Ballona Photography: Blog en-us (C) Ballona Photography [email protected] (Ballona Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:27:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:27:00 GMT Ballona Photography: Blog 120 90 Rewilding the Ballona Watershed by Bev-Sue Powers

Last weekend, I went on a four-stop bus tour that concluded a weekend workshop designed to imagine the most opportune ways to re-wild the entire Ballona Watershed. One of the stops was at Esperanza Elementary, a grade school in the middle of the Ballona Watershed. My first impression was, "These poor kids! When did schoolyards become completely covered in asphalt & concrete?" As the principal led me & the group I was with around, my thoughts transitioned from dismay to utter amazement.  In the past few years, the principal has been leading the mission of "rewilding" the campus by replacing asphalt and concrete with native plant gardens, a corner here, a fence line there, a little more each year. By design, this rewilding of the school yard is with full participation of the students, their teachers, and families.  Virtually all of these kids have grown up in apartments surrounded by asphalt and concrete with little to no access to being in nature during their formative years. 

What happens when native plants show up?  Other natives in the food chain start showing up! Insects, butterflies, lizards, snakes, rodents, & birds. In fact, the curriculum in all grade levels requires daily nature observations by all 800+ students. For most, these daily observations serve as their first exposure to nature. In addition to learning the native plants and the critters that are drawn to those plants, the kids use Cornell University’s eBird "bird checklist". The school’s current checklist contains almost 50 species of birds the kids have spotted within the school grounds. They even had a burrowing owl winter in the courtyard tree one year! How many reading this article can identify over a dozen native plants, critters and birds, and how each fits in the food chain?

One of the daily observations posted on an Esperanza bulletin board.

 Esperanza’s eBird Checklist, which grows over time.

Originally, the Ballona Watershed was filled with meandering rivers and streams as shown (see Watershed image).  Ninety percent of the water was naturally absorbed, with 10% running out to the ocean. Now, the Ballona Watershed is reputed to be the most concrete-and-asphalt-covered watersheds in California.  It is literally a pipe-shed with 90% of the water flowing out to the ocean, and around 10% naturally absorbed.  Imagine if the watershed was your body and the meandering streams and rivers were your veins. How responsive and resilient to climate changes would you be if 90% of your fluids were piped outside of your body, your body and limbs were encased in concrete and asphalt, and every orifice was force-fed various forms (liquid, air, solids) of toxic pollution. Likely, you’d be in ICU on life support, near death.

The blue lines on the map represent earlier streams.

Source: Jeanette Vosburg,

Nature’s vitality is in dire straits.  In the coming years, we need to help restore and nurse mother earth back to health. We cannot survive without her.  Begin to imagine how we can re-wild our precious watershed and turn it back into a natural treasure. Use Esperanza’s vision as a start on imagining ways to re-wild our precious watershed. Business as usual will continue compounding our very precarious existence.  Every Day is Earth Day.


At the close of the “Rewilding Ballona Watershed” workshop, I shared a dream I had from about a year ago.  It gave me insights on the shift in perspective needed in order to truly rebalance our hearts, our minds, and our planet in a way that treasures and heals all. Enjoy.

Last Night's Dream

By Bev-Sue Powers, 07-17-2017

I was at an evening gathering, a celebrity celebration of sorts.   The topic of the evening seemed to be celebration of successful resistance to suppression and disenfranchisement. A man who looked and acted like Kevin Hart was the apparent MC.

Chairs were few, with most were standing around the hotel ballroom’s small bar-high tables throughout the room. I was with a few friends, one of whom was a tall, older, elegant, black woman who was very tired of standing. As she was expressing her discomfort, she turned to us and mused with discontent, "I don't want to celebrate what we overcome anymore.  Instead I want to discuss how we're building a more equitable world in every conversation. .  I want this topic to inform and engage everyone at all levels even more than we discuss shopping or food, or how unequal everything is.  I'm done with that.  And we need to weave this framing into everything we do and every conversation we have, every moment of every day, whether we're by ourselves lost in our own thoughts, or with each other: 

"How is this thing we're doing in this moment creating more balance, peace, and equality with each other, within ourselves, and with the natural world? If the answer is 'is isn't,' then we must stop the conversation right then and there, and shift the conversation to the former, every day, and in every moment and in every conversation, and every internal dialog.  And we must start NOW."

I was stunned at the simplicity of, yet profound impact this approach would have if adopted immediately by everyone, and spread as a pattern until it's the new norm.  As I was still absorbing the enormity of what she said, I spotted one of the few chairs that looked like it might have a good view of the stage, so went to test it out for her.  Just as I sat, the MC spotted me and asked everyone to celebrate me.  I had no idea what he was calling me out for.  But I realized that this was one of those moments.  I waived to my friend to come sit in the chair and encouraged her to engage the MC and the entire room in what she had just said to our smaller group.

I woke up feeling hopeful and engaged with ideas of new possibilities of how to change our culture and the planet’s dire circumstances, a person at a time, a moment at a time. 




[email protected] (Ballona Photography) ballona photography ballona watershed bev-sue powers esperanza elementary school rewilding the watershed urban wildlife Sun, 22 Apr 2018 20:20:53 GMT
2018 Declared Year of the Bird! Coinciding with the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act's ratification, more than 100 national and international organizations have joined forces to declare 2018 the Year of the Bird.  As such, I want to encourage you to take walks in the Ballona Wetlands to see our winter wildlife neighbors before they depart for their breeding grounds (mostly to Alaska, Canada, and northern USA).  The migratory birds will start leaving in March, so you only have the next 3-5 weeks to see them before they leave.

Per Wikipedia, The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a US federal law first enacted in 1916 between the US and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada). Other countries were added in later years (Mexico, Japan, and USSR/Russia) the statute makes it unlawful without a waiver to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell birds listed therein as migratory birds. The statute does not discriminate between live or dead birds and also grants full protection to any bird parts including feathers, eggs, and nests. Over 800 species are currently on the list. Some of the conventions stipulate protections not only for the birds themselves, but also for habitats and environs necessary for the birds’ survival.

In spite of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, many migratory birds are in steep decline and trending to be extinct within the next 30-40 years.  Habitat destruction, climate change, and sea level rise (for coastal birds) are the main factors contributing to this trend. Per California Audubon,

  • Birds designated Climate Endangered are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050, just over 30 years ahead.
  • Birds that are classified as Climate Threatened are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2080 if global warming continues at its current pace.  Sooner than that if global warming continues faster than expected.

In the early 21st Century, both the remaining birds and their habitats must be fiercely protected and gently restored as close as possible to their original functions, conditions, and quantities.  Their future existence depends on it.

Best places to see our winter neighbors before they leave:

  • Estuary Areas:
    • Along the Ballona Creek bike path from Centinela west to the mouth of the creek,
    • In the Del Rey Lagoon, the Ballona Lagoon (Venice Canals),
    • Beaches near the mouth of Ballona Creek
  • In the Fresh Water Marsh (at Lincoln & Jefferson), and seasonal ponding areas (in Areas A, B, & C)
  • Mixed Area-B (Salt pans, tidal salt-water/brackish)
    • Attend Audubon’s Saturday, March 4th Open Wetlands (9am-noon) in Area-B (entrance is behind Gordon’s Market on Culver Blvd in Playa Del Rey). You can wander by yourself or request an Audubon docent to guide you. Binoculars are available to borrow.
    • If you want a Tip Sheet for recognizing some of our Ballona Wildlife Neighbors, including those who will soon be leaving to their northern breeding grounds for the spring and summer, the Ballona Wildlife Brochure is still available via the Ballona Photography website, Gordon's Market, or at the Audubon Open Wetlands on March 4th. 

I’ve included photos of a few of my favorite migrants. There are many, many more, so treat yourself and get out and see them for yourself.  Enjoy!

Bufflehead, Climate Endangered. See them in estuary areas

Cinnamon Teal, Estuary areas & Freshwater Marsh. Climate Endangered. 

Red-breasted Merganser, Estuary areas. Climate Endangered. 

Scaups, Estuary areas, occasional Freshwater Marsh. Greater Scaup, Climate Endangered. Lesser Scaup, Climate Threatened.

Northern Shoveler, Fresh Water Marsh, primarily. Climate Endangered.

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) ballona ballona photography ballona wetlands bev-sue powers california audubon pacific flyway urban wildlife Mon, 19 Feb 2018 05:10:53 GMT
Fall Returns to the Ballona Freshwater Marsh Our migrating neighbors have started returning to the Ballona Wetlands area for the winter.  Each year the ducks, seabirds, long-legged waders, sparrows, and many others start arriving in August, with most coming September though late November.  Many of these birds fly over a thousand miles, 300-400 miles a day, over the course of one to three months just to be here!  Imagine that! 

The Ballona Wetlands’ freshwater marsh – located on Jefferson and Lincoln Blvd. -- is an anchor destination for dozens of wintering species. Though the current freshwater marsh is a fraction of Ballona’s original freshwater wetlands, the safety of the mini islands and reed clumps along with the tiny fish, reptiles, insects, invertebrates, and aquatic plants make it a rich, multi-layered ecosystem, constantly circulating the food chain, starting at the low end with the algae and other microscopic creatures living in the marsh.  In the spring, the ducks and Bittern shown below head north, where they spend summers breeding and raising their broods.

Fortunately, many migrating birds still choose to make this either their winter home base or one of their refueling stopovers on their way to more southern destinations of Mexico, Central, or South America.  Some of the most visible species you can spot in the freshwater marsh now through next March are shown.

Many birds who winter here can be found in the freshwater marsh, the Del Rey lagoon, the Ballona Creek, and in the marina.  Here are some of the wintering birds that stay more in the freshwater marsh than the other locations mentioned. An “*” by the name indicates this is a climate-endangered species

  *Cinnamon Teal.  Winters in the US Southwest marshes, ponds, and streams bordered with reeds, with some traveling as far as the Southern American tropics.  Each spring, Cinnamon Teals head to British Columbia, and Montana.

Green-winged Teal. Winters in Southern coastal states of the United States and in Eurasia. Each spring, Green-winged Teals head to northern Alaska and Canada.

*Northern Shoveler. Winters in marshes from Oregon across southern half of the United States t and as far south as Central America. Each spring, Northern Shovelers head to Alaska, northern Manitoba, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and even California.

*Gadwalls. Winters in freshwater and saltwater marshes, ponds, and streams across much of the United States. Each spring, Gadwalls head to Southern Alaska, British Columbia, and Minnesota, but can be found as far south as California and western Texas.

 Ruddy Duck. Winters on marshes and in shallow coastal bays along both North American coasts, as far north as British Columbia and Massachusetts, and as far inland as Missouri. Each spring, Ruddy Ducks head north to British Columbia and Quebec or as far west as southern New Mexico and southern Texas, where they breed on freshwater marshes, marshy lakes, and ponds.

   *Least Bittern. Winters from southern California, the lower Colorado River, the Gulf Coast, and southward to South America. Each spring, the Least Bitterns breed locally in California and the Southwest, head north to Manitoba, Canada, or east from Texas to the Atlantic coast. The Least Bittern is a species of high concern in the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan and is a U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service migratory bird of conservation concern in the Northeast.

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) ballona bittern cinnamon duck freshwater gadwall green-winged least marsh northern pacific flyway ruddy shoveler teal Sun, 29 Oct 2017 21:00:38 GMT
Fall Returns to the Del Rey Lagoon Our migrating neighbors have started returning to the Del Rey Lagoon and Ballona Wetlands area at large.  Each year the ducks, seabirds, sandpipers, and others start arriving in August, with most coming September though late November.  A full house resides here December through March. The Del Rey Lagoon is an anchor destination for several species who arrive for the winter.  Turns out, the muddy bottom of the salt water lagoon is a rich, multi-layered ecosystem, constantly circulating the food chain, starting at the low end with the plankton and other microscopic creatures living in the mud.

The Del Rey Lagoon is one of the few coastal, saltwater lagoons left in Southern California.  It empties and fills with the tide.  Depending on whether it’s high tide or low tide, you’ll find distinct species grazing in the lagoon.  The photos included are but a handful of the many varieties you can spot in the Del Rey Lagoon now through next March. An “*” by the name indicates this is a climate-endangered species.

High-tide Birds

At high tide, you’ll find diving ducks who dabble to eat the sea lettuce and grasses that grow in the lagoon.  You’ll also find seabirds who dine on small fish, which come into the lagoon as it fills with high tides.

Bufflehead* (male)

Widgeon* (male)

Scaup* (male)


Red-breasted Merganser* (female)

Belted Kingfisher (female)

Low-tide Birds

At low tide, you’ll find a variety of long-legged waders and birds in the sandpiper family dining on a feast of fiddler crabs, clams, mussels, polychaetae worms, small crustaceans, and more.

Willet* catching polychaetae worm; on Audubon Watch List (Yellow)

Whimbrel; on Audubon Watch List (Yellow)

Marbled Godwit*on Audubon Watch List (Yellow)

Long-billed Dowitchers

Black Oystercatcher*on Audubon Watch List (Yellow)

Semipalmated Plovers* and Sanderlings; on Audubon Watch List (Yellow)

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) belted kingfisher black oystercatcher bufflehead del rey laggon del rey lagoon long-billed dowitchers marbled gotwit mergnaser sanderling semipalmated plover whimbrel widgeon willet Wed, 04 Oct 2017 03:14:13 GMT
A Bicycle Built for Three A few weeks ago, a friend a was watering her patio plants and was startled to discovered a pair of mourning doves had built a nest in her bicycle's basket!  Being able to witness wild birds so close is a thrill. Observing how they overcome environmental challenges is a wonder.  Why did that Mourning Dove choose the bicycle basket as a perfect choice for a nest? As “wild” habitats disappear under asphalt and concrete, trees and bushes available for nesting also disappear. So, what's a bird to do?  Improvise!


Meet Mr. & Ms. Dove and Their Brood

Both parents build a loose and rather flimsy nest of twigs located from 5 to 25 feet up in a tree, a bush, or ledge. In this case, it was a well-hidden bicycle basket.  I warned my friend that doves have been known to reuse the same nest for three or more broods in a single season!

  August 8. During a rare break from being covered by one of their parent doves, I snuck a picture of their two perfect eggs. Dove eggs hatch in 14 to16 days.

  August 10. For 14 to 20 days, the Doves take turns incubating their eggs. Papa Dove takes the day shift, while Momma Dove takes the night shift.

Fast forward a couple weeks.  My friend had just returned from a week-long trip to meet her newly born grand-daughter and discovered the Doves’ babies had also hatched.  She caught a cute pic of them "greeting" their momma/papa-bird for the first time. Here’s a pic I caught of them a few days later.

  August 21. Papa Dove warming up his brood.

  August 24. Baby doves leave the nest 11 or 12 days after they hatch.  Though wide awake, these little ones remained peacefully observing their surroundings without a peep. 

  August 25. As their little bodies start self-regulating their own body temperature, chicks are left alone for longer durations. When they finally can self-regulate their body temperature, the parents no longer covers them at night.

  August 25.  Papa Dove covering and cooing at the chicks one of the last days before they fledged.

  August 25. Mama Dove keeping a watchful eye nearby. If a baby is reluctant to leave the nest after 12 days, the parents will often keep watch nearby but refuse to feed it.

  August 29. A reluctant empty nester.

  August 29. The chicks hanging around the patio nursery one last time before parting into the great unknown (Ballona Wetlands).

Mourning Dove Facts

  • Mourning Doves are known to mate for life.
  • The oldest known Mourning Dove was a male, and at least 30 years, 4 months old when he was shot in Florida in 1998. 
  • If they migrate from Southern California, they migrate to north central USA and South Central Canadian territories.
  • The peak of the breeding season is April - July although they may breed as late as October in some areas.

This article is dedicated to my friend, Nena who graciously gave me a key to her place so I could capture this story with my camera as it unfolded whenever she was away.  Much Thanks, Nena!


[email protected] (Ballona Photography) ballona photography ballona wetlands bev-sue powers california audubon pacific flyway urban wildlife Sun, 17 Sep 2017 21:19:53 GMT
Dancing Egrets & Other Random Acts of Wildlife These pics make me smile.  I hope they make you smile, too! Please enjoy these random acts of Ballona wildlife.  

Happy Summer Everyone!


Happy Fish Dinner Dance

Happy Fish Dinner Tango. Note the second Egret’s beak; It’s making its move under the first Egret’s outstretched wing.

Meet the Mergansers. This Merganser couple wintered in the Ballona Wetlands Freshwater Marsh this year.

Mr. & Mrs. Merganser, individual pics.  They insisted.

When I saw this House Finch couple, I noticed them making sure they stayed unusually close to each other.  It was only when I started to edit the pics that I realized Mrs. Finch is blind in her left eye.  Mr. Finch is her seeing-eye-bird!

What better way to start the day than sharing a peck-greeting in the bath!

A little Bee to go along with the birds.

And last, but not least, a random Blue Bellied (Fence) Lizard.  I didn’t realize blue was an option for lizards!


[email protected] (Ballona Photography) ballona ballona photography ballona wetlands bev-sue powers blue bellied fence lizard california audubon egret hooded merganser house finch pacific flyway urban wildlife Tue, 08 Aug 2017 22:11:34 GMT
Meet the Heermanns Because of their very distinct, eye-catching coloring, Heermann's Gulls are one of my favorite Gulls.  Curious to know more about them, I learned that the Herrmann's are one of the few birds wintering in Ballona Wetlands to head south to breed, rather than north.  Their breeding destination is Isla Rasa, an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Mexico about 700 to 800 miles south of here.  Isla Rasa is the primary nesting site for 90-95% of the world's Heermann's Gulls.  Because of their extremely specific breeding location, Heermann's Gulls are listed as a "Near Threatened" species.  In 2009 the sardine population in the Gulf of Mexico plummeted, which seriously impacted the Heermann's Gulls during breeding season.  In 2015, the sardine population plummeted on the Pacific West Coast, again impacting the Heermann's Gulls population during the non-breeding season. (In both locations, the plummeting sardine populations seriously affected all fish-eating seabirds and marine mammal species, not just the Heermann’s Gulls.) 

Adults have a medium gray body, blackish-gray wings and tail with white edges, and a red bill with a black tip. The head is white in breeding plumage and mottled or dusky gray in non-breeding plumage.

Breeding Adult, Jan 2016

Non-Breeding Adult, July 2017

In Mid-July, Heermann’s Gulls started arriving at our Southern California beaches, where they will stay until late winter, 2018.  In the winter of 2014/2015, the local flock at Playa Del Rey was around 3-4 dozen birds, with many first year and juveniles in the mix.  According to local birders active on the LACoBirds Yahoo group, sightings of first year Heermann’s Gulls and second year juveniles among the arriving flocks are much lower than usual.  This year, the flock I’ve noticed on the beach in Playa Del Rey continues to grow daily, now up to a couple dozen birds as I write this.  So far, I’m not seeing any first and second year birds here.  Hopefully, they’re still on their way.  If you happen to see any, enjoy the site of them and celebrate the twice-annual trek they go through to be here!

Adults with two juveniles, Jan 2015

Juvenile & 1st year Heermann’s, Nov 2014. Immatures resemble non-breeding adults but are darker, more brown, and the bill is flesh-colored or pink till the second winter.

1st year Heermann’s, Jan 2016

Note this young one is missing its left foot.  I wonder if that happened before, during its journey from Isla Rasa, or after its arrival here.  Tough first year for this little guy!


[email protected] (Ballona Photography) gulls heermann's Mon, 24 Jul 2017 02:41:56 GMT
Coots Make Me Smile American Coots always make me smile.  At a glance, they’re rather plain looking.  But these very social ducks have their own beauty.  They have more of a croak than a quack and a lot of personality!  Their feet look like scalloped slippers to me, designed for support in soft, deep muddy conditions.  And mud-running they expertly do!  They love to be fed and race shamelessly towards you when they think you have some crumbs to share with them. They are surprisingly quick! 

They keep close together, rarely venturing from the flock independently. One day, I saw one waddle up to a group of 2-3 others, stop, and just stand there with its head bowed low.  “What was it doing?”, I wondered.  As I watched, others gathered close to the first, and also bowed their heads.  But there was always at least one other who would start scratching those with bowed heads with its beak until they were satisfied.  Then they would take turns scratching one anothers’ heads.  Bowing was a signal of wanting to get a head rub!  I wonder if that would work for me, too, LOL!

They start arriving in the Ballona Wetlands in October, a few at a time.  The flock usually grows to about three dozen over a few weeks' time. During the winter, you’ll find them in the Del Rey Lagoon, the Freshwater Marsh, and in Ballona Creek.  By April, they’re gone, heading to Western Canada to breed. This time of year, I miss seeing them.

American Coot Headshot

American Coot Full Body Shot

Coots Head Scratching Lineup



[email protected] (Ballona Photography) American Coots Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers California Audubon Pacific Flyway Urban Wildlife Tue, 04 Jul 2017 20:38:10 GMT
Mammals In Our Midst  Conservationist E. O. Wilson coined the term biophilia as "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.  In the past 100-150 years, during the buildup of cities, very little consideration was given to accommodating natural habitats and ecosystems.  Even most parks were designed for beautification and human recreation, not wildlife.  The result was that most wildlife was pushed out of cities. Ironically, because of relatively abundant food and water sources, some wildlife found a way to endure in urban areas.

A nascent body of research related to biophilia is sweeping the academic and activists world globally.  Biophilia acknowledges cities as human-driven ecosystems and studies how to design urban ecosystems to meet both human needs and indigenous flora and fauna needs. Indeed, strong drivers of this relatively new field are climate change and sea level rise combined with unprecedented rate of wildlife species collapse.

I try imagining what the Ballona Wetlands area was like 100-200 years ago.  I imagine it was teaming with wildlife, including a much wider a variety of land and sea mammals, shore, marsh, and riparian birds, and many other species.   Only a handful of the original species have managed to endure, even as challenges to their very survival continue to mount. 

Ironically wildlife can no longer survive without us.  I hope for all our sakes we can make sure their progeny still has a home among our progeny a hundred years hence. Here are a few of our mammal neighbors I’ve been lucky enough to photograph.  I look forward to learning how biophilia research and outreach influences urban landscape designs that integrate biophilia and the restoration of our native biodiversity. 

California Coyote

Most urban areas in the U.S. have coyotes, including Los Angeles. A small population of coyotes still live in the Ballona Wetlands.   In 2016, the Urban Coyote Project (run by the National Park Service) recruited Los Angeles volunteers to collect coyote scat (i.e. poop) and send it to their lab to determine the coyote’s primary food sources. Turns out they eat rodents, fruits and berries, and our leftovers, including paper towels and food wrappers!

Botta's Pocket Gopher

This gopher feeds on plant shoots, grasses, roots, tubers, and bulbs.  Though active about nine hours a day, it spends 90% of its time in its burrow.  This is probably a good thing because coyotes, hawks and other predators like to snack on them!  A typical burrow has separate branches for food storage, fecal matter and refuse repositories, and for nesting. 

California Ground Squirrel

California Ground Squirrels eat seeds eggs, insects, roots, tubers, grains, nuts and fruit, and are known to eat grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and caterpillars. They live in extended burrows, which can house many generations forming a small colony, with each individual having their own entrance.  They create habitat for other animals, such as rodents and snakes, which occupy empty burrows.  California Ground Squirrels are preyed upon by red-tailed hawks, coyote, fox, badgers, weasels, house cats, dogs, and snakes.

Desert Cottontail

The Desert Cottontail living in the Ballona Wetlands eats grass, herbs, vegetables and even cacti.  It is a source of food for almost every living carnivorous creature larger or faster than it.

Juvenile California Sea Lion

We have the privilege of also having ocean-based mammals in our midst, too.  But the past few years their very survival have been wrought with challenge. This crisis is the result of a recent crash in forage fish populations — the Pacific sardine population is the lowest it’s been in a decade — just 5% of what it was in 2006. 

Recommended Reading:

  • When Mountain Lions are Neighbors, People and Wildlife Working it Out in California, 2016, by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom
  • Satellites in the High Country, Searching for Wild in the Age of Man, 2015, by Jason Mark
  • Feral Cities, Adventures with Animals in the Urban Jungle, 2015, by Tristan Donovan
  • Imagining Extinction, the Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species, 2016, by Ursula K Heise



[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers Biophilia Botta's Mole California Ground Squirrel California Sea Lion Coyote Desert Cottontail Urban Wildlife Sun, 04 Jun 2017 00:10:10 GMT
The Ballona Creek Buffet By Bev-Sue Powers, (

Nature Services - earth’s biological & geochemical systems - are the Earth’s working parts that enable our ability to exist.  Human-caused disruptions & destruction to Nature’s Services , especially in the last century, are causing an extreme, rapid decline in Nature’s ability to keep these systems running smoothly. Here are some of the Natural Services healthy wetlands are designed to provide:

  • Wetlands are natural sponges for watershed & coastal flood protection, and are an increasingly important buffer to climate-change related sea level rising
  • Wetlands recharge groundwater supplies, and are a natural filter for mitigating harmful nutrients and pollution that taint water quality
  • Wetlands support a wide variety of life by
    • Providing primary habitats and nurseries and the food sources on which wildlife depends
    • Storing carbon dioxide, helping regulate climate change
    • Serving as “refueling” destinations along the world’s migration flyways

Did you know, healthy wetlands are the most productive of all natural habitats? Compare the pounds of plant growth per acre per day generated:

  • 175 lbs: Wetlands 
  • 90 lbs: Grasslands, Forests, and Lakes
  • 15 lbs: Oceans:
  • 10 lbs: Deserts: 

Birds play a vital role in contributing to the vitality and productivity of wetlands by grazing & fertilizing habitats, controlling insect populations, spreading seeds, being a food source to other wildlife, and more. Now, the most common threats to birds are habitat loss and human interference (e.g., caught in fishing line & nets), compounded by climate change impacts, as is evident in recent sea lions and sea birds (including pelicans) having extreme health issues, washing ashore.

With rapidly plummeting bird species populations, it’s even more important to ensure habitats providing food sources for these endangered species are restored and vigilantly protected.  Remaining wildlife have a very fragile and tenuous existence due to extreme & constant stressors.  Mitigating stressors and restoring habitats as close to their original ecological functions is urgently needed.  If not, future generations will not enjoy or see these same species, and air, water, and soil quality will continue to decline.

When most people think of Ballona Creek, they think about the bike path or a place walk, fish, enjoy, or observe  the garbage that accumulates after a storm.  But they don’t think of it as brunch!  For many birds, it’s just that – a food buffet.  Here are just some endangered birds and some of the nutritious things they feed on in and along the Ballona Creek.  If those things they dine on contain toxins, they, too, will become weak:

  • Fish, mollusks, shrimp, clams, crabs, and other crustaceans, worms, barnacles, and limpets, and other aquatic invertebrates.
  • Insects, insect larvae, aquatic beetles, spiders, worms, roots, sea grasses, buds, and seeds.


Long-tailed Duck

It’s very rare to spot a Long-Tailed Duck (aka Old Squaw).  If you do, these winter neighbors can be seen in the Del Rey Lagoon, in Ballona Creek, and in the Marina. This neighbor is identified by Audubon as a Common Bird in Steep Decline (CBSD). This means that unless drastic measures are taken, it is trending to be extinct within the next 40-50 years.  They winter from So. California coast into Central America.  They breed on the tundra in Alaska and Arctic Canada. 



Willets are on the Audubon Watch List (Yellow).  We see Willets along the Ballona Creek year-round.  In the west, most Willets winter along the coast from Oregon southward and breed from central Canada to NE California and Nevada.

Black & Ruddy Turnstones

Both types of Turnstones are on Audubon Watch List (Yellow).  In winter, both can be found along rocky shorelines, on beaches near rocky coasts, and on the Ballona Creek jetties.

 Black Turnstone

Though the Black Turnstones can be in the Ballona Wetlands year-round, most breed along the western and southern coasts of Alaska.

Ruddy Turnstone

The Ruddy Turnstones migrate to northwestern Alaska and islands of the Canadian Arctic tundra to breed in sparsely vegetated areas next to coastal meadows.


Wandering Tattler

   The Wandering Tattler is another bird on Audubon’s list as a Common Bird in Steep Decline (CBSD). This picture was taken in the 2014 winter, when I regularly saw up to a half-dozen Wandering Tattlers foraging on the Ballona Creek jetty.  I haven’t seen any Wandering Tattlers since the 2014 wintering season. They winter along rocky coastlines from California to mid-south American Coasts.  They breed above the timberline in by Alaskan mountain streams.

Black Oyster Catcher

The Black Oyster Catcher is on the Audubon Watch List (Yellow). In 2014, it was designated a climate priority species by Audubon California. The Black Oystercatcher is considered an indicator for the health of rocky intertidal shorelines. Threats to this habitat are real and growing due to sea level rise, ocean acidification, and increased recreational and commercial use of coastal areas.  

NOTE ALL THE MUSSELS from this 2014 photo (on left).  Most of the mussels were scraped off the jetty in 2014 by fishermen to use the mussels as bait. This is a prime, local example of unwitting habitat destruction impacting at-risk species. This is how the 6th mass extinction is happening – by seemingly trivial things at a local level, yet effecting an entire flyway. In 2014, it was very common to spot, up to 4 at a time.  This year much rarer to spot, usually only 1-2 at a time.  They are resident on rocky coastlines from Aleutian Islands southward to Baja California.  There is a resident flock of up to 6 members who nest in the break wall & forage on the Ballona Creek jetties & levees and in the Del Rey Lagoon at low tide. 


Learn & Do More:

  • Participate in field studies run by the LMU, Center for Urban Resilience (CURes) program.
  • Become familiar with other local groups, such as the Ballona Creek RenaissanceFriends of Ballona and Natural History Museum, all of whom have many ways to engage in local wildlife exploration, restoration, and participation as a citizen scientist.
  • Go bird-watching along the Ballona Creek and learn about the wildlife & their food sources.
  • Join the National Audubon Society and LA Audubon chapters.  You’ll enjoy the monthly ezine and print magazines.

Come to Audubon’s Open Ballona Wetlands, 9-noon, first Saturday of every month

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers California Audubon Pacific Flyway Urban Wildlife Yellow-rumped Warbler Thu, 27 Apr 2017 02:10:21 GMT
Preying in the Wetlands I’m always thrilled when I come across birds who eat, prey, & live in the Ballona Wetlands.  The soaring silhouettes of their outstretched wings always stop me in my tracks.  They seem aware of, but not interested in me.  Their steady gaze and deliberately efficient movements reinforce their focus is to prey, but thankfully not on me! As with many birds of prey, pesticides caused steep declines in their populations a few decades ago, from which they have made somewhat of a comeback.  Their main challenges now are habitat destruction, which eliminates their sources of food.

Birds of prey help stabilize bird and mammal populations by feeding on the weakest.  This, in turn, helps stop disease from spreading to the same groups or to other species’ populations, including humans.  Here a a few of the birds I’ve seen “Preying in the Wetlands”.

Kestrels are the smallest of the birds of prey in the Ballona Wetlands.  They prefer a diet of House Sparrows (their favorite), other small birds, rodents, and even insects.  They breed from Alaska to across Canada.  They winter from southern Canada south to the American tropics. 

Female Kestrel, clutching something in her left claw.

Next is size is the White-tailed Kite, who have an appetite for voles, their main prey, other small rodents, and insects.  A fair-weather raptor, they reside year-round in the warmer areas of coastal and the central interiors of southern California, Arizona, Southern Texas, Central America, and northern and mid-southern areas (but not central interior) of South America.  Per Cornell Ornithology, White-tailed Kites are a relatively rare species, with 4% living in the US. 

A White-tailed Kite resting on a branch along the Ballona Creek overlooking the saltpans.

Coopers Hawks are one of the more easily spotted birds of prey around the Ballona Wetlands and in wooded areas of Los Angeles.  They feed mainly on smaller birds. I even saw one catch and take off with a crow in its clutches in the Del Rey Lagoon Park. Needless to say, the other crows surrounded the Coopers Hawk, protesting loudly! They also eat small mammals, lizards, and snakes.

Immature Coopers Hawk.  (Adults have red eyes.)

Osprey’s dine exclusively on fish.  In 2015, there was a 90% drop in the population of the small bait fish (i.e., sardines, anchovies, etc) along the Pacific Coast.  This had a devastating ripple effect on the fish-eating food chain, including the Osprey. Let’s hope the fisheries rebound, and, in turn, the Ospreys can thrive once again. Though found throughout the world, within the Pacific Flyway they winter along the Southern California, US & Central American Gulf Coasts, and throughout much of northern and central South America.  They migrate to the Pacific North West and Northern Canada and Alaska to breed.

 An Osprey perched above Ballona Creek

In 2016, I was stunned to see a Turkey Vulture, who hung out in the Wetlands for a couple weeks. More commonly found in forests and woodlands, these birds “clean up” dead carrion, thus preventing the potential threat of spreading of diseases to other species, including humans. Though unusual to see in the Wetlands, they are year-round residents of Coastal areas of California and Mexico, breeding throughout the US.

  Turkey Vulture soaring over Area-B close to Ballona Creek

Learn More: Google search,  visit, and support some of the  Birds of Prey wildlife rescue organizations in the Los Angeles area.  Join Audubon national and LA chapters.  You’ll enjoy the monthly ezine and print magazines. Come to Audubon’s Open Ballona Wetlands, 9-noon, first Saturday of every month

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers California Audubon Pacific Flyway Urban Wildlife Sun, 02 Apr 2017 19:14:20 GMT
Humming in the Ballona Wetlands Always delighted to spot a Hummingbird, I became even more interested after reading Terry Masear’s book Fastest Thing on Wings. In it, she describes how she and a small band of folks steadfastly rescue hurt and orphaned hummingbirds in the greater Los Angeles area, which intensifies during breeding season.  Her organization and their dedication and knowledge have helped reverse the trend of plummeting populations of Hummingbirds in the LA area.  The stories in her book give wondrous examples of the influence urban wildlife can have on urban dwellers and vice versa, enriching all involved.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know the following hummingbirds neighbors who call the Ballona Wetlands home. 

Did You Know:

  • Many types of hummingbirds use spider webs for some of their nesting materials. Fun Fact:  The nests stretch as the babies grow!
  • Hummingbirds are expected to lose vast amounts of their range over the next 60 years. Climate change creates imbalances in temperature and migratory bird timing, and scientists say hummingbirds, which are important wildflower pollinators in North America and food pollinators in tropical regions, are particularly vulnerable. A warming climate can alter when flowers bloom. This earlier blooming can create a mismatch between hummingbird arrival and flowers, which they suck nectar from throughout the day to stay alive. Hummingbirds' ability to adapt remains to be seen.

Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna’s hummingbirds are common year-round in the Wetlands.  They are found year-round along the Pacific Coast, from southern Canada to northern Baja Mexico.  Unfortunately, I don’t yet have a good photo of these red-crowned hummingbirds.

Allen’s Hummingbird

Climate endangered. The Allen’s Hummingbird, a mostly rust-colored bird that breeds in southern Oregon and coastal California, is projected to lose 90 percent of its current breeding range by 2080.   Most of the So. Cal population winters as far south as southern Mexico. Moves north up the Pacific Coast in late winter.

Black Chinned Hummingbird

The Black-Chinned Hummingbird winters in Mexico and breeds from British Columbia throughout the Western US to Mexico.

Rufous Hummingbird

The Rufous Hummingbird, who migrate 3,900 miles from Mexico to Alaska are crucial pollinators, mostly of wildflowers when they’re in North America. However, in South America, hummingbirds are important pollinators of tropical food crops such as bananas, papaya and nutmeg, per an Audubon report.  NOTE:  Rufous breed is often very hard to distinguish from juvenile and female Allen’s breed.  These photos might be Allen’s Hummingbirds.

Learn More:

Go to Hummingbird Rescue, Los Angeles’ website:

Do more:

Become a citizen scientist and report when and where you see hummingbirds in your neighborhood. Download and regularly use these apps to identify species and report your sightings:

  • Cornell Lab’s Merlin
  • eBird app
  • Hummingbirds at Home

Scientists use your data to determine if the birds are having trouble year-round.

Recommended Reading:

Fastest Thing on Wings, Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood, by Terry Masear, 2015






[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers California Audubon Hummingbirds Urban Wildlife Sun, 05 Mar 2017 00:07:28 GMT
Celebrating the Tiny Ones By Bev-Sue Powers

Did you know there are at least 20 types of warblers, 17 types of sparrows, 15 types of Flycatchers, and 7 types of swallows who call the Ballona Wetlands home at least part of the year?  Here is a mere sampling of some of the tiny neighbors you might or might not have noticed around the Ballona Wetlands.

The first flycatchers I got to know were a pair of Black Phoebes and their babies who nested under the protected eaves of the small, one story building next to where I live. The second (third?) year they returned to the same nest, a big storm destroyed it. The next year they tried to rebuild it, but again it was destroyed. This time I suspect it was by crows raiding the nest for the very tiny white eggs. The pair tried, unsuccessfully, rebuild a couple more times before moving on. I still see them in the courtyard year-round.

Black Phoebe and baby

One of my biggest thrills was to discover last spring, a pair of Rough-Winged Swallows who decided to nest in the runoff pipe above my patio. One of the first clues they were settling in was a long piece of fishing line dangling from the pipe.  I considered it a cosmic irony because at the time, I was busy taking my "Hook, Line, & Sinker" project on the road. . . And because this species does not interact with fish! It took me almost the entire season to get photos of them because they were so quick! After several weeks, I noticed much commotion & longer perching times. I suspected their baby was about to fledged the nest, so got my camera ready, just in case. Sure enough, their baby made its debut (looking more fully formed than baby-ish). Shortly afterwards, the family left for the season. I hope they return next spring for a repeat performance.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow & baby

Tiny Migrants

The Black Phoebes and their larger cousin, the Say’s Phoebe, sometimes visit my patio, offering a nice mini break from working on the computer. Say’s Phoebes typically winter here and travel as far north as Alaskan and the Yukon to breed.

A Say's Phoebe dropped by my patio

The White-Crowned Sparrow also winters here, arriving in October and departing in late March for its northern breeding grounds from central California to as far north as Alaska. When they arrive, you can be sure the Fall migration south is in full swing.

  A White-Crowned Sparrow taking a moment to observe me.

Along the Pacific Flyway, the petit Yellow-rumped Warbler spends spring and summer in Alaska, northern Manitoba, and central Quebec and heads south to spend winter in the south-western states and into the tropics. The Ballona Wetlands are a guaranteed winter destination.

A Yellow-rumped warbler caught during a rare, still moment.



[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Black Phoebe Flycatcher Northern Rough-winged Swallow Pacific Flyway Say's Phoebe White-Crowned Sparrow Yellow-rumped Warbler Fri, 30 Dec 2016 18:51:20 GMT
I See Stars!! By Bev-Sue Powers

In the fall of 2013 until the third week in January, 2014, I marveled at and photographed the starfish colonies living on the south jetty at the mouth of the Ballona Creek. During the second week of January, 2014, I witnessed three women scraping at least 1-1/2 dozen starfish off the jetty, laying them upside-down along the top of the jetty, then trying to load them into buckets. I asked the lifeguard if that was legal, which is wasn’t, so he put a stop to it, while I relocated them tummy-side down to the places where they had been removed.  I wondered why in the world would they want so many starfish and to what end. 

While in a craft store later that same week, I rounded a corner and ran smack into a display of dried starfish for sale – the same species as on the jetty – starting at $3 each!  Doing quick math, I had the epiphany that a few dozen starfish could get a lower income family through the next month’s rent or food.  I wondered where the supplier’s source was and how many ecosystems were destroyed by supplying carcasses of seaside creatures for our craft projects. 


2014 Starfish Cluster, Mouth of Ballona Creek2014 Starfish Cluster 2 weeks before their demise.

This is one of the many starfish clusters on the jetties at the mouth of Ballona Creek in 2014,

a couple weeks before their disappearance.

By now, I started looking for starfish during my morning walks.  Alas, during the last two week of Jan, 2014, I noticed all the star fish had vanished!  Alarmed, I researched what might have happened (other than the plunderers I had witnessed a couple weeks earlier).  Turns out starfish populations all along the West Coast were wiped out due to a massive virus. Sadly, I hadn’t seen any since.

Fast forward to yesterday’s sunny, warm, still, Southern California winter afternoon, which beckoned me to close my electronic devices for the day and take a walk out to the end of the jetty. I enjoyed watching the seabirds and a couple of sea lions diving for fish.  It was the lowest tide I had seen in a long time with several sand bars and the lowest rocks exposed, which is a rarity.  As I was gazing at the gentle waves lapping at the bottom of the jetty, I was stunned to see . . . a big, healthy looking, bright orange STARFISH!! I spotted another – it was purple – of equal size not far from the first.  Then I saw another on the north jetty, orange, big, and healthy looking.  

I See Stars!! Here are two of the three starfish I spotted 12-14-2016 on the south jetty at the mouth of Ballona Creek.

Thrilled, I’ll keep checking and hope to see increasingly more stars soon. Go Nature! Great comeback!

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers Urban Wildlife West Coast starfish starfish Fri, 16 Dec 2016 22:15:41 GMT
A Docent-ing View . . . By Bev-Sue Powers

Each September, the local Audubon provides six weekly, three-hour training sessions for people who want to be a volunteer docent for the upcoming year.  All they ask in return is to be a docent at least twice a month.  In October, I completed the training and the first week of December, I completed my first two docent-ing sessions, which were as different as night and day.  The first was with a group of fourth-graders, and the second included a group of Taiwanese biologists sresearching the impacts wind turbines have on migrating birds.

Every Tuesday and Thursday during the school year, 30-40 kids from one of LAUSD’s grade schools arrive at the Ballona Wetlands for a three hour tour hosted by the local Audubon.  The kids are divided into smaller groups and assigned to a docent.  Each docent (or docent team) makes sure each kid has binoculars, knows how to focus and use them, and then takes his/her group through the five stations:

  • The Migration Station: The kids learn about how, when, and where birds migrate along the Pacific Flyway. The station includes a clever exercise that demonstrates the challenge and dangers migrating birds face when wetlands disappear. (Did you know that 90% of the wetlands in California have disappeared in the past 40-50 years??)
  • The Birding Observation Deck: Here, kids see and learn to identify the wide variety of bird species that call the Ballona Wetlands home. (Over 200 species of birds can be found in the Ballona Wetlands!)
  • The Microscope Station: Kids are shown how to use microscopes to see and draw the tiny life forms living in the mud and water, most of which are food sources for many of the birds.
  • The Birding Scope Station: Located on the Ballona Creek, a scope is set up to zoom in on special birds along the banks, in the water, or spotted in the salt pans.
  • The Trails: Kids walk the various trails connecting the stations.  On the trails, the kids learn about what comprises a wetlands, the various sub-ecosystems in the Ballona Wetlands, and discover some of the plants and animals live in each.

Every first Saturday of the month, Audubon has an “Open Wetlands” from 9am-noon. Typically, 30-70 people show up throughout the morning. Visitors are checked in and given binoculars to use if they don’t have any of their own. Docents are available at the stations mentioned above, but visitors are free to explore the trails and different stations on their own. A group from Taiwan were already familiar with many of the bird species, as related species migrate along the Asian Flyway through Taiwan. But they were most thrilled to see our hummingbirds, which only live in North America!

(from left) Here's Chien-Hung Yang (with Formosa Natural History Museum and Raptor Research group of Taiwan), the female biologist (I didn't get her name), Lien Yu-Yi (with the National Taiwan University, Institute of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), and lead Docent Lynn. 

It was also heartening to meet young adults who were studying environmental sciences at the university level and seeing the Ballona wetlands for the first time.  One of the favorite returning visitors was a 6 or 7 year old who had only missed ONE Open Wetlands monthly event since 2013!

See you at an upcoming Open Wetlands day!

Where: Ballona Wetlands entrance. Park behind Gordan’s Market in Playa Del Rey. 

When:  9am-noon, 1st Sat. of the month.



[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers California Audubon Tue, 06 Dec 2016 01:28:36 GMT
Del Rey Lagoon Coffee Klatch After finishing my 7:30 am meeting a few days ago, I grabbed my camera and a fresh cup of coffee and headed down the sidewalk to the salt water lagoon.  I could see it was mid-tide, perfect for watching the fiddler crabs waking up below the high tide line and the morning (bird) foragers throughout the lagoon.  The migrating birds were starting to arrive for the winter, but not many so far this month. As I got to the path that leads to the edge of the lagoon where I like to take my breaks, I spotted a wondrous bird I had never laid eyes on:  a White-faced Ibis! 

Stunned, I started taking pics.  After done with that angle, I walked down the path to my usual perch to just watch it, enjoy my coffee and the other wildlife neighbors, waking up just like me. While still keeping an eye on the Ibis among us, I was nestled amidst a flock of snoozing Mallards who had arrived about 4 weeks ago. By now, we were a coffee klatch.

I continued to drink my coffee and take photos of the Ibis from this new angle. From across the lagoon, a gull, spotting me, thinking I had breakfast biscuits to hand out, flew over and crashed the klatch.  The first victim the Gull flushed out was a cinnamon teal I hadn't even noticed!  The mallards were a bit ruffled, the Ibis, nonplussed, just observed.  I, of course, was now totally focused on the cinnamon teal, the first I've seen this year.

This was the best 10 min coffee klatch I can recall!

© Bev-Sue Powers

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers California Audubon Cinnamon Teal Pacific Flyway Urban Wildlife White-faced Ibis Sat, 15 Oct 2016 20:11:09 GMT
How to Rescue A Seabird © Bev-Sue Powers, (
Recently, my daughter and I were finishing lunch and enjoying the view of the Marina Del Rey and Ballona Creek  from the roof-top patio when I noticed a bird swimming in a very odd pattern.  After watching it for a while, it crossed the creek and climbed up on to the bank of the levee, still moving and behaving very weirdly.

Weary Cormorant unable to move it's head due to fishing hooks.

After my daughter left, I went down to see if the bird was still on the levee. It was and I discovered that it had fishing hooks, lines, and sinkers wrapped around its body. It couldn't move its head or even its beak! It looked like it had been in distress for several hours so I ran home and searched the International Bird Rescue website to find out what to do.  Here's what I learned:  when rescuing a bird, put it in a box (with holes cut into it for air flow) to contain and transport it to the rescue center. Reluctantly, I had to leave the bird and find a box that was big enough.  I returned with the box and tried to get the bird into the box (it clearly did not like my plan). It took off for the safety of the creek.  Dismayed, I realized I needed to change my capture strategy.  I returned home to see what other advice was on the website.  I didn’t find much else, and returned to the levee, hoping the bird had returned.  It had!  As I was trying to figure out my next move, a neighbor watching the commotion threw down a blanket to capture the bird, and another passerby blocked the bird from going back in the creek. I threw the blanket over the bird, put it in the box, and off to the rescue center we went.

Once there, they did a quick exam and told me there were at least three hooks, maybe more, throughout its body: one through its leg, one under its right wing, one on the shoulder, and another they thought it had swallowed, which is why it couldn't move its head or beak. They didn't know if they could fix it but, they said they'd try once it calmed down.   After three days, I called to see how the bird had faired. They told me it was a male, juvenile cormorant who had FIVE hooks removed – one from its stomach! They kept the cormorant on antibiotics and will release him just beyond the Marina breakwater once he has a clean bill of health. 

Thank you neighbors for helping me capture the bird, and a big thanks to the wildlife heroes and heroines of the International Bird Rescue Center, which is celebrating its 45th year rescuing Birds.  See to read about their remarkable work, and ways to get involved and support them.

P.S. Here come our Winter Neighbors!

A flock of mallards arrived at the Del Rey Lagoon in September.  Two Coots (a large flock normally winters here) were here for about a week.  Scouts for many other wintering bird neighbors should start showing up shortly, with the rest of the flocks, arriving sporadically now through early December.  Bring out your Bird books, download the birding apps, and dust off your binoculars!  

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers California Audubon Pacific Flyway Urban Wildlife Mon, 10 Oct 2016 22:05:03 GMT
Local Wildlife – As Pets? A Cautionary Tale ©, By Bev-Sue Powers (


Living in The Ballona Wetlands area, I encounter and observe many wildlife species living among us – raccoon families, rabbits, many bird species, opossums, coyotes, California king snakes, and more. I’ve always admired them and even am able to spot the regulars, but always as an observer.  A turning point came when I met Mille.

Millie, My Wild Squirrel-friend

About three years ago I noticed a squirrel hanging around, looking desperate.  She seemed in shock, her tits engorged having just given birth to a litter.  “Her first?” I wondered.  Taking pity or her, I put a nut on my patio about 5 feet from my slider.   She was so skittish, she could barely make herself come that close to me, yet hunger overruled her fear.  I set out another with same result.  Eventually she started showing up regularly.  When this happened, I wondered if I could get her to overcome her skittishness.  I started moving the nuts closer to me, a few inches at a time.  After about 3 months, she became more used to me and I could feed her with my hand, one nut at a time. 

I started introducing grapes, which she loved!  Ever curious how far I could go with taming her, I eventually had her climbing onto my lap to get her nuts and grapes for the day.  She always saved the grapes for last! I eventually taught her some tricks.  Sometimes she came by just to hang out and watch what I was doing. 

Millie helping me write my blog.

Then I caught word from neighbors there was a squirrel terrorizing them – jumping up on the screen doors to peer into their apartments and fearlessly coming in if the doors were left open and helping herself to food left on the counters.  I knew it was Millie. Unbeknownst to them, I had created a monster!

Millie proudly showing me the avocado she just stole from my counter.

But something else started happening.  Some thought Millie’s antics were cute and they, too, started feeding her.  But they fed her chips, bread, and other highly processed food.  Gradually, she became increasingly incontinent, to point I could no longer let her on my lap.


Millie stops by to take a selfie with me.

I haven’t seen Millie since the end of March and assume she died.  I wonder if my teaching her to not fear humans accelerated her demise.  I’ll never know. Though I immensely enjoyed our visits, I am reluctant to feed/train wildlife again. 

Recommended Reading

  • When Mountain lions are Neighbors – People and Wildlife Working it Out in California, Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, director of the National Wildlife Federation, 2016

P.S. Here come our Winter Neighbors!

The scouts for many of our wintering bird neighbors will start showing up in September, with the rest of the flocks, arriving sporadically in October and November.  Bring out your bird books, download the birding apps, and dust off your binoculars!  

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Bev-Sue Photography Powers Urban Wetlands Wildlife Fri, 02 Sep 2016 23:35:12 GMT
The 6th Mass Extinction is Here– and it’s Local On a recent trip, I was sharing my website with a fellow photographer who exclaimed, "Oh, you have starfish! And, I had to say no, those disappeared the last half of January, 2014.  Then she said "look at all the Pelicans! I can't believe you have that many Pelicans!” And, I had to say, “Well, that was in 2014.  In 2015 90% of the fish population the Pelicans feed on collapsed, so very few Pelicans are around anymore.”  In March, this year I counted only one Pelican for Audubon’s annual Pelican count. There used to be hundreds.  And then she was quite taken with a Black Oyster Catcher photo.  And, once again, I had to explain that in 2014 the fishermen wiped out one of the key habitats the Oyster Catchers relied on and I only see one, maybe two, at a time now rather than a half a dozen like I used to.” After that I left the room.

Black Oyster Catcher on mouth of Ballona Creek, south jetty.Black Oyster Catcher on mouth of Ballona Creek, south jetty.

The Black Oyster Catchers, one of our year-round wildlife neighbors, are on Audubon’s Watch List (Yellow)[i]In 2014, the Oyster Catcher was designated a climate priority species by Audubon California and is considered an indicator for the health of rocky intertidal shorelines. Threats to this habitat are real and growing: sea level rise, ocean acidification, and increased recreational and commercial use of coastal areas. But there is hope -- we can safeguard this bird as its habitat changes by understanding it better.

Black Oyster Catcher on mouth of Ballona Creek, south jetty.Black Oyster Catcher on mouth of Ballona Creek, south jetty.

The 6th Mass Extinction[i] is real and it's happening with stunning speed in our own backyard. What’s happened to the south jetty at the mouth of Ballona Creek is a small, local example.  In the past 60 years, the world has lost 52 percent[1]  of its species. On the Pacific Flyway1 alone, 70% of the seabirds are gone.  In the next three to four decades, it’s expected that another 40% of the remaining seabirds will be extinct.  Per Audubon, the other migrating bird populations are down by 57%.  In geological time, these same species, same lineage/same DNA, have been migrating to the same areas for 10s of thousands of years. That this drop has happened in a mere 50-75 years is breathtakingly sudden.  Consider this: if 60,000 years is an hour, this is like a collapse happening in .001th (a thousandth) of a second. The birds and rest of nature are not able to response to such rapidly changing conditions. For example, the Ballona Wetlands is a primary west coast estuary for over 200 bird species, and countless other land and aquatic wildlife.  Yet, for over 100 years it has been manipulated, compromised, built on, and/or saturated with toxic, chemical by-products.  It barely functions as an estuary, much less a robust wetlands. And the wildlife is here is hanging by a thread.

What’s to Blame?

Habitat Destruction

Current land-use policies and practices, which routinely disrupt and destroy natural habitats, are based on 200-year old beliefs. We are just starting to understand how significantly our past approaches have compromised the natural ecosystem functions and nature’s innate ability to replenish and balance itself.  

Antiquated Fish and Wildlife “Take” laws,

Fish & Wildlife laws have allowed over harvesting of fish, wildlife, and other natural resources. This has led to indiscriminate fish and wildlife destruction.  For example:

  • In 2015, the foraging fish populations, seabirds (including pelicans) and many marine mammals rely on for their existence, dropped by 90%.   Now, dozens of forage fish species critical for seabirds and other marine wildlife on the west coast gained landmark federal protection today under a new rule from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)[ii]  Yet, recreational fishing laws have not been changed nor is there an emergency moratorium on them.
  • Sea Grass and other habitat that serve as fisheries and nurseries have been taken over by invasive species or completely destroyed to the point fish cannot hatch and seabird populations relying on sea grasses as a food source are rapidly dwindling.
  • In addition, the destruction from recreational fishing is not acknowledged, and has little to no oversight or enforcement. Where there is fishing:
    • Fish hooks, nets, and gear are one of the top causes of death to fish-eating birds and marine mammals.
    • Recreational fishermen routinely harvest habitat of aquatic-dependent food sources (i.e., bi-valves (clams, mussels), crustaceans, and crabs) – in many cases to complete annihilation, which the seabirds need to survive. And it’s legal. The south jetty at the mouth of Ballona Creek was nearly wiped out in 2014 with such harvesting. This harvesting in continuing up the Ballona Creek, and even in the Del Rey Lagoon!
    • Some of the biggest hazards to our local sea lions and seals and seabirds are plastic trash (bags, snack containers, six-pack rings, etc.), fishing tackle and nets, and polluted water.

What Can We Do Locally?

  • Get to know your wildlife neighbors - what they need to eat, where they forage, nest, and roost.
  • Notice the stressors impact the Ballona Wetlands and identify ways to mitigate the challenges.
  • Vigilantly protect the precious wildlife that remains by supporting related California Audubon initiatives and other advocacy efforts, such as the Hook, Line, and Sinker Project[i].
  • Consider how to model wildlife and development laws needed to reflect 21st century realities.
  • Support local ecological restoration projects.  Plant native foliage to make sure our wildlife can endure and “Wildlife Certify” your landscape[ii].
  • Celebrate and share that you live in one of the “birdiest” and most wildlife rich urban areas in the country!

[i] The term “extinction event” is used to define any period from three to twenty centuries, during which the planet loses 75 percent of its biodiversity (i.e. a “mass extinction”).

[i] Audubon Watch List identify what species are most at risk to be extinct within 30-50 years. 

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) 6th Mass Extinction Ballona Photography Bev-Sue Powers Black Oyster Catcher California Audubon Pacific Flyway Urban Wildlife Sat, 30 Jul 2016 22:32:24 GMT
Sea Lion Pups in Trouble Sea Lions are born in June & July, and Mom weans them at 10-11 months.  Pups being rescued now are from last year’s litters.  When weaning starts, pups often feel lost and out of sorts.  If the fish are plentiful, they’re fine after a few days.  If they have trouble figuring out how to take care of themselves or there are simply not enough fish, they often crawl up along the jetties or onto the beaches looking gaunt and exhibit distress. 

According to the Marine Mammal Care Center (MMCC), the past two years have seen astoundingly high numbers of pups needing rescue.  Prior to 2015, the average rescue was around 20-40 pups per month.  Last year, over 700 sea lions needed rescue.  As of mid-April this year, around 350 pups had been rescued.  So what happened? In 2015, the West Coast fisheries collapsed by 90%.  This continues to devastate the entire West Coast oceanic food chain including all fish eating seabirds and sea mammals.

This year, exacerbated by El Nino’s warmer oceans, many of the remaining fish have gone to deeper, cooler waters.  Fewer fish and further fish foraging have forced the Sea Lion moms to be gone from their pups much longer than usual.  This triggers the stressed pups to leave their home bases earlier in search for food and help, often when they’re still nursing. When the moms return, the starving pups are missing, often because caring bystanders call Marine Wildlife Rescue, who take them to MMCC.  If not for both the Marine Wildlife Rescue organization and the MMCC, many of the pups would parish.

How the Marine Animal Rescue & Marine Mammal Care Centers Help

I spotted a pup being rescued by the Marine Wildlife Rescue organization who catch and transport distressed or harmed marine wildlife and sea birds to the appropriate rescue organization.  I followed the pup to its destination: the MMCC. Collette, a long-time volunteer at MMCC explained what steps the pups go through from the time they’re delivered to MMCC until they’re released back to the wild.

  1. The Rescue.  When you encounter a stranded pinniped (i.e., Sea Lion or Seal) call Marine Wildlife Rescue.  They safely capture and transport the animal to the MMCC.

Distressed Sea Lion PupDistressed Sea Lion Pup

Marine Animal RescueMarine Animal Rescue, catching pup for transport.


  1. Evaluation.  Once the animal is taken to MMCC, the staff immediately evaluates each pup delivered to determine what it will take to get the pup healthy enough to be released back into the wild. They also shave a unique number in i’s fur to track it throughout its stay.

  1. Nutrition & Hydration. Initially the pups are tube feed to nourish and dehydrated them.  This continues until they show signs of being stable, hydrated, and active.

Dry pens are used to isolate pups who are ill from the others and are kept there until deemed not contagious and strong enough to progress through the normal rehab stables

  1. Rehabilitation.  Pups are organized by different stables (fenced, concrete areas each with pools, climbing structures, and shaded areas). In the first stable, the pups are too weak to catch fish, so staff feed them fresh cut up fish. In the subsequent stables, live fish are thrown into the pools. The staff carefully track which pups are thriving and which need more help. Each pup is moved to the next stable according to how well it’s eating, if it is the right weight for its age, how strong it are, how well it interacts with other pups, and if all injuries are healed.  Once they’re deemed able to fend for themselves, their release date back to the wild is planned.

  1. Release.  Releases back to the wild happen as soon as a pup is healthy and able to catch fish on their own. 

How you can help

MMCC. (310) 548-5677;

Marine Mammal or Seabird Emergencies in Southern California.  (800) 399-4253;

Both organizations do a tremendous service for our local wildlife and can use your help.  Here’s how to help either or both.

  • Donate Items (see “Wish List” on their websites)
  • Donate Time (be a volunteer). More volunteers are always needed, especially from late winter to late summer.
  • Donate Money (Each animal rescue has transport and equipment costs. Each rescued animal costs $50/day to rehab and the average stay is 2-4 months)
[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers Sat, 14 May 2016 19:24:46 GMT
Q1 & Q2 2016 Reading List Wanted to share some interesting reads about the 21st century reality of the relationships between nature and humans.  Worthy reads, all.

  • The Nature Principle, Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, by Richard Louv;  
  • Feral Cities, Adventures with Animals in the Urban Jungle, by Tristan Donovan;  
  • Satellites in the High Country, Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man, by Jason Mark;  
  • The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert.


[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Photography Urban Wildlife Tue, 26 Apr 2016 00:20:35 GMT
Spring Events Around the Ballona Wetlands By Bev-Sue Powers, (C) All Rights Reserved,

Spring has sprung into full gear. In the past month, most of the sea birds have departed for their northern nesting destinations.  Birds that breed here in the Ballona Wetlands have returned to last year’s nests.  More often than not, I’ve seen our local nesting neighbors in flight with twigs in their beaks, from the Great Blue Herons to the tiniest of sparrows. Shown is a Mockingbird who has returned to last year's nest. 

 I encourage you see how many different birds nest around you.  Visit the wondrous nesting sites of the Great Blue Heron and Cormorants’ colony at the end of Bora Bora Way and in Mariner’s Village.  Visit the colonies of the Black-crowned Night Heron, the Great Egrets and the Snowy Egrets in the last 13 trees on Marquesas Way. 

In celebration of our marvelous wildlife neighbors, a smorgasbord of interesting local events are coming up.  Come learn about the astounding biodiversity in the Ballona Wetlands and about groups who support our wildlife, such as Friends of Ballona, wildlife rescue groups, LA Audubon, LMU’s exciting Center for Urban Resilience (CURes) program, and with many others.  Join us in reveling in our wildlife neighbors.  I (Ballona Photography) will have a booth at all of the following events with my “Ballona Wetlands Fishing Tales – Hook, Line, & Sinker” project.  I’d love to see you - stop by and say hi!




Saturday, April 23


Though Earth Day is being celebrated at many sites throughout LA, I encourage you to come to the Ballona Wetlands entrance behind Gordon’s Market in Playa Del Rey

Celebrate Earth Day with Friends of Ballona, LA Audubon, Ballona Photography, and many others.  There will be docent-led tours of the Ballona Wetlands and more.

I’ll be there presenting the “Ballona Fishing Tales – Hook, Line, & Sinker” project.

Saturday, May 7


Ballona Wetlands Freshwater Marsh (located at Jefferson & Lincoln).

Bird LA Day is another event being celebrated at many sites throughout LA      

Bird L.A. Day

Ballona, Audubon, Ballona Photography, and Wildlife rescue groups, LMU’s CURes program and many others.  There will be docent-led tours of the Freshwater Marsh and more.

I’ll be there presenting the “Ballona Fishing Tales – Hook, Line, & Sinker” project.

Saturday, May 7


The mouth of Ballona Creek is one of the key survey sites on the west coast. 

CA Audubon’s Annual Spring Brown Pelican Survey.  Signup with friends and family at

Note:See an earlier article about the alarming decline in Brown Pelican sightings in our area due to the 2015 collapse of the fish populations they feed on.  After coming back from near extinction in the 1970s, from pesticide poisoning, these ancient beings are again at risk.  When participating in the survey, you learn what Audubon does with survey results and actions being taken to support, protect, and ensure the survival of the California Brown Pelicans. 

Sunday, May 15


Mar Vista Farmers Market, Green Tent

Visit me at the Green Tent where Ballona Photography presents the “Ballona Fishing Tales – Hook, Line, & Sinker” project.

Tuesday, May 17


Chase Burton Park

Community Room

Marina Sierra Club’s monthly meeting

Ballona Photography presents the “Ballona Fishing Tales – Hook, Line, & Sinker” project.

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers Mockingbird Sun, 03 Apr 2016 21:03:34 GMT
The 2015 Fall Migration & Pacific Flyway Perils By Bev-Sue Powers, © All Rights Reserved (

Living next to the Ballona Wetlands is a special treat during migration season.  In another article, I lamented the absence of the Brown Pelicans. The 2015 fall migration season started in September and ended in mid-November.  Birds traveled from as far as the northern Artic for nesting grounds to winter here.  Others will pass through the Ballona Wetlands for a brief stay to refuel before they continue as far south as South America winter destinations.  For the many species will stay here for the winter, the best places to spot birds are in the Ballona Wetlands’ fresh water marsh, salt pans, along the Ballona Creek jetties and beaches, the Marina Del Rey harbor, and the Del Rey Lagoon in Playa del Rey.  Most spots are an easy bike ride or walk from Fisherman’s Village, the Playa Del Rey or Playa Vista parking areas. 

Drought’s Impact on Migrating Birds

While researching this article, I discovered that wildlife refuges in the Pacific Flyway are the bottom priority for water allocation, with agriculture, industries, and communities ahead of them.  This, along with the severe drought in California, has had a compound impact to the Pacific flyway weigh stations the migrating birds rely on to make their annual treks. Habitat loss, water shortages, diminishing food sources, and climate change all threaten the birds along the Pacific Flyway. In just one example, these charts compare normal conditions vs current conditions of California’s Central Valley, a major weigh station on the Pacific Flyway.1

If you do spot our wintering neighbors, be delighted!  For these are the hardy ones who’ve endured some very challenging conditions to make it back to the Wetlands.  I’ve included some pics of some of my some favorite transient neighbors from last winter. Let’s hope many of the birds are strong enough to return!  Here are some handsome wildlife neighbors who returned from the 2015 summer nesting destinations.

Black Brant. Breeds in the Arctic tundra.  Winters in California & Carolina coasts.

Red Breasted Merganser. California, northern New Mexico, Great Lakes, and northern New England. Winters in northern Mexico, along Gulf coast, & So. Cal coast.  

Hooded Merganser. Breeds from southern Alaska south to Oregon & Montana. Winters along

Pacific, Atlantic, & Gulf coasts

Northern Pintail. Breeds primarily in Alaska and Labrador south to Maine, Nebraska, & sometimes California. Winters south to Central America & West Indies.


1Birds Are Dying As Drought Ravages Avian Highways, by  Jane Kay, National Geographic, Published JULY 16, 2015,

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Audubon Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers Black Brant California Audubon Hooded Merganser Northern Pintail Pacific Flyway Pacific Flyway drought impacts Red-breasted Merganser Thu, 31 Mar 2016 02:24:15 GMT
Ballona Wetlands - Fall 2015 Migration & Some Returning Wildlife Neighbors By Bev-Sue Powers, © all rights reserved (

In the Fall of 2015, I observed several species of our winter neighbors return to the Ballona Wetlands, a few more each week. Some of the birds I spotted last fall were:

  • Western & Eared GrebesWestern & Eared Grebes Western & Eared GrebesWestern & Eared Grebes Western Grebes & Eared Grebes. Breeds in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Minnesota.  Winters along Pacific coast. 
  • American Coots. Breeds from western Canada and northeastern United States.  Western population winters from the western and southern states into the American tropics.  
  • Green Heron. Western population breeds in West from British Columbia south through California, Arizona, and Mexico. Very few winter in So. California.
  • Northern Shoveler. Breeds from Alaska/Northern Manitoba.  Winters in across southern US from Oregon/California, Gulf Coast, to Central America,
  • Ruddy Duck. Breeds in British Columbia, Quebec and Mackenzie. Western population winters primarily in along the pacific coast from BC to Mexico.
  • American Wigeon. Breeds in Alaska, Manitoba, Quebec.  Winters in Pacific, Atlantic, & Gulf coasts
  • Bufflehead. Breeds in Canada on wooded lakes and ponds.  Winters in southern US to Mexico.

Wintering birds return to refuel from northern breeding spots to strengthen themselves and their fledglings for the next spring’s flight north.  Just some of the food sources the wetlands supplies to our wintering neighbors include:

  • aquatic plants, insects, frogs, and small lizards living throughout the Ballona Wetlands
  • Snails, tiny crabs, tiny fish (1/4”-2”) in the Del Rey Lagoon and in the creek and marina, and on the beach (at low tide) 
  • Mussels & oysters, small fish, and crustaceans along the jetties, in the creek and marina

Though I am thrilled they’ve returned to the Ballona Wetlands, the very limited number of them returning is indicative as to how tenuous their survival is and how important the Ballona Wetlands is to their centuries-old cycle of life along the Pacific Flyway (i.e., migration path). Several species are listed as rare or uncommon, but Cinnamon teals and Widgeons, among others, while listed as common, are – alarmingly - flagged as rapidly declining species, i.e., trending to be extinct within 40-50 years. It remains up to us to make sure they have a robust place to return to each winter and reverse this trend!

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) American American Wigeon Audubon Ballona Photography Bev-Sue Powers Bufflehead California Audubon Coot" Eared Grebe" Green Heron Northern Shoveler Ruddy Duck Western Grebe Thu, 31 Mar 2016 01:58:44 GMT
Ballona Wetlands - 2016 Wintering Wildlife Neighbors By Bev-Sue Powers, © all rights reserved (

This winter, I was delighted to have spotted birds new to me in the Ballona Wetlands.  I even noticed a Turkey Vulture for a few days, but didn’t get a good pic. Some of the new birds I’ve seen during the 2016 winter season are:

  • Long-Tailed Duck (Oldsquaw). Breeds on northern Alaska and Canadian arctic tundra. Winters along both North American coasts, portions of the Gulf Coast, and on the Great Lakes. Feeds on mollusks, shrimps, and crabs (in winter) and roots, buds, seeds (when nesting). Ducklings feed on insect larvae. Considered a common bird, it is now on the steep decline watch list (meaning they’re likely to be extinct within 40- 50 years). This is mainl due to habitat loss, human interference (e.g., caught in fishing line & nets), compounded by climate change impacts. 
  • Green-Winged Teal.  Breeds in Alaska, throughout Canada, and south to California, Colorado, Nebraska, and New York.  Winters along coastal southern states. Feeds on marsh seeds.
  • Gadwall. Breeds primarily in the Great Plains and prairies, but also from southern Alaska, British Columbia, and Minnesota, south to /California and western Texas.  Feeds on aquatic plants.
  • Cassin’s Kingbird.  Breeds from Montana south to southern Utah and Southwest. Winters in southern California. Feeds on flying insects and some fruit.
  • American Kestrel. Breeds from Alaska, Canada, and northern Midwest of the US. Winters throughout the US and into the South American tropics. Feed on insects, other invertebrates, small rodents, and small birds.

For the birds listed along with many others, the LA area wetlands have been their centuries-old winter home. While I am thrilled they’ve returned to the Ballona Wetlands, the very limited number returning this year is indicative of how tenuous their survival is due to the drought and habitat losses along the Pacific Flyway (i.e., migration path), not to mention significant habitat loss in the Ballona Wetlands itself the past 10 years. It remains up to us to ensure our winter neighbors have a robust place to return to each year.  I encourage you to get to know your beautiful urban wildlife neighbors while they're still here.  Bring your neighbors, kids and grandkids. If nothing else we can still witness to the beautiful living creatures that, through the eons, have inspired art, music, dance, and many other forms of creative expression.

The best places to spot birds in the Ballona Wetlands are the freshwater marsh, in the salt pans, along the Ballona Creek bike paths & levees, along the jetties and beaches, in the Marina Del Rey harbor, and the Del Rey Lagoon in Playa del Rey.  There are also other species in the Riparian Corridor (sandwiched between the Westchester Bluffs and the adjacent properties of Playa Vista, Playa Runway, & the Campus at Playa Vista). 


  • Download Cornell University’s ebird and Merlin Bird ID apps, which easily help identify and report sightings of birds in your area.  The sighting data is used by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and LA’s Natural History Museum among others, to inventory the populations of native and non-native species.  It’s an easy and enjoyable way to explore and get to know these important wildlife neighbors.
  • Friends of Ballona is an organization devoted to the Ballona Wetlands protection, restoration, and public and educational involvement.  They offer public and private tours, many volunteer opportunities and are a rich resource for teachers and educators.  They coordinate the mentioned activities with the local Audubon, wildlife rescue groups, and many other organizations and agencies.  See for more info.
  • 1st Saturday of the month, 9 a.m. to noon, the Los Angeles Audubon Society hosts “Open Wetlands”, at the Ballona Salt Marsh with Cindy Hardin at [email protected] or call (310) 301-0050.
  • 3rd Sunday of the month, 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., Los Angeles Audubon Society hosts bird walks, Del Rey Lagoon; Leader: Bob Shanman and Friends; Contact: Bob (310) 326-2473; [email protected]
[email protected] (Ballona Photography) American Kestrel Audubon Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers California Audubon Cassin's Kingbird, Gadwall, Friends of Ballona Green-winged Long-Tailed Duck (Oldsquaw) Teal" Thu, 31 Mar 2016 01:36:39 GMT
Our Neighbor, the California Brown Pelican & Invite to Audubon's 2016 May 7th Survey © By Bev-Sue Powers, (

These ancient, graceful birds (except when they’re fishing!) have made the Ballona Wetlands their home for hundreds if not tens of thousands of years.  Usually they’re our year-round neighbors in the Ballona Wetlands/Marina Del Rey area.  Here are some fun facts about our neighbor:

·         The California Brown Pelican was classified as federally endangered in 1970 and as endangered by the state of California in 1971 (due to DDT poisoning), but was delisted as a federally listed species in 2009. The brown pelican remains protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

·         Though most of the California brown pelican population (est. 85-90%) nests in Mexico, the only breeding colonies of California brown pelicans in the western United States are within Channel Islands National Park on West Anacapa and Santa Barbara islands.  Since the 1980s, the nesting and roosting populations in the Channel Island sites have continued to increase.  As of 2006, the pelican population on West Anacapa Island averaged about 4,600 nesting pairs annually and on Santa Barbara Island the average is about 1,500 nesting pairs.

·         The nesting season can extend from January through October. Nesting and roosting birds are very sensitive to human disturbance, affected by ancillary fishing activities, including the presence of vessels, noise, and lights, near roosting and breeding areas. Increased light levels are known to alter the behavior of pelicans, leading to nest abandonment and increased egg and chick mortality.

·         With incubation 28-30 days, chicks are naked, helpless and completely dependent on parental care and protection for the first three to four weeks after hatching. Both parents feed the young until they fledge, which is typically about 13 weeks of age. In a healthy environment, the Brown pelican can live up to 40 years.

·         The brown pelican catch fish by diving head-first from ten to thirty above the surface. The deeper the meal the higher the dive. The pelicans hit the water with such force that even fish six feet below the surface are stunned.

During the spring of 2014, for a week or two, the Brown Pelicans made for a spectacular show - hundreds gathered and dove for the abundant fish returning to the creek and Marina (Northern Anchovies, Pacific Mackerels and/or Pacific Sardines).  It is estimated that annually, California brown pelicans off the southern California coast eat about one percent of the total anchovy biomass. 

The 2014 All You Can Eat Pelican BuffetThe 2014 All You Can Eat Pelican Buffet

2015’s spring and summer were a stark contrast to 2014, with little to no Pelicans in sight.  I started researching why this might be and discovered there was a 90% collapse in the populations of fish they eat! The pelicans and their offspring have been starving to death. Though the fisheries collapse is attributed to El Niño conditions, I can’t help but wonder if the overall changes to our oceans and climate will continue to challenge the very survival of our regal neighbor, the California Brown Pelican. Let’s hope not!

Recently, the Audubon of California started organizing volunteers along the US West Coast to participate in the 2016 survey of the Brown Pelicans.  On Saturday, May 7, 5-7pm, participants will count birds and record results to data sheets and to eBird ( This survey will complement a 47-year time series of productivity monitoring data at the U.S. Channel Islands. One of the key west coast locations is at the Playa Del Rey—Ballona Creek mouth. This location is being coordinated by the Santa Monica Audubon Chapter. If you’d like to participate, contact Travis Abeyta (323-221-2255, ext 17, [email protected]). For more information and to sign up, visit


References: ;

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Audubon Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers California Audubon California Brown Pelicans Thu, 31 Mar 2016 01:13:14 GMT
Hook, Line, & Sinker Presentation & Exhibit G2 Gallery Invite: Hook, Line, & Sinker Presentation & ExhibitG2 Gallery Invite: Hook, Line, & Sinker Presentation & Exhibit

[email protected] (Ballona Photography) Ballona Photography Ballona Wetlands Bev-Sue Powers G2 Gallery Sea Bird Rescue Mon, 07 Mar 2016 21:20:20 GMT