Back to Main page

Chapter on Ballona by a now deceased UCLA Biologist: Raymond Cowles, RELFECTIONS OF A NATURALIST, UC Press 1975.

Sea Otter Vision at Point Dume on Santa Monica Bay

Breaking through to Elna Bakker's feelings on Sea Otters and the importance of the Ballona Wetlands at Playa del Rey.

Elna Bakker, dynamic California naturalist wrote three books on natural history:
1. AN ISLAND CALLED CALIFORNIA, University of California Press, 300 pages plus.
2. REFLECTIONS OF A NATURALIST, University of California Press, 300 pages plus
3. THE GREAT SOUTHWEST, 300 pages plus.

In a book entitled: AN ISLAND CALLED CALIFORNIA, she wrote the following passage about the Southern Sea Otter:

".... sea otters, one of California's most prized sea mammals, live in beds of giant kelp just along the outer edge of the surf. Frequently accused of depleting the abalones of the California coast, research indicates a preference for purple sea urchins. They crack them open against rocks and eat the juicy insides. One of the more striking wildlife experiences of our coast is to see a group of these attractive mammals swimming or floating on their backs midst a tangle of bobbing kelp bladders."

In Chapter 20, entitled NOTHING BUT NOISY TREE FROGS, is the following text compiled, edited, and created by Elna Bakker regarding the writing and journal notes of Raymond Cowles. Most people in the Ballona preservation movement have not seen this nice bit of writing on Ballona at Playa del Rey. Perhaps, the $300,000.00 that Elna Bakker left to the Sierra Club, Angeles Chapter, should be spent on this most vital of southern California natural history issues, COASTAL WETLANDS. The coastal wetlands of Los ANGELES county is 98% destroyed, primarily by the Los ANGELES harbor complex and Marina del Rey harbor. Here is her chapter presented in its entirety for all to read and understand, hopefully:

"Spreading development, flood control measures, water impoundment, and channelization-confining streams to concrete-lined slots-are rapidly depriving much of our wildlife, particularly that of riparian biotic communities, of their homes. Man simply cannot multiply without spreading over the land and inevitably dispossessing practically all of its previous occupants.

"The little tree frog is just one example of the thousands of species of animals that are being evicted by so-called progress, another name for simply making room for more of one species."

"In my early years of teaching at Universisty of California at Los Angeles the salt marsh habitat of nearby Playa del Rey fascinated me. I used if for wildlife photography and as a demonstration area for many field trips in biology. Back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, beautiful marsh hawks flew over the marshlands, hurrying back and forth in search of their prey. Though rare, the slaty-blue adult birds were always present and, in season, one could glimpse the less colorful immature hawks. They nested here, found forage, circled for miles across the islands of pickleweed, and hunted over the scattered patches of tules and cattails. Their nests were hard to find and harder yet to photograph, but in the hours spent tramping across the marsh and around the fresher water areas I was continuously facinated by the wealth of biological surprises. Teal nested here, tucking their down-filled nests in the shelter of plants where they were, for me, most difficult to find. Gopher snakes also wandered through the water-logged terrain in search of food, including duck eggs. Once a large gopher snake had crawled into a fluffy down and twig nest. Prior to my arrival, it had consumed three of the ten eggs that had been laid there. I captured the snake and took it back to my lab where by gentle squeezing I worked the eggs upwards into its mouth. Then I carefully extruded them onto a bed of sand. I wanted to see if the embryos had survived being swallowed. Apparently they had been without oxygen for too long a time and were no longer viable."

"After winter storms flooded the flat reaches of the pickleweed, large pools of relatively fresh water, swarming with insect and crustacean life, lingered long after the rains. In these warm prolific waters Black-necked Stilts and Avocets foraged assiduously. The Stilts built their nests on top of the crushed pickleweeds, scarcely above floodwater stage. These nests, so precariously close to flooding, were difficult to find, and the eggs were beautifully camouflaged to blend in with the pickleweed. Only the distressed chattering of the stilts, loathe to leave the nesting area, indicated that we were reaching the vicinity of their cherished progeny. Then we could locate and photograph the eggs."

"We constructed a blind near one of these nests and took a series of pictures that covered from early incubation through to almost the moment of hatching. On the last day of these photographic efforts, we examined the nest. Though the chicks had just hatched, they were already capable of great mobility. As I approached they ran to the shelter of the adjacent pickleweed. Their protective coloration made them almost impossible to find, recover, and return to the nest so that we could complete our picture taking. We had hoped to draw the parents near by returning the young to the nest and hence to obtain a picture combining nest site, young, and adults. Though this is possible with altricial birds-those whose young remian in the nest for a period of time and are fed by the parents-the young of precocial types such as our stilts depart almost immediately upon hatching. Such a "shot" as that described above would be even though somewhat artificial, of great interest. I couldn't possibly estimate the amount of aggregate yardage we covered in chasing those babies through the marsh. Exhausted, we finally gave up the project. Nature's deeply engrained habits were too much for us."

"All of this natural beauty and interest so close to busy Los Angeles is gone, vanquished by the impact of man's rapidly multiplying numbers. It is difficult indeed to still find untouched coasatal habitats except where military or naval forces have reserved to their exclusive use some of the remaining natural areas. Although it may distress many people to know that such agencies are responsible for the preservation of a number of outstanding natural areas, we must give credit to the assiduous guard of the military for the results of their indirect, if not purposeful, conservation. I only wish that some of the other agencies of the federal government could have proved so effective in the stewardship of our wildland heritage."

Discussion on Elna Bakker, Ballona, and Ray Cowles
by
Robert Roy van de Hoek, Naturalist

Elna Bakker must be saying litigate and sue the federal agencies anytime that they try to hurt or mitigate (compromise) against wildlife and wild areas in Los Angeles. In fact, Elna Bakker left $300,000.00 to the Sierra Club of the Los Angeles/Orange County Chapter for just such a purpose. It appears to be time to use this money against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Ballona Wetlands, Ahmanson Ranch, Los Angeles River, Huntington Beach Wetlands complex, and Malibu Lagoonal Estuary.

A beautiful photograph of a Black-necked Stilt sitting on her nest of eggs atop a clump of Pickleplant at Ballona is on page 213 as plate 20. Two years ago, in 1998, after the heavy rains of El Nino winter, the Black-necked Stilt nested for the last time at Ballona. Since then, the developers have started construction of the FOUNTAIN PARK PLAZA SALES CENTER. No Stilts nested in 1999, nor 2000. However, if the construction were stopped and the area returned to its original elevation and the water let back into that spot, and volunteers planting Pickleplant again, the Stilts would return within 2-3 years. This intersection of Jefferson at Lincoln, has tremendous potential if we breach the Ballona Creek channel and let water into this location all around this intersection. Of course, bridges would need to be built. No flooding would occur as both Lincoln and Jefferson are already on 10 foot high levees.

There is still time, and hope, and the knowledge both scientific and artistic to have the HARRIER (Marsh Hawk), Otter, and STILT living and reproducing near to us in Los Angeles at the Ballona Wetlands. We must overcome the City of Los Angeles denial of this possibility of a geography of hope at the GREATER BALLONA WETLANDS ECOSYSTEM.

LETS DO IT, abundant wildlife including a Sea Otter population permanently living at Ballona/Marina Del Rey/Venice Canals/El Segundo Dunes GREATER WETLANDS ECOSYSTEM and also at the Cerritos/Los Alamitos Harbor/Naples Canals/Bolsa Chica GREATER WETLANDS ECOSYSTEM. Elna Bakker would be happy and proud to know that the Sierra Club used her money to save Los Angeles/Orange County coastal wetlands.

Back To Top