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These Carnivorous Worms Catch Bugs by Mimicking the Night Sky | Deep Look Video

April 30, 2017

The glow worm colonies of New Zealand’s Waitomo Caves imitate stars to confuse flying insects, then trap them in sticky snares and eat them alive.

This is another installment of the PBS Deep Look series. If no film or link appears in this email, go to the blog to view it by clicking on the blog title above. If the film stops & starts in an annoying manner, press pause (lower left double bars ||) to let it buffer and get ahead of you.  [Chuck Almdale]

Terns and Swallows Return to Malibu Lagoon, 23 April, 2017

April 28, 2017

Male Red-breasted Merganser with his punk hairdo (G. Murayama 4-23-17)

Weather was balmy and beautiful, and about thirty birders showed up to admire the birds. Unfortunately, numbers and species were a bit on the light side. Virtually no gulls and few migrant passerines. The lagoon outlet was closed, although if lagoon water rose by about 1/64th of an inch, out it would flow. Some of us walked around the lagoon to Adamson House which was hosting some party, as usual, but we didn’t add many birds to the list. As yet, no orioles in their palms.

Optical illusion – this yawning Brown Pelican isn’t really trying to swallow that passing gull (G. Murayama 2-16-17)

I checked prior years to see if my impression of numbers was correct. It was.

April 2017 2016 2015 2013 2012
Species 46 51 53 56 58
Total Birds 534 2221 6009 666 733
Gulls/Terns 160 1903 4213 297 272
Gull/Tern % 30% 86% 70% 45% 37%

I don’t know if this signifies a trend, but April species diversity seems to be dwindling. As shown above, the number of gulls and terns present is always a significant factor.

Common Murre beaches itself at Zuma, perhaps due to domoic acid poisoning (G. Murayama 4-19-17)

There is a domoic acid outbreak, which may be what’s causing solid-ground-avoiders like murres, loons and grebes to beach themselves, and Brown Pelicans to collapse and die. We saw at least four pelicans dead on the lagoon shore or at water’s edge today. There was also a significant amount of very green algae on the surface of the lagoon. The mullet didn’t seem to mind, as they were still jumping – for joy, one presumes.

The Marine Mammal Center has this to say on domoic acid:

Domoic acid is produced by algae and accumulates in shellfish, sardines, and anchovies which are then eaten by sea lions, otters, cetaceans, and humans, among others. Exposure to the biotoxin affects the brain, causing them to become lethargic, disoriented, and have seizures that sometimes result in death.

Ventura Audubon Society put out this advisory:

Ventura Audubon Society alert on domoic acid

So you’d better watch what you eat.

Killdeer chick, as leggy as a Secretary-Bird (J.Waterman 4/21/12)

Killdeer are again nesting on the beach, as they have for decades. [I found my first Killdeer nest there in 1995. Actually the Killdeer parent found it for me. It started screaming and flopping around like a bird with a broken-wing; I looked down at my feet and found a nest-scrape with four spotted pebble-like eggs nearly under my toes.] Sharp-eyed observers may see the very long-legged chicks teetering around in the fenced area. Song Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats – judging by the number of them loudly singing – are also courting and nesting. Along the east side of the lagoon, a female Mallard led a small flotilla of nine ducklings. Four species of swallows cut through the air, including one uncommon-at-the-beach migrating Violet-green Swallow. Barn Swallows prefer swooping low over the sandy beach where they find those tiny flies so beloved by sunbathers.

Caspian Tern group, Elegant in foreground (J. Waterman 4/24/16)

Elegant Terns continued to arrive and depart all morning, all in beautiful breeding plumage. They don’t nest at the lagoon, but they do like to rest there. They were joined by seventeen of their larger cousins with the blood-red bill, the Caspian Tern.

Black-bellied Plover just before he flies north to breed. The largest of the plovers frequenting our beaches (G. Murayama 4-23-17)

Caspian Terns are a world-wide species, found on every continent except Antarctica. The “type specimen” – the individual used centuries ago to originally describe the species – came from the Caspian Sea in central Asia, hence the name. Yet they frequent our humble little lagoon – imagine that.

Semipalmated Plover looks right back. These migrants visit twice a year.
(G. Murayama 4-23-17)

The Pacific Loons were all flybys, out past the offshore rocks, heading west (and north). It took us a while to figure out that they were Pacific and not Red-throated. The small sandpipers were mostly scattered along the north side of the channel, or east end of the lagoon. Most were Least Sandpiper, with a few Westerns and one elusive Dunlin among them.

At last! Indisputable proof that all two legs of a running Snowy Plover simultaneously leave the ground. (G. Murayama 4-23-17)

Larry Loeher managed – through shear doggedness – to find three Snowy Plovers among the wrack on the sandy berm; one male and two females, one of whom was rr:bb, who has been a habitué of the beach for many months.

Banded Snowy Plover rr-bb (G. Murayama 4-23-17)

Birds new for the season were: Red-tailed Hawk, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, Mew Gull, Elegant Tern, Violet-green Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Red-winged Blackbird.

Many thanks to our photographer: Grace Murayama, Joyce Waterman, Chuck Bragg

Song Sparrows sing all year around
(Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

Our next three scheduled field trips: Butterbredt Spring Campout Sat/Sun 29-30 Apr. 8:30am; Black Rock Canyon (Sat. 3pm) and Morongo Valley (Sun 8am), 6-7 May; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 28 May.

Our next program: What a Fish Knows with Jonathan Balcombe, Tuesday, 2 May, 7:30 pm; Chris Reed Park, 1133 7th St., NE corner of 7th and Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica.

NOTE: Our 10 a.m. Parent’s & Kids Birdwalk meets at the shaded viewpoint just south of the parking area. Watch for Willie the Weasel. He’ll be watching for you and your big floppy feet.

Links: Unusual birds at Malibu Lagoon
9/23/02 Aerial photo of Malibu Lagoon

Prior checklists:
2016: Jan-June, July-Dec 2015: Jan-May, July-Dec
2014: Jan-July, July-Dec 2013: Jan-June, July-Dec
2012: Jan-June, July -Dec 2011: Jan-June, July-Dec
2010: Jan-June, July-Dec 2009: Jan-June, July-Dec.

The 10-year comparison summaries created during the project period, despite numerous complaints, remain available on our Lagoon Project Bird Census Page. Very briefly summarized, the results unexpectedly indicate that avian species diversification and numbers improved slightly during the period Jun’12-June’14.     [Chuck Almdale]

Surf log (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

Surf log (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

Malibu Census 2016-17 10/23 11/27 12/25 2/26 3/26 4/23
Temperature 63-70 53-58 48-54 46-52 55-68 63-70
Tide Lo/Hi Height L+2.63 H+5.79 H+5.49 H+5.6 H+5.21 H+4.54
Tide Time 1108 0729 0634 0845 0851 0749
Brant 1
Canada Goose 2
Gadwall 6 4 18 10 12 10
American Wigeon 10 7 30 6 18
Mallard 23 22 14 24 14 20
Northern Shoveler 2 1
Northern Pintail 3 1
Green-winged Teal 6 12 2
Ring-necked Duck 1
Surf Scoter 8 30
Bufflehead 4 6 1
Hooded Merganser 1 5 2
Red-breasted Merganser 5 4 1 2
Ruddy Duck 7 26 30 10
Red-throated Loon 1
Pacific Loon 1 2 80
Pied-billed Grebe 18 8 1
Horned Grebe 1
Eared Grebe 3 6 10 1 3
Western Grebe 10 10 50 3 1
Clark’s Grebe 2 1
Black-vented Shearwater 50
Brandt’s Cormorant 3 2
Double-crested Cormorant 37 23 32 42 41 19
Pelagic Cormorant 1 2 6 1
Brown Pelican 30 37 24 30 8 28
Great Blue Heron 3 3 2 4 2
Great Egret 2 1 2 3 1
Snowy Egret 8 5 12 9 5 4
Turkey Vulture 1
Osprey 2 1 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 1
Sora 1
American Coot 280 240 210 85 32
Blk-bellied Plover 75 73 22 35 14 15
Snowy Plover 29 12 32 8 8 3
Semipalmated Plover 20
Killdeer 1 2 1 4 8 12
Mountain Plover 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Willet 20 3 15 12 13 4
Whimbrel 2 2 1 5 4 4
Marbled Godwit 7 10 5 8 23 1
Ruddy Turnstone 7 14 12 10 1 3
Sanderling 72 45
Dunlin 1
Least Sandpiper 12 4 2 30
Western Sandpiper 3 3
Bonaparte’s Gull 1 1 1
Heermann’s Gull 15 12 11 3 1
Mew Gull 1 1
Ring-billed Gull 5 35 30 2 1
Western Gull 48 85 90 45 39 75
California Gull 27 1200 940 1350 6
Herring Gull 1 1 1 1
Glaucous-winged Gull 2
Caspian Tern 2 17
Forster’s Tern 2 1
Royal Tern 19 16 45 14 5
Elegant Tern 5 1 65
Black Skimmer 1
Rock Pigeon 15 5 5 10 6 18
Mourning Dove 1 4 1 1 2
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 1 1 2 2 2 1
Belted Kingfisher 1 1 1 1
Merlin 1
Nanday Parakeet 3 30
Black Phoebe 5 5 3 2 6 4
Say’s Phoebe 1 1
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
California Scrub-Jay 2 4 1 1
American Crow 7 4 5 4 3 3
Common Raven 1
Tree Swallow 12
Violet-green Swallow 1
Rough-winged Swallow 20 4
Cliff Swallow 16
Barn Swallow 1 5 10
Bushtit 30 35 10 8 3 1
House Wren 1 2 1 1 1
Marsh Wren 1 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2 8 1
Western Bluebird 2
Hermit Thrush 1 1
Northern Mockingbird 1 3 1 2 4
European Starling 45 30 1 1 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 3 4 2
Common Yellowthroat 5 5 3 3 4 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10 28 3 8
Spotted Towhee 1 1
California Towhee 1 1 1
Savannah Sparrow 4 1
Song Sparrow 4 8 6 8 8 15
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 25 45 15 20 10
Red-winged Blackbird 1 1
Western Meadowlark 3 2 1
Great-tailed Grackle 17 5 3 2 3 8
Brown-headed Cowbird 3
House Finch 18 9 17 10 6 16
Totals by Type Oct Nov Dec Feb Mar Apr
Waterfowl 50 70 114 75 80 32
Water Birds – Other 382 332 335 165 132 130
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 13 9 16 16 8 4
Quail & Raptors 1 1 2 2 1 2
Shorebirds 215 161 100 86 76 96
Gulls & Terns 118 1321 1122 1445 58 160
Doves 16 5 9 11 7 20
Other Non-Passerines 6 3 33 3 2 1
Passerines 183 186 107 94 53 89
Totals Birds 984 2088 1838 1897 417 534
Total Species Oct Nov Dec Feb Mar Apr
Waterfowl 6 8 9 9 8 3
Water Birds – Other 9 11 8 8 5 4
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 3 3 3 3 1
Quail & Raptors 1 1 1 2 1 2
Shorebirds 10 8 8 8 9 11
Gulls & Terns 8 8 6 7 9 6
Doves 2 1 2 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 4 3 3 2 1 1
Passerines 21 21 18 18 13 16
Totals Species – 101 64 64 58 59 51 46


What A Fish Knows – Evening Meeting Reminder: Tuesday, May 2, 7:30 p.m.

April 27, 2017

It turns out that they know a lot!

The cover features a pufferfish

The cover features a pufferfish

In this dynamic, illustrated presentation, Jonathan Balcombe combines science with story-telling to explore the colorful lives of the least understood and most exploited vertebrates on Earth. Balcombe explores fish perceptions, cognition, emotion, social behavior, and cooperation, and wraps it in the context of our evolving relationship to fishes and their vital aquatic habitats.

Link to our September 2016 review of “What a Fish Knows.”

Jonathan Balcombe is a biologist, author, and a life-long animal advocate. He has a PhD in ethology from the University of Tennessee, where he studied communication in bats. He has published over 50 journal articles and book chapters ranging from turtle nesting behavior to the ethics of animal dissection. His 2006 book Pleasurable Kingdom is the first in-depth examination of animals’ capacity to enjoy life. [Facebook page]

Jonathan Balcombe, Author

Jonathan Balcombe, Author

His subsequent books Second Nature, and The Exultant Ark also present animals in a new light and presage a revolution in the human-animal relationship. His latest book, the New York Times bestseller What a Fish Knows, explores the private lives of the planet’s most misunderstood and exploited vertebrates. Balcombe is Director for Animal Sentience with The Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, based in Washington, DC. In January, he and his colleagues launched Animal Sentience, the first scholarly journal of animal feeling. A popular commentator, he has appeared on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the BBC, the National Geographic Channel, and in several documentaries, and has contributed features and opinions to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Nature, and other publications. He recently moved to Florida, where in his spare time he enjoys biking, baking, birding, Bach, and trying to understand the lizards on his patio.

Pufferfish in his sand 'bower' (Kimiaki Ito, National Geographic)

The pufferfish in his sand ‘bower’ (Kimiaki Ito, National Geographic)

Our meetings are at Christine Emerson Reed Park, 1133 7th Street. (between 7th St. & Lincoln Blvd., California Ave. & Wilshire Blvd.), Santa Monica. Previously known as Lincoln Park. If you’re coming from outside Santa Monica, exit the #10 Fwy at Lincoln Blvd., turn north  and drive 5 blocks north to Wilshire Blvd.

Link to Google Map
Meeting Room:
Mid-park in Joslyn Hall, accessible from Lincoln Blvd, California Ave. and 7th St.  Its glass wall faces north towards St. Monica Church on California St.  If you’re walking from Lincoln Blvd., it’s located directly behind (west) of the large Miles Playhouse building. Not accessible directly from Wilshire Blvd.

Meetings begin at 7:30 sharp with a little business, and then our main presentation. Refreshments are served afterward. Please leave your coyote at home, however much they whine to come.

Parking: The entire block between Wilshire and California Ave, 7th and Lincoln, on the sides closest to the park, is metered. Meter enforcement ends at 6PM, so free parking for the meeting!  We had almost 50 attendees in February and we know of only two people who couldn’t find parking. However, the local natives are engaged in a survival-of-the-fittest scramble for free parking, so the after-6pm free parking spaces disappear quickly.  We suggest that you arrive no later than 7:15 pm.

If all those spaces are filled, go south of Wilshire, not north of the park, as resident-only permit parking zones abound to the north. The east side of Lincoln Blvd. is also by permit parking only. We found plenty of spaces on 7th St. or Lincoln south of Wilshire. Most of those seem to be “until 6PM” meters also. Wherever you park, please read parking signs carefully and avoid a big fat $40+ parking ticket.  [Chuck Almdale]

Morongo Valley & Black Rock Field Trip: Sat. & Sun, 6-7 May

April 26, 2017



Aerial view of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve (taken before the June, 2005 fire)

Aerial view of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
(taken before the June, 2005 fire)

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is one of the finest birding spots in southern California, known as a springtime migrant trap, frequently catching rare eastern migrants, hummers and orioles at the feeders, regular but local specialties such as Vermilion Flycatcher,  Brown-crested Flycatcher, Summer Tanager and Yellow-breasted Chat. On a busy day, the trees are fulled with migrating birds, especially warblers. Many local desert species are also seen such as Gambel’s Quail, Costa’s Hummingbird and Verdin. Reserve hours are 8:00 a.m.-sunset.

Nearby Yucca Valley has several motels and Joshua Tree National Monument has several campgrounds. Campsites at Mission Creek Preserve, several miles south of Morongo Valley, must be reserved at least a week in advance. (60550 Mission Creek Road, Desert Hot Springs, CA. 760.369.7105 Manager: April Sall)

Gambel's Quail (L. Johnson 5/3/08)

Gambel’s Quail (L. Johnson 5/3/08)

 Saturday, 3pm – Black Rock Campground near Yucca Valley: For those staying overnight Saturday, we meet at the Campground Visitor Center and bird in and near the campground, looking for Gambel’s Quail, White-winged Dove, Roadrunner, Ladderbacked Woodpecker, Pinyon Jay, Scott’s Oriole and whatever else is around. If you’re late, just drive around until you spot some birders. The campground is fully occupied Saturday night. Know how to get there as local signs are not well marked. Allow at least 2.5 hours – better yet, three hours, for the 140 mile trip from Santa Monica.
Leaders: Jean Garrett (310)472-7209  Email: jeangarrett2001 [AT] aol [DOT] com
Google Map to Black Rock Campground

Vermilion Flycatcher male (L. Johnson 5/3/08)

Vermilion Flycatcher male
(L. Johnson 5/3/08)

 Sunday, 8am – Big Morongo Canyon Preserve: We officially start at 8am in the reserve parking lot, but feel free to arrive early. Birding is great in next-door Covington Park and some of the neighbors put out feeders and water, especially the corner house across from Covington Park. We’ll walk around the large reserve until we’re too hot, tired, thirsty,  hungry or all of the above to continue, then lunch, probably in the reserve. Allow a minimum of 2 1/4 hours for the 125-mile trip from Santa Monica.
Leaders:  Jean Garrett(310-472-7209)  Email: jeangarrett2001 [AT] aol [DOT] com

Google Map to Morongo Reserve

Family Guide: Can get quite hot; not for younger children. 1-2 miles of boardwalk, cinder and hard dirt paths. Dress in layers & hat. Bring water. Lunch near the cars.

Map of motels in Yucca Valley, the nearest town to Morongo Valley: Super 8, Best Western, TraveLodge, Sands Motel, Desert View.

Summer Tanager (L. Johnson 5/3/08)

Summer Tanager (L. Johnson 5/3/08)

Directions to Preserve: Allow a minimum of 2 1/4 hours. Santa Monica #10 Fwy East about 115 miles to Highway 62. North on #62 about 11.5 miles, passing partway through small Morongo Valley town.  Angle right on Park Ave. to Covington Park. Turn left on Vale St., then bear right through several turns until you reach Covington Dr., the entrance to the preserve.  If the preserve is not yet open (7:30am), retrace your path back to Covington Park where the birding is great.  [Jean Garrett]

Illuminating the Universe: The History of Light | PBS Science Video

April 26, 2017

Beyond what we can touch, taste, smell, and hear, we experience the universe through light. But how did we come to discover light, and how did we learn light’s true nature, as the fastest thing in the universe, an electromagnetic spectrum, a wave and particle capable of the most amazing things? Here is the history of light, according to physics.

This is an installment of the PBS – It’s OK to be Smart series. If no film or link appears in this email, go to the blog to view it by clicking on the blog title above. If the film stops & starts in an annoying manner, press pause (lower left double bars ||) to let it buffer and get ahead of you.  [Chuck Almdale]

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