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Snowy Plovers & Least Terns on the Beach: Malibu Lagoon, 28 May, 2017

May 31, 2017

Female Mallard on the Surfrider Beach seashore, muckin’ about.
(L. Loeher 5-22-17)

First I’d like to give a shout out to Jim Kenney, whom many of you know and who has made many contributions over the years to Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society. This includes hundreds of excellent photographs both on this blog and on our FaceBook page (our Passerines album, for example). Many of you may not know that he is also a local wildflower expert, and the authoritative book Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains – profusely illustrated with Jim’s photos – is still available on the internet.

Elegant Terns and one adult non-breeding Caspian Tern (L. Loeher 5-22-17)

The birds at the lagoon continue to dwindle in numbers and diversity as we move on towards summer, As with last month, they seemed fewer than usual, so I checked my records.

May 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
Species 29 41 48 55 46
Total Birds 311 262 590 410 322
Gulls/Terns 97 127 294 132 189
Gull/Tern % 31% 48% 50% 32% 59%

Twenty-nine species seemed abnormally low, and I had to go all the way back to Aug. 8, 1982 to find a lower count of 25. It so happens that the early years of my records are full of low counts. The period Mar. 1980 – Jan. 1981, for example, had species counts ranging from 12 to 30 species. We have had a recent outbreak of domoic acid (aka “red tide”) poisoning which may have affected seabird and shorebird counts like the gulls, terns and sandpipers, but it shouldn’t affect landbirds.

Adult Killdeer probably doing a distraction display (G Murayama 5-26-17)

 Domoic acid is produced by algae and accumulates in shellfish, sardines, and anchovies which are then eaten by sea lions, otters, cetaceans, and humans, among others. Exposure to the biotoxin affects the brain, causing them to become lethargic, disoriented, and have seizures that sometimes result in death. This can happen to people, so you’d better watch what you eat.

Killdeer chick (G Murayama 5-26-17)

Killdeer are still nesting around the lagoon and channel. During the latter half of April and in May we observed several very young chicks in the vegetated area within the virtual fence. Today we saw another set of very young long-legged chicks alongside their parents in the moderately vegetated area between the beach path and the channel, just north of the Malibu Colony. Later, inside the virtual fence alongside the lagoon, we found the now-juvenile older chicks, proof that Killeer pairs don’t nest simultaneously.

Great Egret, probably looking for a Killdeer chick to eat
(Pam Prichard 6-02-17)

The big news – already known to those who regularly read this blog – is that Snowy Plovers have nested on Los Angeles County beaches for the first time in sixty-eight years. The last nesting was at Manhattan Beach in 1949. This year they nested in three locations: Dockweiler Beach, Santa Monica Beach and on Surfrider Beach between Malibu Lagoon and the sea. Read more about all these nestings here.

On the last egg (L. Loeher 6-03-17)

On May 4, 2017, Grace Murayama and Larry Loeher – two diligent observers of Snowy Plovers and Least Terns – found a nest on Surfrider Beach just south of the virtual fence. The nest belonged to female rr:bb (born at Oceano Dunes in Spring 2016) and her unbanded male mate, and contained two eggs. [A third egg was laid sometime thereafter, date unknown.] Protective fencing and caging was immediately put in place by local authorities and volunteers. The pair was still taking turns incubating the eggs on May 28, our field trip day.

Nester SNPL, probably looking for something to eat (L. Loeher 5-27-17)

On June 1 only one egg was seen in the nest, and no chicks could be found. Everyone was sad for several days while the adults plovers continued to intermittently incubate their remaining egg. On Saturday morning (June 3) Grace and Larry were relieving Brody on nest-watch duties, and all three saw one

Just one unhatched egg left (G. Murayama 6-01-17)

long-legged fluffball Snowy Plover chick near the lagoon, accompanied by an adult. Sarah Ngo (of Pasadena Audubon Society) dropped by to see the birds, spotted two chicks by the lagoon, and managed to snap a photo of them. [We’ll see if we can get a copy.] Sadness became gladness! On Sunday, June 4, volunteer observer Pam Prichard reported that the third egg had disappeared. We believe it has hatched, as was expected this week. This third chick could be wandering around on the vegetated sand, but they’re so small and cryptic, they’re tough to see. It should not be necessary to say, but I’ll say it anyway: please stay out of the fenced areas. These are federally and state listed threatened birds. It was human activity and interference that drove them to near-extinction.

Least Terns begin nesting – or not (G. Murayama 6-01-17)

Returning to our May 28 field trip, and a bit east of the virtual fence enclosure, we saw several Least Terns sitting on the beach among scattered stones and small pieces of driftwood. We usually get Least Terns visiting the lagoon in July and August during their post-breeding dispersal, but they’re far less common in May, when we’ve had only two previous sightings on our field trips: 14 birds on 5/26/02 and 3 on 5/23/04. One of the birds seemed planted on one particular spot, so observers were watching this bird as well as the Snowy Plovers, to see if it might be planning on nesting. Grace and Larry report that they “watched at least one sitting Least Tern picking up bits of stuff, a stick, etc., and tuck them underneath/next to her/him.”

Nesting or not, the closer Least Tern has a metal band on its right leg. The round gray object is a stone, not an egg. (G. Murayama 6-01-17)

A little history is in order: Our August 1979 issue of the SMBAS Imprint newsletter carried “The Birds of Malibu Lagoon,” a report by Lloyd Kiff & Kay Nakamura and based on local reports dating back to 1934. Their comment on Least Tern was brief:

“There are surprisingly few reports of this species, despite the fact that it breeds both north and south of Malibu Lagoon. It should be regarded as a rare transient, occurring primarily in August and September.”

Least Tern with a fish, looking for a mate (L. Loeher 5-22-17)

Since 1978, the only recorded nesting attempt was in 2013; crows ate all the eggs and the parents gave up.

Least Tern brings a fish to prospective mate (G. Murayama 5-22-17)

 Stacey Vigallon – our local Snowy Plover and Least Tern head maven and activist – came by the following day (Monday, May 29) and said it looked like they were nesting, and what we witnessed on Sunday was nest building. [Tern nests are very simple, consisting of a slight depression – a “scrape” – in the sand with a few gathered pebbles and detritus for camouflage.] For the following week additional Least Terns came and left and performed what looks like courtship, mating and nesting behavior. By Thursday (June 1) orange plastic fencing had been installed to surround the plovers and terns. As of this writing, the terns continue sitting on the sand, probably on nest-scrapes, but no eggs have yet been seen.

Least Terns, apparently fish-courting (G. Murayama 5-22-17)

In addition to all this activity, the Osprey have vanished, and the only unexpected bird was an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron, probably a migrant, resting on one of the shrubby sand islands. The sun was out, the weather was great, and the surf was “fair-to-middlin'” (an ancient surfer term).

Birds new for the season were: Black-crowned Night-Heron, Least Tern.
Many thanks to our photographers: Larry Loeher, Grace Murayama, Pam Prichard, Joyce Waterman

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

Our next three scheduled field trips: Mt. Piños Area – 8am Sat/Sun 10/11 June;  Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 25 June; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 23 July.

Our next program: To Be Announced, 3 October, 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]

Killdeer chick (L. Loeher 5-27-17)

Malibu Census
2016 – 2017
11/27 12/25 2/26 3/26 4/23 5/28
Temperature 53-58 48-54 46-52 55-68 63-70 63-68
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+5.79 H+5.49 H+5.6 H+5.21 H+4.54 L+1.32
Tide Time 0729 0634 0845 0851 0749 0627
Canada Goose 2
Gadwall 4 18 10 12 10 15
American Wigeon 7 30 6 18
Mallard 22 14 24 14 20 25
Northern Shoveler 2 1
Northern Pintail 1
Green-winged Teal 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 2 4
Ruddy Duck 26 30 10
Red-throated Loon 1
Pacific Loon 1 2 80
Pied-billed Grebe 8 1
Horned Grebe 1
Eared Grebe 6 10 1 3
Western Grebe 10 50 3 1
Clark’s Grebe 1
Blk-vented Shearwater 50
Brandt’s Cormorant 3 2
Dble-crstd Cormorant 23 32 42 41 19 12
Pelagic Cormorant 2 6 1
Brown Pelican 37 24 30 8 28 18
Great Blue Heron 3 2 4 2 3
Great Egret 1 2 3 1
Snowy Egret 5 12 9 5 4 2
Blk-crwnd N-Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Osprey 2 1 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 1
American Coot 240 210 85 32 1
Blk-bellied Plover 73 22 35 14 15 5
Snowy Plover 12 32 8 8 3 2
Semipalmated Plover 20
Killdeer 2 1 4 8 12 14
Willet 3 15 12 13 4
Whimbrel 2 1 5 4 4
Marbled Godwit 10 5 8 23 1
Ruddy Turnstone 14 12 10 1 3
Sanderling 45
Dunlin 1
Least Sandpiper 12 4 2 30
Western Sandpiper 3 3
Bonaparte’s Gull 1 1 1
Heermann’s Gull 12 11 3 1
Mew Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 5 35 30 2 1
Western Gull 85 90 45 39 75 45
California Gull 1200 940 1350 6
Herring Gull 1 1 1
Glaucous-wingd Gull 2
Least Tern 3
Caspian Tern 2 17 4
Forster’s Tern 1
Royal Tern 16 45 14 5
Elegant Tern 1 65 45
Black Skimmer 1
Rock Pigeon 5 5 10 6 18 13
Mourning Dove 4 1 1 2 4
Anna’s Hummingbird 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 1 2 2 2 1 3
Belted Kingfisher 1 1 1
Nanday Parakeet 30
Black Phoebe 5 3 2 6 4 5
Say’s Phoebe 1
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
California Scrub-Jay 4 1 1
American Crow 4 5 4 3 3 5
Common Raven 1
Tree Swallow 12
Violet-green Swallow 1
Rough-wingd Swallow 20 4 3
Cliff Swallow 16 3
Barn Swallow 5 10 10
Bushtit 35 10 8 3 1
House Wren 2 1 1 1
Marsh Wren 1 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 8 1
Western Bluebird 2
Hermit Thrush 1
Northern Mockingbird 3 1 2 4 8
European Starling 30 1 1 1 12
Ornge-crwnd Warbler 4 2
Common Yellowthroat 5 3 3 4 3 4
Yellow-rumpd Warbler 28 3 8
Spotted Towhee 1
California Towhee 1 1 1
Savannah Sparrow 4 1
Song Sparrow 8 6 8 8 15 12
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1
White-crwnd Sparrow 45 15 20 10
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Western Meadowlark 2 1
Great-tailed Grackle 5 3 2 3 8
Brwn-headed Cowbird 3
House Finch 9 17 10 6 16 30
Totals by Type Nov Dec Feb Mar Apr May
Waterfowl 70 114 75 80 32 44
Water Birds – Other 332 335 165 132 130 31
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 9 16 16 8 4 6
Quail & Raptors 1 2 2 1 2 0
Shorebirds 161 100 86 76 96 21
Gulls & Terns 1321 1122 1445 58 160 97
Doves 5 9 11 7 20 17
Other Non-Passerines 3 33 3 2 1 3
Passerines 186 107 94 53 89 92
Totals Birds 2088 1838 1897 417 534 311
             
Total Species Nov Dec Feb Mar Apr May
Waterfowl 8 9 9 8 3 3
Water Birds – Other 11 8 8 5 4 3
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 3 3 3 1 3
Quail & Raptors 1 1 2 1 2 0
Shorebirds 8 8 8 9 11 3
Gulls & Terns 8 6 7 9 6 4
Doves 1 2 2 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 3 3 2 1 1 1
Passerines 21 18 18 13 16 10
Totals Species – 98 64 58 59 51 46 29

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. carolejim permalink
    June 6, 2017 10:32 am

    Chuck: Thanks for the “shout-out.” I am slowly recovering! Jim

    Like

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