The Ballona Valley (pronounced "Bah-yo-nuh") features one of the largest remaining expanses of Los Angeles Basin-floor habitat, and the most significant coastal wetland in Los Angeles County, being the only natural saltmarsh between Point Mugu in Ventura County and Los Cerritos Marsh on the Orange/Los Angeles County border (both IBAs). Associated with the mouth of now-channelized Ballona Creek, the valley's habitats have developed in a low-lying portion of the coast behind a nearly extinct dune system that extended the length of Santa Monica Bay. The area's habitats include coastal (largely-muted) saltmarsh with salt pans (all of which is now owned by the state and has been designated an Ecological Reserve), freshwater marsh (including a new 26-acre constructed freshwater wetland/water treatment lagoon and 25 acre riparian corridor along a re-constructed tributary connecting to the freshwater marsh), dune remnants, grassland, riparian thickets, and along the south edge, coastal sage and coastal bluff scrub. This site also includes Dockweiler Beach, a stretch of shoreline directly south of the Marina channel. A portion of this beach has been designated as Snowy Plover critical habitat by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Though most of the habitat is located on the south side of Ballona Creek ("Playa del Rey"), significant pieces near Marina del Rey include the 16-acre restored Ballona Lagoon on the north side of the Marina channel, Oxford Basin/Lagoon just North of the marina off of
Washington Blvd, and the fenced and guarded Venice Least Tern colony located on Venice Beach also on the North sided of the Marina channel. South of the Marina and Ballona channels is the Del-rey Lagoon located in a park area of Playa del Rey.
Updated by Los Angeles Audubon, March 2014.
This IBA is most notable for the California Least Tern colony, which has long supported around 300 pr., with birds foraging at wetlands throughout the valley. Thought several wetland and open-country birds have been extirpated from the IBA (e.g. Light-footed Clapper Rail, Short-eared and Burrowing owls), vagrants and lingerers still occur. Belding's Savannah Sparrow maintains a small but apparently viable population in the salt marsh, among the most northerly in the world. Snowy Plovers have bred on Dockweiler Beach since before 1947 (G. George per. comm) and there are attempts to encourage breeding by establishing protective fencing on segments of this beach. Hundreds of terns (esp. Elegant) and shorebirds, especially Black-bellied Plover and Willet, congregate at various times of the year along the rocky borders of Ballona Creek, within the wetlands, or along the public beaches at the creek mouth.
The Oxford Lagoon/Basin is important for wading bird roosting and nesting because this is an area currently favored by many species that does not have significant human/bird conflicts. Recent assessment of Marina del Rey by Hamilton and Cooper (2010) clearly describes the importance of the Oxford Basin as a location for juvenile waterbirds (Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Black-crowned Night-Herons). Hamilton and Cooper concluded that this location is one of the two most important foraging areas in the Marina for these species.
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Ballona Wetlands have been the site of one of the most publicized and
long-running conservation battles in the state, and one that is still not over.
During the late 1990's, a deal was reached to develop roughly half of some 1000
acres of open land in and around the valley, with the least-developable wetland
and hillside habitat left intact. Currently, the State of California is
interested in purchasing the rest, and restoring water flows to the saltmarsh,
which has been extensively overtaken by exotic weeds. Introduced Red Fox may
still be a problem here. Public opposition prohibited their removal several
years ago. The Venice Beach Tern colony requires constant vigilance from
volunteers to ward off both animal predators and careless beach-goers alike. The
Snowy Plover Project, a collaboration with the LA Audubon, Santa Monica Bay
Audubon, and Palos Verdes/South Bay Audubon has been successful in securing
protective fencing on Dockweiler
beach for wintering populations of Snowy Plovers. With this added secure
fencing, there is hope that the plovers will have enough protection to
establish breeding pairs. This site will require not only a degree of
management to ensure that the birds are not disturbed, but also active outreach
to educate the public of the existence of the plovers.
2012 Marina del Rey Land Use Plan, the Oxford Basin receives specific
protections. It specifically states, “The County will establish the primacy of
wildlife habitat values over recreational uses.”
California Department of Fish and Game has recently purchased a portion of the salt marsh.
The habitats include coastal (largely-muted) saltmarsh with salt pans (all of which is privately-owned and not open to the public), freshwater marsh (including a new 20-acre constructed freshwater wetland/water treatment lagoon), dune remnants, grassland, riparian thickets, and along the south edge, coastal sage and coastal bluff scrub. Though most of the habitat is located on the south side of Ballona Creek (?Playa del Rey?), significant pieces near Marina del Rey include the 16-acre restored Ballona Lagoon and the fenced and guarded Venice Least Tern colony along the beach.