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Malibu Lagoon Trip Report: 25 October, 2015

October 29, 2015

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View to southeast across sand islands and beach (J. Waterman 10/25/15)

View to southeast across sand islands and inundated beach (J. Waterman 10/25/15)

Continuing large waves at high tides have washed away about 80% of the beach. The virtual fence for the Snowy Plover enclosure is gone, save one lonely pole, and the plovers have moved as well. I fully expect that one good rain – say, 2 inches – will fill Malibu Creek and blow out the beach between lagoon and ocean. [For our non-SoCal readers, 2” of rain is a lot for this neck of the woods. It may be the total rainfall we had last year.]

Despite that, excitement abounded at the lagoon today. The siren call of high surf stacked the sea with surfers. And birds galore! 78 species tied an all-time record for our Sunday walks.

Date 10/25/15 9/26/10 9/26/04 10/27/13 4/28/91
Species 78 78 76 75 75
Great Egret pole extension (J. Waterman 10/25/15)

Great Egret pole extension
(J. Waterman 10/25/15)

Not only did we have a lot of species, we had a lot we seldom see. Our handy presbyopia-challenging checklist includes the 140 most common species – just about everything seen on more than 1% of trips, so anything we write in is uncommon at the lagoon. We had nine write-in birds: Eurasian Collared-Dove, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Warbling Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Hermit Thrush, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. Admittedly, none of these birds are uncommon in SoCal; it’s just that they don’t often show up at the lagoon, primarily due to lack of habitat such as large woodpecker-friendly trees.

Hmm….that’s only seven species. The other two – Red-breasted Sapsucker and Palm Warblerare totally new birds for the lagoon birdwalk. Sapsuckers like to suck sap (hence the name, although they really lick it and eat insects attracted to the ooze) and lagoon area trees aren’t quite right for that sort of thing, but Palm Warbler is one of those eastern  warblers that show up west of the Rocky Mountains from time to time. They’re probably one of the most commonly appearing of the uncommon eastern warblers, and are reported in SoCal every year, although I personally haven’t seen one for a couple of years.

Palm Warbler - visiting from east of the Rockies (R. Ehler 10/25/15)

Palm Warbler – visiting from east of the Rockies (R. Ehler 10/25/15)

They’re best identified by their behavior: they like to walk on the ground, wagging their tail as they tootle along. They always have a yellow vent and usually have thin dark streaks on the pale breast, pale line over the eye and a faint chestnut cap. Chris Lord, returning from the beach, spotted it and reported it to the group. The following day, local ornithologist Dan Cooper found two Palm Warblers at the lagoon, confirmed by several later birders.

Hermit Thrust (R. Ehler 10/25/15)

Hermit Thrust (R. Ehler 10/25/15)

The Red-breasted Sapsucker probably didn’t stay long: it was spotted briefly in some small trees near the colony back fence; it then took off, heading east.

Black-throated Gray Warbler: yellow lores but no black throat (R. Ehler 10/25/15)

Black-throated Gray Warbler: yellow lores but no black throat (R. Ehler 10/25/15)

It took longer than usual for us to reach the beach – not a problem as waves were washing across the sand into the lagoon. Only a few steps away from the squabbling trio of Killdeer at our meeting spot, we spotted the first (Black-throated Gray Warbler) of what turned out to be six species of warbler near the parking lot. A Townsend’s popped up, then some Yellow-rumped, a Common Yellowthroat, several Orange-crowned, a Warbling Vireo, Spotted & California Towhees, Song, White-crowned & Savannah Sparrows, House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, and finally some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Bushtits as we walked away.

Allen's Hummingbird and his fabulous tongue (Kirsten Wahlquist 10/25/15)

Allen’s Hummingbird and his fabulous tongue (Kirsten Wahlquist 10/25/15)

Afterward, Joyce Waterman sent me some photos of what she thought might be a Yellow Warbler. I couldn’t confirm or deny – thinking it might be Orange-crowned or Nashville – so we sent them on to Kimball Garrett at the Natural History Museum, who termed it a “textbook example” of Yellow Warbler. [What do I know?] See photo below.

Yellow Warbler (J. Waterman 10/25/15)

Yellow Warbler (J. Waterman 10/25/15)

The elusive Marsh Wren(J. Waterman 10/25/15)

The elusive Marsh Wren
(J. Waterman 10/25/15)

Joyce also took about a million photos of one of the two – possibly four – Marsh Wrens that began to appear last month. Marsh Wren is one of those “easy to hear, hard to see” birds, and it’s even harder to photograph. We did manage to get everyone “onto” the bird this trip, as it skulked through the mini-patches of reeds.

We did not see the swans. Perhaps they’ve left, perhaps they were somewhere up the creek. Most of last month’s melee of mullet managed to escape the lagoon, or were snoozing on the bottom. They certainly weren’t churning up the lagoon edge as they had last month.

By the time we reached the beach the tide had retreated. We checked out the shorebirds and gulls and trudged onward down the beach, where Kirsten Wahlquist and Lu Plauzoles had an adventure. They relate:

Eared Grebe tangled in fishing line, attacked by gull (Kirsten Wahlquist 10/25/15)

Eared Grebe tangled in fishing line, attacked by gull (Kirsten Wahlquist 10/25/15)

Lu: [We got] a very close-up view of an Eared Grebe. It was incapacitated and being attacked by a Western Gull at the edge of the beach near the

The famous jail-break-for-grebes tool, pocket edition (Lu Plauzoles 10/25/15)

The famous jail-break-for-grebes tool, pocket model
(Lu Plauzoles 10/25/15)

pier. Luckily I had my jail-break-for-grebes tool (pocket model), and as a surfer held the recalcitrant bird, we took 3 feet of tangled monofilament fishing line from his lobed feet and left wing. The bird quickly swam back out to sea.
Kirsten: Lu was the one that actually freed the grebe – I just watched from 75 yards away! I didn’t get a photo of the rescue itself, but I did get one of the gull going after the grebe.

Kudos to Lu and the Surfer-with-no-name, and best wishes to the freed grebe. To the gull? Better luck elsewhere.

As always, many thanks to the photographers: Randy Ehler, Joyce Waterman, joined this month by Kirsten Wahlquist and Lu Plauzoles. Also many thanks to Randy Ehler and his birding phone-app on which he keeps a separate count from mine, and to Chris Lord for always sharing his first-man-on-the-beach sightings with me. My records would be the poorer without them.

Birds new for the season were: Northern Shoveler, Horned & Western Grebe, Pelagic Cormorant, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Merlin, Nanday Parakeet, Western Scrub-Jay, Bewick’s Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Palm, Black-throated Gray- &Townsend’s Warblers, Spotted Towhee, Brown-headed Cowbird and House Sparrow.

The elegant Gadwall male (R. Ehler 10/25/15)

The elegant Gadwall male (R. Ehler 10/25/15)

Our next three scheduled field trips:  Ballona Creek Area, 14 Nov. 8:30am; Malibu Lagoon, 22 November, 8:30 & 10am; Carrizo Plains, 12 Dec. 9am (sign up required).
Our next program: Unusual Mortality Event Affecting California Sea Lions with Jeff Hill on Tuesday, 3 November, 7:30 pm, at [note location 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 4/26 5/24 7/26 8/23 9/27 10/24
Temperature 66-76 59-70 70-82 70-77 68-77 64-75
Tide Lo/Hi Height L+0.58 L+0.54 L+2.37 L+2.80 H+5.94 H+5.93
Tide Time 1139 0927 1143 0944 0918 0810
Brant 3 7 1
Canada Goose 30
Mute Swan 2 2
Gadwall 10 22 5 8 54 15
Mallard 8 8 55 35 34 30
Northern Shoveler 6
Green-winged Teal 4 10
Red-brstd Merganser 1 1
Ruddy Duck 4 5 68
Pacific Loon 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1 3 2 3
Horned Grebe 1 2
Eared Grebe 1 8 10
Western Grebe 2 1 3
Brandt’s Cormorant 1 2 1
Dble-crstd Cormorant 16 55 34 43 36 29
Pelagic Cormorant 1 4 2 1
Brown Pelican 1490 70 17 3 6 42
Great Blue Heron 2 2 4 8 4 4
Great Egret 5 5 4 6 3 5
Snowy Egret 12 4 6 22 18 12
Blk-crwnd N-Heron 2 3 3 3
Osprey 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
American Coot 1 1 4 75 55
Blk-bellied Plover 1 27 75 84 62
Snowy Plover 16 21 32
Semipalmated Plover 9 1 5 2
Killdeer 2 6 4 6 10 15
Spotted Sandpiper 1 1 3 10
Willet 1 1 6 8 15 35
Whimbrel 12 1 13 10 4 2
Marbled Godwit 2 8 8
Ruddy Turnstone 3 12 15 18
Black Turnstone 1
Sanderling 2 23
Dunlin 1
Least Sandpiper 15 8 3 6
Western Sandpiper 45 1 14 15 1
Short-billd Dowitcher 6
Long-billed Dowitcher 1 4
Wilson’s Phalarope 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 6 1 1 1
Heermann’s Gull 350 45 14 11 25 11
Ring-billed Gull 30 8 2
Western Gull 110 135 40 40 110 90
California Gull 600 6 2 1 8 4
Glaucous-wingd Gull 1 1
Caspian Tern 10 11 1 6 1
Common Tern 1
Forster’s Tern 2 2
Royal Tern 4 2 3 9 15 2
Elegant Tern 3100 85 45 12 6 4
Black Skimmer 1
Rock Pigeon 8 9 4 6 12 10
Eur. Collared-Dove  1 1
Mourning Dove 2 2 7 7 4 2
Vaux’s Swift 45
Anna’s Hummingbird 2 2 1 3 4 2
Allen’s Hummingbird 4 6 3 10 5 8
Belted Kingfisher 1 1 1
Red-brstd Sapsucker 1
Nuttall’s Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Merlin 1
Nanday Parakeet 6
Black Phoebe 2 2 4 6 20 10
Say’s Phoebe 4 3
Warbling Vireo 6 1
Western Scrub-Jay 1
American Crow 6 5 4 4 20 10
Rough-wingd Swallow 4 6 3 8
Tree Swallow 10 10
Barn Swallow 6 12 12 12
Cliff Swallow 2 10 12 3
Oak Titmouse 1
Bushtit 2 2 20 4
House Wren 1 4 1
Marsh Wren 1 2
Bewick’s Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3 4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 1
Northern Mockingbird 6 3 4 4 4 6
European Starling 10 3 25 25 35 10
Cedar Waxwing 40
Ornge-crwnd Warbler 2 4
Nashville Warbler 3
Common Yellowthroat 5 5 8 8
Yellow Warbler 1 1
Palm Warbler 1
Yellow-rumpd Warbler 3 35
Blk-throated G. Warbler 3
Townsend’s Warbler 1
Spotted Towhee 1 2
California Towhee 2 2 4 6 2 3
Savannah Sparrow 2 3
Song Sparrow 6 9 5 8 3 3
White-crwnd Sparrow 2 25
Red-winged Blackbird 2 40 15 15
Western Meadowlark 4 4
Brewer’s Blackbird 2
Great-tailed Grackle 4 3 3 5 12 10
Brwn-headed Cowbird 4 2
Hooded Oriole 3
House Finch 12 20 2 12 25 9
Lesser Goldfinch 3 3
House Sparrow 1
Totals by Type Apr May Jul Aug Sep Oct
Waterfowl 55 37 62 46 99 129
Water Birds – Other 1511 134 57 54 126 145
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 19 11 16 39 28 24
Quail & Raptors 1 1 0 0 1 1
Shorebirds 89 8 71 170 215 161
Gulls & Terns 4213 294 105 80 169 114
Doves 10 11 11 13 17 13
Other Non-Passerines 7 8 4 13 55 20
Passerines 104 86 85 149 213 191
Totals Birds 6009 590 411 564 923 798
             
Total Species Apr May Jul Aug Sep Oct
Waterfowl 5 3 4 4 5 5
Water Birds – Other 6 8 5 5 5 8
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 3 4 4 4 4
Quail & Raptors 1 1 0 0 1 1
Shorebirds 10 3 8 14 13 10
Gulls & Terns 10 9 6 7 9 7
Doves 2 2 2 2 3 3
Other Non-Passerines 3 2 2 2 4 7
Passerines 13 17 13 15 26 33
Totals Species – 110 53 48 44 53 70 78

 

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