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Loons and Gulls: Malibu Lagoon, 26 February, 2017

February 28, 2017

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A very plumy Great Egret (J. Waterman 2-26-17)

A very plumy Great Egret (J. Waterman 2-26-17)

The big treat of the day were the two Adult Glaucous-winged Gulls at the end of the beach. But we’ll get to that later.

Coreopsis in bloom (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

Giant Coreopsis in full bloom (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

The rain which was supposed to be over by 9 AM, hung on a bit longer, yet didn’t really present a problem, and I never raised my jacket hood over my head. The wind began blowing, yet the clouds remained. The day started cool and remained cool. Very pleasant, actually; a welcome respite from the blistering heat to which we have not yet acclimated but to which I fear we must. A female Belted Kingfisher called as she flew over our group in the middle of announcements.

Fish hunters: Osprey (G. Murayama) & Belted Kingfisher female (R. Ehler) 2-26-17

Fish hunters: Osprey (G. Murayama)
& Belted Kingfisher female (R. Ehler) 2-26-17

The tide hit its high of +5.6 feet at 0845, and wavelets washed into the lagoon through the 100-yard breach in the beach. Such gaps always appear during winter rain events. This one kept us from walking on to Adamson House to add a few more birds to the list. By the time we reached the beach, the tide had dropped and wet sand glistened. Unfortunately, most of the enormous gull flock had lifted off. Altogether I counted almost 1,500 gulls, with an additional 2,000-4,000 circling high overhead.

Pacific Loons: in salt grass (R. Ehler) & badly oiled (C. Bragg) 2-26-17

Pacific Loons: In salt grass (R. Ehler) & badly oiled (C. Bragg) 2-26-17

A loon hid among the shore shrubs near the lagoon edge. It was folded up and was either exhausted or ill, so we did not approach. Loons, like grebes, rarely come to land unless they’ve a problem; their legs are set so far back on their body that they cannot walk and move more by a series of forward flops. I decided it was probably a Pacific Loon simply because there was another of that species swimming in the lagoon, and no other loons around. The swimming bird was quite oiled; perhaps that was the grounded bird’s problem as well.

Whimbrel at the seaweed wrack (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

Whimbrel checking the seaweed wrack (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

The Snowy Plovers were well hidden in the large quantity of driftwood at the high-tide wrack line, but Chris Lord managed to find eight birds, none banded.

Two Snowy Plovers hide in footprints (G. Murayama 2-26-17)

Two Snowy Plovers hide in human footprints (G. Murayama 2-26-17)

Driftwood, in fact, was so abundant along the edges of the channels and lagoon that several birders thought someone ought to come and carry it away. It seemed likely to me that while rains continue, Malibu Creek would continue carrying down wood, but while the lagoon is open, the tide will rise and fall and carry some of the wood out to sea. We’ll see. In my experience, driftwood, once you dry it out, burns in your fireplace in a cheery colorful way. But that was in Oregon, when shore-found wood was my primary source of heat.

Glaucous-winged Gull #1 (J. Waterman 2-26-17)

Glaucous-winged Gull #1; look closely to see the red orbital ring of flesh around the eye; note this photo angle make the back and wings look darker than in next three photos, the often-noted “artifact of lighting.” (J. Waterman 2-26-17)

We found the first Glaucous-winged Gull (GWGU) among the 300-500 gulls – who they kept arriving and leaving – remaining on the sand spit’s eastern end. Irwin Woldman, who always heads directly to the beach, had alerted us to its presence. It’s an understatement to say that we don’t get many GWGU at Malibu Lagoon; of almost 99,000 gulls seen over the years I’ve been counting, 283 were GWGU (0.28%). But of 1149 sightings of a gull species, 107 were GWGU (9.31%).

GWGU #1 with Western Gull on left (R. Ehler 2-26-17)

GWGU #1 right foreground, 1″ larger than Western Gull on left; Western’s wings are darker gray-black than is the back. (R. Ehler 2-26-17)

So it’s not unusual to see them; it’s just that there are never many of them, as they average 2.6 birds per visit. They can be hard to pick out when you’re looking at a flock of 2,000 gulls. Their numbers have hit double-digits twice, with a high count of 12 on 2/22/09. And they are nearly always first-winter birds (i.e. 6-9 months old). In fact, my records mention only one prior non-first-winter bird. So now it’s three.

GWGU #1 alert (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

GWGU #1 alert (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

Outstanding characteristics of this bird were the large size (1” larger than Western); gray back paler than a California Gull; same shade of gray on the primaries between the large white primary tips, clean white head, large yellow bill with a single red spot on lower bill, bubble-gum colored legs, and (for a GWGU) an uncommonly pale eye. Reportedly only 1% of adult birds have a pale eye.

GWGU #1 flying away; white trailing edge wider on secondaries (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

GWGU #1 flying away; note white trailing edge is wider on secondaries than on primaries (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

We’d been watching it for a long time, when we notice elsewhere among the gulls another adult GWGU. This one seemed slightly behind the first bird in developing its adult basic (breeding) plumage. The gray in the primaries might have been ever-so-slightly darker than the gray on the back, or it might have been an artifact of the light. The eye seemed darker, but we were not able to see it as well as the eye on the first bird. There was a faint darkness on the forehead. A tiny area of black was on the bill next to the red spot, so small that some birders swore it wasn’t there until they got a better view through the scope. Other than that, they appeared the same. It’s possible that this second bird is a Glaucous-winged x Western Gull hybrid. If so, I’d guess it’s about 15/16ths or 31/32nds GWGU.

GWGU #2 left, California Gull on right (J. Waterman 2-26-17)

GWGU #2 left, 5″ longer than California Gull on right. California Gull wings are darker than the back. (J. Waterman 2-26-17)

So!  Two-thirds of our lifetime Malibu sightings of Adult Glaucous-winged Gulls just occurred. GWGU breeds from SW Washington up to western Alaska, and they (according to range maps) winter as far south as the tip of Baja California. But the farther you are from their breeding range, the fewer you see. They also hybridize with Western Gulls, and perhaps 10-20% of the one we see at Malibu are actually hybrids. You can pick them out from the non-hybrids by their darker primaries.

Female ducks: Bufflehead and Ruddy (J. Waterman 2-26-17)

Ducks: 1st winter male Bufflehead and female Ruddy (J. Waterman 2-26-17)

Birding: It’s a dirty grueling thankless task in freezing and broiling conditions, but someone has to do it.

Male Green-winged Teal (J. Waterman 2-26-17)

Male Green-winged Teal (J. Waterman 2-26-17)

 Birds new for the season were: Northern Shoveler, Surf Scoter, Turkey Vulture, Bonaparte’s Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Rough-winged Swallow, Hermit Thrush.

White-crowned Sparrow: Adult (G. Murayama) & immature (J. Waterman) 2-26-17

White-crowned Sparrow: Adult (G. Murayama) & immature (J. Waterman) 2-26-17

Many thanks to our photographers: Chuck Bragg, Randy Ehlers, Grace Murayama, Joyce Waterman

Yellow-rumped Warbler working his way into breeding (alternate) plumate (R. Ehler 2-26-17)

Yellow-rumped Warbler working his way into breeding (alternate) plumage (R. Ehler 2-26-17)

Our next three scheduled field trips:  Santa Monica Mtns. with Lu Plauzoles, 11 Mar. Time TBD; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 26 Mar.; Rancho Sierra Vista, 8 Mar., 8am.

Our next program: Wolves with Frank Capolupo, Tuesday, 7 Mar., 7:30 pm; 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 viewpoint just south of the parking 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:
2016:   Jan-JuneJuly-Dec     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

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]

Surf log (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

Surf log (C. Bragg 2-26-17)

Many thanks to those who contributed to the checklist below, especially Randy Ehlers and Chris Lord.

Malibu Census 2016-17 8/28 9/25 10/23 11/27 12/25 2/26
Temperature 65-73 70-96 63-70 53-58 48-54 46-52
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+4.28 H+4.39 L+2.63 H+5.79 H+5.49 H+5.6
Tide Time 0810 0708 1108 0729 0634 0845
Brant 1 1 1
Gadwall 10 6 6 4 18 10
American Wigeon 1 10 7 30 6
Mallard 24 35 23 22 14 24
Northern Shoveler 6 2
Northern Pintail 4 3 1
Green-winged Teal 2 6 12
Ring-necked Duck 1
Surf Scoter 8
Bufflehead 4 6 1
Hooded Merganser 1 5 2
Red-brstd Merganser 5 4
Ruddy Duck 7 26 30 10
Red-throated Loon 1
Pacific Loon 1 2
Pied-billed Grebe 4 15 18 8 1
Horned Grebe 1
Eared Grebe 3 6 10 1
Western Grebe 10 10 50 3
Clark’s Grebe 2 1
Brandt’s Cormorant 3 3 2
Double-crested Cormorant 34 38 37 23 32 42
Pelagic Cormorant 2 1 2 6 1
Brown Pelican 9 1 30 37 24 30
Great Blue Heron 3 6 3 3 2 4
Great Egret 1 1 2 1 2 3
Snowy Egret 3 8 8 5 12 9
Turkey Vulture 1
Osprey 1 2 2 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Sora 1
American Coot 10 95 280 240 210 85
Blk-bellied Plover 70 75 75 73 22 35
Snowy Plover 24 35 29 12 32 8
Semipalmated Plover 8 5
Killdeer 9 29 1 2 1 4
Mountain Plover 1
Spotted Sandpiper 5 2 1
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Willet 2 10 20 3 15 12
Whimbrel 2 1 2 2 1 5
Marbled Godwit 1 4 7 10 5 8
Ruddy Turnstone 9 3 7 14 12 10
Sanderling 5 22 72 45
Dunlin 1
Baird’s Sandpiper 5
Least Sandpiper 2 4 12 4
Western Sandpiper 6 3
Long-billed Dowitcher 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 1
Heermann’s Gull 4 6 15 12 11 3
Mew Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 5 35 30
Western Gull 118 45 48 85 90 45
California Gull 1 27 1200 940 1350
Herring Gull 1 1 1
Glaucous-winged Gull 2
Caspian Tern 2
Common Tern 1
Forster’s Tern 3 2 1
Royal Tern 10 1 19 16 45 14
Elegant Tern 67 2 5 1
Rock Pigeon 8 17 15 5 5 10
Mourning Dove 2 2 1 4 1
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 1 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 5 1 1 1 2 2
Belted Kingfisher 2 2 1 1 1 1
American Kestrel 1 1
Merlin 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Nanday Parakeet 3 30
Pacific-slope Flycatcher 1
Black Phoebe 3 9 5 5 3 2
Say’s Phoebe 2 1 1
Ash-throated Flycatcher 2
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
Western Kingbird 1
California Scrub-Jay 3 2 2 4 1 1
American Crow 5 7 7 4 5 4
Tree Swallow 12
Rough-wingd Swallow 4 20
Cliff Swallow 4
Barn Swallow 20 1
Bushtit 5 27 30 35 10 8
House Wren 1 2 1 1
Marsh Wren 1 1
Bewick’s Wren 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2 8 1
Western Bluebird 2
Hermit Thrush 1 1
Northern Mockingbird 2 3 1 3 1
European Starling 20 17 45 30 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1 3 4 2
Common Yellowthroat 3 6 5 5 3 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10 28 3 8
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Spotted Towhee 1 1 1
California Towhee 1 2 1 1
Savannah Sparrow 2 4
Song Sparrow 2 6 4 8 6 8
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
White-crwnd Sparrow 2 25 45 15 20
Red-winged Blackbird 30 1 1
Western Meadowlark 16 3 2 1
Great-tailed Grackle 3 2 17 5 3 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 3
Hooded Oriole 3
House Finch 6 30 18 9 17 10
Lesser Goldfinch 2
Totals by Type Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan
Waterfowl 35 55 50 70 114 75
Water Birds – Other 62 149 382 332 335 165
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 7 15 13 9 16 16
Quail & Raptors 2 4 1 1 2 2
Shorebirds 149 195 215 161 100 86
Gulls & Terns 206 54 118 1321 1122 1445
Doves 10 19 16 5 9 11
Other Non-Passerines 7 4 6 3 33 3
Passerines 118 140 183 186 107 94
Totals Birds 596 635 984 2088 1838 1897
             
Total Species 118 Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan
Waterfowl 3 7 6 8 9 9
Water Birds – Other 6 4 9 11 8 8
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 3 3 3 3 3
Quail & Raptors 2 3 1 1 1 2
Shorebirds 14 14 10 8 8 8
Gulls & Terns 8 4 8 8 6 7
Doves 2 2 2 1 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 2 3 4 3 3 2
Passerines 19 21 21 21 18 18
Totals Species – 109 59 61 64 64 58 59

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jimy Tallal permalink
    March 2, 2017 4:18 pm

    I always love seeing the photos every month, but I was upset to read that no one apparently called for help for two distressed birds that were encountered – including one that was oiled. The California Wildlife Center just outside of Malibu will capture birds needing medical care (including oiled birds) and transport them to the International Bird Rescue facility in San Pedro. Their emergency hotline is 310.458.WILD [9453]. – Jimy Tallal

    Like

    • Chukar permalink*
      March 3, 2017 12:27 pm

      Jimy: Thanks for the information and the reminder. I should know this. I don’t carry a phone, but I have now written the phone number into my field guides, which I always carry, and someone else can call. I personally never saw oil on either bird; only when I got the photo the next day. The loon in the salt grass was gone when I looked for it later, so apparently it was not mortally wounded, although possibly oiled as well.

      Like

  2. robert gurfield permalink
    March 2, 2017 10:01 am

    Great photos. Many thanks. Bob

    Like

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