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Malibu Lagoon Trip Report: 27 September, 2015

September 30, 2015

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The similar Sanderling often roost with Snowy Plovers (R. Ehler 9/27/15)

Sanderlings are often misidentified as their roostmates Snowy Plover (R. Ehler 9/27/15)

The big surprise of the day was the really high tide, caused by the blood-red superharvestmoon lunar eclipse. About 2/3rds of the beach was gone; even at high tide rocks showed where we simply don’t see rocks because they are usually covered by sand. A cliff of sand dropped straight into the sea where beach used to be. A footpath now led over the low vegetated hill, and sand was lost to the sea nearly to the Snowy Plover virtual fence.

Egret eyes the mullets (Jim Kenney 9/28/15)

Snowy Egret eyes the mullet, many of whom are larger than the bird
(Jim Kenney 9/28/15)

From a distance we saw waves washing over the beach and into the lagoon, so we dawdled, giving the tide time to subside. High tide at 9:18am was very high at +5.94 ft., but by 10am we were able to pass.

Mullets at lagoon's edge (Jim Kenney 9/28/15)

Mullet at lagoon’s edge (Jim Kenney 9/28/15)

An additional surprise was the number of fish in the lagoon. Along the lagoon shoreline, especially at the southern edge nearest the ocean, thousands of fish roiled and thrashed. A local Malibuite confidently averred they were “Sea Bass,” an identification I immediately

Kelp Bass (Aquafind.com)

Kelp Bass – an actual “Sea Bass” (Aquafind.com)

distrusted for sounding too much like the common misnomer “whitefish,” – there must be hundreds of species called “whitefish” because their flesh is white and humans will eat it. Fish are notoriously renamed in order to suit marketers. When was the last (or first) time you saw “Patagonian Toothfish” (a cod, family Gadidae) on the menu? How about Chilean Sea Bass? Same species – case closed.

I later learned that “Sea Bass” is truly a family, Serranidae, which does not include cod, but does include groupers as well as Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus), SoCal’s most common Sea Bass. But they all looked wrong for our fish. Mark Abramson, Senior Watershed Advisor of Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation, advised me that they were Striped Mullet (family Mugilidae, Mugil cephalus).

Striped Mullet - definitely not a "Sea Bass" (Smartfarming)

Striped Mullet – definitely not a “Sea Bass” (Smartfarming)

This of course is the same entertaining fish who have been leaping about in the lagoon for many months. Consensus is that the very high supermoon-caused tide and surf washed them over the beach into the lagoon. Fortunately they are able to live in fresh to brackish water as well as salt; I hope they survive to return to the sea when the lagoon entrance reopens.

We witnessed an unfortunate incident in association with all these fish: a young Double-crested Cormorant (not black but brown with beige belly, breast and throat) was struggling mightily to swallow a fish, an event not unusual in and of itself. One alert birder said she saw a fishhook and we realized that there was certainly a 3-prong fishhook and what appeared to be blood near the fish’s head. It might have been a lure, or fish blood, or cormorant blood. At any rate, the cormorant’s difficulty had more to do with this hook than with the fish. We shouted at the bird, hoping to startle it into dropping the fish & hook. This did not work; neither did it startle when I threw a stone at it, as it was about 4 times farther than my poor arm can throw. Sorry…there’s no end to this story beyond the fact that the cormorant, still hooked, swam away.

Male Mallard coasts in (R. Ehler 9/27/15)

Male Mallard cruises in (R. Ehler 9/27/15)

It’s obviously migration time, with warblers and unusual species appearing all across the county, and the lagoon was no exception. Some new ducks, a Cooper’s Hawk, a nice mix of shorebirds, gulls and terns (including the uncommon Common Tern), Vaux’s Swift, many Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds, 4 Say’s Phoebe,

Say's Phoebe - here for the winter (R. Ehler 9/27/15)

Say’s Phoebe – here for the winter (R. Ehler 9/27/15)

6 Warbling Vireo!, two wrens, five warbler species including 3 Nashville, Savannah Sparrow and Western Meadowlark. The meadowlarks are hard to find as they prefer the vegetated areas on the sand islands. See the lists below for complete numbers.

House Wren (R. Ehler 9/27/15)

House (not a Marsh) Wren (R. Ehler 9/27/15)

The Marsh Wren was an unexpected but welcome sight, hopping through the small reed patches below the meeting pavilion. Our last sighting of this species, its 35th appearance at the lagoon, was on 1/22/12, almost 4 years ago. The reed beds they require were wiped out by the June’12 – May’13 lagoon reconfiguration, but they recently reappeared, albeit still quite small. I will not be shocked to see Sora appear sometime in 2016 – likely a short visit rather than a winter-long or full-year residency – but it may be an additional year or two before Virginia Rail show up.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron stalking (R. Ehler 9/27/15)

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron stalking (R. Ehler 9/27/15)

Romeo & Juliet, our newly-resident pair of Mute Swans, are still here, gracefully gliding o’er the languid lagoon. The Snowy Plovers continue to increase in number – 32 this month, with ringed bird GA:OY (left Green over Aqua: right Orange over Yellow) putting in an appearance. GA:OY was ringed at Oceano Dunes (near Pismo Beach on the central coast) in Summer 2014. First spotted – and photographed – at the lagoon by Bill Crowe on 10/3/14, it was also seen 12/28/14 and 1/25/15 at the lagoon’s winter roosting colony.

Dwarfed by a footpring - Snowy Plover GA:OY(R. Ehler 1/25/15)

Dwarfed by a footprint – Snowy Plover GA:OY (R. Ehler 1/25/15)

Yielding to the urge to create a chart, I compared this Sept. to earlier years. It proved to be slightly above average.

Ave of Prior Variance Range for prior
Sept 2015 12 Septs from Ave. 12 Years
Species 69 63 +6% 49 – 78
Numbers 922 869 +9% 556 – 1237


Birds new for the season are: Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Eared Grebe, Cooper’s Hawk, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Dowitcher, Boneparte’s Gull, Common & Forster’s Terns, Vaux’s Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Say’s Phoebe, Warbling Vireo, Oak Titmouse, Marsh Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Savannah and White-crowned Sparrows, Western Meadowlark and Lesser Goldfinch.

Our next three scheduled field trips:  Bolsa Chica, 10 October, 8:30am; Malibu Lagoon, 25 October, 8:30 & 10am: Ballona Creek Area, 14 Nov. 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 3/22 4/26 5/24 7/26 8/23 9/27
Temperature 60-70 66-76 59-70 70-82 70-77 68-77
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+4.78 L+0.58 L+0.54 L+2.37 L+2.80 H+5.94
Tide Time 1138 1139 0927 1143 0944 0918
Brant 3 7 1
Canada Goose 1 30
Mute Swan 2 2
Gadwall 1 10 22 5 8 54
Mallard 12 8 8 55 35 34
Northern Shoveler 2
Green-winged Teal 4
Bufflehead 2
Red-brstd Merganser 2 1 1
Ruddy Duck 30 4 5
Red-throated Loon 3
Pacific Loon 1
Common Loon 5
Pied-billed Grebe 2 1 3 2
Horned Grebe 1 1
Eared Grebe 1 8
Western Grebe 12 2 1
Brandt’s Cormorant 4 1 2 1
Dble-crstd Cormorant 45 16 55 34 43 36
Pelagic Cormorant 1 4 2
Brown Pelican 27 1490 70 17 3 6
Great Blue Heron 1 2 2 4 8 4
Great Egret 10 5 5 4 6 3
Snowy Egret 12 12 4 6 22 18
Cattle Egret 1
Blk-crwnd N-Heron 2 3 3
Osprey 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
American Coot 45 1 1 4 75
Blk-bellied Plover 6 1 27 75 84
Snowy Plover 16 21 32
Semipalmated Plover 9 1 5 2
Killdeer 3 2 6 4 6 10
Spotted Sandpiper 2 1 1 3
Willet 3 1 1 6 8 15
Whimbrel 10 12 1 13 10 4
Marbled Godwit 8 2 8
Ruddy Turnstone 1 3 12 15
Black Turnstone 1
Surfbird 4
Sanderling 2 23
Dunlin 1
Least Sandpiper 15 8 3
Western Sandpiper 45 1 14 15
Short-billd Dowitcher 6
Long-billed Dowitcher 1
Wilson’s Phalarope 1
Boneparte’s Gull 12 6 1 1
Heermann’s Gull 6 350 45 14 11 25
Ring-billed Gull 3 30 8
Western Gull 3 110 135 40 40 110
California Gull 40 600 6 2 1 8
Glaucous-wingd Gull 1 1
Caspian Tern 10 11 1 6 1
Common Tern 1
Forster’s Tern 2 2
Royal Tern 15 4 2 3 9 15
Elegant Tern 28 3100 85 45 12 6
Black Skimmer 1
Rock Pigeon 23 8 9 4 6 12
Mourning Dove 2 2 2 7 7 4
Vaux’s Swift 45
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 2 2 1 3 4
Allen’s Hummingbird 6 4 6 3 10 5
Belted Kingfisher 1 1
American Kestrel 1
Black Phoebe 2 2 2 4 6 20
Say’s Phoebe 4
Warbling Vireo 6
American Crow 5 6 5 4 4 20
Rough-winged Swallow 4 4 6 3 8
Tree Swallow 10 10
Barn Swallow 2 6 12 12 12
Cliff Swallow 2 10 12 3
Oak Titmouse 1
Bushtit 14 2 2 20
House Wren 1 4
Marsh Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3
American Robin 1 1
Northern Mockingbird 3 6 3 4 4 4
European Starling 4 10 3 25 25 35
Cedar Waxwing 40
Ornge-crwnd Warbler 2
Nashville Warbler 3
Common Yellowthroat 2 5 5 8
Yellow Warbler 1
Yellow-rumpd Warbler 5 3
Spotted Towhee 1
California Towhee 3 2 2 4 6 2
Savannah Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 9 6 9 5 8 3
White-crwnd Sparrow 10 2
Red-winged Blackbird 2 40 15
Western Meadowlark 3 4
Brewer’s Blackbird 2
Great-tailed Grackle 4 3 3 5 12
Brwn-headed Cowbird 4 4
Hooded Oriole 3
House Finch 4 12 20 2 12 25
Lesser Goldfinch 1 3
Totals by Type Mar Apr May Jul Aug Sep
Waterfowl 50 55 37 62 46 99
Water Birds – Other 144 1511 134 57 54 126
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 24 19 11 16 39 28
Quail & Raptors 1 1 1 0 0 1
Shorebirds 37 89 8 71 170 215
Gulls & Terns 107 4213 294 105 80 169
Doves 25 10 11 11 13 16
Other Non-Passerines 7 7 8 4 13 55
Passerines 76 104 86 85 149 213
Totals Birds 471 6009 590 411 564 922
             
Total Species Mar Apr May Jul Aug Sep
Waterfowl 7 5 3 4 4 5
Water Birds – Other 9 6 8 5 5 5
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 4 3 3 4 4 4
Quail & Raptors 1 1 1 0 0 1
Shorebirds 8 10 3 8 14 13
Gulls & Terns 7 10 9 6 7 9
Doves 2 2 2 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 2 3 2 2 2 4
Passerines 17 13 17 13 15 26
Totals Species – 102 57 53 48 44 53 69
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3 Comments
  1. November 10, 2015 4:35 am

    Fantastic insight into the range of birds there. It’s only in the Algarve that I see a lot and I write a poem on different kinds of plovers etc. must be something about names and their odds sounds! I saw loads of Oystercatchers in Morecombe Bay near the Lake District. There are some good birdwatching places up there.

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  2. October 2, 2015 12:43 pm

    Hi Chuck, the Fishbase website, http://www.fishbase.se/search.php, calls Mugil cephalus the Flathead Grey Mullet and has more info at http://www.fishbase.se/summary/Mugil-cephalus.html

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    • Chukar permalink*
      October 2, 2015 3:30 pm

      Jim: Your comment underlines the problem I touched on concerning the common names of fish. The IUC Red List http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/135567/0 for Mugil cephalus includes common names of: Black Mullet, Black True Mullet, Bright Mullet, Bully Mullet, Callifaver Mullet, Common Grey Mullet, Common Mullet, Flathead Greymullet, Flathead Grey Mullet, Flathead Mullet, Grey Mullet, Haarder, Hardgut Mullet, Mangrove Mullet, Mullet, River Mullet, Sea Mullet, Springer.

      Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flathead_grey_mullet includes: flathead mullet, striped mullet, black mullet, bully mullet, common mullet, grey mullet, sea mullet and mullet, and adds that Striped Mullet is the U.S.American Fisheries Society name. The common names mean next to nothing.

      Remember when the Great Egret = Common Egret = American Egret, not to mention other English names used in Africa, Asia or Australia? The American & British ornithological & birding communities have spent about 40 years trying to reach agreement on common English names for birds. The fishing communities have done nothing as far as I can tell to achieve any such unification.

      Of course, the American hunting community may still be using names like “stifftail” and “baldpate” for Ruddy Duck and American Wigeon, so waddaya gonna do?

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