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Ibis, Pelican, Cormorant and a Quiz

November 4, 2015

We start with two recent visitors to Malibu Lagoon which most of us missed because the birds weren’t present during our last Sunday bird walk.

White-faced Ibis (Jim Kenney 10/21/15)

White-faced Ibis cruises in, keeping primary feather tips barely out of the water
(Jim Kenney 10/21/15 Malibu Lagoon)

This White-faced Ibis popped in on Wednesday, 21 October. You don’t get to see how glossy-green they are unless the light is just right. If you look closely at the photo below, you can see a white line – the “supraloral line” between the eye and the top of the bill. Extend this thin line all the way around the eye and the fleshy area surrounding the bill and you’ll have the “white-face” of the breeding bird, for which it is named. [The “lores” – which the supraloral line is immediately above – is the area directly between each eye and the closest part of the bill. Handy to know, as many species’ field I.D.’s include something unusual in the lores. See the Black-throated Gray Warbler picture in our 10/25/15 lagoon field trip report for an example.]

White-faced Ibis (Jim Kenney 10/21/15)

White-faced Ibis (Jim Kenney 10/21/15)

White & Brown Pelicans (Jim Kenney 10/28/15)

White & Brown Pelicans (Jim Kenney 10/28/15)

Brown Pelicans have been present at the lagoon 163 out of the 164 census days since August 2000. That’s consistency. Even during breeding season some are around: young non-breeding birds, as well as breeding birds taking a lagoon break before returning to their Channel Islands nesting grounds, particularly Anacapa, the closest island. Female Brown Pelicans usually gain their adult plumage at the age of thre; males, slightly larger, may take a bit longer. (1)

It’s easy to tell the adult from the sub-adult Brown Pelican: the young are dingy: dingy brown above, dingy white below, dingy gray bill. The adults are dark gray-brown above and below, with bright colors of brown, creamy-white, and yellow on the head and neck and reddish gular pouch. I am frequently asked which pelican they are, Brown or White.

My standard reply is: They’re all brown, whatever their color. We don’t get White Pelicans at the lagoon. Brown Pelicans are plunge-divers, spotting fish below and diving on them, both in the ocean and occasionally in the lagoon. White Pelicans catch fish by working as a team, swimming in shallow water and “herding” the fish into a compact group, hemmed in by the shore or by the birds themselves, who then gobble them up. For this they need calm waters with lots of fish, like larger estuaries or inland ponds and lakes. The lagoon isn’t quite right for them. In 35 years of lagoon birdwalks, we’ve never recorded an American White Pelican.

But…never say never. Here’s one, photographed by Jim Kenney three days after our last lagoon birdwalk. The rusty-brown color on the wing-coverts, less noticable on the neck, indicate a sub-adult bird. The photo below includes Great and Snowy Egrets.

White & Brown Pelicans; Showy & Great Egrets (Jim Kenney 10/28/15)

White & Brown Pelicans; Snowy & Great Egrets (Jim Kenney 10/28/15)

By the way, if the adult Brown Pelican in the first picture looks a little odd, with perhaps two shades of brown on his body and an unusually long tail, it’s because there’s a Double-crested Cormorant tucked in next to him, more obviously visible in the second picture. I think this pelican has found a friend.

Speaking of Double-crested Cormorant, here’s one we saw on our Sept. 27, 2015 lagoon birdwalk. I didn’t know anyone had gotten a picture of it until Kirsten Wahlquist surprised me. We couldn’t tell exactly what was going on with this bird: was that a small bloody piece of fish in it’s bill, or fish plus lure with hooks, or just a lure with hooks, was the bird hooked and trying to dislodge it, was it trying to eat the fish around the hook…or what? It thrashed around so much it was tough to tell.

Sometimes this Double-crested Cormorant looked hooked, sometimes not (Kirsten Wahlquist 9/27/15)

Sometimes this Double-crested Cormorant looked hooked, sometimes not
(Kirsten Wahlquist 9/27/15)

I’m still not sure what was going on. Is that a lure attached to a small fish, or is it a fish-shaped lure? Perhaps someone who knows their lures will let us know. Close examination of the photo makes me conclude that one prong of the hook is indeed stuck into the flesh of the inside upper bill.
What with this hooked cormorant, and the fishing-line-wrapped Eared Grebe on our 10/25/15 birdwalk , I have to think that some of the local fishermen are not hanging onto their equipment with proper care. And, speaking of local fishermen, there were a pair of them fishing in the lagoon on Oct. 25. When one of them replied affirmatively to my question, “Are you planning on eating what your catching?” I replied that bacterial counts in the lagoon are frequently very high, and he might want to reconsider that plan. His unconcern was disconcerting.

"Hey, watch this!" cried the Double-crested Cormorant (Randy Ehler 9/27/15

“Hey, watch this!” cried the Double-crested Cormorant (Randy Ehler 9/27/15

Addendum: I didn’t know I’d already received Randy’s photo (above) when I wrote this blog, discovering it about 10 days later. Randy gets to the beach early and takes many of his photos before the rest of the group arrives. This picture, showing the bird not yet hooked, but apparently only “playing” with the lure, was probably taken before Kirsten’s photo above. This shows that there is only a hooked lure, no actual fish involved. Oh well, I’ve seen human kids doing far more stupid things that playing with hooked food.

And lastly, the photo below is blurry, but here’s a good chance to flex your birding brain muscle. [We don’t always get soul-satisfying views of a bird.] We’ll tell you right up front it’s a Horned Grebe, so you need not act fast and send in two boxtops with your guess. But why is it a Horned Grebe and not an Eared Grebe, a far more common bird at the lagoon? Look closely at the picture (you might want to view it on the blog) and compare it to both Horned and Eared Grebes in your favorite field guide.   [Chuck Almdale]

Why is this a Horned Grebe and not an Eared Grebe? (Joyce Waterman 10/25/15

Why is this a Horned Grebe rather than an Eared Grebe? (Joyce Waterman 10/25/15)

(1). The Biogeography of California Brown Pelican, Elise Willett, 2001. San Francisco State University

  1. November 8, 2015 10:28 am

    Some great photos and help with id. The ibis looks so glossy green.


  2. November 6, 2015 11:26 am

    Thank you for your interesting posts. I so enjoy reading your thought-provoking comments.


  3. carolejim permalink
    November 6, 2015 8:40 am

    Chuck: As usual, your eloquent and informative text is a wonderful compliment to my photographs. Many thanks! Best regards…….Jim


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