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Low, low water in Malibu Lagoon Mar. 27, 2016

March 29, 2016

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If you notice more mud than usual in the pictures, you’re seeing right. Low tide of +0.6 ft. was at 6:22am (high was +3.43 ft. at 12:28pm), the lagoon outlet is open, and nearly all the water ran out. If the outlet was any further east, it would carry away Adamson House. As it is, you have to climb over the rip-rap rocks supporting the house’s fence in order to get to the beach by the Malibu pier.

Killdeer, not as cryptic as eariler (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

Killdeer, a little less cryptic
(R. Ehler 3/27/16)

Today was Easter and birders were fewer, but there were a few newbies including one woman recently relocated from Botswana, which is somewhere southeast of Pittsburgh PA. There she saw mostly “bush birds,” she said – weird things like Go-Away Birds and Mousebirds –  so she was glad to see our water- and sea-birds. In fact, she was first to find the Killdeer resting right in front of us and occasionally calling and which took me forever to spot, it blended in so well with the mud and rocks.

Nanday Parakeets are becoming almost a regular at the lagoon. (See photo in slideshow.) They seem to like the sycamores.  Some gulls – all Western – were having a great time at the picnic spread someone had left for them, perhaps purposefully, perhaps not. Several were working on a roast beef sandwich from Ralph’s when our group got to the picnic area at the

Picnic time with Western Gull (R. Juncosa 3/27/16)

Picnic time with Western Gull (R. Juncosa 3/27/16)

SW corner of the lagoon, but they soon moved on to the chips in an effort to balance the protein with carbohydrates. Earlier birders said that they’d seen only White-crowned Sparrows at the spread. A few lucky people later spotted the Western Bluebird in this area. That’s a very uncommon bird at the lagoon – not enough flies to hawk, perhaps – and the only other sighting on our walks was on Oct. 22, 2000.

Bushtit (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

Bushtit – small, fast and tough to photograph (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

Various bush birds showed up in the vegetated swale along the back of the colony: Bushtit, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Common Yellowthroat, California Towhee, Song and White-crowned Sparrows, House Finch and Lesser Goldfinch. On the other side of the path, ducks have dwindled to six species, the usual suspects including Brants reported by an early birder.

Brant at ocean's edge (G. Murayama 3/24/16)

Brant at ocean’s edge (G. Murayama 3/23/16)

At the viewpoint south of “Boot-toe Island,” Chris “the Brit” – who is excellent at spotting and IDing oddities – alerted me to a distant odd sandpiper back among the exposed rocks near the northern viewpoint. A brief frontal-only view of a very spotted and stout breast made me think “Surfbird,” and Chris agreed, although one (me, for example) would never expect this rocky-seashore-loving bird within the lagoon. Unfortunately it soon disappeared, and some people thought we were not altogether sane.  Hoping against hope, I took the group down to the ocean’s edge, where we soon spotted the bird where it belonged, poking around out on the offshore rocks near a small group of cormorants. While not as uncommon at the lagoon as the aforementioned bluebird, to date we’ve seen only 18 Surfbirds on 8 occasions, the first one in Dec. 1979, most recently four on 3-22-15, with a high of five on 4-22-07.

3 Brandt's Cormorants and a closer Double-crested (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

3 Brandt’s Cormorants and a closer Double-crested (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

The cormorants turned out to be three Brandt’s and one Double-crested. The Brandt’s were beginning to develop breeding plumage, consisting of a blue chin withing the surrounding beige throat-pouch, and faint white “whisker” plumes on the cheeks. (Look very closely at the 2nd-from-right bird for the blue. The right bird had the whiskers.)

Common Loon, still in winter plumage (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

Common Loon, still in winter plumage, chugging along (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

Out past the rocks and too far to photograph were a couple of Pacific Loons in breeding plumage – you could barely make out the black throats through the telescope. A few Surf Scoters and a Western Grebe were close by. Closer in – just inside the surf line, in fact – was a far easier bird to spot, the rarely photographed Common Loon. (Rarely photo’d because they’re usually too far away.) The thick (for a loon) bill, the bumpy head and “something funny” going on at the base of the neck ID’s this as a winter plumage Common Loon. His head was mostly submerged. They have a transparent 3rd eyelid, through which they can see quite well underwater.

Western Sandpipers on their way back north (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

Western Sandpipers on their way back north (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

There were only three Snowy Plovers on the beach, but in the lagoon shallows we found a small contingent of Western Sandpipers, in various stages of molting into their basic (breeding) plumage. Gulls were relatively few – only two Heermann’s Gulls remained; presumably the rest are down in the Sea of Cortez on Isla Rasa. But tern numbers are growing again, and we had the usual job of sorting out which were which, with the Royal-Elegant similarity providing the greatest challenge.

Royal Terns, a few Elegants and a single Caspian (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

Royal Terns, a few Elegants and a single Caspian. Which is which? (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

Caspian Tern surrounded by Royals (R. Juncosa 3/27/16)

Close-up of Caspian Tern surrounded by Royals (R. Juncosa 3/27/16)

Caspian Tern, the largest at 21″, has a blood-red bill with a dark tip, and may have white streaks but never has a white forehead. Royal Tern is 20″ long, has a pale yellow-to-deep orange bill, curved with a very small bump (gonys) on the lower mandible, and in non-breeding plumage has a white forehead with a dark eye separated slightly from the black bushy crest. At 17″ the Elegant Tern is the smallest of the three, has the thinnest and (seemingly) longest bill with no gonys at all, and in non-breeding plumage the eye is included in the dark face. All three have black legs and dark in their wingtips, and in breeding plumage, all three have black crests. There, wasn’t that easy? Now hie thee onward unto the beach and identify some for yourself.

Ringed Royal Tern (G. Murayama 3/24/16)

Ringed Royal Tern (G. Murayama 3/23/16)

Ringed Royal Tern closeup and flipped (G. Murayama 3/24/16)

Ringed Royal Tern closeup – “38” is part of a longer number (G. Murayama 3/23/16)

A few days earlier, Snowy Plover tracker Grace Murayama was at Malibu and spotted this ringed Royal Tern on film. A flipped closeup of the feet shows it to be #38.

Birds new for the season were: Red-shouldered Hawk, Surfbird, Caspian & Elegant Terns, Cassian’s Kingbird, Western Scrub-Jay, Common Raven, Rough-winged, Cliff & Barn Swallows, Western Bluebird, American Robin, Hooded Oriole and Lesser Goldfinch.

Helicopter (G. Murayama 3/24/16)

Formerly frequently seen hauling President Reagan back and forth to Santa Barbara (G. Murayama 3/24/16)

As always, many thanks to our photographers: Randy Ehler, Ray Juncosa, and Grace Murayama.

Our next four scheduled field trips: Buds n’ Birds walk Paramount Ranch to Malibu Creek State Park, 2 Apr. 8:30am; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 24 Apr.; Walker Ranch, 14 May, 8:30am; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 22 May.

Our next program: Birds of Central Chile with Lance Benner on Tuesday, 5 April, 7:30 pm, at [note location change] Chris Reed Park, 1133 7th St., NE corner of 7th and Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica.

Song Sparrow in action (R. Ehler 3/27/16)

Song Sparrow in action
(R. Ehler 3/27/16)

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,    July-Dec
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

Snowy Egret in a reflective moment (R. Juncosa 3/27/16)

Snowy Egret (R. Juncosa 3/27/16)

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 2015-16 10/25 11/22 12/27 1/24 2/28 3/27
Temperature 64-75 64-80 48-61 48-64 57-70 55-65
Tide Lo/Hi Height H +6.12 L+0.24 H+6.07 H+5.90 L+1.38 H+3.43
Tide Time 0809 1241 0945 0855 0654 1228
Brant 3 2
Canada Goose 11 7
Gadwall 15 4 13 3 20 14
American Wigeon 2 10 16 10
Mallard 30 25 2 15 22 16
Northern Shoveler 6 8 2 16 12 14
Northern Pintail 2 4
Green-winged Teal 10 11 8 8
Lesser Scaup 5
Surf Scoter 1 2 17 16
Bufflehead 4 1 2 2
Hooded Merganser 2
Red-brstd Merganser 2 17 3 3 2
Ruddy Duck 68 110 1 10
Red-throated Loon 1 2
Pacific Loon 2 1 2
Common Loon 2 1 1
Pied-billed Grebe 3 3 2 3 8 3
Horned Grebe 2 1 1
Eared Grebe 10 10 2 2 5 2
Western Grebe 3 15 4 1 1
Blk-vented Shearwater 1
Brandt’s Cormorant 2 1 4
Dble-crstd Cormorant 29 45 15 24 19 6
Pelagic Cormorant 1 2 1 2
Brown Pelican 42 11 10 30 43 28
Great Blue Heron 4 3 2 3 4 3
Great Egret 5 1 2 2 1 5
Snowy Egret 12 8 30 21 7 7
Blk-crwnd N-Heron 3 1
Osprey 1 1 1 3
Cooper’s Hawk 1 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Sora 1 2
American Coot 55 60 10 40 65 53
Blk-bellied Plover 62 33 30 12 32 8
Snowy Plover 28 12 4 3
Killdeer 15 4 14 2 4 3
Spotted Sandpiper 10 2 5 1 1
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Willet 35 18 13 8 8 12
Whimbrel 2 5 1 3 4 21
Marbled Godwit 8 8 11 13 22 15
Ruddy Turnstone 18 9 2 5 1
Surfbird 1
Sanderling 6
Least Sandpiper 6 4 13
Western Sandpiper 1 4 35
Long-billed Dowitcher 4 2 2
Common Murre 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 1 2 1
Heermann’s Gull 11 11 4 1 2
Mew Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 2 95 60 30 90 15
Western Gull 90 140 80 13 160 45
California Gull 4 1430 620 400 650 130
Thayer’s Gull 1
Glaucous-wingd Gull 1 1 4 1
Caspian Tern 3
Forster’s Tern 3
Royal Tern 2 23 11 25 31 18
Elegant Tern 4 5
Rock Pigeon 10 20 2 2 6 6
Eur. Collared-Dove 1
Mourning Dove 2 1 2 2 2
Anna’s Hummingbird 2 2 3 1 2 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 8 5 2 3 3 4
Belted Kingfisher 1 1
Red-brstd Sapsucker 1
Nuttall’s Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
American Kestrel 1 1
Merlin 1 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Nanday Parakeet 6 8 2
Black Phoebe 10 10 12 3 8 6
Say’s Phoebe 3 1 2 1 1
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
Warbling Vireo 1
Western Scrub-Jay 1 1
American Crow 10 3 1 6 23 6
Common Raven 1
Rough-wingd Swallow 10
Cliff Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 6
Oak Titmouse 1 1
Bushtit 4 28 40 4 5
House Wren 1 2 1 1
Marsh Wren 2 1
Bewick’s Wren 1 1 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4 9 3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4 10 6 1
Western Bluebird 1
Hermit Thrush 1 1 3 1
American Robin 2
Northern Mockingbird 6 6 2 1 3 4
European Starling 10 21 10 110 90 1
Orange-crwnd Warbler 4 5
Common Yellowthroat 8 7 1 1 5 5
Yellow Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 1
Yellow-rumpd Warbler 35 40 40 9
Blk-throted G. Warbler 3
Townsend’s Warbler 1 1
Spotted Towhee 2 2 1
California Towhee 3 1 1 2 5
Savannah Sparrow 3 1
Song Sparrow 3 3 6 3 3 12
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
White-crwnd Sparrow 25 4 15 20 5 5
Red-winged Blackbird 15
Western Meadowlark 4 5 4
Great-tailed Grackle 10 4 3 2 1 9
Brwn-headed Cowbird 2
Hooded Oriole 1
House Finch 9 4 3 1 6 21
Lesser Goldfinch 3 1
House Sparrow 1
Totals by Type Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar
Waterfowl 129 169 58 61 118 74
Water Birds – Other 145 152 48 104 146 100
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 24 13 34 26 12 15
Quail & Raptors 1 2 4 2 4 2
Shorebirds 161 113 83 50 86 113
Gulls & Terns 114 1703 775 472 939 219
Doves 13 21 2 4 8 8
Other Non-Passerines 20 7 6 4 13 7
Passerines 191 164 156 150 168 105
Totals Birds 798 2344 1166 873 1494 643
             
Total Species Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar
Waterfowl 5 10 10 8 11 7
Water Birds – Other 8 11 9 9 10 9
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 4 4 3 3 3 3
Quail & Raptors 1 2 4 2 2 2
Shorebirds 10 9 10 6 10 11
Gulls & Terns 7 7 7 5 9 8
Doves 3 2 1 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 7 2 3 2 3 3
Passerines 33 20 21 12 19 22
Totals Species – 119 78 67 68 49 69 67
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