Southern California Bird Watching Spots

03.1.12


Meet the Flockers

With a reliable variety of birds logging some solid wing-time this winter, now's the opportunity to grab your binoculars and head to any of these stroll-worthy sites. Time to meet the flockers!


Malibu Lagoon State Beach

Surfriders

Ahhh Malibu…riding the waves, soaking up the sun, searching for the best piece of sea-facing real estate. It's just another day in the life of the 200-plus species of birds who call this place home. Malibu Lagoon State Beach, also known as Surfrider, is the saltwater marsh neighboring the beach where Malibu Creek joins the Pacific. And it's a lively enclave for all kinds of feathered fanfare. Pad across the beach to the edge of the estuary where the large, open lagoon makes it easy to spot several bird species. Find a patch of sand facing the Santa Monica Mountains, and watch seagulls and brown pelicans vie for their favorite beach-front properties while cormorants look on silently from sunken branches. Snowy egrets stick to the corners, more interested in awaiting prey. Toward the ocean, an active lineup of terns, plovers, and sanderlings chase waves while pelicans cruise just inches above the water. Did somebody say, "pool party?"

BONUS: The Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society hosts Malibu Lagoon field trips on the fourth Sunday of every month at 8:30 a.m., tailored for newbies seeking some guidance spotting the specimens. Call (424)-744-0938 or visit the SMBAS blog.

Malibu Lagoon State Beach is at 23200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. The lagoon and beach parking lots (for a daily fee) can be accessed on either side of the bridge at the Adamson House or at the State Beach parking lot (directions to the park). Once parked, walk towards the ocean; if you parked west of the bridge, walk east to the lagoon. If you parked on the east side of the bridge, once you hit the beach, head west. Malibu Lagoon State Beach grounds open 8:00 a.m. to sunset, seven days a week. Dog-friendly!

Ballona Wetlands

Flight Path

The airspace around LAX is a frenzy of flights. Woodpeckers, warblers, pelicans, plovers—they're all taking up wing space thanks to a nearby oasis that's one of the last of its kind in Los Angeles. Over 300 species of birds flock to Playa Del Rey's Ballona Wetlands, a complex waterway of fresh and saltwater marshes and lagoons. Get up close to this dynamic ecosystem with a quick stroll around the palm-tree-flanked Del Rey Lagoon, host to greylag geese, mallard ducks, brown pelicans, belted kingfishers, and the American coot—identified by its red eyes and green and black feet. Next, head over to the freshwater marsh and follow the 1.5-mile, out-and-back trail around the perimeter. This pristine watery habitat underwent a restoration effort less than 10 years ago and now attracts more than 200 species of birds. Hawks spy from trees, herons wade in the water, and hummingirds buzz among flowering bushes. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a bird!

TIP: It's cool to be a bird nerd. Friends of Ballona Wetlands offers freshwater marsh tours on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, and Saltwater marsh tours (normally closed to the public) on the second Sunday of the month.

Del Rey Lagoon is at 6660 Esplanade Place, Playa Del Rey. Free parking is available next to the lagoon; here are directions to the lagoon. To reach the freshwater marsh, head back northeast along Culver Blvd., stay right at Jefferson Blvd., and look for street parking next to the wooden fence just west of Lincoln Blvd. Both areas open seven days a week from dawn to dusk. Dog-friendly! 

Salton Sea Pelicans

Just Add Salton

California's largest body of water is twice the size of Lake Tahoe, contains more salt than the Pacific, and sits in the Colorado Desert. The Salton Sea’s Mad Max landscape is a bird-watching mecca, especially during the mild winter months. At least 400 winged species have dropped a feather or two in these parts. This manmade lake's storied past includes greedy engineering gone wrong, a midcentury boom as a sport fishing haven, and even a stint as a favorite water-skiing destination of a teenaged Sonny Bono (trivia factoid!). Today the vacation homes are long gone, but the Salton Sea prevails as a Pacific Flyway hotspot. A surefire way to catch some action is by strolling the 2-mile (round-trip) Rock Hill Trail within the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. The path leaves right from the Visitors Center, and a volcanic upheaval on the trail makes a perfect perch for taking a gander at the birding bonanza: thousands of Canada, snow and Ross's geese honk and preen while squadrons of American white pelicans soar in formation, having ditched their Montana breeding grounds for the desert climate. Along the briny shoreline American avocets, western sandpipers, snowy plovers, marbled godwits, log-billed curlews, and black-necked stilts feast in the shallows. Salton's in season!

To reach the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR from Los Angeles, take Highway 10 east to the Salton Sea Byway on Highway 111. Head south for 50 miles to Sinclair Road and turn right. It's 6 miles to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR. The Rock Hill Trail begins next to the picnic area at the visitor's center. Dog-friendly!

Newport Beach is a Ten

Rolling along 10 miles of beautiful, clean coastline, Newport Beach offers plenty of reasons for being named one of Southern California's Top Ten destinations. This sunny seaside village and beach haven has it all: hiking, biking, watersports, dining, shopping, spas, golf, and more. Explore the Back Bay Ecological Preserve—one of Southern California's last surviving estuaries—by foot, by bicycle, or by stand-up paddleboard, keeping an eye out for feathered favorites like snowy egrets, blue heron, and the endangered light-footed clapper rail. Those interested in bigger bay views can follow the bluffs into Newport Harbor, where occasional sea lions and other wildlife bask in a different kind of good life—among towering yachts and private docks. Now's also prime time for spotting gray whales making their annual migration north. Inexpensive cruises are a great way to get on the water and spy one of the great giants of the sea. Golfers will love The Resort at Pelican Hill, recently named #1 in California by Condé Nast Traveler. Rather turn the romance dial to eleven? Dine at a world class restaurant on the boardwalk or nab the ultimate waterfront table on a Venetian gondola: imaginative romantics can capture the flavor of Italy's famous floating city right in Newport Beach. Venezia—un sogno romantico!

TIP: Newport Beach has been named one of Southern California's Top Ten destinations. Get the scoop on hikes, bike rides, water activities, dining, and deals by visiting VisitNewportBeach.com

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