Late Summer – Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve

Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve Path

Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve Path

I stop and take a deep breath. The air, heavy with the smells of a foggy Southern California morning, is a pungent mixture of dew-dampened dry weeds and fresh leaves of willows and cottonwoods. There is stillness in the air, broken occasionally by the call note of one of the Song Sparrows foraging in the underbrush.

My son, BJ, and I are visiting the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, part of a 225-acre, extensive park system, owned and developed by the Army Corps of Engineers, and maintained by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The park system extends along the Los Angeles River from Interstate 405 to Encino. It is easy to forget that a freeway borders the eastern edge of the reserve and busy Burbank Boulevard cuts across the southern boundary.

“After the dam was built and the river re-routed in 1939, naturalists noticed that migratory and wintering birds would congregate here,” I remember my daughter-in-law, Cori, explaining to me on an earlier visit. She is an environmental engineer specializing in water quality with the Army Corps of Engineers.

In 1988, the Corps funded the formal development of the wildlife lake, landscaped with native plants, and constructed paved walkways and viewing areas. While the reserve provides a winter home for migratory waterfowl and White Pelicans, there are many year-round residents.

“Wow, that was quite a maneuver,” BJ exclaims. A Cooper’s Hawk has swooped down from a cottonwood. A small bird drops into the grass just ahead of him. He also touches the grass and then is up and flies on. We hold our breaths. He is so fast we aren’t able to see whether he has anything in his mouth. Before long, the small bird, a Black Phoebe, pops up. Phoebe 1, Hawk 0.

Great Egret

Great Egret

On the north end of the lake a Great Egret sits patiently. His neck is relaxes as he peers into the water. Hundreds of small fish swim in the water at our feet; however, they are hardly a meal for an egret.

A bird flies in and lands in a cove just around the bend from the egret. The Green Heron quickly blends into the reeds. Three juvenile Pied-billed Grebes paddle out of the reeds. They keep glancing at each other as if to make sure they are not alone.

Flood Level Monument

Flood Level Monument

On the next path out to the lake viewing area, we stop to read the inscription on a stone monument. It tells us about the water levels during flooding conditions. We learn that 4.7 million gallons of reclaimed water flow through the lake each day and then empty out into Haskell Creek and onto the Los Angeles Rive.

One of the Song Sparrows we have heard clicking in the underbrush wanders out near the trail. A Yellow Warbler flits in a nearby willow.

Double-crested Cormorant nests dot the limbs of the trees on the north end of an island in the middle of the lake. It would appear that some of the nests are still in use for breeding; however, since the nesting season is past, they become a handy perch while the cormorants dry out their wings. The shore underneath is lined with more cormorants. Both Cattle and Snowy Egrets mingle with the cormorants.

Double-crested Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorants


“That’s interesting,” BJ comments, “there are no nests in the south-facing trees. It must be too hot for them.

I hear a familiar rattle and look up to watch a Belted Kingfisher zoom into the island and then perch on an over-hanging branch.

We continue on the trail leading south along the lake. The trees are beginning to turn yellow in places. It is a peaceful morning. We only encounter one other person on the trail.

At the south end, a Great Blue Heron flies by and then lands in a lump in the top of one of the trees. It takes several tries before it gets in a comfortable position.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

We return to the parking lot on a path that borders the riparian area. A field of dried chest-high weeds consisting of mulefat, sages, and mugwort is on our left. An occasional sunflower enlivens the landscape.

We look up when we hear the honking of a flock of Canada Geese flying in towards the lake, and then watch as an American Kestrel chases a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. After awhile, he abandons his pursuit and the hawk continues circles for awhile before it finally flies away.

As we head for the car I ponder how fortunate it is that this wonderful wildlife area is preserved in the midst of an urban jungle.

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