Don’t let redevelopment efforts destroy their nesting grounds at Mariners Village

By William Hicks

A great blue heron and two chicks roosting in April at Mariners Village Photo by Lina Shanklin

A great blue heron and two chicks roosting in April at Mariners Village
Photo by Lina Shanklin

We can assume that most people who live in West L.A. have at least a general awareness of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.

What many of them may not be aware of, however, is the invisible bond between these 640 acres of undeveloped land and Marina del Rey — specifically Mariners Village, a 23-acre apartment complex on the north side of the harbor’s main channel.

That bond is the flight corridor of the great blue heron.

Great blue herons were hunted out of the area a century ago, and their return should not be taken for granted.

These large birds require tall, mature trees for nesting as well as the nearby wetlands for hunting. The lush urban forest at Mariners Village (full disclosure: I live there) appears to be their last remaining nesting ground in the area, due to deforestation on the south side of the channel at the Villa Venetia Apartments as well as other parts of the marina. A plan to redevelop Mariners Village ponders cutting down most of its mature trees.

Count yourself lucky if you’ve seen these magnificent creatures glide gracefully to and from their nests at Mariners Village. The herons begin to arrive here in the fall, drawn to the tall trees with dense canopies that are conducive to raising their young.

Great blue herons will reuse existing nests — which can weigh about 50 pounds — because they require so much time and energy to build. If these birds have to build nests from scratch, they don’t have the energy to produce as many offspring during the mating season.

The males will begin courtship behavior by passing a twig to a female, and she will use it to repair her nest. This nesting behavior will continue until the first batch of eggs hatch in the winter.

After the eggs hatch and the parents begin feeding their babies, let’s just say it sounds a little like “Jurassic Park,” without the John Williams music. An evolutionary connection between birds and dinosaurs is evident: The big boys may not have survived, but the smaller ones adapted, grew feathers and took to the skies.

Heron couples often produce another batch of eggs in the spring, and these hatchlings fledge in the summer. As a matter of fact, while several have already flown, there are still a few left. If you can make it to Mariners Village this weekend, you may be fortunate enough to see them fly for the first time!

A seven-story tower At Mariners Village provides a good view of the remaining young herons’ nests.

I worry, however, that if they are still nesting here during the Marina del Rey 4th of July Fireworks Show, there’s a risk that the loud explosions could spook them and cause them to fall out of their nests.

Thankfully, a group of concerned Mariners Village residents, led by Lina Shanklin, are rallying to form a baby great blue heron search party during and after the fireworks show. Young herons could be found at the base of a tree or on a nearby rooftop. If so, they would need to be carefully captured, placed into a carrier, held overnight and driven to the nearest animal rescue location when it opens.

Fireworks, however, are not the worst of our concerns about the herons of Marina del Rey. If deforestation continues as it has in the area, their nesting trees and habitat will be gone — not to mention that of many other birds, including the black-crowned night heron, great cormorant and snowy egret.

According to a 2011 California Coastal Commission document, “the county shall incorporate findings of commission ecologist Dr. Jonna Engel and designate non-native tree stands serving as multi-species heronries in Marina del Rey as ESHA.”

ESHA stands for environmentally sensitive habitat area.

“The county does not recognize ESHA in Marina del Rey; however, the county is

committed to protecting tree stands that provide important nesting and roosting habitat for birds,” the document continues.

We saw what happened to the 650 trees at Oxford Basin Lagoon. I’m not sure what kind of Jedi mind trick the county used on the Coastal Commission, or if it was all the lobbying efforts with our tax dollars, but without ESHA protection we could lose the more than 1,000 trees currently growing at Mariners Village — most definitely an environmentally sensitive habitat area.

I speak for many people and local wildlife when I say that Marina del Rey should be designated a National Marine Sanctuary — just like the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a federally protected marine area off California’s central coast.

If you need convincing, just get to know our local great blue herons.