It’s a thrill to see a pterodactyl patrolling a prehistoric pond, even if you know it’s really “just” a great blue heron stalking the Ballona Freshwater Marsh. Less camouflaged are snowy and great egrets, and less ostentatious are mallards, wigeons, and ruddy ducks, but the point is, a bird show is always happening at Ballona. The marsh is the centerpiece of 626 acres of open space and a replication of what once was a 2,000-acre estuary and wetland, reduced and degraded over the years. But hopefully the vitality of the marsh signals good news to come.
The 51-acre marsh lies due west of the Playa Vista development that displaced much of the former wetlands, on land once owned by Howard Hughes. (It was here that he developed his giant Spruce Goose aircraft.) Surrounded by willows and lush with tule reeds, the marsh has hosted more than 200 species of birds amid its ponds, channels, and islands.
The best way to see it is to park beside the marsh on Jefferson, and walk the 0.8-mile (one-way) path that makes a semicircle around its north and east shores. Wherever the willows open up, you’re pretty certain to see big herons, egrets, coots, and ducks, and you’ll hear beautiful choruses emanating from deep in the reeds. It’s nice to know that dozens of species nest at the marsh, including the pied-billed grebe and the endangered least Bell’s vireo. This time of year, migrants are dropping by, and wintering birds such as white-crowned sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers are arriving. Although technically less than 15 years old, the marsh truly does have a prehistoric, enchanting feel.
TIPS: Friends of Ballona Wetlands conduct walking tours of the marsh every second and fourth Saturday at 10 a.m. To see more of the wetlands, join the Friends on the second Sunday of the month for a tour of the nearby Ballona Salt Marsh and Dunes. Or ride the Ballona Creek Bike Path, which one on side borders a large degraded wetlands area slated for restoration but on the other side affords a great look at creekside stilts, herons, and egrets.
To get to the Ballona Freshwater Marsh, take I-405 to CA-90 west toward Marina del Rey. Exit at Culver Blvd. and turn left. Continue 1.2 miles to Jefferson Blvd., turn left, and continue about 0.3 mile. You’ll find ample curbside parking on the right. Dog-friendly!
Wildlife photography by Rick Pine