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Malibu Lagoon Field Trip Report: 27 February, 2011

February 28, 2011

Despite my January fears, a scorching summer is not yet upon us, nor is the rainy season over. It was a bright and sunny 45° at the lagoon when we arrived.

The terns are still off in parts unknown. Three Black Skimmers (oversized terns, if you will permit) showed up, but that’s it. There’s still a boodle (a scientific term of quantification) of gulls, mostly California Gulls. The Heermann’s Gulls were all gone (although a few were present the following day.) Heermann’s, in case you didn’t know, nest primarily on islands in the Sea of Cortez near the southern tip of Baja California. Late Spring and Summer is really hot there, so they leave their wintering grounds early to head south to nest, so as not to bake their brains. Yes, they migrate south to breed and north to spend the winter.

Tide was very low and lots of tidepool rocks were exposed, so the Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, Least Sandpipers, and a few Snowy Egrets were having a profitable morning. Even a loudly squawking Black Oystercatcher flew in to join them. In 110 trips, we’ve seen only 18 of them, spread over 10 visits.

Black Oystercatcher in the tide pool (L.Plauzoles 2/11)

The Soras are still here. Two by the 1st footbridge were joined by a very cooperative Virginia Rail (4th month in a row for this bird), with another Sora over by the footbridge to the point (near the highway bridge).

The “Flap of the Day”
A Lesser Black-backed Gull (LBBG hereafter) was reported to us by several birders who preceded us to the beach. What our group studied intently for 30-60 minutes was a dark-mantled gull with a white unstreaked head, orangish tinge to the bill, bright single red spot on lower mandible, bright yellow legs, appearing to be the same size as the Western Gulls around it. Later discussion with two of the early bird finders revealed that this description fits their bird except they thought it significantly smaller than a Western. I don’t recall if they said there were other Western Gulls in its vicinity when they saw it, and as we all (should) know, determination of relative size can be tricky in absence of something nearby to compare it to. I’ve made this mistake so many times that I’ve learned my sense of size is unreliable when judging a solitary bird. Kimball Garrett commented on the LACoBirds chat line (to which you ought to subscribe) that there are only a couple of prior records for LBBG in LA County, so documentation (pictures!) is needed. If anyone out there got a picture of this bird(s) send it in! He also pointed out that Cal Yorke took a picture at the lagoon on 2/13/11 of a Western Gull with yellowish legs. I personally think this was the bird our group saw despite the fact that our bird’s legs were far more brightly yellow than the pictured bird. Lillian and I also found, upon searching in vain for the bird on the following day, that among the approximately 1100 California Gulls, there were 3-6 California Gulls which had very bright yellow legs and an orange tinge to the bill. Two possible explanation for these colors are: beginning to enter into breeding plumage (which often includes skin color changes, especially in seabirds); higher than usual levels of carotinoids (as in “carrot” -chemicals providing reddish colors ) in their diet, probably from crustaceans such as brine shrimp.  In several other species of seabird – Roseate and Elegant Terns – carotinoids get concentrated in their oil gland; when they rub the oil on their plumage with their bills, the plumage can turn pinkish or rosy, usually most noticeable on their breast. I can’t think of a reason why this might not affect the bill’s color as well. Check the Elegant Terns at the lagoon in April – May, and you’ll likely see rosy breasts on at least a few birds. All this is to say that a reddish tinge on a gull’s bill may an indication of diet or readiness to breed, and not proof of a rare species. We have often noticed that the bills of Royal and Elegant Terns can range anywhere from light yellow to deep orange, and thus is unreliable as a tool to differentiate between these two species. Perhaps this color range is due to the same breeding and/or diet causes. These are conjectures, or “educated guesses”. I don’t know the answers.

Our Snowy Plover population remains high at 59, although the census takers had hard times due to all the inattentive people tromping up and down the beach – including, alas, myself, deep in some no-doubt immensely important bird-related conversation, until an alarmed Snowy darted off, bringing us up short and back to the world. We had two banded birds: long time Malibu resident NO:WW (first spotted Oct. ’09) and AY:AA (around since at least Nov. ’10).

All in all it was a nice day at the beach, filled with sound and fury, signifying…a nice day at the beach!  Monday was equally beautiful, with even more birds and nearly no one on the great wide Malibu sands.

As a note to anyone reading this, our 10 AM Children and Parents Birdwalk meets on the beach trail footbridge closest to the parking lot.

Check out our new blog page created especially for Unusual Birds at Malibu Lagoon, the permanent location for pictures of our uncommon birds. Look for other new pages coming in the future. For prior period bird lists, follow these links to July-Dec ’10Jan-June ’10, Jul-Dec ‘09, and Jan-June ‘09.  For an aerial photo of the lagoon, go here.   [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2011 23-Jan 27-Feb
Temperature 68-75 45-60
Tide Height +4.94 -0.41
Low/High &Time H:1117 L:1243
Canada Goose 6
Gadwall 15 22
American Wigeon 4
Mallard 24 24
Northern Shoveler 4 2
Green-winged Teal 12 17
Surf Scoter 8
Bufflehead 5 2
Red-brstd Merganser 6 8
Ruddy Duck 40 33
Pacific Loon 1 1
Pied-billed Grebe 3 2
Horned Grebe 1
Eared Grebe 3
Western Grebe 6 12
Dble-crstd Cormorant 57 37
Pelagic Cormorant 4 3
Brown Pelican 42 23
Great Blue Heron 2 1
Great Egret 1 1
Snowy Egret 8 9
Blk-crwnd N-Heron 1
Osprey 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Virginia Rail 1 1
Sora 4 3
American Coot 145 175
Blk-bellied Plover 1 65
Snowy Plover 60 59
Killdeer 3 4
Black Oystercatcher 1
American Avocet 4
Spotted Sandpiper 2 2
Willet 1 7
Whimbrel 1 5
Ruddy Turnstone 5
Sanderling 135
Least Sandpiper 10 18
Boneparte’s Gull 13
Heermann’s Gull 62
Mew Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 120 250
Western Gull 100 120
California Gull 2500 1050
Herring Gull 1
Glaucous-wingd Gull 2 3
Black Skimmer 3
Rock Pigeon 5 4
Mourning Dove 2
Anna’s Hummingbird 3 2
Allen’s Hummingbird 6 3
Belted Kingfisher 1 1
Black Phoebe 4 5
Say’s Phoebe 1
American Crow 6 4
Tree Swallow 8
Barn Swallow 1 3
Cliff Swallow 1
Bushtit 9 6
Bewick’s Wren 2
House Wren 1
Marsh Wren 3
Northern Mockingbird 1 2
European Starling 35
Yellow-rumpd Warbler 6 2
Common Yellowthroat 4 2
California Towhee 1
Song Sparrow 8 8
White-crwnd Sparrow 4
Red-winged Blackbird 1 4
Great-tailed Grackle 1
House Finch 5 3
Lesser Goldfinch 4
American Goldfinch 8
Totals by Type Jan Feb
Waterfowl 106 126
Water Birds-Other 267 257
Herons, Egrets 11 12
Quail & Raptors 2 0
Shorebirds 82 301
Gulls & Terns 2785 1440
Doves 7 4
Other Non-Pass. 10 6
Passerines 70 81
Totals Birds 3340 2227
Total Species Jan Feb
Waterfowl 7 10
Water Birds-Other 11 9
Herons, Egrets 3 4
Quail & Raptors 2 0
Shorebirds 8 10
Gulls & Terns 6 7
Doves 2 1
Other Non-Pass. 3 3
Passerines 17 15
Totals Species – 74 59 59
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