931, WFVZ), describe a historical nesting area presumably south of the intersection of Centinela and Jefferson Blvd. (from Howsley notes):

 

“A colony of 8 pair nested on a tiny area of dry mud and gravel east of the main highway paralleling and skirting the east side of Del Rey Hills. Nest about 20’ from the boulevard where a steady stream of traffic flowed by daily. This area was not over 20’ x 30’ in measurement and was the only dry spot for a mile.”

 

Later, KBC (1996, 1998) summarized the status and distribution of nesting Least Terns at Ballona from 1973 to 1998, during which time birds used the sandy beach at Venice (just north of the Ballona Cr. mouth) as well as the salt flats of the Ballona Wetlands proper (prior to 1982 only). Currently, however, the only nesting, including failed attempts, have been from Venice Beach preserve.

 

Black Tern

Casual fall transient; extirpated as a non-breeding summer resident. The Black Tern has been seen just four times since the 1950s, including three times in fall: 26 to “end of” Sept. 1975 at Marina del Rey (WT 42:6); 09 Aug. 1978 along Ballona Cr. (KLG); and 05 – 12 Oct. 1980 (RSh). A single winter record, 17 Feb. 1973 (AFN 27:663) is exceptional, as most birds are in wintering grounds off Latin America during the winter months. Though not mentioned as occurring in the region by Grinnell (1898), this may have been an oversight (see Willett 1933). There are several historical records of multiple birds present at Playa del Rey as post-breeding visitors June – August through the 1920s (Ibid; von Bloeker 1943), and one spring migrant on 12 Apr. 1925 (Bird-Lore 27:199). As mid-summer concentrations of post-breeders were known from several large wetlands in the West (e.g. Salton Sea, Klamath Basin), and it is conceivable that the Black Tern historically occurred at Ballona Wetlands in a similar role, and ceased doing so with the loss of freshwater marshes here in the 1930s. A reference to this species in winter (NAS 1988) is not credible.

 

Black Skimmer

Currently an irregularly uncommon mid-winter and spring visitor; rare at other times of year. The first record was of a bird along Ballona Cr. on 24 Apr. 1972 (WT XX), which was also the first Los Angeles County record. The next local reports came over ten years later, on 08 Oct. 1983 (39:351) and 14 Mar. 1985 (AFN 38:351). After a five-year hiatus, records began increasing in 1990, with concentrations of 20 on 10 Feb. 1990 (D.M. Heindel) with 33 reported to the BirdBox on 24 March. Up to several dozen birds have been present in mid-winter and spring each year thereafter, peaking with c. 40 birds in late March and April 1998 (fide KLG). After 1997, however, the number and frequency of sightings declined sharply (fide RB). Birds are generally first noted in December (early: 01 Dec. 2004, DB; 17 Dec. 1994, DS), and remain through spring (late: 31 May 1995, AP). The only known summer and fall records are the October 1983 bird above, as well as singles on the beach at PdR on 14 Sept. 1993 (KLG) and 12 Sept. 2002 (BOC).

 

ALCIDS

 

Common Murre

Rare visitor, with six known records split between two distinct roles, late summer and mid-winter. Four summer records include singles off MdR/PdR in “late summer” 1959 (WT 26:12); 28 July 1973 (AFN 27:919); 11 July 1978 (JBr); and 01 Aug. 1982 (RSh). Two winter records have come in “early February” 1973 (WT XX; poss. same as above?) and on 15 Jan. 2003 (JF, ph.).

Pigeon Guillemot

Rare transient in early fall, though fairly common well offshore. Singles have been recorded at PdR in “early September” 1959 (WT 26:12); from 03 Sept. to 05 Oct. 1980 (AFN 35:227); and at the MdR harbor mouth on 02 Sept. 2002 (KL) and 10 Sept. 2005 (DB).

 

Marbled Murrelet

Rare winter visitor to salt water, casual in late summer. At least five records (all since the late 1990s), with birds generally seen in the deep water at the mouth of Marina del Rey harbor up to vic. Burton Chase Park. Records include one from 16 Nov. 1997 to 08 Jan. 1998 (A. Glasser, LACM files), with probably the same bird on continuing to 22 Jan. 1998 (AP); one (off Burton Chase Park) on 18 Dec. 1998 (BE); 17-18 Dec. 1999 (KLG); and 09 (KLG) to at least 12 Jan. 2003 (KL). An apparent transient was present from 01 – 02 August 1996 (RB).

 

Xantus’ Murrelet

Vagrant (regular well offshore), one to two records. Four birds, including one found dead, were at PdR on 16 Dec. 1951 (WT 15:23). A single reportedly off MdR on 28 July 1973 (AFN 27:919) was aseasonal (Craveri’s Murrelet would be more expected; see below), and was reported on the same day as a Common Murre (see above). All three species are very rare in the Ballona area and should be identified with caution.

 

Craveri’s Murrelet

Vagrant (regular well offshore), one record. One was at “Playa del Rey” 28 August 1978 (Garrett and Dunn 1981). Two purported Xantus’ Murrelets just north of the study area (off the Venice Pier) on 20 Aug. 1973 (O. Widman; LACM files) may have been this species.

 

Ancient Murrelet

Vagrant (common offshore south to northern California), three old records. Three were off PdR on after a storm 16 Dec. 1951 (WT 18:23); 2 were here on 28 Dec. 1958 (AFN XX), and one wintered in 1980-81, present from 08 Oct. (WT XX). In addition, von Bloeker (1943) mentions two additional winter records from Hyperion, just south of PdR.

 

Cassin’s Auklet

Probably a rare winter visitor; one summer record. This species is probably regular offshore in very small numbers during winter storms. Three individuals were found dead on the beach at PdR on 15 Jan. 1997 (LACM 110196-98), and one was observed off PdR on 05 Dec. 2004 (KL). One was observed at PdR on the unusual date of 22 July 1979 (KLG).

 

Rhinoceros Auklet

Probably a rare winter visitor. One was observed flying south during a major storm on 09 Jan. 2005 (KL), and another was present at the mouth of MdR in winter, “1990 or 1991” (KL). This pelagic (in our area) alcid is much more common several miles offshore.

 

Tufted Puffin

Vagrant, one record. One was observed by R. Pyle at PdR on 24 Feb. 1952 (Minutes of the Cooper Club Meetings 1952 XX). A northern species now very scarce in southern and central California, it historically bred widely on the Channel Islands (Garrett and Dunn 1981).

 

PIGEONS AND DOVES

 

Rock Pigeon

Common perennial resident throughout. Along with House Sparrow and European Starling, one of the most numerous birds of urban habitats in the Ballona Valley, and likely to greatly increase with the build-out of Playa Vista.

 

[Band-tailed Pigeon

No records, but one was seen and heard calling just east of the study area, in a Culver City backyard on 28 July 2004 (DS). This large native pigeon is rare-but-regular along the immediate coast and even on the Channel Islands (Garrett and Dunn 1981, so future sightings are anticipated, possibly at fruiting Mexican Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) on the Westchester Bluffs in summer.]

 

Spotted Dove

Currently a rare and localized resident; formerly much more common. This non-native species (from Asia) continues its decline in outlying areas of Los Angeles. The only area of the Ballona Valley where still regularly seen (possibly nesting) is in ornamental plantings vic. Ballona Lagoon, where one or two have been seen on about a third of the visits by CLA. Seen widely in the Ballona area until at least 1998 (e.g. seen by AP on most visits to Ballona Cr. from Jan. to June of that year), and encountered frequently in Westchester (including along Teale Rd., now Playa Vista) through 1997 (fide W. Sakai, RDS), but possibly nearing extirpation here – only one seen once here in all of 2002 (fide RDS). Spotted Doves are also virtually gone from Mar Vista (where common through the 1990s, fide KL), with a single bird observed along Centinela Ave. at Marshall St. on 03 Feb. 04 (KL), and a pair at McConnell Ave. and Admiral Ave. on 05 June 2004 (LMF). Singles at Ballona Wetlands in spring 2003 and 2004 (BOC), and at LMU on 01 May 2004 (RDS) suggest there might be some spring wandering throughout the region. The last known local breeding was documented along Washington Blvd. on 24 Apr. 1999 (LABBA).

 

White-winged Dove

Rare fall transient. Aside from an older record of a late transient at Marina del Rey on 15 Dec. 1973 (HB); recent coverage of the Ballona Valley since 2003 has yielded several additional records of this regular fall visitor from the Desert Southwest, including birds at BFM on 23 August 2003 (KL), 19 and 25 Sept. 2004 (DB) and on 04 Oct. 2005 (RB, DS). One was observed along the shore of DRL on 16 Sept. 2004 (BOC; possibly the same individual later seen at BFM, above). One was just east of the study area in a backyard along Ballona Cr. in Culver City on 08 Sept. 2004 (J. Walden).

 

Mourning Dove

Common perennial resident, most numerous in late summer, when dozens are seen per day, esp. at BFM. Though least common in late fall and winter, still may be encountered in double digits any day of the year.

 

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Currently a vagrant, but increasing regionally and likely to become more common. First observed locally at BFM on 18 Mar. 2005 (RB), with additional sightings at PdR later that spring (DSC).

 

PARAKEETS

 

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Status unclear, but apparently a rare resident. This non-native species was present as a breeder during the 1990s, with a high count of 12 along Ballona Cr. at Beethoven St. on 18 Nov. 1995 (DS). One was excavating a cavity at a known nest site in “downtown” Playa del Rey on 01 Feb. 1992 (KLG), which a pair then used for several years (M. Ingalls, pers. comm.). Since then, records are limited to a single bird in this same area on 16 Feb. 2002 (KLG), and 2-3 birds in palms along Pershing Dr. and in PdR through fall 2004 (DSC). This species has not become widely established in the Los Angeles since the wave of parrot increases in the 1980s and 90s (as did the preceding species), and the Ballona area (currently) does not offer the large fruiting trees favored by the free-flying parrots of Los Angeles.

 

Mitred Parakeet

Status unknown, but possibly regular in small numbers to eastern edge of study area. A flock of 20-30 birds was observed flying west over Culver Blvd. and Sawtelle Blvd. on 29 March 2005 (DSC). This species is established locally throughout the Los Angeles Basin, and apparently has been seen sporadically in residential neighborhoods on the eastern edge of Mar Vista (fide KL).

 

Yellow-chevroned Parakeet

Rare perennial visitor from established populations elsewhere in the Los Angeles area. Small numbers of this non-native species are infrequently recorded in the eastern portion of Ballona Valley, and the species is commonly seen at Holy Cross Cemetery just east of the 405 Fwy. (fide KL). It is likely to become more common with future residential development and associated landscaping, as it favors palms.

 

CUCKOO AND ROADRUNNER

 

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Vagrant, one record. One flew over a residence in Mar Vista on 14 June 1999 (KL). Formerly common in southern California riparian habitats, this species has been reduced to being a casual transient, mostly recorded in mid-summer.

 

Greater Roadrunner

Extirpated. The Greater Roadrunner was apparently resident at PdR and the El Segundo Dunes through at least the 1930s. Von Bloeker considered it a “resident of the meadow (= grassy areas inland from the saltmarsh and dunes) and sand dunes. Nests in April and May, usually in patches of cactus (Opuntia littoralis).” Two known specimens include a male at PdR 29 Dec. 1908 (LACM 21866) and a female taken on 13 Feb. 1932 (von Bloeker 1943). Von Bloeker (Ibid) also wrote “an old, but well preserved, nest of this species was found in the midst of a patch of tuna cactus on the seaward slope of the dunes (presumably the El Segundo Dunes) by G.P. Kanakoff, Oct. 26, 1939.” Greater Roadrunner is now a localized resident of coastal scrub habitat in California from Monterey Co. south into Baja California, Mexico, but has been widely extirpated from urban areas within this range, including from most of the Los Angeles Basin. Just four sightings since 1995 from the isolated Palos Verdes Peninsula (KL, via email) suggest it is essentially extirpated along the coast of Los Angeles County south of the Santa Monica Mtns.

 

OWLS

 

Barn Owl

Rare (or at least rarely-recorded) perennial visitor. Though von Bloeker considered them a “common resident” throughout the Ballona Valley, there are just a handful of modern records: one in the eucalyptus grove used by the Great Horned Owl (see below) on 04 July 1995 (LABBA); one at a spring at the base of the Westchester Bluffs below LMU on 01 Nov. 1997 (RDS); one in “spring” (no date) in 1996 (Hamilton 1997) along the base of the Westchester Bluffs at Lincoln Blvd.; one hunting over Salicornia marsh just west of BFM on 15 Nov. 2003 (DSC); one at Dune Willows on 09 Oct. 2004 (DSC); and one calling at Ballona Lagoon the night of 30 Dec. 2004 (DB). Another was observed just east of the region in Culver City (1 mi. east of the 405 Fwy.), flying west, on 25 July 2000 (DS). It is likely that this species resident at Ballona, nesting in either palms (as they do throughout southern California) or abandoned buildings (e.g. Hughes property). A bizarre early record of a pair nesting in a box partially buried in Salicornia marsh was documented (with a photograph) in the early 1950s (Quigley 1954). The lack of recent nesting records is probably the result of a lack of nocturnal coverage by birders, and this species is probably the “expected” owl in the Ballona area.

 

Great Horned Owl

Rare perennial resident. A single pair is essentially resident at the eucalyptus grove at the southwestern edge of the Ballona Wetlands at the north end of Falmouth Rd. Nesting was confirmed as a pair with fledgling on 04 July 1995 (LABBA), and another fledgling with an adult was present on 06 May 2005 (DSC). There are no known records away from this small grove, though this regionally common species would be expected to occur at least sparingly in residential areas of the Ballona Valley with tall trees.

 

Burrowing Owl

Now a rare fall and winter visitor; formerly an uncommon resident. Birds are apparently still attempting to winter locally, as singles have appeared along lower Ballona Cr. near the UCLA boat ramp in three consecutive recent winters: 14 Jan. 2003 (BE), 15-16 Dec. 2003 (RB) and 27 Nov. 2004 through late Dec. (L. Brown, m. ob.). Additional records of presumed migrants include one found dead on Vista del Mar in PdR on 03 Mar. 2003 (LACM 112292); two birds convincingly reported to DSC on 31 Oct. 2003 (perched atop a railing on the southern levee of Ballona Cr., across from the UCLA boathouse, eventually flying south and landing in the Wetlands); and in “late August” 2004 (to JRC; perched on the chainlink fence along the bike path, east of UCLA boathouse).

 

Once a fairly common and conspicuous resident of large vacant lots and grassland patches in southern California, the resident Ballona population, which persisted into the early 1980s (fide RSh), was among the last in the Los Angeles Basin. Von Bloeker (1943) found this species to be a “common resident of the dunes, meadow, and drier portions of the salt marsh.” He recognized two distinct areas of nesting: in grassland and dune vegetation, birds lived in old burrows of California Ground Squirrels. In what were likely old housing pads at the western edge of Los Angeles International Airport (“the northern part of the meadow slope of the dunes near Playa del Rey, they live in cavities excavated under the pavement”). Prey items were reportedly dominated by remains of large insects, including “Jerusalem crickets, mole crickets, grasshoppers and beetles, but also small mammals and reptiles” (Ibid).

 

From 1977 – 1985, RSh recorded this bird on 11 out of 62 visits (spanning the year), with birds seen along Ballona Cr., the Ballona Wetlands proper, and at the “Hughes Property” (now Playa Vista). Owls were recorded on Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count through the mid-1980s (NAS 2002), but on only two counts in the twenty years since. Indeed, there have been only a handful of local records period since the 1980s. Prior to its disappearance, the local Burrowing Owl population had been small but apparently stable for several decades, as Dock and Schreiber (1981) wrote of two pairs known nesting “in banks adjacent to Ballona Cr.” (north side of channel, within “Parcel A”) and of birds “probably” nesting along bluffs south of the “agricultural area” (= Westchester Bluffs). These modern breeding records are supported by observations such as: 2 birds “hovering over fields off Culver Blvd.” on 29 March 1981 (KLG); 4 birds on 12 Mar. 1983 (RSh); and a “family of 4” along Ballona Cr. on 10 Oct. 1983 (BE). Other supporting records during this pre-extirpation period include “1 along south bank of Ballona Creek” 11 Sept. 1974 (KLG); 2 along “Ballona Channel” 05 Jan. 1975 (KLG); 5 birds on 04 Jan. 1981 (RSh); 1 on 17 Aug. 1981 (BE); and 1 on 25 July 1982 (KLG), and a single on the Westchester Bluffs “near the LMU sign” in April 1990 (Corey 1992).

 

This owl’s decline at Ballona has been blamed on the proliferation of non-native Red Fox (and the community-driven resistance to trapping foxes). Though fox predation may have finished off the owls here, the habitat has changed dramatically as well, now overrun with the shrubby, dense non-native Garland Chrysanthemum Chrysanthemum coronarium. Further, other open country species that are probably not preyed upon by foxes have declined, some to the point of extirpation, from Ballona, including Black-tailed Jackrabbit and Loggerhead Shrike (now winter only), all of which prefer barren habitats (as does the Burrowing Owl). The Red Fox is probably best considered one of several causes of Burrowing Owl and other open country species’ extirpation, a list that probably includes vegetation changes, increased (or cumulative years’ worth of) automobile traffic, and feral cats. Burrowing Owls could probably be successfully re-introduced to the Ballona area – one of the only Los Angeles Basin areas where this would be possible – only after these threats are addressed.

 

Long-eared Owl

Vagrant, two specimens, one additional report. The two confirmed records include “roadkill” (fide von Bloeker 1943) at PdR on 31 Dec. 1929 (LACM 16842) and another specimen from MdR on 08 Jan. 1934 (LACM 87423). This species was apparently gone by the 1930s (i.e. otherwise unrecorded by von Bloeker 1943). Dock and Schreiber (1981) reported 1-2 Long-eared Owls “flushed out of trees” just north of Ballona Cr. in “October” 1980, but provided no details on what would be an exceptional record. Historically more common in the late 1800s and early 1900s, even breeding in the Los Angeles Basin (WFVZ egg records), this species had been eliminated from most of southern and central California by the 1970s (Garrett and Dunn 1981). It could be enticed to return at least as a migrant or winter visitor with adequate restoration of riparian and adjacent grassland habitat, and the protection of likely habitat from human (and other) disturbance.

 

Short-eared Owl

Extirpated as a winter resident; now a casual transient. Historically observed using both the Ballona Wetlands proper as well as the grassland of the “Hughes property” (now Playa Vista). Both early (Bird-Lore 25:137; Bird-Lore 30:137) and recent records indicate consistent wintering or attempts to winter, with sightings of up to three birds in fourteen winters between 1947 and 1996 (AFN, WT; contra KBC 1996). The Short-eared Owl was consistently recorded on the Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count through the 1970s but the species has only been seen on one count since 1980 (NAS 2002). Since the last mid-winter sighting on 14 Feb. 1996 (BOC), there have been just two convincing records, both of transients: one at Ballona Wetlands on 26 Oct. 2000 (BOC) and one at BFM on 20 Mar. 2004 (J. Fuhrman). Though there is no direct evidence of historical nesting; a late transient was observed at “The Motordrome” (= Ballona Wetlands, near present-day BFM) on 11 May 1935 (field notes of L.B. Howsley; WFVZ).

 

NIGHTJARS

 

Lesser Nighthawk

Rare transient. A spring transient was observed at BFM on 09 Apr. 2004 (BE, RB, JP), and fall transients were over Mar Vista on 14 Sept. 2005 (KL) and just south of the region “near LAX” on 31 Aug. 2001 (D. Stone). Now a scarce and local breeder at the outlying edges of the Los Angeles Basin (e.g. Big Tujunga Wash), the migration of this bird tracks well inland in southern California, though small numbers regularly reach the coast, mainly in fall (Hamilton and Willick 1996).

 

Common Poorwill

Casual transient. One was flushed from the base of the bluffs west of Lincoln Blvd. on 20 Oct. 2002 (DS). October appears to be the peak migratory period for this scarce migrant along the coast (Hamilton and Willick 1996), and it is likely that more will occur in the future.

 

SWIFTS

 

Black Swift

Probably a rare and irregular transient. Two spring sightings, 18 May 1994 (18, HB) and 06 May 2003 over BFM (T. McGrath). This species is regular in late spring throughout southern California, and more records should be expected in large spring concentrations of swifts and swallows in May, especially during foggy conditions.

 

Vaux’s Swift

Uncommon transient, occurring both in spring (Apr./May) and fall (Sept./Oct.); occasionally in large numbers, especially on overcast days (e.g. 50 at BFM on 25 Apr. 2003, JP). Late transients were over the Ballona Wetlands in spring (22 May 2004) and fall (14 Nov. 2004; both DSC); the earliest fall record of Vaux’s in the study area is 23 Sept. (BFM in 2003, DSC). A report for “June” (Corey 1992) is suspect – Chimney Swift (unrecorded in the Ballona Valley) would be more likely in summer. A record of 35 just east of the study area in Culver City on 27 Dec. 1983 (AFN 38:358) suggests the possibility of occurrence in winter.

 

White-throated Swift

Status complex; irregularly common winter visitor (Nov. – Feb.), less common during spring and early summer (to 06 July 2003, DSC); occasional at best in late summer and fall. Flocks of up to 100 birds are not unusual in early winter, and pairs are usually encountered later in the year. Although breeding has not been confirmed from the Ballona Valley, it is probably doing so (or will soon with the construction of Playa Vista, whose structures offers ample nesting sites).

 

HUMMINGBIRDS

 

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Vagrant (from Arizona or Mexico), two records. A bird wintered at a private residence in MdR in 1977-78 (09 Dec. – 25 Jan.; AFN 32:400), and another was observed in Westchester on 24 Sept. 1996 (LACM files).

 

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Possibly irregular summer resident and rare migrant, but status not well known. The only records include a “pair” at the base of the Westchester Bluffs on 13 June 1999 (DS), and transients in spring (BW on 09 Apr. 1932, von Bloeker 1943) and fall (Burton Chase Park on 01 Oct. 2002, KL; base of Westchester Bluffs on 10 Sept. 2005, KL). Von Bloeker (Ibid) wrote that birds were “fairly common in April, 1932, around flowers of tree tobacco” at the edges of the wetlands, which may still be the case in some years. Additionally, there is one historical record from nearby Palms on 24 Apr. 1928 (MVZ 78173), and it is known to breed just east of the study area in Culver City (Garrett 2001). Principally a bird of warm interior valleys in California, this species should be looked for in willows throughout the area, particularly inland of the coast.

 

Anna’s Hummingbird

Common permanent resident in all terrestrial habitats. This species was “the” hummingbird at Ballona until the 1990s, when Allen’s Hummingbird, formerly scarce, became almost as common here. By the early 2000s, Allen’s Hummingbird came to outnumber Anna’s, though both are numerous.

 

Costa’s Hummingbird

Casual mid-winter visitor and transient; one anomalous nesting record. Three January records, all in landscaped habitat: one at a city park just northeast of Ballona Valley near Sawtelle and Palms on 08 Jan. 1978 (KLG); 1 on the same day in 2000 at a residence in Mar Vista (KL), and one visiting a feeder 12-25 Jan. 1995 (BE). One was collected “in the meadow at tree tobacco”, either in PdR or nearby El Segundo, on 17 Apr. 1932 (von Bloeker 1943). Two pairs reportedly bred in Marina del Rey during the late 1970s in “March and April” (JJ; LACM files), but this was an unprecedented event. This species winters in very small numbers throughout the L.A. Basin, especially around ornamental flowers, and is resident (or nearly so) in the Baldwin Hills just east of the study area (Garrett 2001), and in native scrubland at the perimeter of the basin.

 

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Vagrant (from the Rocky Mountain region), one record. One was present at a hummingbird feeder at a private residence along the Westchester Bluffs on XX (BE) see 2005 AFN

 

Rufous Hummingbird

Apparently a rare (or rarely-identified) spring transient and casual winter visitor. Known records are sparse, but it has been identified in spring at Ballona Lagoon 09 Feb. 2005 (CLA), Mar Vista on 11 Apr. 1999 (KL); Ballona Cr. on 16 Apr. 1998 (AP); on the Westchester Bluffs from 05 – 30 Apr. 1990 (BE) and on 19 Dec. (BE; wintering?). RDS reports several sightings of males from his Westchester residence in Feb. – Apr. and again in Aug. and Sept., and von Bloeker (1943) collected one on 17 Apr. 1932. Fall migration in the region tracks mainly inland, through the mountains.

 

Allen’s Hummingbird

Common perennial resident and nester. Nesting records of this taxon date back to at least 1980, when two nests were found in Marina del Rey 22 and 24 May 1980 (AB 34:930; LACM files), and one remained through the winter in 1980-81 (LACM files). Breeding was also confirmed (female on nest) on 18 Dec. 1985 (Ibid). Since then, it has become much more widespread, occurring throughout the area around both ornamental plantings and native plants. One was observed carrying nesting material (mulefat “fuzz”) from BFM to Playa Vista on 27 Apr. 2005 (Cooper 2005).

 

KINGFISHER

 

Belted Kingfisher

Uncommon transient and winter visitor to all aquatic habitats, including fairly “sterile” hardscapes (e.g. marinas, upper Ballona Cr. channel). Usually encountered singly, the first fall birds showing up in mid-summer, and wintering birds leaving by the end of March (with early spring records possibly pertaining to transients). This summer, fall and winter pattern is shared by the White-tailed Kite and the Loggerhead Shrike. In fall, birds may arrive as early as June (failed nesters?), e.g. 27 June 1981 (RSh); 29 June 1996 (DS, poss. also seen by same along Ballona Cr. in Culver City on 16 June); 05 July 1997 (DS). Though suspected of breeding locally by von Bloeker (1943) and (Schreiber and Dock 1980), there are no data to support this, other than the regular appearance of early fall migrants in mid-summer.

 

WOODPECKERS

 

Acorn Woodpecker

Vagrant, with several records from fall 2003. 2003 proved an unprecedented invasion year for this species in California and the West, and produced the first known records for the Ballona area. Five-six sightings were logged of single birds, each for just one day (so probably involving multiple birds):

  • 30 Aug., LMU (RDS)
  • 27 Sept., DRL (DSC)
  • 04 Oct., BFM (B. Schelden)

·        11 Oct., PdR and BFM (m. ob.)

·        27 Oct., BFM (CLA)

 

Despite these records, this species is still casual on the coast of southern Los Angeles County (fide KL), and future sightings are not anticipated.

 

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Rare (but probably regular) winter visitor and transient; few records. Singles were at LMU on 22 Jan. 2000 and 04 Jan. – 01 Feb. 2004 (both RDS). Judging from drilling evidence on trees near the chapel at LMU, this is a traditional wintering site for at least one individual. Away from Westchester, the only record is of an apparent transient found dead in MdR on the early date of 09 Oct. 2002 (LACM 112125).

 

Red-naped Sapsucker

Probably a casual transient and winter visitor; one record. One was at LMU on 10 Oct. 2004 (BGJ, RDS), with presumably the same bird on 22 January 2005 (DSC).

 

Nuttall’s Woodpecker

Occasional fall and winter visitor on floor of Ballona Valley; uncommon year round in residential Westchester. A handful of sightings from Ballona Valley include fall transients in Mar Vista on 02 Sept. 2000 (KL), at DW on 05 and 18 Sept. (DSC) and 09 Oct. (DB) 2004; and apparently wintering birds at the eucalyptus grove adjacent to the Ballona Wetlands on 27 Dec. 2003 (accompanied by a Downy Woodpecker, DSC) and during the winter of 2004-05 (DSC). RDS lists 20+ records year round from residential Westchester/LMU since 1996, suggesting it is more common here than on the valley floor. There is no indication this species ever nested historically in the region (e.g. the species was unrecorded by von Bloeker 1943), but future records are anticipated with restoration of riparian habitat along the base of the Westchester Bluffs.

 

Downy Woodpecker

Occasional perennial visitor. This woodpecker has been recorded a handful of times nearly year-round by RDS in Westchester, with a smattering of sightings at LMU and in residential Mar Vista (fide KL). There have been three recent records from BW, one with a Nuttall’s Woodpecker on 27 Dec. 2003 (see above), birds at DW on 19 Sept. 2004 (DSC, DB) and 03 Sept. 2005 (DB), and another near the BW eucalyptus grove on 26 Mar. 2005 (DB). Like the above species, the Downy Woodpecker has apparently always been scarce at Ballona (e.g. no historical records).

 

Northern Flicker

Common fall and early spring transient; fairly common through winter; extirpated as a breeder. By far the most common woodpecker in the Ballona area, flickers arrive in late September (earliest: 23 Sept. in both 1989 [KLG] and 2004 [DSC]) and are present into early April (fide RDS). Though most often found near tall, established trees, small waves of 4-6 birds may appear in various habitats (often feeding on the ground) during both fall (Oct./Nov.) and spring (mainly March). All records pertain to the “Red-shafted” Flicker, though “Yellow-shafted” Flickers and/or hybrids have been recorded at PdR 20 Oct. 1982 (RSh); through Nov. 2004 (KL) at LMU, and at BFM and (presumably the same bird) Dune Willows 31 Oct. 2003 – 10 Jan. 2004 (DSC). The Red-shafted Flicker once bred in the area, described by von Bloeker (1943) as nesting “in willows or in telegraph poles, and in corners under eaves of old houses,” all areas now occupied by the European Starling.

 

PASSERINES

 

Tyrant-flycatchers

 

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Occasional transient. About one per season is expected, with records split between the Dune Willows and Westchester. Most likely encountered in May (with exceptionally early bird at LMU on 11 Apr. 04, BGJ); fall birds have been found from late August into October. A report of three birds in Mar Vista in December (Schreiber and Dock 1980) should be disregarded.

 

Western Wood-Pewee

Occasional transient, with a similar seasonal pattern as above species. This species is more common in areas with tall trees (e.g. vic. LMU), when several per day may be encountered in peak season.

 

Willow Flycatcher

Fairly common transient. This is the only Empidonax flycatcher besides Pacific-slope (below) regularly encountered at Ballona. Typical of this species’ migration in the region, local records of transients extend in spring from 11 May – 09 June and in fall from 23 Aug. – 08 Oct., and several per day may be expected in late May and early September. Birds are found in a wide variety of habitats, but are probably most common in willows, near water. Males in late spring are often mistaken for summering birds, as they can sing vigorously and act territorial for several days before moving on. However, there are no records, historical or modern, of nesting activity in the Ballona area, though many egg sets were obtained in the (formerly) much more extensive habitat of the eastern Los Angeles Basin (e.g. San Gabriel River bottom) in the early 1900s (WFVZ). Nesting is currently unknown on the immediate coast of California or in Baja California, Mexico.

 

Least Flycatcher

Rare fall transient. Birds were carefully studied at DW 16 – 19 Sept. 1984 (AFN 39:103) and 12 Oct. 2000 (RAE), and at Ballona Lagoon on 14 Sept. 2005 (DB). More fall records are anticipated of this overlooked eastern species.

 

Hammond’s Flycatcher

Occasional spring transient throughout; probably a rare fall transient. Spring records from LMU and Dune Willows extend 16 Apr. – 03 May. An exceptionally late bird was reported at Dune Willows on 27 May 1999 (AP, BOC). The only fall record is of an exceptionally late transient at BFM 18 Nov. 2004 (RB).

 

Gray Flycatcher

Occasional transient and casual winter visitor; few records. Four spring records from DW and LMU extend from 04 – 25 April, and three fall records for the Westchester Bluffs/LMU on 06 Sept. (KL) and 25 Sept. (DSC) 2004, and at BFM on 14 Sept. 2004 (KL). A wintering bird was observed at DW 10 – 25 Feb. 1993 (BOC), and one in Marina Del Rey in “late October” 1970 (JJ) may also have been attempting to winter locally.

 

Dusky Flycatcher

Occasional transient. Spring transients were at BFM on 14 Apr. 04 (DSC) and at DW on 24 Apr. 04 (KL); fall records include one in willows along the Westchester Bluffs on 07 Oct. 2000 (KL) and one at BFM 03 – 05 Oct. 2004 (KL). The migration of this species tracks inland in the Los Angeles area, typically through the mountains and foothills, although spring 2004 saw several coastal records in the area (fide KL).

 

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Fairly common transient; potential breeder. Northbound birds have been detected in spring from early Apr. through May (exceptionally to 07 June 2003 at LMU, RDS). In fall, the first southbound birds can be present almost in mid-summer (26 July 2003 at LMU, RDS), continuing to pass through into October. One pair was “acting territorial” during May 1995 in willows at the base of the Westchester Bluffs south of what is now BFM, but did not remain to breed (Hamilton 1997), and DB felt at least one was present all summer 2004 vic. Ballona Lagoon. Future breeding should be watched for especially in shady spots at LMU, and along the base of the Westchester Bluffs.

 

Black Phoebe

Common perennial resident in all habitats. This ubiquitous and familiar flycatcher has undergone a significant change in seasonal roles at Ballona. During the 1970s and 80s, it was exclusively a non-breeding visitor, with 1-3 birds recorded by RSh from 09 Aug. to 08 Mar., and in 1990 only in Oct. (single bird in dunes at Ballona Wetlands!). During the mid-1990s, these birds became much more widespread in non-riparian situations (their preferred habitat) throughout the Los Angeles area, breeding in the most urban environments. For example, by 1996, CLA recorded them as resident at Ballona Lagoon, and they now greatly outnumber Say’s Phoebe, which still occurs only outside the breeding season.

 

Say’s Phoebe

Common fall transient and winter resident; rare through summer. This species favors grassland, open scrub habitats, and is found locally in coastal strand and in residential areas. A very small number have recently lingered into summer, but their nesting status is not known. Records extend from early September (exceptionally late August: 1 at BFM on 24 Aug. 2005, RB) into early spring (late: 09 May 2003, JP). A bird along Ballona Cr. on 09 Aug. 1986 (RSh), if correctly identified, may have summered locally. Slightly more numerous in fall, it can be missed entirely on cold days when insects are inactive (unlike Black Phoebe, which is almost always seen). Spring and summer records have come from the eastern portion of the Ballona Valley in residential Mar Vista (LMF) and the Westchester Bluffs (KL). Though still numerous in the area, this species deserves monitoring in the future as more open habitat is lost. Ironically, the construction of Playa Vista may provide appropriate (novel) breeding substrate for this species – stucco walls adjacent to open areas – and nesting should be watched for. This species apparently winters in the remnant coastal strand habitat protected by the fenced-in Least Tern colony on the beach just north of the MdR harbor mouth (DB), making it one of the few native landbirds still using this “micro-habitat”.

 

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vagrant, two records. This striking flycatcher has been recorded once in fall (PdR on 25 Sept. 1969, AFN 24:100a) and once in spring, a female at the Ballona Wetlands on 10 Apr. 2005 (DSC). This species winters sparingly in the Los Angeles basin, with no more than 2-3 per year (NAS 2002), typically at “traditional” locations (e.g. El Dorado Recreation Area in Long Beach)

 

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Fairly common transient in both spring and fall. Spring records extend from early April to early June, and fall returnees, likely from local breeding populations (e.g. in the Santa Monica Mtns.) typically appear in July, with migrants into October (Latest: 20 Oct. 1982, KLG). Though not known to ever have bred at Ballona, two were observed together in a remnant patch of mature alluvial fan scrub just north of Ballona Cr. (at Lincoln Blvd.) on 16 June 2002 (KL). This species may colonize Ballona as a breeder following proposed riparian restoration and/or the addition of nest boxes. A reference to this species’ being present in winter (National Audubon Society 1988) is in error.

 

Tropical Kingbird

Probably a casual fall visitor. The only known record is one photographed at PdR on 11 Oct. 2003 (J. Engel, J. Feenstra). Two birds discovered in January 2005 at West L.A. College just east of the study area (DS) remained through early spring, and are the only other local records, although it is annual both to the north (e.g. Malibu) and the south (e.g. Palos Verdes).

 

Cassin’s Kingbird

Uncommon resident; local breeder. This bird has been recorded irregularly throughout the year at BFM (breeding locally in Mar Vista and along Jefferson Blvd., fide LMF, KL) but becomes more common away from the immediate coast. Just four known records on the immediate coast, all of apparent spring transients: 13 Apr. 1995 (AP); at DW on 15 Feb. 2004 (DSC); and a spring record from Ballona Lagoon (16 Mar. 2004, CLA). No historical records. A characteristic bird of warm, interior valleys, the Cassin’s Kingbird is mainly found in groves of eucalyptus and other tall trees, and is probably most easily seen at LMU.

 

Western Kingbird

Common transient in both spring and fall; local breeder. This species is often encountered in small groups, feeding as they move through the valley, pausing to alight on tops of trees and shrubs. Spring records extend from 10 Mar. through 08 June, with peak numbers in April. In fall, it moves through early and rapidly, with sightings of presumed migrants from early August (8 over DW on 05 Aug. 2004) through mid-September, with most of the movement in August. The Western Kingbird historically bred in the area (von Bloeker 1943), and recent breeding was confirmed on 19 June 2004, with adults bringing food to a nest in a tall sycamore on Playa Vista east of LMU (KL). A reference to this species’ being present in winter (National Audubon Society 1988) is not credible.

 

Eastern Kingbird

Vagrant (from the eastern U.S.), two records. Single records each in spring (07 June 2003 at LMU, RDS) and fall (05 Sept. 1975 at Dune Willows, WT XX).

 

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Vagrant (from central U.S.), one record. One was “near Playa del Rey” on 20 June 1949 (AFN 2:252).

 

Shrike

 

Loggerhead Shrike

Extirpated as a breeder; now an uncommon summer, fall and winter resident (June – March). Long a characteristic resident in the Ballona Valley (e.g., von Bloeker 1943), the last locally nesting shrikes were recorded on the Ballona Wetlands in the mid-1990s, with an “occupied nest” on 29 Apr. 1995 and “two young fledglings” observed on 09 June 1996 (KLG files). Aggression or courtship displays were observed at the eastern end of the Playa Vista property on 14 June 1998 (KLG files), and one was here in “April” 2000 (RDS), but no actual breeding evidence was obtained. An exceptionally early adult accompanied by a juvenile was present for one day near BFM on 16 May 2004 (JRC), and not seen afterward.

 

Vireos

 

Bell’s Vireo

Casual transient. A spring migrant at BFM on 13 May 2003 (TPR) and a fall migrant at LMU on 25 Sept. 2004 (DSC) were presumably Vireo b. belli, the “Least” Bell’s Vireo. Though no local historical records are known (even of transients), more sightings of this southern California endemic are possible as riparian habitat is established adjacent to Playa Vista. It summers locally in small numbers in extensive riparian habitat throughout the Los Angeles Basin (e.g. San Gabriel River).

 

Cassin’s Vireo

Occasional spring transient; rare in fall. RDS records seven spring records in Westchester, mostly during the second half of April, and just one fall record (Sept.). A handful of records for Ballona Valley extend from 03 Apr. – 11 May in spring and from 11 – 23 Oct. in fall.

 

Hutton’s Vireo

Extirpated as a winter resident. Von Bloeker (1943) considered this species an “occasional winter visitant in the brushy portion of the sand dunes and in the willow thickets of the Playa del Rey salt marsh. Also found in shrubbery and trees around houses,” listing a specimen collected “on the meadow slope of the dunes” on 05 Dec. 1931. Aside from this, there is no other record of the Hutton’s Vireo occurring at Ballona before or since, and no records from the Baldwin Hills (Garrett 2001). However, this species was probably at least a winter resident along pre-channelized Ballona Creek, as it was more common in the historical Los Angeles Basin when riparian habitat was more extensive (e.g., Grinnell 1898).

 

Warbling Vireo

Fairly common spring transient, less common in fall; mainly recorded in Westchester. Spring records extend from mid-March (2 at Dune Willows on 13 Mar. 2004, DSC) through May, and fall birds are most frequently found in September. One at Ballona Lagoon on 04 Nov. 2004 (DSC) was late.

 

Jays and Crows

 

Western Scrub-Jay

Fairly common perennial resident. This species is most common in tree-filled residential areas (e.g. Westchester), and has apparently increased in abundance locally. It was not present during the 1930s (von Bloeker 1943); RSh (1977-87) recorded it just three times (exact location not known) in dozens of visits to PdR; and Dock and Schreiber (1981) recorded none at the Ballona Wetlands during surveys in 1979 and 1980, where they are regular in small numbers today. Multiple jays were observed at BW at least as early as 1990 (Corey 1992), and BOC recorded the species every month at the Wetlands by 2002. Corey (1992) confirmed breeding along the Westchester Bluffs in 1990, and Hamilton (1997) believed one pair held a territory near the present BFM. Scrub-Jays remain scarce along the immediate coast in Marina del Rey; the first record from Ballona Lagoon was not until 26 June 2004 (CLA), after monthly surveys had been conducted since 1996.

 

American Crow

Common perennial resident. This species is now observed in large numbers (dozens often seem flying to roost in late afternoon), and has been common here since at least the late 1970s (Dock and Schreiber 1981). This species is constantly seen harassing raptors in the region, and may be limiting their numbers and use of the habitats here, especially those closest to human-made structures and planted trees, which crows prefer for roosting and nesting. Not known to breed locally during the early 1900s (von Bloeker 1943; considered “moderately common”), their numbers have are expected to increase with the completion of Playa Vista. Several dozen birds were observed foraging on trash washed up along lower Ballona Creek on 03 Feb. 2004 after heavy rains the day before (DSC).

 

Common Raven

Fairly common perennial resident. One or two birds are typically observed each visit, and it will probably increase with the completion of Playa Vista. Though this species was apparently mainly a winter visitor during the late 1900s, and less common (e.g. RSh lists only two records, both in January), prior to this, it was considered a “fairly common resident” by von Bloeker (1943).

 

Larks and swallows

 

Horned Lark

Extirpated as a perennial resident; now a casual fall transient. A flock of five birds observed over BFM on 14 Nov. 2004 (KL, RB) provided the first record since fall 1994, when this species was recorded 10 Oct. and 15 Nov. (AP, KLG). Once a characteristic resident of coastal dunes and fields in the Ballona Valley (e.g., 25 at the “Venice Marshes” on 29 Jan. 1955; WT 22:41), the last suggestion of local breeding came in the mid-1970s (one “skylarking” on 21 Mar. 1975, KLG). Birds were consistently recorded on the Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count until the late 1970s (e.g., 145 in 1975), after which just one bird has been found on a single count (NAS 2002).

 

Purple Martin

Probably a rare transient. Two modern fall records from BFM on 19 Sept. 2004 (DSC) and 30 Jul. 2005 (KL). Singles were also recorded at PdR on 24 Mar. 1948 (AFN XX) and 09 Aug. 1949 (AFN 3:252).

 

Tree Swallow

Fairly common transient and uncommon winter visitor; local breeder. Prior to the construction of BFM, this species apparently only occurred as a rare (or at least rarely-identified) spring transient, with dates spanning 07 Feb. – 16 May. However, recently, up to 30 have been observed at BFM during the peak of spring migration (mid-Feb. 2004) and slightly lower numbers in fall (c. 20 on 28 Nov. 2004, DSC) at BFM, with small numbers remaining through the winter. The first southbound birds of fall can appear early (e.g. 10 August 2003, DSC), but the largest fall numbers are seen in associated with cold fronts and especially rainy weather. Prior to the creation of BFM, fall birds presumably passed through unnoticed. Though no historical records are known (e.g. it was unrecorded by von Bloeker 1943), in May 2004 a pair colonized one of several new nest boxes put up earlier that year at BFM, and fledged at least two young in June (fide RB). Birds fledged in June the following year as well (2005, fide RB), making this the only known nesting site for this species in Los Angeles County (fide KLG). Widely extirpated as a nester in southern California during the latter half of the 1900s, this species has re-established itself as a nester locally south to San Diego Co., often utilizing bird boxes.

 

Violet-green Swallow

Rare spring transient. Given its regularity in open habitats just to the east (e.g., Garrett 2001), a surprisingly rare visitor along the coast at Ballona, with just a handful of sightings between 20 Feb. and 16 Apr., and possibly not recorded every year.

 

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Common spring transient; fairly common summer resident and early fall transient; casual in winter. The largest numbers are noted in early spring (e.g. 50 at BFM on 05 Apr. 2003, DSC), with smaller numbers lingering into early summer. The first northbound birds begin passing through in early February (06 Feb. at BFM in both 2004 and 2005; KL, DSC), and fall migration peaks in August and Sept. Though nesting has not been conclusively documented, this species would be expected to colonize drainage structures locally, if not already doing so. Small numbers winter in very small numbers in southern California, but the only winter record for Ballona is of one along Ballona Cr. on 19 Dec. 1954 (AFN XX).

 

Bank Swallow

Occasional transient. Though records are few, it has doubtless been overlooked. This species may be most common in early fall, when birds have been recorded 04 Aug. to 14 Sept. A handful of spring sightings extend 22 Mar. – 17 May.

 

Cliff Swallow

Common spring transient and summer resident, uncommon fall transient; one winter record. Dozens (occasionally hundreds) are present from March through July, esp. along Ballona Cr. and at BFM, and irregularly and in increasingly lower numbers through August (to 09 Sept. 2003, DSC). A single bird with White-throated Swifts on 29 Dec. 2003 (KL) was exceptional. This species nests colonially on hard, sheer structures such as buildings and overpasses (as it has done since at least the 1920s, fide von Bloeker 1943), and has likely increased locally as a breeder since the early 1900s.

 

Barn Swallow

Common transient and summer resident; uncommon in winter. The first northbound birds arrive in February, with numbers building in March, and continue in large numbers (occasionally hundreds) through the spring. Similar numbers occur in late summer and early fall (roosting at night in the reeds at BFM starting in 2004). Southbound birds are mainly gone by the end of September, though birds occur in small numbers through late fall and winter generally associated with storms. A handful breed in a variety of human-made structures, especially in cement-lined culverts under roads and freeways; a notable early occurrence of breeding “under the Playa del Rey canal bridge” with Cliff Swallows was recorded in 1956 (WT 23:6).

 

Chickadee, Bushtit, nuthatches

 

[Mountain Chickadee

No records; this species is irregularly present in pines along the coast, so it would be expected in the Ballona Valley, especially at LMU or in Mar Vista.]

 

Bushtit

Common perennial resident. Roving bands are noted throughout the year, most commonly from mid-summer (i.e. post-breeding) through winter, in residential areas, native scrub and willow thickets (e.g. two family groups – adults feeding juveniles – were present at DW 08 Apr. 04, DSC). Historically also present as a breeder (see von Bloeker 1943); this species is expected to become much more common with the development of Playa Vista.

 

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Probably a rare, irregular fall and winter visitor during “invasion years”. Singles have been noted along Cabora Dr. at the southwestern edge of BW 13 – 20 Nov. 2004 (DSC); in a Westchester yard 05 – 16 Nov. 1996 (RDS); and just northeast of the study area at a city park at Palms Ave. and Sawtelle Ave. on 08 Jan. 1978 (KLG). This species is irregularly present in fall, winter and spring in groves of planted pines throughout the Los Angeles Basin.

 

White-breasted Nuthatch

Vagrant, one record. One was in a Westchester yard 19 Oct. to 22 Nov. 2002 (RDS). This species is regular in fall and winter in more wooded sections of the Los Angeles Basin (e.g. Westwood, Pasadena), and breeds as close as the Santa Monica Mountains.

 

Wrens

 

Rock Wren

Extirpated as a perennial resident; now a casual fall and winter visitor. Only about one per decade are now expected, recent records include singles on 13 Sept. 1980 (WT XX), “winter c. 1992 – 1993” (KL) and “late Oct.” 2001 (RSh). Von Bloeker (1943) wrote that this wren was a “resident of the established fore-dune area at El Segundo and along cliffs at Palisades del Rey”, where they may have persisted until these bluffs were covered with houses in the 1960s and 70s.

 

Bewick’s Wren

Apparently an irregular and occasional fall transient and rare winter visitor. Recent records have come from the Westchester Bluffs and DW, where recorded from 24 August through March. Additionally, there are two records from Ballona Lagoon, 22 Sept. 1996 and 18 Jan. 1997 (both CLA). Several were found at DW during fall 2004 and 2005, but despite good coverage, it was not recorded during all of 2003, suggesting that numbers reaching Ballona may be dependent on breeding success of local populations (e.g. Baldwin Hills, Santa Monica Mtns.), as 2003 was an extremely dry year, with presumably poor scrubland bird productivity. Historically, von Bloeker considered the Bewick’s Wren a “fairly common fall and winter visitant” to the El Segundo-Playa Vista area, with three specimens from the early 1930s collected 26 Oct. – 06 Mar. Recent coverage of habitat along the base of the Westchester bluffs (KBC 1996, Hamilton 1997) 1990s surveys of the El Segundo Dunes during the 1990s (P. Bloom, pers. comm.) have turned up few records of this nondescript bird. Like the California Quail, though it is resident just east of the study area in the Baldwin Hills. Future recolonization as a regular wintering bird (or even a permanent resident) of the Dune Willows at Ballona Wetlands, the Westchester Bluffs or the coastal sage scrub of BFM should be closely monitored.

 

House Wren

Common fall transient, fairly common through winter; recent spring records. Birds arrive in early August (earliest: 05 Aug. 2004 at Dune Willows, DSC) and are common in scrub through November, but seem to decline through the winter. The status in spring needs clarification. Small numbers are detected into March, and singles were singing near abandoned structures on Playa Vista property near LMU on 04 Apr. 2004 and 24 Apr. 2005 (both DSC), indicative of at least possible breeding. House Wrens are probably most numerous in willow scrub in fall (at least 10 at DW on 23 Sept. 2004, DSC). At BFM, they are largely restricted to the willows and Salicornia wetlands at the base of the bluffs. Though rarely recorded prior to intensive coverage of Ballona beginning in 2003 (e.g. RSh recorded just one, on 17 Jan. 1982; Corey (1992) found just two, in Oct. and Feb.), the dearth of early records is likely attributable to the confiding nature of the species; for example, KLG recorded several per visit in fall and winter at the Dune Willows as early as 1974, and on subsequent visits through the 1990s. Oddly, von Bloeker (1943) considered this species mainly a summer resident in the region, referable either to post-breeding dispersers from local lowland populations around the Los Angeles Basin, or to a now-extirpated breeding population, possibly in willow thickets that once formed at the edges of the wetlands. This species may (re-)colonize with riparian habitat restoration, especially if trees develop cavities required for breeding, or if bird boxes are installed.

 

Marsh Wren

Fairly common fall transient and winter resident; extirpated as a breeder. Small numbers of Marsh Wrens move through and over-winter in dense, damp herbaceous habitats, including both fresh and saltwater wetlands (incl. solid Salicornia mats). The first fall arrivals appear in late August (1 at BFM on 23 Aug. 2003, RB), and five were present at BFM on 25 Oct. 2003 (DSC). Wintering birds are largely gone after early March, though future breeding should be watched for at BFM. This species can be almost impossible to see, remaining deep in cover in reeds near the ground or water. Like the House Wren, it was virtually unrecorded by previous observers (incl. Corey 1992), except for KLG, who has recorded it regularly (presumably by its vocalizations) at the Ballona Wetlands since the early 1970s. Von Bloeker (1943) considered it a breeder here “in tule patches, along edges of ponds and sloughs from April to June”, and egg sets housed at WFVZ extend from 16 May 1894 (“marshes near Ballona Harbor...in tules”, G.F. Morcom), to 10 May 1936 from “Venice”, B.R. Baumgardt. All known egg collections are from “tules” except for one set collected by L.B. Howsley on 31 Mar. 1935 at Playa del Rey “3 feet up in dead stalk of wild mustard in dense growth of same.” Future nesting is anticipated at BFM.

 

Kinglets, gnatcatchers

 

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Vagrant, one record. A “small flock” was at LMU on 12 Nov. 2000 (RDS). This observation occurred during an invasion winter for this species, when small numbers were present in ornamental plantings throughout the Los Angeles Basin. This species breeds south through the local mountains at the highest elevations, and appears in fall and winter in adjacent foothill areas south into the Mojave Desert, irregularly along the coastal slope.

 

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Fairly common winter resident. This species prefers areas with taller shrubs and trees, but readily utilizes willow thickets and lush residential plantings. Interestingly, it has not been recorded at Ballona Lagoon, and was only recorded twice at BFM in its first year (2003), but was much more numerous in 2004. Kinglets arrive in mid-fall (earliest: 20 Sept. 1986, RSh), and are mostly gone by late March, with occasional birds lingering through April.

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Common fall transient and fairly common winter resident; confined to native scrub and riparian habitats. This species arrives generally in late August (exceptionally 07 Aug. 2005 at BFM, KL), and has been recorded into mid-spring (to 02 May 1999 on Westchester Bluffs, RDS). It is most common in scrub and tall herbaceous vegetation, venturing into the restored coastal sage scrub and riparian habitat at BFM the second autumn after planting (2004), though occurring commonly in 2003 in the established willow thicket and bluff scrub to the south (pers. obs.). The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is currently unknown from Ballona Lagoon (nor has it been recorded from any local residential area), suggesting that it may require somewhat larger areas of scrub. Thus, its presence may be used to monitor native habitat restoration in the study area.

 

California Gnatcatcher

Extirpated, if it ever occurred regularly. Known from a single historical record: 07 Oct. 1888 (LACM 12790) from “Port Ballona”. The local status of this species is enigmatic, and though specimens exist from “Redondo” (presumably from once-extensive coastal dunes there), there is no conclusive evidence of it having occurred in the nearby Baldwin Hills despite the persistence of Cactus Wren and other coastal scrub species there (Garrett 2001). It is possible that this bird’s range extended along the immediate coast from the Palos Verdes Peninsula (where still present) through the extensive dune system of Redondo and El Segundo, to the Westchester Bluffs; hence the “Port Ballona” record but nothing further east. Whether it was actually gone by the time von Bloeker studied the dunes in the 1930s, or whether he overlooked it, is not known.

 

Bluebird, thrushes

 

[Western Bluebird

One possible historic record. Von Bloeker (1943) considered this species an “occasional winter visitant” and mentions two specimens he collected “from a flock of seven in the meadow, Feb. 13, 1932”. The exact location is unknown, and could have been anywhere from Mar Vista up onto the once-grassy mesa now occupied by LAX. Garrett (2001) considered it an “uncommon and erratic winter visitor” just east of here in the Baldwin Hills.]

 

Mountain Bluebird

Vagrant, one record. One was observed at the Ballona Wetlands on 04 Feb. 1985 (LACM files), during an exceptional invasion winter for this species in the Los Angeles Basin. Though formerly much more common in coastal southern California (“many hundreds...in the coastal lowlands of Orange County”, winter 1959-1960 [AFN 14:344]), this species was apparently not similarly common locally (e.g. recorded just once on the Los Angeles CBC, NAS 2002).

 

Swainson’s Thrush

Probably an occasional late spring transient on floor of Ballona Valley (uncommon in Westchester); rare in fall. RDS records 12 sightings in yard in Westchester between 28 Apr. and 26 May, but just a handful from the Ballona Valley proper, in May; just one fall record, in Westchester on 03 Oct. 1998 (RDS).

 

Hermit Thrush

Uncommon winter resident on floor of Ballona Valley; more common in Westchester (esp. LMU). This species occurs in mesic, shady situations, and is probably most common around Toyon (incl. planted individuals) and other fruiting shrubs, especially in older residential areas. Very small numbers have been found wintering (probably annually) at BFM and Dune Willows. Early: 05 Oct. 2003 at BFM (R. Cyger).

 

American Robin

Occasional and irregular visitor to Westchester and other areas with fruiting shrubs and trees; most likely in fall. One breeding record. This species probably approaches “uncommon” during some years in ornamental plantings of residential Westchester (esp. LMU), but is virtually unknown on the floor of the Ballona Valley: 03 Jan. 1982 (PdR); singles were noted singing at the western edge of BW (in the eucalyptus grove) 26 Mar. – 06 Apr. 2005 (DB, DSC). Breeding was documented at LMU with nest-building on 07 July 1995 (LABBA), and singing birds were again present here in spring 2005 (DSC).

 

Wrentit

 

[Wrentit

Extirpated, if it ever occurred at Ballona or on the Westchester Bluffs. Von Bloeker (1943) considered it “resident of the brush-covered portions of the dunes and meadow. Breeds in April and May…An adult male was collected on the meadow [= inland] slope of the dunes 13 Feb. 1932.” This is the only reference to this species’ occurrence in the area (e.g. no egg records in WFVZ), and since it is unrecorded in the much more extensive habitat of the Baldwin Hills to the east (Garrett 2001), its extirpation must have occurred early. The El Segundo Dunes (and lands now covered by LAX) may have represented an isolated, coastal outpost of the scrub-dwelling species, which, along with Greater Roadrunner, California Gnatcatcher, Rock Wren and seasonal populations of California Thrasher and perhaps Sage Sparrow, did not persist past the early 1900s. The nearest populations were apparently in willow bottoms of the Artesia area (now extirpated; WFVZ egg records) and the Santa Monica Mtns. (where still common). The re-establishment of this species in the Ballona Valley, however unlikely, could be considered an indicator of the recovery of the dune scrub/coastal sage scrub ecosystem.]

 

Thrashers

 

Northern Mockingbird

Common perennial resident. Most numerous in summer, and largely confined to residential and urban habitats, or around fruiting shrubs and trees.

 

Sage Thrasher

Probably a rare fall transient. Birds were at BFM on 22 Sept. 2004 (RB) and a year later on 16 Sept. 2005 (DB). A rare-but-regular fall migrant to coastal southern California (esp. on the Channel Islands), occurring when other desert species move coastward in small numbers (e.g. White-winged Dove, Lark Bunting).

 

Brown Thrasher

Vagrant (from eastern U.S.), one record. One was at DW at Ballona Wetlands on 26 April 1968 (AFN 22:576; published as 26 June in WT).

 

California Thrasher

Extirpated; two records since 1931. Two birds were recorded in 2002, one on 08 June on the Westchester Bluffs (RDS) and another adj. to DW at Ballona Wetlands (at a seed feeder) in “October” of that year (BOC). Von Bloeker (1943) considered the California Thrasher a fall and winter visitor “in brushland areas”, and cites a specimen record caught in a rat trap on 25 Oct. 1931. This sedentary species is an common perennial visitor less than 10 miles away in the Santa Monica Mountains, but is casual in the lowland portions of the Los Angeles Basin (incl. the Palos Verdes Peninsula), and has been reliably recorded just twice in the Baldwin Hills (Garrett 2001).

 

Starling

 

European Starling

Common perennial resident, most numerous in summer and fall, when huge flocks are recorded, mainly of first-year birds (c. 800 at BW on 03 July 2004, with 500+ continuing into August). These numbers decrease through fall, possibly the result of a decrease in Myoporum fruit availability (pers. obs.). Starlings are often seen feeding in grassland and dry salt marsh with Western Meadowlark, but seem to successfully mimic the foraging techniques of many species, from shorebirds to swallows. The first records of this introduced species in southern California were in the late 1940s, with the largest increases during the 1960s (Garrett and Dunn 1981).

 

Pipits

 

Red-throated Pipit

Vagrant (from Asia), one record. Two birds were discovered by DS at BFM on 04 Oct. 2003 (apparently observed by JP and BE on 03 Oct., but not reported), with one continuing to 05 Oct. (m. ob.). This species has proven regular in fall migration in coastal California, and more records are anticipated.

 

American Pipit

Fairly common winter resident. Currently represented by a loose flock of no more than 100 birds present throughout the winter, probably most readily seen on barren ground at Playa Vista/Hughes, BFM or along Ballona Cr. Records extend from 25 Sept. to 29 Apr., with recent high counts of 100 in the eastern, undeveloped portion of Playa Vista on 13 Mar. 2004 (DSC), and 80 together at BFM on 29 Jan. 2004 (DSC). This species requires large expanses of flat, barren ground, and though still numerous, is probably much reduced compared to former years. The Ballona Valley supports some of the last habitat for the American Pipit in the Los Angeles Basin, and because it requires such large areas of flat, undeveloped land, may be drastically reduced with the build-out of Playa Vista.

 

Waxwing, Phainopepla

 

Cedar Waxwing

Uncommon and localized winter visitor and transient. This species is seen at fruiting trees (or in flocks overhead), typically in residential areas (esp. at LMU), or is recorded as small flocks speeding overhead. Most common in spring; dates extend from 12 Sept. to 31 May. Local high counts include 50 feeding in ficus trees at DRL on 08 Apr. 2004 (DSC).

 

Phainopepla

Casual transient. Two fall records: a “pair” at PdR on 12 Oct. 1985 (RSh) and a male at BFM on 12 Nov. 2004 (RB, m. ob.); one spring record from PdR (19 May 1998, AP). One reported from Washington Lagoon in “October” 1978 (Schreiber and Dock 1980) may be correct, as it falls within the fall dispersal period for this species, but given other questionable records by these observers, this should not be considered an acceptable record. Phainopepla are commonly found along the lower foothills of the Los Angeles Basin, and have bred as close as the Baldwin Hills (in 1995, LABBA).

 

Wood-warblers

 

Tennessee Warbler

Vagrant (from eastern U.S.), one record. One was at Burton Chase Park in MdR 06 – 07 Oct. 2000 (KL).

 

Orange-crowned Warbler

Common transient and uncommon winter resident. Status complex, and complicated by the regular presence of three races: V. c. lutescens, V. c. sordida, and at least one gray-headed form that is probably V. c. orestra. During migration, which begins very early in both spring and fall, the Orange-crowned Warbler occurs in small waves (e.g. 8 at Dune Willows on 16 Mar. 2004, DSC; 10 here on 10 Sept. 1986, RSh). Spring migration peaks in late March and early April, and all races of this species are uncommon after mid-April. June records are unknown (suggesting that no – or only irregular – local nesting occurs) and the first fall birds, invariably juvenile birds, may appear as early as July. Habitat preferences also vary throughout the year. In migration, the Orange-crowned warbler may be common in tracts of native scrub (e.g. Westchester Bluffs, Dune Willows), but by early winter, birds are largely confined to ornamental plantings (esp. Eucalyptus) within residential (or even commercial/industrial) areas where flowering plants are present. In residential Westchester, RDS confirms that this species is relatively scarce in mid-winter (after mid-December) until the first migrants return in March. The various subspecies can occur together (e.g. all three at DW on 25 Oct. 2003, DSC), with records for each race (lutescens being the most common) in spring, fall and winter. Exceptionally dull, grayish birds that appeared to be V. c. celata have been observed twice: one present with migrant Yellow Warblers at LMU 27 – 28 May 2004 and another at DW on 04 May 2005 (both DSC). There are several historical winter specimen records for PdR for both lutescens and sordida from the 1930s (LACM 18230, 18274; see also Von Bloeker 1943), before the widespread establishment of ornamental vegetation in the area. Future nesting of either the sedentary race V. c. sordida (which breeds on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, fide KL) or the migrant race V. c. lutescens (which breeds in the Baldwin Hills, Garrett 2001) should be watched for in areas of lush scrub and riparian vegetation, particularly on the Westchester Bluffs.

 

Nashville Warbler

Fairly common spring and uncommon fall migrant. Most frequently encountered in Westchester, this species occurs mainly during large waves of more common migrant warblers (e.g. Wilson’s). Almost all records from the floor of the Ballona Valley have come from the Dune Willows, where birds have occurred in spring (10 – 27 Apr.) and in fall (28 Aug. – 13 Oct.). RDS considers this a “fairly common” migrant at LMU, with most records from April, and a late bird possibly attempting to winter in nearby Westchester Park on 28 Nov. 2002 (RDS).

 

Virginia’s Warbler

Rare fall transient. There have been four records, all in early fall (03 – 23 Sept.), when very small numbers are expected in coastal southern California.

 

Lucy’s Warbler

Vagrant (from the interior Southwest); one record. An adult male was at DW on 11 Oct. 2003 (J. Engel, J. Feenstra).

 

Yellow Warbler

Common transient both in spring and fall; occasional into early winter. During migration, this warbler is common in willow thickets as well as in tall ornamental trees, especially if flowering (e.g. eucalyptus, silk-oak). The Yellow Warbler is one of the most consistently common passerine migrants in the Ballona area, especially in late spring and early fall. Spring birds peak late in the season, with the bulk of movement in May (high: 24 at BFM on 19 May 2003, TPR). The latest date in spring is 18 June (BFM in 2004, RB), though birds are rare after late May. Fall birds typically begin arriving at the end of July (earliest 20 July 1982, KLG), and continue into October (3 at Dune Willows on 13 Oct. 2003, DSC). An adult male at the Playa Vista Visitors Center on 23 Nov. 2004 (DSC) and an immature at BFM on 12 – 17 Dec. 2004 (KL) were very late, and possibly attempting to winter. Despite being a common nester historically elsewhere in the Los Angeles Basin, there is no evidence that this riparian obligate ever bred at Ballona.

 

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Rare fall transient. Four known records include singles at Burton Chase Park in Marina del Rey 6 – 7 Oct. 2000 (KL); in a yard on the Westchester Bluffs on 30 August 2001 (BE); and at BFM from 20 – 27 Sept. 2003 (Larry Schmahl, m. ob.). An individual in Marina del Rey 17 Nov. – 02 Dec. 1979 (G & D 1981) may have been attempting to over-winter.

 

Magnolia Warbler

Vagrant (from the eastern U.S.), one record. One was at DW on 30 May 1981 (WT 47:11) is one of only a handful of spring records for the Los Angeles area. Just east of the study area, a bird wintered in nearby Culver City from Jan. – May 2003 (DS).

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Two distinct subspecies occur: “Audubon’s Warbler”, a common winter resident and transient, and “Myrtle Warbler”, an uncommon winter visitor. The first Audubon’s Warblers return in late September, and dozens are found wintering in large numbers in virtually all terrestrial habitats from mid-October (early: 3 on 17 Sept. 1984, KLG) on, remaining common into March. This species is often found in mixed-species migrant flocks in early April (latest: 14 April 2004, DSC). Much less common, one or two “Myrtle Warblers” per day may be expected in winter.

 

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Uncommon transient and winter resident; more common in Westchester than on the Ballona Valley floor. Spring records of this species peak in mid-April, when found in small roving bands of wood-warblers (esp. Nashville and Wilson’s), Warbling Vireo and Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Though spring arrival dates are complicated by wintering birds, apparent migrants span 12 Mar. - 24 Apr., Fall transients extend from 22 August, and wintering birds are found around Coast Live Oaks, pines and flowering eucalyptus, esp. in Westchester (fide RDS).

 

Townsend’s Warbler

Fairly common spring and uncommon fall transient and winter resident; more numerous in Westchester than on the Ballona Valley floor. Spring records extend into mid-May (5 at LMU on 15 May 2004, DSC), and fall birds have been found as early as late August (1 at BFM on 23 Aug. 2003, KL). This species is annual in small numbers in residential areas in winter, especially around planted pines.

 

Hermit Warbler

Uncommon mid-spring transient, casual in fall and winter; like above species, rare on Ballona Valley floor. Spring records extend from late April to mid-May, when it is most often encountered in large waves of northbound passerines, especially at LMU. Two fall/winter records from Westchester, 08 Oct. 2000 and 27 Dec. 1998 (both RS). Just three known records from the Ballona Valley floor, one on the PdR pier (no longer present) on 01 May 1924 (Bird-Lore 26:278); one at DW on 24 Apr. 1972 (KLG) and one at BFM on 10 May 2003 (LMF).

 

Blackburnian Warbler

Vagrant (from the eastern U.S.), one record. One was singing at Dune Willows on 31 May 1981 (WT 47:11) during an exceptional period that also produced a Magnolia Warbler and an Ovenbird.

 

Prairie Warbler

Vagrant (from the eastern U.S.), two records. Singles were at Dune Willows on 06 Sept. 1972 (AFN 27:124) and 17 – 18 Sept. 1974 (AFN 29:123).

 

Palm Warbler

Occasional late fall transient; rare winter visitor and spring transient. Five fall records prior to 2003 span 15 Oct. – 24 Nov.; but three birds in 2003 alone were found at BFM between 30 Oct. and 16 Nov., where it should prove regular. This species is probably most common in California in freshwater wetland/riparian habitat along the coast. In addition to these fall records are a handful of winter records: 07 Dec. 1974 in “eucalyptus of Hughes property (now Playa Vista)” (KLG); 01 Jan. – 15 Apr. 1990 at Culver-Slauson Park, along Ballona Cr. just west of 405 Fwy. (DS); 09 Dec. 2004 – XXX Mar. 2005 along Ballona Cr. (JRC); Three records of spring migrants: 16 Apr. 1996 in willows adj. to present-day BFM (Hamilton 1997); 16 Apr. 2000 along Westchester Bluffs (RDS) and 26-27 Apr. 2004 at BFM (JRC, m. ob.).

 

Blackpoll Warbler

Rare fall transient. One early record of two birds at PdR on 24 – 25 Sept. 1969 (AFN 24:100b), and modern records of singles at BFM from 03 Oct. to 06 Oct. 2003 (BOC; m. ob.); and on 19 Sept. (DSC) and 09 Oct. (DSC) 2004.

 

Black-and-white Warbler

Casual transient and winter visitor. Transients have been observed at Dune Willows on 17 May 1981 (WT 47:11), and just outside the study area in Westchester Park on 10 Oct. 1979 (WT XX); a bird in oaks at LMU on 19 Mar. 2005 (RDS) probably wintered locally, as vagrants are not expected in spring until mid-May (fide KL).

 

American Redstart

Casual transient, two records. Birds have been recorded at PdR 28 Sept. 1965 (AFN 20:93) and along Ballona Cr. on 04 Sept. 1975 (WT XX).

 

Ovenbird

Casual transient, two records. Birds have been reported at the Dune Willows on 06 June 1981 (WT 47:11) and at LMU on 10 Nov. 2002 (RDS). A reference to this species being “accidental” in winter is not credible (NAS 1988).

 

Northern Waterthrush

Rare transient. Five records in both spring and fall as follows: Westchester on 07 Oct. 1978 (WT XX); 1 in willows near present-day BFM 22 Apr. 1996 (Hamilton 1997); 1 singing in willows below LMU on 14 June 1997 (RDS); and singles at BFM on 19 May (RB) and 08 (CLA) Oct. 2004.

 

MacGillivray’s Warbler

Occasional transient. RDS has recorded 6 spring and 3 fall birds at LMU/Westchester, but on the floor of the Ballona Valley, records are limited to four spring records at Dune Willows (where probably regular) between 10 Apr. – 28 May and a handful of fall records from BFM and Ballona Lagoon 21 Sept. – 08 Oct. One in “early November” at Washington Lagoon (Schreiber and Dock 1980) should be disregarded.

 

Common Yellowthroat

Common perennial resident. Difficulty in detection and insufficient survey effort at BW and in other appropriate habitat (wet and/or brushy grassland) has no doubt depressed the number of historical records for this species. It has proven very common at BFM during spring and summer, with 20 territories estimated here in 2004 (more in the riparian scrub to the west, pers. obs.). An unknown number presumably breed in pampas-grass clumps along the base of the Westchester Bluffs from PdR east to BFM, and locally elsewhere in the Ballona Valley (e.g. Del Rey Lagoon and in the highway median of the 90 Fwy.; DSC, pers. obs.). RDS and Corey (1992) recorded it year-round from what is now Playa Vista, with breeding confirmed here (fledglings) in 1998 (LABBA). Detection rates can vary greatly by observer. For example, RSh recorded it just once (30 Mar. 1985) during 1977-87 on monthly walks along Ballona Cr., DRL, and the edge of BW; and AP listed only a handful of records from the same area from 1993-1998. However, it was undoubtedly present and more common than this, as KLG recorded 1-3 in winter on multiple trips to BW since the mid-1970s (still a typical number, pers. obs.), with a high of 15 here in fall migration on 23 Sept. 1989. Von Bloeker (1943) termed it a “common resident of the salt marsh, occasional in winter in the meadow”.

 

Wilson’s Warbler

Common spring and uncommon fall transient; rare winter visitor. This species and Yellow Warbler are among the most common passerine migrants in the Ballona area in spring, with Wilson’s being most frequently recorded in low, dense vegetation such as riparian thickets (willows, mulefat) and scrub (incl. exotic species). Birds arrive the third week in March, and peak in late April; spring dates extend from 16 Mar. to 28 May (high: 20 moving through willows just south of BFM on 29 Apr. 04, DSC); fall records span 07 Aug. to 06 Oct. One or two are probably annual in winter in the Ballona Valley; birds have been found wintering “in 1997 or 1998” in Myoporum along Ballona Cr. at McConnell Dr. in Mar Vista (KL); and at Washington Lagoon in both 2004 and 2005 (KL). Though the Wilson’s Warbler bred widely in lowland southern California prior to 1950, there is no evidence of it ever doing so in the Ballona Valley.

 

Yellow-breasted Chat

Rare transient; extirpated as a breeder. This skulking migrant has been detected a handful of times in fall (23 Sept. 1979 at Marina del Rey, WT XX; 04 Oct. 2003 at Dune Willows, DSC; 09 Oct. 2004 at BFM, DB) and in spring (04 May 1981 at Dune Willows, WT 47:11; 29 Apr. 2004 singing from willows south of BFM, DSC) and is probably more common in migration than the few records indicate. Historic nesting, presumably in once-common willow thickets, is known only from a set of 3 eggs collected by J.H. Baumgardt in 20 May 1936 at “Venice” (WFVZ), making it one of the few local riparian obligate species (see also American Goldfinch, below) known to have bred at Ballona historically. Restoration of riparian habitats in the Ballona Valley, specifically the removal of pampas grass and other invasive weeds, may also result in summer and even nesting records of this species, as it occurs as a breeder in coastal riparian habitats both north and south of Los Angeles County (e.g. Santa Clara River mouth, Santa Ana River mouth).

 

Tanagers

 

Summer Tanager

Probably a casual transient and winter visitor. A male apparently wintered at LMU, recorded 01 Feb. to 04 Apr. 1987 (A. Howe, ph.), and one was heard and seen at DW 24 – 25 Oct. 2005 (DB).

 

Scarlet Tanager

Vagrant (from the eastern U.S.), one record. A male was observed at LMU on 29 Nov. 2003 (DSC; San Miguel and McGrath 2005).

 

Western Tanager

Fairly common transient (late spring and early fall); casual winter visitor. More often seen in Westchester (esp. LMU) than on the floor of the Ballona Valley, spring migration is late, between late April and the end of May (high: 8 at DW on 26 Apr. 2005, DSC), and fall birds move early from 31 July – 18 Sept., with most sightings in August. The lone winter record is of one in Westchester on 29 Dec. 1996 (RDS), though additional winter sightings are anticipated, especially at flowering eucalyptus. Like many arboreal species, it appears to be much less common in winter here than in more planted regions of the city – more than 15 birds were estimated to be wintering at West L.A. College in Culver City just east of the study area in 2004-05 (DS, DB).

 

Towhees and sparrows

 

Green-tailed Towhee

Rare transient. Birds at Burton Chase Park in MdR on 03 May 2003 (L. Conrad, LACoBirds) and at DW 05 – 09 Sept. 2004 (DSC) are the only credible records. This species, which breeds in our local mountains, winters in deserts well south and east of the Los Angeles Basin, and is rarely (but regularly) recorded along the immediate coast.

 

Spotted Towhee

Uncommon and localized transient and winter visitor; occasional in spring and summer. Small numbers of Spotted Towhees apparently over-winter in coastal sage scrub, at least on the Westchester Bluffs. As much of the suitable breeding habitat in the area is currently inaccessible, its nesting status is not known, but two recent records of singing males in suitable breeding habitat were suggestive of this: one in (native) alluvial scrub of “Parcel A” of BW on 16 June 2002 (KL); another on the hillside below LMU on 15 Apr. – 18 July 2004 (DSC, m. ob.). Since this species occurs almost exclusively in native scrub (and is a breeding resident in the Baldwin Hills a short distance to the east, per Garrett 2001), it may be a good indicator of habitat restoration. However, its absence from the Ballona Valley may also be “natural,” as it was not recorded by von Bloeker (1943), nor by subsequent surveyors (Dock and Schreiber 1981; Corey 1992); and no nest/egg records are known. If this is the case, recent spring and summer records may be more indicative of a slight expansion of the range of this species, rather than its reclaiming lost territory. Much of the scrub of the Westchester Bluffs now consists of lush, dense restoration plantings which have been irrigated – unlike the sparser native scrub presumably present historically. This may have improved local conditions for this chaparral specialist.

 

California Towhee

Fairly common perennial resident in areas of scrub (including that dominated by exotic species), including all open parcels on the floor of Ballona Valley and lush residential plantings. At least one pair is resident at the Dune Willows, and birds are sometimes found in residential Playa del Rey, especially at bird feeders. Von Bloeker (1943) also found this species to be a fairly common resident in the area, and captured several specimens in rodent traps during the winter of 1931-32. A highly sedentary species, there are very few records for BFM proper (and none from Ballona Lagoon), yet birds are resident in willows and scrub just south of the marsh. Still, this species is much more common in natural areas (RDS lists 31 Jan. 2002 as the only record for his yard in residential Westchester) and therefore may be a good indicator species to monitor the success of local restoration projects.

 

American Tree Sparrow

Vagrant (from the eastern U.S.), one record. One was present at BFM 07 – 09 Nov. 2003 (RB, m. ob.).

 

Chipping Sparrow

Uncommon transient. This species is surprisingly scarce at Ballona. Small numbers (up to 3/day) have been recorded roughly equally in fall (24 Aug. – 01 Nov.) as in spring (19 Mar. – 25 Apr.). An adult at BFM on 15 Dec. 2003 (DSC) was not seen before or after, and was likely a very late fall transient.

 

Clay-colored Sparrow

Probably a rare fall transient. A fall bird was present in a Westchester yard 16 – 23 Nov. 1996 (RDS); and one was at BFM on 01 – 03 Oct. 2004 (KL, m. ob.), with a possible second bird here on 02 Oct. (DSC). More records of this rare-but-regular migrant (to California) are anticipated, especially in fall.

 

Brewer’s Sparrow

Probably a rare transient; two records. One or two birds were at BFM 23 – 26 Sept. 2004 (RB, DSC), and a single was at the base of the Westchester Bluffs on 07 Aug. 2005 (KL). This is an uncommon and very inconspicuous migrant along the coast of southern California, especially in native scrub – a habitat largely lost from the Ballona Valley. More records are anticipated with careful searching.

 

Vesper Sparrow

Occasional fall transient. Several have been recorded at BFM and DW between 12 Sept. and 07 Nov. All records are post-2002 (i.e. after the construction of BFM), but this is likely due to greatly increased coverage by birders. Additional sightings of this inconspicuous migrant are anticipated, and wintering is conceivable in the largest patches of grassland.

 

Lark Sparrow

Occasional fall transient; rare in late winter and spring. A handful of records fall mostly between 26 Aug. and 13 Nov. (with an additional historical record from the El Segundo-PdR area on 15 Aug. 1931, von Bloeker 1943). Rare at other times of year; a spring transient singing at Dune Willows 13 Mar. 2004 (DSC); one at BFM on 11 May 2005 (DSC); and one winter or very early spring transient record of two in “February” 1991 at the base of Westchester Bluffs (Corey 1992).

 

Black-throated Sparrow

Vagrant (from the desert Southwest); one record. One was observed below the Westchester Bluffs adj. to BFM on 24 July 2005 (KL). This species is a rare-but-regular fall visitor along the coast, so more records are anticipated.

 

[Sage Sparrow

Extirpated, if it ever occurred. Historically, the Bell’s Sage Sparrow (A. b. belli) was at least a post-breeding visitor to the El Segundo Dunes, recorded into the 1930s. Birds were collected at “Hyperion” on 16 July 1917 (coll. Wyman, LACM); and at “El Segundo” on 08 Jan. 1925 (coll. A. H. Miller, MVZ 81542) and 22 Aug. 1931 (in von Bloeker 1943). Field notes of P.H. Robertson (WFVZ) mention “a few” Bell’s Sparrows in dunes at “Redondo” on 16 June 1899. Though this taxon was never specifically recorded from Playa del Rey/Ballona, it seems likely that it would have occurred here. There are no modern records from Ballona, although it remains a casual transient along the coast of southern California.]

 

[Lark Bunting

Possibly a vagrant. A bird likely of this species was flushed from grassland at Lincoln Blvd. and Jefferson Blvd. on 26 Aug. (KL) and 07 Sept. (DSC, also heard in flight) 2003.]

 

Savannah Sparrow

Best discussed as three distinctive groups, “Belding’s Savannah Sparrow,” “Large-billed Savannah Sparrow” and a suite of migratory northern races:

 

Belding’s Savannah Sparrow

Fairly common perennial resident. This distinctive race occurs almost exclusively in and adjacent to Salicornia-dominated wetlands, especially in the vicinity of tidal channels at the western edge of the Ballona Wetlands. At least one pair is now resident adjacent to BFM, foraging both here and in the (muted) saltmarsh to the west and south (pers. obs.). Individuals are often seen away from preferred habitat, particularly during non-breeding season, foraging in grassland and scrub near breeding habitats (e.g. one on Playa del Rey jetty 09 Jan. 2003, KLG). The Belding’s Savannah Sparrow may also breed irregularly in atypical habitats provided water and Salicornia are in proximity: one seen carrying food into clump of pampas-grass at DRL in May 2002, BOC). Interestingly, it has not been recorded at the restored Ballona Lagoon (fide CLA), which, at 16 acres, may simply be too small to support breeding pairs. Numbers are variable from year to year, but an estimated 10-20 pairs persist at Ballona. As the Ballona Wetlands represent essentially the last remaining population of this taxon wholly within Los Angeles County (a small population is also resident at Los Cerritos Wetlands near the mouth of the San Gabriel River on the Orange Co. line, pers. obs.), its conservation here is of utmost concern. The Belding’s Savannah Sparrow was undoubtedly more numerous historically when the wetlands themselves were more expansive (“abundant resident of the salt marsh”, von Bloeker 1943), and the region probably supported hundreds of pairs. While these numbers will never return, tidal wetlands restoration could increase the population by several-fold, as more extensive wetlands in the region (e.g. Mugu Lagoon, Bolsa Chica Lagoon) support dozens of pairs.

 

Large-billed Savannah Sparrow

Rare and highly localized fall and winter visitor. The first modern record (since 1950s/early 1960s, fide KLG) of this Gulf of California breeder was of a single present on the jetty at PdR from 09 Dec. 1998 – 27 Feb. 1999 (KLG). One or two have been present along the jetties in fall and early winter nearly annually since, arriving as early as 15 August (in 2000, RB). This species was historically much more numerous locally and in California generally, occurring as a post-breeding visitor to dune scrub and various immediate-coast habitats. Von Bloeker (1943) termed it a “common winter visitant in the salt marsh and along the seaward slope of the dunes,” and cited two specimens from 26 Oct. 1939. Up to six individuals were recorded on the Los Angeles Christmas Bird Count until the mid-1950s (NAS 2002), coinciding with the start of the massive urbanization of Marina Del Rey and the Playa del Rey dunes. The Ballona Creek jetty is currently the only site in Los Angeles County that consistently supports this species (fide KLG).

 

Migratory Savannah Sparrows (various races, incl. P. s. nevadensis).

Common transient and winter resident. Relatively pale migratory races of Savannah Sparrow are numerous in the Ballona Valley from September through March (up to 30 birds/day at BFM), with the earliest arrivals in late summer (12 at BFM on 01 Aug. 2005, DB was an early-season high). Birds are found almost exclusively in grassland and weedy scrub, generally on flat ground, occurring in other habitats (residential areas, large lawns) primarily during fall migration. Interesting, the Savannah Sparrow has yet to be recorded from Ballona Lagoon, which may simply not have enough open, flat land to attract even a migrant individual. With the elimination of a large portion of flat grassland in the Ballona Valley (with Playa Vista), the migratory Savannah Sparrow population deserves monitoring, especially in winter.

 

Grasshopper Sparrow

Vagrant, one record. A singing male was seen and heard on the Ballona Wetlands during a survey for Belding’s Savannah Sparrow on 10 May 2004 (K. Keane, via email). This was apparently a transient (not seen after this date), and future occurrences of this grassland obligate is conceivable, especially after wet winters.

 

Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow

Vagrant (but possibly a casual/rare winter visitor); one old record. One was discovered at the “Recreation Gun Club near Venice” (= Ballona Wetlands) on 16 Jan. 1944, joined by a second bird 08 – 12 Feb. (Cogswell 1944). The bird was flushed from “a dike between an old unused duck pond and the salicornia flats,” and was subsequently seen “in an isolated clump of tules (Scirpus)” and “feeding on the salicornia flats at high tide, running mouselike over the tangled stalks and apparently eating the seeds.” As this sparrow winters in very small numbers in saltmarsh along the entire coast of California, it is likely to occur again, if it doesn’t already do so at least irregularly. Since essentially all salt marsh at Ballona has been off-limits to birders (and the public) since the 1950s, documentation of this and other cryptic marsh taxa have been difficult.

 

Fox Sparrow

Uncommon (and localized) winter resident and occasional transient. Very small numbers winter on the Westchester Bluffs (fide RDS), and at the Dune Willows. Two birds were also recorded at the “Ballona Wetlands” (possibly DW) in Feb. 1990 by Corey (1992). Transients through the Ballona Valley are scarce, but have been recorded both in fall: (several records 20 Sept. – 11 Nov.); and in spring on 08 Apr. 2004 at LMU (DSC). Fox Sparrows occur almost exclusively in native scrub habitat, selecting the most shady, moist sites. Due to the scarcity of this habitat here, they are predictably hard to find.

 

Song Sparrow

Status complex. A common perennial resident at BFM and in riparian and emergent marsh vegetation along the base of the Westchester Bluffs; uncommon transient and winter visitor, and possible breeder, in scrub and riparian habitats elsewhere (e.g. Dune Willows). Birds have recently lingered (attempting to breed?) into late spring at the Dune Willows (1 on 22 May 2004, DSC) and at DRL (1 on 23 May 2004, DSC). At Del Rey Lagoon, birds are encountered in dense pampas-grass clumps (often with Common Yellowthroat). The first fall transients arrive in late August, and variable numbers winter throughout in wet areas (including salt marsh). Away from the LMU campus, the Song Sparrow is virtually unrecorded in residential areas (fide RDS), and is a rare fall transient in the limited restored coastal scrub at Ballona Lagoon (CLA). Though locally common, this species has apparently undergone a recent decline in the region, especially during the breeding season. Historically much more widespread at Ballona, von Bloeker (1943) called it a “common resident of the dunes, meadow, and salt marsh [which included brackish wetlands]. Breeds chiefly in April and May.” Of course, since most of this habitat acreage has been lost, its decline is not particularly surprising. Still, well after the massive habitat loss, KLG recorded six in the salt marsh and willow scrub of the Ballona Wetlands on 28 May 1976 and 8 on 11 May 1992, presumably involving birds nesting or attempting to do so. Numbers such as these are unheard of in late spring in the Dune Willows or the main saltmarsh (away from the Westchester Bluffs) today. Planned riparian habitat restoration anywhere in the Ballona Valley should prove beneficial for this species.

 

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Common transient and fairly common winter resident. This species is most numerous in wet scrub and grassland in fall, with highest numbers present from October to December (30+ at BFM on 30 Nov. and 07 Dec. 2004, DSC), and records extending from 03 Sept. to 13 May. Difficulty in detection (mainly found by its distinctive call notes) and skulking behavior has probably resulted in few records (cf. Common Yellowthroat), as this species was unrecorded by RSh, found just once along Ballona Cr. by AP (17 Nov. 1995), and recorded just twice by CLA at Ballona Lagoon (since 1996!). However, it has probably long been present (and overlooked) at BW, as von Bloeker (1943) termed it a “moderately common winter visitant, occurring most abundantly in the salt marsh”, and five were found here by KLG on 01 Nov. 1975.

 

Swamp Sparrow

Occasional winter visitor and transient. Prior to the creation of BFM and regular coverage by birders, the lone Ballona record was of a very late spring transient at PdR on 20 May 1975 (AFN 29:912; G & D 1981). Since then, singles have been recorded in winter at BFM (30 Nov. 2003 – 04 Mar. 2004, DSC) and on the southwestern edge of BW (28 Nov. 2004 – 06 Mar. 2005; DB, KL). Two additional spring transients have been recorded at BFM on 05 Apr. 2003 (DSC) and a singing bird on 15 May 2005 (KL).

 

White-throated Sparrow

Probably a rare fall transient and winter visitor. Four known records include singles wintering “below LMU” (along the base of the Westchester Bluffs) on 25 Dec. 1997 (RDS) and one in a Westchester yard 15 Dec. 2001 to 21 Apr. 2002 (RDS); two apparent late fall transients, one in a (different) Westchester yard 07 – 08 Nov. 2002 (BE) and one reported (to JP) at BFM on 25 Nov. 2003 (D. Pomerantz).

 

White-crowned Sparrow

Common winter resident and rare spring transient. This species is found in highest numbers in low scrub (e.g. Dune Willows, BFM). Though small numbers arrive toward the end of September (early: 14 Sept. 1993, KLG), flocks start building the first week in October, remaining through the winter into early April (late: 08 May 2005, JC). A black-lored individual with the characteristics of Z. l. oriantha was observed at BFM 27-29 Apr. 04 (KL).

 

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Fairly common winter resident in native scrub, especially in shady areas with damp ground. The first birds typically do not arrive in numbers until early winter (earliest: 14 Oct.), but may not be conspicuous and numerous until December. By February, small numbers may be observed feeding on willow catkins with goldfinches and White-crowned Sparrows (esp. at Dune Willows); transients are regular through early April.

 

Dark-eyed Junco

Uncommon winter resident on well-watered lawns below scattered trees (esp. pines) in Westchester, with birds appearing in October. Most readily found at LMU, but also recorded at on the Ballona Wetlands on 29 Sept. (early) and 07 Dec. 1974 (both KLG), with one record each from PdR (03 Jan. 1982, RSh) and BFM (30 Oct. 2005, KL). A small flock was present at the eucalyptus grove on the southwestern edge of the wetlands on 12 Mar. 2005 (DSC), where possibly regular in winter. These records all pertain to the “Oregon” subspecies. A “Gray-headed” Junco at LMU on 17 Nov. 2001 (RDS) is the only local record of a race other than the expected “Oregon” Junco.

 

Grosbeaks, buntings

 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Probably a rare transient and winter visitor. Fall transients have been observed in Westchester 01 – 03 Nov. 2002 (RDS), at DW on 18 Sept. 2004 (DSC), and one in Westchester on 30 Jan. – 03 Feb. 2005 (RDS) was probably wintering locally.

 

Black-headed Grosbeak

Extirpated as a breeder; now a fairly common transient; rare (irregular?) summer resident. Recent spring records extend into June, and fall birds have been seen as early as 05 August. Hamilton (1997) believed a male to have been on territory in willows at the base of the Westchester bluffs in summer of 1996, but subsequent searches here (DSC, KL) have not revealed more records and no modern nesting events are known. Of this common southern California nester, von Bloeker wrote (1943) “moderately common summer resident in willow bottoms of the salt marsh and along Ballona Creek. Nests chiefly in May.”

 

Blue Grosbeak

Uncommon transient; rare summer resident. Spring transients, often singing males, have been recorded as early as 09 Apr. (2004 at BFM, KL), and continue through May. Fall records are fewer, but include birds at DW on 18 Oct. 2000 (RAE), 12 Sept. 2004 (DSC), 19 Sept. (DB) and at BFM on 18 Sept. 2004 (DSC). The Blue Grosbeak also apparently nests irregularly in very small numbers in willow/mulefat thickets on the floor of the Ballona Valley. A bird recorded as “nesting locally” was collected at Playa del Rey on 16 June 1929 (LACM 16038), described by von Bloeker (1943) as taken “in the willow thickets of the salt marsh”. The first modern (post-1960) summer record involved a single bird in willows at the base of the PdR bluffs in July 1990 (Corey 1992); later, a singing male was present in Area A on 28 June 1995, with a juvenile here on 17 July (LABBA). A pair made two nesting attempts at the “east end of Hughes” (now Playa Vista) between 28 June and 26 July 1997 (DS, BPE); and three males (incl. a hatch-year bird) and one female were observed on 16 June 2002 along the southern edge of the Ballona Wetlands west of BFM (DS), suggestive of local breeding. It is possible that this species will benefit significantly from riparian restoration at Ballona, especially if the open grassy areas used for feeding areas are retained at the edges of the riparian vegetation. Since Blue Grosbeaks do not occur in urban or suburban areas, even during migration, they are a potential “indicator species” for monitoring ecosystem recovery.

 

Lazuli Bunting

Uncommon transient; casual into summer. This species is most often encountered during the height of spring migration in late April, with dates extending from 10 Apr. to 15 May. A pair lingered on the Westchester Bluffs to 12 July in 1997, possibly attempting to breed (BE). Birds begin moving early in fall (5 overhead on 24 Jul. 2005, KL), but are less frequently detected at this time than in spring, as many individuals are drab brown and are overlooked unless vocalizing. Lazuli Buntings are found almost exclusively in riparian and scrub habitat, and not in residential or urban areas.

 

Indigo Bunting

Probably a casual transient and summer visitor. One male was present at DW on 11 May 1992 (KLG), an apparent pair was on the Westchester Bluffs on 20 July 1996 (BE), and a female-type was at the base of the bluffs on 10 Sept. 2005 (RDS).

 

Blackbirds

 

Bobolink

Rare transient. Four sightings in fall span 01-29 Sept., with three in late spring 01-29 June. All records have been from the Ballona Wetlands proper except one at BFM on 29 June 2003 (DSC).

 

Red-winged Blackbird

Common spring, summer and winter resident at BFM (less common in fall), with several dozen pairs breeding. Less numerous and more irregular elsewhere, present mainly during the nesting season (late winter through early summer) given proper conditions of moist grassland, often with some standing water. A species that has apparently increased recently with the advent of BFM, previous records of probable breeding include 20 birds with “at least three displaying males along a small section of ditch in the fields just south of the Jefferson-Culver intersection (just west of present-day BFM)” on 21 March 1975 (KLG) and 30 here on 06 Mar. 1983 (KLG). RSh (1977-87) recorded up to 10 birds along Ballona Cr. from Dec. to May; Corey (1992) found territorial birds in the area during summer 1990; and Dock and Schreiber (1981) recorded it as “resident throughout the Ballona Wetlands” during 1979-1980. Though BFM has augmented the amount of habitat available for this species, it is probably a paltry amount in comparison to that present in historic times: declines – attributed to local agricultural expansion – were noted as early as 1943 (von Bloeker), who termed them “formerly a common resident of tule patches in the salt marsh sloughs, now much less common”.

 

Tricolored Blackbird

Aside from a regular wintering flock of several dozen birds vic. Westchester Park near Manchester Blvd. and Lincoln Blvd. (fide RDS), only a casual visitor to the Ballona Valley. There have been just two known records in the past 100 years: a flock of 30 at PdR on 16 Sept. 1951 (with 20 the next day, AFN XX); and an adult male feeding on the ground with Brown-headed Cowbirds at BFM in “July” 2003 (KL). Though nesting was historically documented from wetlands a few miles inland of Ballona (“Nigger Slough”, Carson) The only indication that this species nested locally comes from the field notes of W.B. Judson (name crossed out and apparently later replaced by “P.H. Robertson”), who found a set of three incubated eggs (“nest built in tules out of grass”) taken at “Ballona Harbor” on 19 May 1894 (notes at WFVZ). However, without physical evidence, this record should be considered hypothetical. The Tricolored Blackbird was not mentioned by von Bloeker (1943) nor by subsequent observers. This species is generally rare on the immediate coast of California, though it may become more common with the maturation of BFM and even with the construction of athletic fields and grassy areas at Playa Vista.

 

Western Meadowlark

Common (but probably declining) winter resident, uncommon through summer. A minute breeding population (up to 3 pairs) persists at the Ballona Wetlands, all west of Lincoln Blvd. Corey (1992) confirmed breeding in “Parcel A” north of Ballona Cr., and suspected nesting south of the channel as well. A young juvenile accompanying two adults were at BFM on 01 Aug. 2004 (DSC), the same season a singing male held a territory in the grassy parcel adj. to BFM (between Culver Dr. and Jefferson Ave.) all summer. Wintering birds arrive in mid-fall (35 on 28 Sept. 2003, DSC). Though RSh recorded “up to 100” birds during winter walks along Ballona Cr. in the 1970s and 1980s, the largest recent flock was of 80 birds on 09 Nov. 2003 over BFM (DSC). The Ballona Valley represents one of the last breeding areas for Western Meadowlark in the Los Angeles Basin, and one of just a handful of local wintering areas for groups of >50 individuals. Therefore, this population should be closely watched, and its foraging and breeding areas protected.

 

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Extirpated as a winter resident; now a fairly common spring and rare fall transient at BFM. Since the creation of BFM (2003), this species has proven regular in mid-spring, occurring from early April to mid-May, with small numbers irregularly through June (high: 200-300 birds on 23 Apr. 2004; DS, DSC). Currently rare in fall (three records since 2003), it was apparently historically common at this season, even remaining through winter (e.g., “50 seen at their winter haunts in the marsh area” on 28 Sept. 1925; Bird-Lore 27:417). Prior to the creation of BFM, this species was known as rare transient through most of the 1900s, with just six known records in spring, and one in fall (28 Aug. 1998, BOC).

 

Brewer’s Blackbird

Uncommon and localized resident, more common in winter. Recent records from the Ballona Valley are surprisingly few. It is encountered in small numbers on lawns and parking lots in winter (esp. at DRL), with European Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds, but is probably most often recorded calling as it flies overhead. It was found breeding at LMU in 1996 (nest building on 25 Mar. 1996; LABBA), and may still do so irregularly. Von Bloeker (1943) termed it a “common resident throughout this area, individuals even having been seen foraging on the strand...breeds in April and early May, usually nesting in ornamental trees in the region.” This blackbird seems to have declined locally in recent years, a trend also noticed in urban San Diego County (Unitt 2004).

 

Great-tailed Grackle

Common in winter, spring and summer; occasional in fall. The first local record of this species, which invaded California from the southeast (Mexico) during the late 1900s, was of a pair in flight over a residence in Westchester on 27 Apr. 1997 (RDS). The next came five years later – a female at DRL on 09 Apr. 2002 (BOC). This species “discovered” Ballona with the creation of BFM in spring 2003: the first record here was of a single on 25 Apr. 2003 (JP). It is likely that all these birds were spring migrants “prospecting” for suitable habitat, and the creation of BFM enabled them to become established (high: 42 birds at BFM on 30 July 2003, JP). Oddly, this species is scarce here during August and September (pers. obs.), suggesting a fall dispersal of local breeders out of the region. Though BFM is apparently sustaining this species at Ballona, they range widely, and birds forage with Brewer’s Blackbirds at the sprawling Home Depot parking lot c. 1 km east along Jefferson Blvd. (pers. obs.). The abundance of this species will likely increase with the build-out of Playa Vista (several singing from the roofs of recently-constructed apartments along Lincoln Blvd. in fall 2004, pers. obs.), as it is now dependent on artificial water features like wastewater treatment plants and golf courses throughout its range in the southwestern U.S.

 

Brown-headed Cowbird

Uncommon transient and summer visitor; rare in winter. This species is most common in Westchester and at BFM, where it is found either singly or in small flocks (high: 20 presumably immature birds at BFM on 03 August 2003, DSC). RSh (1977-87) lists just two records: 10 Sept. 1983 (flock of 15) and 23 Apr. 1978, and Corey (1992) lists just 1 sighting (“April” 1990); though AP surveying the area in the late 1990s recorded it several times throughout the year. However, cowbirds could also have been overlooked, as they often occur within flocks of European Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds. Since this species is a nest parasite, it has been implicated in the declines of songbirds throughout the West (Rothstein 1994), and its populations should be monitored within the Ballona Valley in light of proposed riparian restoration.

 

Orchard Oriole

Probably a casual fall transient; one record. A female-plumaged bird was found in pampas-grass at Ballona Lagoon on 14 Nov. 2005 (DB). This eastern species is rare but regular in southern California.

 

Hooded Oriole

Common spring and early summer resident. As this species breeds almost exclusively in planted (non-native) palm trees, it was likely absent historically as a breeder (e.g. not mentioned by von Bloeker 1943). Dates of occurrence range from 30 March to 31 August, though small numbers probably winter locally (esp. Westchester), at least irregularly. The Hooded Oriole is expected to increase with the addition of more non-native palms at Playa Vista.

 

Bullock’s Oriole

Uncommon summer resident and spring transient, rare in fall and winter. A handful of pairs breed locally in Westchester and in groves of tall eucalyptus and sycamores on the floor of the Ballona Valley, foraging at BFM and the Ballona Wetlands. It may be fairly common during spring migration in Westchester (fide RDS), but becomes rare toward the immediate coast (few records from Dune Willows; unrecorded from Ballona Lagoon). This species is also a rare winter visitor at flowering trees in Westchester (esp. LMU), where RDS recorded it in about half the winters between 1996 to 2003. Von Bloeker (1943) termed it a “fairly common summer resident” in the “willow bottoms of the salt marsh (= Ballona Wetlands)”, and cites a specimen he collected here 05 June 1932. Though characteristic of riparian systems throughout the state, the Bullock’s Oriole does not appear to nest in the willow thickets such as those along the base of the Westchester Bluffs and elsewhere on the Ballona Wetlands. It is possible that restoration and maturation of the riparian corridor east of the Ballona Wetlands may prove attractive to nesting Bullock’s Orioles in the future.

 

[Baltimore Oriole

Probably a casual transient and winter visitor. A “probable” Baltimore Oriole was observed at LMU on 11 Oct. 2003 (RDS), and birds have been observed just to the east in Culver City (fide DS). This eastern oriole is a rare-but-regular transient and winter visitor in southern California, and future records are anticipated, especially around flowering eucalyptus.]

 

Scott’s Oriole

Vagrant, one record. A female was at DW on 13 Sept. 1975 (AFN 30:129; published as 16 Sept. in WT). This Great Basin breeder is an uncommon nester in the desert mountains of southeastern California, and appears as a vagrant along the southern California coast essentially throughout the year (Garrett and Dunn 1981, Unitt 2004).

 

Finches

 

House Finch

Common perennial resident. Though hundreds are present year round within the Ballona Valley, their distribution closely follows the availability of seeds, including weedy forbs and shrubs. At BFM, for example, they were very rare most of the winter, when the native shrubs were growing rather than fruiting, only to return in spring (March). As this species is also closely tied to urbanization, it would be expected to increase with the build-out of Playa Vista.

 

Pine Siskin

Probably a rare and irregular transient and winter visitor. Fall 2004 saw an exceptional flight of this irruptive species, with small numbers of birds from 31 Oct. (KL) on, including up to five at a feeder in Westchester during November (RDS). Prior to this, the only known record was of a single at Dune Willows 20 – 25 Oct. 2000 (RAE).

 

Lesser Goldfinch

Status complex, but apparently a fairly common perennial resident in residential Westchester (at seed feeders, fide RDS); uncommon transient and winter visitor on the immediate coast. Strongly follows food availability, e.g. young willow catkins in late winter and early spring, thistle-heads in late fall and winter. A pair was observed building a nest in a Coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis) within re-vegetated coastal sage scrub along the Westchester Bluffs on 13 March 2004 (DSC).

 

Lawrence’s Goldfinch

Casual transient. Two fall records: one at LMU on 30 Sept. 2001 (RDS), and singles heard flying overhead on 03 Nov. 2004 (at BFM, DSC) and on 01 Apr. 2005 (at BW, DSC). This species, though fairly common in the interior of the Los Angeles Basin and the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, is still very rare along most of the immediate coast (fide KL).

 

American Goldfinch

Extirpated as a breeder; now an irregularly uncommon transient and winter visitor. There is no indication that it breeds locally, although recent (2004 and 2005) records during April and May include pairs, singing males and immature (but not necessarily locally-produced) birds on the eastern edge of the Ballona Wetlands and in residential Westchester. Von Bloeker (1943) termed this species a “common resident, nesting in the willows of the salt marsh and along Ballona Creek chiefly in May and June.” Numerous egg sets were collected in willows in the Ballona Valley during April and May from 1934 to 1936 (WFVZ). This species may increase and even begin nesting with riparian restoration slated for the base of the Westchester Bluffs.

 

House Sparrow, Bishop

 

House Sparrow

Common permanent resident, most common in urban habitats, where it is attracted to garbage, pet food, and bird feeders. Originally introduced from Europe, birds have been common at least since the 1930s (von Bloeker 1943), and have infiltrated nearly every area of Ballona Valley, except for spots with the most intact native vegetation (e.g. Westchester Bluffs away from houses; Ballona Wetlands saltmarsh).

 

Orange Bishop

Currently a fairly common spring, summer and fall resident within a small area that includes BFM and the extreme southeastern corner of Ballona Wetlands; occasional elsewhere in the Ballona Valley. Records extend from 23 March to 16 Nov., and the total population in the Ballona Valley probably does not exceed 20 individuals. The first record of this exotic species came in 1997 from the base of the Westchester Bluffs (RDS), where it continues to occur irregularly. Other early records include six at BW on 23 Oct. 2000 (RAE) and one at DW on 10 Oct. 2002 (BOC). An obligate seedeater, this bishop is mainly confined to weedy, damp situations with pampas-grass nearby, and it is possible that this exotic grass is enabling its establishment at Ballona. The first record at BFM came on 01 June 2003 (3 birds, DSC), and displaying males were present in the summers of 2003 and 2004. As this species is a non-native invasive, its local population deserves monitoring, especially if more freshwater wetland habitat creation is planned.

 

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