The Ballona Creek Buffet

April 26, 2017  •  1 Comment

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


Mir Faugno(non-registered)
And join the Airport Marina SIERRA CLUB that meets every 3rd Tuesdayat 7 pm at
Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey to support the health and life of the Ballona
Wetlands. Don't Let it Disappear. SAVE AND SUPPORT THE BALLONA WETLANDS,
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