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Black Skimmer: Malibu Lagoon, 26 March, 2017

March 28, 2017

Male Allen’s Hummingbird (Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

As seems usual this year, the weather turned out to be surprisingly unpredictable, or is that unpredictably surprising? We were told to expect rain. No rain. We were told to expect cool temperatures in the 45-60° range. I birded in my T-shirt. Both San Fernando Valley and the Santa Monica Mountains were fog-filled and gray with clouds. The beach was sunny and windless. So it goes.

Killdeer foursome making a heckova racket (Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

Despite the fine weather, or perhaps because of it, we had few birds and a low species count. Fifty-eight total count for gulls and terns seemed extraordinarily low, so I checked when I got home, and found: 2012 – 53 birds, 2013 – 94, 2014 – 643, 2015 – 107, 2016 – 219. So…OK, low, but not supernaturally low. So much for the accuracy of one’s unsubstantiated impressions of history.

Black Skimmer with the giant schnozz (Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

Our best bird of the day was the single breeding-plumage Black Skimmer. This bird looks like an oversized tern, with a huge red and black bill, lower bill longer than the upper bill. Aptly named, this largely black bird feeds by skimming just above the calm waters of lagoons and inshore waters, lower bill-tip slightly immersed in the water as it flies. When it encounters something edible – SNAP! goes the bill. I always expect them to hit a hidden stick and go flying head over heels, summersaulting across the water, but I’ve never seen this happen. Over the past 38 years, we’ve recorded Black Skimmer at the lagoon on only 23 occasions, for a total of 220 birds. They show up Dec-Mar and May-Aug. On only three appearances did their numbers rise above single digits: 30 on 1/29/09, 35 on 7/25/10 and a whopping 103 the following month on 8/22/10.

Skimmers are one of those groups whose classification is regularly bounced around, and they’ve been in and out of the Tern family of Sternidae (when terns were in a family separate from gulls), or their own family of Rynchopidae. Gulls, Terns and Skimmers are currently all classified into the single family of Laridae. The Black Skimmer is fairly common on ponds, rivers, lagoons and calm waters from the southern U.S. to northern Argentina. The African Skimmer is common in similar habitat throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The third species, Indian Skimmer, is far less common on lakes and rivers of the Indian subcontinent and the delta of the Mekong River. For ‘World Birders,’ it’s a big deal to see one. And that’s it; only three species of skimmer.

Willet (Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

No Glaucous-winged Gulls this month, but a fine example of a winter (probably 3rd winter) Herring Gull. On the Atlantic Coast, where they are far more common, people want to rename them the Dump Gull, as they feast and thrive on America’s most abundant product – garbage, to the detriment of many of the terns who have to contend with harassment from this large and aggressive gull.

El muerte Brown Pelican (Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

The Black-bellied Plovers were beginning to molt from their winter gray uniforms into their patterned breeding plumage. The warblers – save for the resident breeder Common Yellowthroat –  and most of the sparrows seem to have fled, and the spring migrants aren’t yet arriving, so our passerine count was quite low.

Osprey before his escapade with the mullet (Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

The ‘parents and kids bird walk’ participants were greatly entertained by the misfortunes of our Osprey. The bird had snagged a large mullet and then was mobbed by several gulls while still aloft.  After the Osprey landed and dropped the fish on the shore, a Great Blue Heron landed a yard away, which startled the Osprey off the fish. A Western Gull then jumped on the fish, but couldn’t make a dent in it before the Osprey returned to reclaim his prize. This altercation attracted the heron, which then flew over and took a swipe at the Osprey. Imagine a fight between a knife-wielder and a swordsman. Not much of a match, and the Osprey left. The heron dragged the fish over to the water, gave it a good rinse, and then seemed to try to swallow the fish sideways. That failed and the fish was finally oriented properly – head down – and the heron slowly forced it down it’s gullet. The mullet was larger in diameter than the heron’s head, but herons have a flexible gape and throat, and eventually the fish disappeared down the gullet. Herons weigh about 5 ½ pounds fully grown, and I’d guess the fish was 2 pounds. Imagine a 150-pound man swallowing a fifty-pound beef roast. I didn’t see the bird fly away and I wonder if it could get off the ground.

Snowy Plover in the wrack (Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

The Snowy Plovers were still on the beach, scattered through the wrack on the sandy berm, divided into three groups of two, four and two. They seemed to be pairing up into male and female. None had bands.

Whimbrel with the decurved bill (Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

Birds new for the season were: Canada Goose, Black-vented Shearwater, Western Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Black Skimmer, Common Raven, Barn Swallow.

The Lone Killdeer (Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

Many thanks to our photographer: Grace Murayama

Song Sparrows sing all year around
(Grace Murayama 3-26-17)

Our next three scheduled field trips:  Rancho Sierra Vista, 8 Apr., 8am; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 23 Apr.; Butterbredt Spring Campout Sat/Sun 29-30 Apr. 8:30am.

Our next program: Finding and Photographing Birds in the Andes with Chuck Bragg, Tuesday, 4 Apr., 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-June, July-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)

Malibu Census 2016-17 9/25 10/23 11/27 12/25 2/26 3/26
Temperature 70-96 63-70 53-58 48-54 46-52 55-68
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+4.39 L+2.63 H+5.79 H+5.49 H+5.6 H+5.21
Tide Time 0708 1108 0729 0634 0845 0851
Brant 1 1
Canada Goose 2
Gadwall 6 6 4 18 10 12
American Wigeon 1 10 7 30 6 18
Mallard 35 23 22 14 24 14
Northern Shoveler 6 2 1
Northern Pintail 4 3 1
Green-winged Teal 2 6 12 2
Ring-necked Duck 1
Surf Scoter 8 30
Bufflehead 4 6 1
Hooded Merganser 1 5 2
Red-brstd Merganser 5 4 1
Ruddy Duck 7 26 30 10
Red-throated Loon 1
Pacific Loon 1 2
Pied-billed Grebe 15 18 8 1
Horned Grebe 1
Eared Grebe 3 6 10 1
Western Grebe 10 10 50 3 1
Clark’s Grebe 2 1
Blk-vented Shearwater 50
Brandt’s Cormorant 3 2
Dble-crstd Cormorant 38 37 23 32 42 41
Pelagic Cormorant 1 2 6 1
Brown Pelican 1 30 37 24 30 8
Great Blue Heron 6 3 3 2 4 2
Great Egret 1 2 1 2 3 1
Snowy Egret 8 8 5 12 9 5
Turkey Vulture 1
Osprey 2 2 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Sora 1
American Coot 95 280 240 210 85 32
Blk-bellied Plover 75 75 73 22 35 14
Snowy Plover 35 29 12 32 8 8
Semipalmated Plover 5
Killdeer 29 1 2 1 4 8
Mountain Plover 1
Spotted Sandpiper 2 1
Willet 10 20 3 15 12 13
Whimbrel 1 2 2 1 5 4
Marbled Godwit 4 7 10 5 8 23
Ruddy Turnstone 3 7 14 12 10 1
Sanderling 22 72 45
Dunlin 1
Least Sandpiper 4 12 4 2
Western Sandpiper 3 3
Long-billed Dowitcher 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 1 1
Heermann’s Gull 6 15 12 11 3 1
Mew Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 5 35 30 2
Western Gull 45 48 85 90 45 39
California Gull 27 1200 940 1350 6
Herring Gull 1 1 1 1
Glaucous-wingd Gull 2
Caspian Tern 2
Forster’s Tern 2 1
Royal Tern 1 19 16 45 14 5
Elegant Tern 2 5 1
Black Skimmer 1
Rock Pigeon 17 15 5 5 10 6
Mourning Dove 2 1 4 1 1
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 1 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 1 1 1 2 2 2
Belted Kingfisher 2 1 1 1 1
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Nanday Parakeet 3 30
Pac.-slope Flycatcher 1
Black Phoebe 9 5 5 3 2 6
Say’s Phoebe 2 1 1
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
California Scrub-Jay 2 2 4 1 1
American Crow 7 7 4 5 4 3
Common Raven 1
Tree Swallow 12
Rough-wingd Swallow 20
Barn Swallow 1 5
Bushtit 27 30 35 10 8 3
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 3 1 3 1 2
European Starling 17 45 30 1 1
Ornge-crwnd Warbler 3 4 2
Common Yellowthroat 6 5 5 3 3 4
Yellow-rumpd Warbler 10 28 3 8
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Spotted Towhee 1 1 1
California Towhee 2 1 1
Savannah Sparrow 2 4 1
Song Sparrow 6 4 8 6 8 8
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
White-crwnd Sparrow 2 25 45 15 20 10
Red-winged Blackbird 1 1
Western Meadowlark 16 3 2 1
Great-tailed Grackle 2 17 5 3 2 3
Brwn-headed Cowbird 3
House Finch 30 18 9 17 10 6
Lesser Goldfinch 2
Totals by Type Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb
Waterfowl 55 50 70 114 75 80
Water Birds – Other 149 382 332 335 165 132
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 15 13 9 16 16 8
Quail & Raptors 4 1 1 2 2 1
Shorebirds 195 215 161 100 86 76
Gulls & Terns 54 118 1321 1122 1445 58
Doves 19 16 5 9 11 7
Other Non-Passerines 4 6 3 33 3 2
Passerines 140 183 186 107 94 53
Totals Birds 635 984 2088 1838 1897 417
             
Total Species Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb
Waterfowl 7 6 8 9 9 8
Water Birds – Other 4 9 11 8 8 5
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 3 3 3 3 3
Quail & Raptors 3 1 1 1 2 1
Shorebirds 14 10 8 8 8 9
Gulls & Terns 4 8 8 6 7 9
Doves 2 2 1 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 3 4 3 3 2 1
Passerines 21 21 21 18 18 13
Totals Species 61 64 64 58 59 51

 

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