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Malibu Lagoon Trip Report: 24 May, 2015

May 30, 2015

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Not that I’m complaining, but the weather seems weird to me. Does it to you? When the 24th of May ranged from 59-70° and the 25th of January was 73-81°, well…that’s just plain weird. They must be screwing around with our weather. Again. Whoever they are. Probably the same they as in “They tried to tell us we’re too young, too young to really be in love…” You know. Them.

Great Blue Heron on the 'Osprey pole' (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

Great Blue Heron on the ‘Osprey pole’ (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

Rampant paranoia aside, I prefer cool summers. Bring on the fog! Let it linger until November. Those nattering nabobs of nitwitism who reside in the howling wildernesses east of the Colorado River claim we have no seasons here. Sorry folks; we do have seasons. Roughly equivalent to Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter are: Fog, Smog, Fire, and Mudslide. Recently, Mudslide season dwindles while Fire expands. ¡Qué lástima!

It always seems odd when lots of birders appear at the lagoon in May and June as, bird-wise, those are the two slowest months. “Don’t be disappointed,” I say, “but it’ll be sparse. Come back September through March, and there’ll be many, many more.” But now, the wintering birds have left, most migrants have passed through, many of our local nesters are concealed, sitting cryptic and quietly on well-hidden nests, or skulking about, trying not to be captured and consumed.

Red-winged Blackbird dempnstrates how he got his name (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

Red-winged Blackbird demonstrates how he got his name. Look closely for yellow, not white, margin below the red epaulets. (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

On the lawn at Adamson House we found a foraging Northern Mockingbird. Not an uncommon sight, in itself. But it was frequently flicking its wings as it walked along the

Northern Mockingbird wing-flicking as it hunts (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

Northern Mockingbird wing-flicking as it hunts (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

ground. We didn’t know if this was a foraging behavior, an anxiety/startle behavior, or a display of sexual attractive or aggression. A little research showed that this is a long-debated topic. One paper (Hailman, Wilson Bulletin, Dec 1960) concluded it was primarily a foraging technique, intended to startle insects into movement. Others aren’t so sure, ‘unease’ or alarm being a possibility, as is aggression. All 14 species (4 or 5, depending on who’s talking, in the Galapagos alone) of mockingbirds do this, whether or not they have white wing-panels as do our Northern Mockingbirds. They also flap and leap while singing.

Apropos of nothing whatsoever, here’s a nice hour-long video/soundtrack of birdsong and babbling creek, good for listening to while researching mockingbird behavior.

We had 590 birds in 48 species, down from last month’s 6009 birds in 53 species, a difference of 5419 birds. 98.4% of that decline was due to the drop in 4 species: Brown Pelican, Heermann’s Gull, Western Gull, Elegant Tern. [See the trip lists below.]

Western Gull in repose (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

Western Gull in repose (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

These birds are all off nesting – or should be, if they know what’s good for them. The Heermann’s, for example, begin laying eggs in late April at their eight known nesting areas; 95% of the species’ 150,000 pairs nest on Isla Rasa, located about halfway down the Sea of Cortez. At the same time, this tiny island also hosts over 90% of the world’s 40,000 pairs of Elegant Terns. It’s a busy, noisy, stinky place this time of year. But changes in weather, sea currents and sea temperatures cause massive changes in availability of food fish. The Elegant Terns may have suffered a complete nesting failure this year on Isla Rasa due to lack of food.

Brown Pelicans discover a small school of fish (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

Brown Pelicans, et. al., discover a small school of fish (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

Many of the Gadwalls looked like young birds – not ducklings, full size but not in adult plumage. Perhaps they are the result of early nesting near the lagoon? We didn’t see any warblers – not a single Yellowthroat – but the Song Sparrows sang up a storm, various swallow species made off with mouthfuls of mud to build nests on nearby walls, and hummingbirds, particularly the Allen’s, were almost abundant on Adamson House’s flowered wall. A couple of cormorants staggered around the lagoon-edge with sticks in their mouth, and across the street, the top of the recently shaved nesting tree next to Starbuck’s was adorned with egrets and their nests.

There were even orioles: at least three Hooded Orioles – two females and one yellow-not orange year-old male – were in the trees near the Colony wall. Hooded Orioles – the ‘hood’

Hooded Oriole, one year old male (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

Hooded Oriole, one year old male (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

is yellow in the female and orange in the male – always nest in palm trees. Look on the underside of palm fronds for their light brown pendulous nests, suspended near the central frond shaft, woven of thin fibers from palm leaf and trunk. Adult males have a large black ‘bib’ on their throat. Also around, but not seen today, are deciduous-tree-nesting Bullock’s Orioles; orange & black males have black crowns and small black chin patches; the yellowish females have white bellies, unlike the female Hooded which are all-yellow underneath.

Snowy Plovers, absent since January, remained absent, which is normal for May.

House Finches take a bath at Adamson House (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

House Finches take a bath at Adamson House (R. Ehler 5/24/15)

Birds new for the season were: Pacific Loon, Red-tailed Hawk, Spotted Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Hooded Oriole. We finally got over to Adamson House but saw no additional species. The House Finches were busily bathing, so we beat a hasty retreat.

Our next three scheduled field trips:  Mt. Piños Birds & Butterflies, 13-14 June, 8am; Malibu Lagoon & Picnic, 28 June, 8:30 & 10am; Malibu Lagoon, 26 July, 8:30 & 10am.

Our next program: Evening meetings will resume on Tuesday, 6 October, 7:30 pm, at [changed again] 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 viewing area. Watch for Willie the Weasel. He’ll be watching for you.
Links: Unusual birds at Malibu Lagoon
9/23/02 Aerial photo of Malibu Lagoon
Prior checklists:
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]

Bird Census 2014-15 12/28 1/25 2/22 3/22 4/26 5/24
Temperature 39-61 73-81 55-63 62-71 66-76 59-70
Tide Lo/Hi Height L+1.70 L+1.32 H+4.51 H+4.78 L+0.58 L+0.54
Tide Time 0903 0705 1137 1137 1131 0919
Brant 3 7
Canada Goose 1 30
Gadwall 26 22 30 1 10 22
American Wigeon 10 18 18
Mallard 10 12 12 12 8 8
Northern Shoveler 4 25 2
Northern Pintail 2 3
Green-winged Teal 12 25 12
Surf Scoter 13 15
Bufflehead 8 4 2 2
Hooded Merganser 4
Red-brstd Merganser 25 4 2 2
Ruddy Duck 42 38 35 30 4
Red-throated Loon 3 1 3
Pacific Loon 6 1 3 1
Common Loon 1 1 5
Pied-billed Grebe 8 2 1 2 1
Horned Grebe 4 2 1 1 1
Eared Grebe 12 3 1
Western Grebe 2 5 15 12 2 1
Brandt’s Cormorant 130 1 4 1
Dble-crstd Cormorant 120 35 50 45 16 55
Pelagic Cormorant 1 1 1 4
Brown Pelican 95 50 28 27 1490 70
Great Blue Heron 3 2 2 1 2 2
Great Egret 4 2 10 5 5
Snowy Egret 18 16 26 12 12 4
Cattle Egret 1
Osprey 1 1 1 1
White-tailed Kite 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 1 1
American Coot 135 88 145 45 1
American Avocet 1
Blk-bellied Plover 38 62 85 6 1
Snowy Plover 25 29
Semipalmated Plover 9
Killdeer 17 12 12 3 2 6
Spotted Sandpiper 6 3 3 2 1
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Willet 10 4 3 3 1 1
Whimbrel 1 4 4 10 12 1
Long-billed Curlew 1
Marbled Godwit 12 12 10 8 2
Ruddy Turnstone 6 5 1
Surfbird 4
Sanderling 28 8
Dunlin 1
Least Sandpiper 15
Western Sandpiper 45
Boneparte’s Gull 1 12 6 1
Heermann’s Gull 18 17 1 6 350 45
Ring-billed Gull 65 150 90 3 30 8
Western Gull 230 170 95 3 110 135
California Gull 1500 1650 1600 40 600 6
Herring Gull 1
Glaucous-wingd Gull 3 5 4 1 1
Caspian Tern 10 11
Forster’s Tern 2
Royal Tern 22 42 35 15 4 2
Elegant Tern 28 3100 85
Rock Pigeon 6 4 5 23 8 9
Mourning Dove 3 2 2 2 2
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 1 2 2
Allen’s Hummingbird 4 2 3 6 4 6
Belted Kingfisher 1
American Kestrel 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Black Phoebe 2 1 2 2 2 2
Say’s Phoebe 1
American Crow 8 4 6 5 6 5
Common Raven 2
Rough-wingd Swallow 4 4 6
Barn Swallow 2 6 12
Cliff Swallow 2 10
Oak Titmouse 1 1
Bushtit 14 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Hermit Thrush 2
American Robin 1 1
Northern Mockingbird 2 1 1 3 6 3
European Starling 25 45 3 4 10 3
Cedar Waxwing 40
Common Yellowthroat 4 3 3 2
Yellow-rumpd Warbler 15 7 8 5
Townsend’s Warbler 1
Spotted Towhee 1
California Towhee 1 3 2 2
Savannah Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 3 2 6 9 6 9
White-crwnd Sparrow 35 4 12 10
Red-winged Blackbird 2
Western Meadowlark 14 24 10 3
Brewer’s Blackbird 2
Great-tailed Grackle 5 4 4 3
Brwn-headed Cowbird 4 4
Hooded Oriole 3
House Finch 4 4 12 20
Lesser Goldfinch 1 2 1
Totals by Type Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May
Waterfowl 141 138 154 50 55 37
Water Birds – Other 516 187 247 144 1511 134
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 25 18 30 24 19 11
Quail & Raptors 5 2 2 1 1 1
Shorebirds 144 139 119 37 89 8
Gulls & Terns 1839 2035 1825 107 4213 294
Doves 6 7 7 25 10 11
Other Non-Passerines 4 3 3 7 7 8
Passerines 114 106 61 76 104 86
Totals Birds 2794 2635 2448 471 6009 590
             
Total Species Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May
Waterfowl 9 9 10 7 5 3
Water Birds – Other 11 9 11 9 6 8
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 2 3 4 3 3
Quail & Raptors 5 2 2 1 1 1
Shorebirds 10 9 8 8 10 3
Gulls & Terns 7 7 6 7 10 9
Doves 1 2 2 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 1 2 1 2 3 2
Passerines 12 16 14 17 13 17
Totals Species – 100 59 58 57 57 53 48

AAAAA

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