Migration Celebration welcomes Pacific Flyway travelers passing through the Ballona Wetlands

By Lisa Beebe

This colorful Wilson’s warbler and bufflehead duck are among migrating bird species spotted last year in the Ballona Wetlands
Photos by Jonathan Coffin

Between the wildflower super bloom and the recent migration of painted lady butterflies, Southern California is showing off its natural beauty this spring — and offering a reminder that nature is all around us, even in Los Angeles.

On Saturday, the nonprofit organization Friends of Ballona Wetlands hosts its third annual Migration Celebration, a community event designed to raise awareness of the coastal preserve and the creatures that live there. The free festivities include guided tours of the Ballona Wetlands and family-friendly activities in Ballona Discovery Park, located along the riparian corridor at the base of the LMU bluff.

“The Migration Celebration is to draw attention to the fact that we’re in the Pacific Flyway and we have birds that rely on Los Angeles, even though it’s a field of concrete,” says Neysa Frechette, Friends of Ballona Wetlands’ manager of scientific programs.

Some species, like the bufflehead duck, spend a few months in L.A. each year. “They’re only here from October to April,” Frechette explains. “They migrate down from Canada where their breeding grounds are, and they overwinter here in California, and then they go back up to Canada and some parts of the Pacific Northwest in the springtime and nest in the summer.”

Other birds simply pass through Ballona as they travel north in the spring. Frechette offers the example of a songbird called the Wilson’s warbler: “They nest in Canada, the Pacific Northwest and some parts of Northern California, but they don’t stay here in Los Angeles. They migrate straight through and go down to Mexico. They pass us again to go back up to breed in the summer. We’ve had them recorded in Ballona from March to May.”

Your best chances to spot a bufflehead or a warbler are during the event’s guided bird tours of Ballona’s freshwater marsh, but there are also several nature and history tours throughout the day for both adults and families (RSVP required at ballonafriends.org).

The festivities at Discovery Park include live music, puppet shows by Bob Baker Marionette Theater, a scavenger hunt and opportunities to interact with birds of prey, with South Bay Wildlife Rehab bringing some of the hawks and owls they have rescued and rehabilitated. There’s also face painting, a science lab, and an arts-and-crafts project with a purpose — visitors can make a bee house to take home.

For those unfamiliar with bee houses, Frechette explains that they’re essential to the survival of Southern California’s native bee population.

“A lot of our native bees don’t build hives. They’re not communal like honeybees. They fly around doing their own thing, and they find little crevices in wood or stems of plants, and that’s where they rest overnight,” she says. “Because in Los Angeles we’ve removed so much of the vegetation, the bees don’t have as many places to rest. So if you put a little bee house in your garden or your backyard, they have a place where they can stay, and then they pollinate your garden for you.”

Don’t have a garden? The Migration Celebration’s concurrent native plant sale and demonstrations are an opportunity to start one, Frechette says.

“We need to have California native plants so that we can have the insects, so that we can have the birds. So if you care about birds, you have to think about it all the way down the line: What does this bird need?”

If you don’t have a backyard, a patio or balcony can provide a tiny habitat, too. The goal of Migration Celebration, after all, is to show people that everything in nature is connected.

“A lot of people don’t know that you can grow a lot of these plants in a pot, so even if you live in an apartment you can still have some California natives to feed the hummingbirds and the butterflies,” says Frechette.

The Ballona Wetlands Migration Celebration is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday (April 6) at Ballona Discovery Park, 13110 Bluff Creek Drive, Playa Vista. Admission is free. View the full schedule of events and sign up for a bird tour at ballonafriends.org.