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Malibu Lagoon Trip Report: 23 August, 2015

August 27, 2015

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Once the Black Skimmer gets airborne, they’re quite graceful (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

The shorebirds are passing through. We didn’t have a lot of them (129 birds) but 13 species is a good representation. Both counts were up from July’s 71 birds in 8 species. The migrant ducks have not yet arrived, but local nesters Mallards and Gadwalls were resting on the sand islands, and a single Red-breasted Merganser, present since at least June, was with the terns and cormorants. No raptors: the last sightings we had were a Red-tailed Hawk in May and an Osprey in April. Brown Pelicans and Western Gulls are low for August as well. Overall, today’s bird total of 563 birds in 52 species was 7% below average total, but 6% above average species count.

Black Skimmer sleeping (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

Black Skimmers may look dead when  sleeping, but they’re not (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

Hot and sunny, sunny and hot: 72° when we started, 77° when we finished around 11am. Our group of 30 birders had dwindled to about 10 by the time we got to the Snowy Plover “virtual fence” on Surfrider Beach. For a change, the Snowies were mostly inside the enclosure. I think they’d recently returned from the seaward side of the berm, as low tide had been at 9:36am. Snowy Plovers feed primarily on seaweed wrack left on the beach at the high tide line, and the freshest wrack seems to contain the most and the freshest tiny invertebrates which they dearly love. So a typical day for them is to dodge beach strollers, pester one another and snooze from low tide to high tide, venture out just after high tide to check out the new wrack deposits, and return to their roosts when the tide again turns. Today’s 21 birds is up from July’s count of 16 and June’s singleton.

Snowy Plover PV:VW sporting new rings (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

Snowy Plover PV:VW sporting new rings (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

Check out the above picture of Snowy PV:VW (left leg Pink over Violet, right leg Violet over White). I think the bands are a new design; they look thicker than in previous years, and the additional thickness allows for smoothly rounded edges. Sharp edges may have caused problems in the past. Ten to fifteen years ago I used to see far too many Snowies missing a foot – occasionally two – and inquired whether anyone thought the rings might be causing a problem.

Swimming Mute Swan pair (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

Swimming Mute Swan pair (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

Surprise visitors to the lagoon were a pair of Mute Swans, resting at the end of a sand island in the lagoon channel. Mute Swans are Eurasian birds, widely domesticated across mainland Europe and England, and introduced into the USA probably in the mid-19th century, most likely in Long Island and Hudson River areas of New York. Feral populations live along the Connecticut coast – yes, in the salty sea – and in the Great Lakes, especially Traverse Bay, Mich. Perhaps this pair hitchhiked in, or their keeper got tired of them and dumped them out of his trunk at midnight. However, alert blog reader Aurelio Albaisa advises me that there was a flight-capable pair at Lake Balboa for several years who are now missing. One of those two birds had a blue band on its right leg.

Mute swan, feeding (J. Waterman 8/23/15)

Mute swan, feeding (J. Waterman 8/23/15)

Mute Swans are about the same size and weight as the uncommon and very local Trumpeter Swan, but larger and heavier than the relatively common Tundra Swan. They are something of a pest, driving native wildfowl from nesting and feeding areas. The “swan song” myth is just that, a myth – they do make weak barking and hissing noises. Nevertheless, people admire their graceful S-curved necks,  all-white plumage and  orange bill – often down-turned – with black edging and a bump. Good field marks, those, by the way, unlike the straight necks and black bills of both Trumpeter and Tundra Swans.

Short-billed Dowitcher (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

Short-billed Dowitcher (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

Aren’t dowitchers fun? I didn’t get close enough to this bird at the time to ID it for sure (assuming I’m capable of ID’ing any dowitcher for sure), but looking at this picture leads me to believe it’s a Short-billed Dowitcher. (Checking migration arrival and departure dates also helps). The outer 1/3rd of the bill seems to droop, the white superciliums (supercilia?) look wider in front of the eyes, and they don’t meet above the bill. There are other differences between the two species, but I can’t see them from this picture. If anyone thinks it’s a Long-billed, feel free to write in and explain yourself. By the way, we have Dowitcher “cheet sheets,” and many other useful birding aids, on our blogsite here. You too can be an expert! Be the first one on your block to ID the little-known Fargle’s Plonker!

Every month we get one or more people new to birding. Filled with questions, they usually keep me company, which is fine by me. I like questions. I tend not to loudly broadcast information to one and all, so if you want to know something, it’s best to ask. Here’s a couple of tips for new birders: 1) we have inexpensive binoculars to loan, ask for them ASAP after you arrive; 2) wear a hat, sun in your eyes is a major nuisance to birders; 3) dress in layers, the day can warm significantly; 4) try to stay until at least 10am if not 11am as the best bird variety and numbers are down on the beach; 5) get a field guide and have something to carry it in – National Geographic Society, Stokes and Sibley are all good books.

If a pair of binoculars interests you, ask their owner if you may look through them; comfort, weight and fit are important considerations. There are many places to buy binoculars: two good websites are Eagle Optics http://www.eagleoptics.com/ and Optics4Birders http://www.optics4birding.com/ Both sites have loads of additional information. Until you’re quite sure that you love birding and want good (read: expensive) binoculars, don’t spend more than a couple of hundred on them. Avoid “fixed focus” and “fast focus” binoculars like the plague. You will find a broad selection and wide range of quality between $75 and $500. Top-of-the-line binos (or “bins”) above $800 are like expensive cars, incremental differences can be costly.

Black Phoebe (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

The faithful Black Phoebe, present 99% of the time (R. Ehler 8/23/15)

Birds new for the season: Mute Swan, Spotted Sandpiper, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Phalarope, Black Skimmer, Tree Swallow, and House Wren.

Our next three scheduled field trips: Lower Los Angeles River, 12 September, 7:30am; Malibu Lagoon, 27 September, 8:30 & 10am. Bolsa Chica (poss. also Huntington Beach Central Park), 10 October, 8:30am.

Our next program: The Sex Life of Spiders with Martina Ramirez on Tuesday, 6 October, 7:30 pm, at [note change] 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 and your big floppy feet.

Links: Unusual birds at Malibu Lagoon
9/23/02 Aerial photo of Malibu Lagoon
Prior checklists:
2015:   Jan-May
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]

Malibu Census 2015 2/22 3/22 4/26 5/24 7/26 8/23
Temperature 55-63 60-70 66-76 59-70 70-82 70-77
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+4.51 H+4.78 L+0.58 L+0.54 L+2.37 L+2.72
Tide Time 1137 1137 1131 0919 1135 0936
Brant 3 7 1
Canada Goose 1 30
Mute Swan 2
Gadwall 30 1 10 22 5 8
American Wigeon 18
Mallard 12 12 8 8 55 35
Northern Shoveler 25 2
Northern Pintail 3
Green-winged Teal 12
Surf Scoter 15
Bufflehead 2 2
Red-brested Merganser 2 2 1 1
Ruddy Duck 35 30 4
Red-throated Loon 1 3
Pacific Loon 3 1
Common Loon 1 5
Pied-billed Grebe 1 2 1 3 2
Horned Grebe 1 1 1
Eared Grebe 1
Western Grebe 15 12 2 1
Brandt’s Cormorant 1 4 1 2
Dble-crested Cormorant 50 45 16 55 34 43
Pelagic Cormorant 1 1 4 2
Brown Pelican 28 27 1490 70 17 3
Great Blue Heron 2 1 2 2 4 8
Great Egret 2 10 5 5 4 6
Snowy Egret 26 12 12 4 6 22
Cattle Egret 1
Black-crowned N-Heron 2 3
Osprey 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 1
American Coot 145 45 1 1 4
American Avocet 1
Black-bellied Plover 85 6 1 27 75
Snowy Plover 16 21
Semipalmated Plover 9 1 5
Killdeer 12 3 2 6 4 6
Spotted Sandpiper 3 2 1 1
Willet 3 3 1 1 6 8
Whimbrel 4 10 12 1 13 10
Long-billed Curlew 1
Marbled Godwit 10 8 2
Ruddy Turnstone 1 3 12
Surfbird 4
Sanderling 2
Dunlin 1
Least Sandpiper 15 8
Western Sandpiper 45 1 14
Short-billed Dowitcher 6
Wilson’s Phalarope 1
Boneparte’s Gull 12 6 1
Heermann’s Gull 1 6 350 45 14 11
Ring-billed Gull 90 3 30 8
Western Gull 95 3 110 135 40 40
California Gull 1600 40 600 6 2 1
Glaucous-winged Gull 4 1 1
Caspian Tern 10 11 1 6
Forster’s Tern 2
Royal Tern 35 15 4 2 3 9
Elegant Tern 28 3100 85 45 12
Black Skimmer 1
Rock Pigeon 5 23 8 9 4 6
Mourning Dove 2 2 2 2 7 7
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 2 2 1 3
Allen’s Hummingbird 3 6 4 6 3 10
Belted Kingfisher 1
American Kestrel 1
Black Phoebe 2 2 2 2 4 6
American Crow 6 5 6 5 4 4
Common Raven 2
Rough-winged Swallow 4 4 6 3 8
Tree Swallow 10
Barn Swallow 2 6 12 12 12
Cliff Swallow 2 10 12 3
Oak Titmouse 1
Bushtit 14 2 2
House Wren 1
Hermit Thrush 2
American Robin 1 1
Northern Mockingbird 1 3 6 3 4 4
European Starling 3 4 10 3 25 25
Cedar Waxwing 40
Common Yellowthroat 3 2 5 5
Yellow-rumped Warbler 8 5
Spotted Towhee 1
California Towhee 1 3 2 2 4 6
Song Sparrow 6 9 6 9 5 8
White-crowned Sparrow 12 10
Red-winged Blackbird 2 40
Western Meadowlark 10 3
Brewer’s Blackbird 2
Great-tailed Grackle 4 4 3 3 5
Brwn-headed Cowbird 4 4
Hooded Oriole 3
House Finch 4 12 20 2 12
Lesser Goldfinch 1
Totals by Type Feb Mar Apr May Jul Aug
Waterfowl 154 50 55 37 62 46
Water Birds – Other 247 144 1511 134 57 54
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 30 24 19 11 16 39
Quail & Raptors 2 1 1 1 0 0
Shorebirds 119 37 89 8 71 169
Gulls & Terns 1825 107 4213 294 105 80
Doves 7 25 10 11 11 13
Other Non-Passerines 3 7 7 8 4 13
Passerines 61 76 104 86 85 149
Totals Birds 2448 471 6009 590 411 563
             
Total Species Feb Mar Apr May Jul Aug
Waterfowl 10 7 5 3 4 4
Water Birds – Other 11 9 6 8 5 5
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 4 3 3 4 4
Quail & Raptors 2 1 1 1 0 0
Shorebirds 8 8 10 3 8 13
Gulls & Terns 6 7 10 9 6 7
Doves 2 2 2 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 1 2 3 2 2 2
Passerines 14 17 13 17 13 15
Totals Species – 96
57 57 53 48 44 52

 

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4 Comments
  1. Mary Prismon permalink
    September 4, 2015 10:13 am

    Chuck, excellent report. Really wish I had not missed this outing! Mary

    Like

  2. August 27, 2015 4:52 pm

    Enjoying this blog! Black Skimmers common this summer at Alamitos Bay Marina in Long Beach on the border of Seal Beach, near the San Gabriel River and the Los Cerritos Wetlands.

    Like

  3. August 27, 2015 4:46 pm

    Just a clarification, the next children’s bird watch is on Sept. 27 at 10? We have attended before and would like to come again! Thank you!

    Like

    • Chukar permalink*
      August 28, 2015 3:12 pm

      Yes, that is when it is.

      Like

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