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High Water and Snowy Plover chicks at Malibu Lagoon, 27 May, 2018

May 29, 2018

Immature Brown Pelican with emerging primary feathers p1 & p2.
(Ray Juncosa 5-27-18)

As we move on towards summer, numbers and diversity of the birds continues to drop. This month the decline in ducks was particularly noticeable with only Gadwall and Mallard present, and most of those were ducklings toodling along behind their mothers. The twenty or or thirty birders present enjoyed a nice day and some interesting sightings.

The Usual Suspects keep the haberdashers in business
(Grace Murayama 5-27-18)

The beach breach had closed and lagoon water was very high, well above sea level at the 9:12 AM high tide. The Jumping Mullet seemed to enjoy it, as they were leaping all over the lagoon and channel. There might be a foot of sand yet to clear before the water breaks over the beach into the sea, with the lowest clearance near Adamson house. Lots of little dunes and vegetation have appeared within the virtual fence erected in March to protect possible Snowy Plover and Least Tern nesting areas.

View across lagoon towards Pacific Coast Bridge & Adamson House
(Lillian Johnson 5-27-18)

We found 525 birds in 41 species, about average for May. Numbers for the prior five years range from 262 to 590 individual birds and species from 30 to 55. As always, not everyone sees every bird. I missed the Peregrine Falcon which – as usual – rocketed by in pursuit mode. The Green Heron flew in early, then hid in the reeds. Anna’s Hummingbird was elusive and no Allen’s Hummers were to be found anywhere. Highly unusual, that. Least, Royal and Forster’s Terns came and went, came and went. The solitary Western Bluebird was in a tree above the parking lot port-a-potties, seen only at trip’s end before it flew over the west wall into the private golf course.

Rough-winged Swallow – distinguished by its lack of distinguishing characteristics (R. Juncosa 5-27-18)

Few people saw all four swallow species either. It must be admitted that many birders ignore them, finding them difficult as they’re always zooming by, their plumage details difficult to discern while on the wing.

Barn Swallow’s glossy blue back and long outer tail feathers
(Randy Ehler 5-27-18)

Our trips are not all deadly seriousness. One birder – narrating a story – exclaimed, “That was no lady! That was my wife!” I leapt in with, “I spent a week in Philadelphia one night.” Here’s four more one-liner classics:

  • My psychiatrist said, “You’re crazy.” “Doc,” I said, “I want a second opinion!” So he says, “Okay…you’re ugly too!”
  • Worrying works! 90% of the things I worry about never happen.
  • I know my wife cheats on me. Every time I come home the parrot says, “Quick, out the window.”
  • When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.

Bonaparte’s Gulls, resting (R. Ehler 5-27-18)

The two Bonaparte’s Gulls stayed close together, well folded and obscure between two dunes. The sole Brandt’s Cormorant was out in the surf zone, continually diving under waves.

The excitable Elegant Terns (G. Murayama 5-27-18)

Every now and then the flock of Elegant Terns would spring into the air, squawking madly, swirl around the lagoon once or twice, then alight again on the sand. We looked for possible raptors diving on them, but never saw any. It’s likely they were just excitable; eager to stretch their wings, eager to get on with breeding season.

Everyone saw Song Sparrows (photo farther down) who continually sang pathside. They’re “Song” Sparrows not because their song is particularly beautiful – charming, but not beautiful – but because they sing a lot, year-round.

Snowy Egret hunting & stirring
(R. Juncosa 5-27-18)

A Snowy Egret was feeding nearby in the south channel shallows, stirring the bottom with its foot and peering intently at the water for any fish or invertebrates who might be literally stirred into action. This prompted a discussion (well, me mostly) of heron/egret feeding behavior.

All the “dancing” egrets with which I’m familiar are among the thirteen members of the genus Egretta. Snowy Egrets Egretta thula rarely “dance;” they may hop and chase a bit and frequently use the foot stirring technique. Reddish Egrets Egretta rufescens are real “dancers,” hopping and jumping all over the place and frequently flicking their wings out, creating a partial canopy which shades the water around their feet. There are 3-5 of them resident at Bolsa Chica in Orange County. It’s fun to watch them feed.

The most extreme egret behavior I’ve seen is that of the Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. They whip their wings out to form a complete canopy and may hold the position for many minutes. Small fish, lizards, amphibians and invertebrates seeking to escape the tropical sun and enjoy the shade of this handy black “bush” find themselves quickly snapped up. The canopied birds look like huge black mushrooms. The Slaty Egret is another notable “foot stirrer.” Other “dancers” are Pied Heron, Tricolored Heron, White-faced Heron, Little Egret, Chinese Egret, Pacific Reef-Heron and Western Reef-Heron.

Black Heron flock in Okavango Delta, Botswana, accompanied by Sacred and Glossy Ibis (R. Juncosa 10-6-12)

Snowy Plover Update! Major Malibu Surfrider Beach news again this year is the nesting Snowy Plovers. We saw two sizable and plumaged young, attended by one adult, presumably the father. Read the separate report on the plovers.

Snowy Plover juvenile (L) with patterned back & plain-backed adult (R) at Malibu Lagoon (R. Ehler 5-27-18)

As yet there are no Least Terns nesting on the beach, but fish-fetching courting behavior has been witnessed. The beach seems slightly higher than last year by a couple of inches, so perhaps any tern nests that appear won’t be inundated by high tide surf.

Least Terns courting with a fish watch the cameraman with suspicion
(R. Ehler 5-27-18)

Birds new for the season were: Anna’s Hummingbird, Bonaparte’s Gull, Least & Forster’s Terns, Green Heron, Peregrine Falcon, Western Bluebird.

Many thanks to our photographers: Randy Ehler, Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa, Larry Loeher, & Grace Murayama.

Song Sparrow at work
(Larry Loeher 5-27-18)

Our next three scheduled field trips: Mt. Piños, 8am, 9-10 June; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 24 June; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 22 July.

Our next program: To Be Announced: Tuesday, 2 October, 7:30 p.m., 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:
2017: Jan-June, July-Dec
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.

Many thanks to Randy Ehler, Lillian Johnson, Chris Lord, and Lu Plauzoles for their contributions to the checklist below.  [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2017-18 12/24 1/28 2/25 3/25 4/22 5/27
Temperature 57-68 67-76 55-62 55-62 63-67 61-66
Tide Lo/Hi Height L+2.8 H+5.99 H+5.21 L-.16 L-.15 H+3.86
Tide Time 0654 0609 0459 1213 1028 0912
Cinnamon Teal 1
Northern Shoveler 2
Gadwall 5 30 8 12 5 12
American Wigeon 15 36 4 8
Mallard 22 12 6 12 4 15
Northern Pintail 3 1
Green-winged Teal 6 1 6
Surf Scoter 2 2
Bufflehead 1 6 8 1
Red-breasted Merganser 8 3 4 6
Ruddy Duck 2 13 9 4
Pied-billed Grebe 5 1 2 1
Eared Grebe 2
Western Grebe 5 25
Clark’s Grebe 1
Rock Pigeon 6 8 8 10 1 3
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1 2
Mourning Dove 2 2 4 1
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 1 1 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 3 5 1 2 3
Sora 1
American Coot 72 125 85 75 2 4
Black-bellied Plover 28 22 25 10 9
Snowy Plover 35 19 34 12 9 3
Semipalmated Plover 4
Killdeer 3 4 10 12 7 4
Whimbrel 10 8 13 9 3 6
Marbled Godwit 57 18 30 7 30
Ruddy Turnstone 12 1 6 1
Sanderling 11 30 20 20 45
Least Sandpiper 6 1 3 1 12
Western Sandpiper 10 4
Willet 11 9 14 6 6 4
Bonaparte’s Gull 1 2
Heermann’s Gull 4 5 3 1
Mew Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 42 35 70 10 1
Western Gull 97 95 92 120 18 112
California Gull 560 1550 550 20
Herring Gull 1 2
Glaucous-winged Gull 2 5 3
Least Tern 9
Caspian Tern 2 8 11
Forster’s Tern 2
Royal Tern 21 12 15 17 2
Elegant Tern 3 30 130
Black Skimmer 1
Pacific Loon 1 1 1 3
Common Loon 4
Brandt’s Cormorant 2 2 1 1
Double-crested Cormorant 32 73 37 27 18 15
Pelagic Cormorant 2 3
Brown Pelican 5 6 14 37 32 68
Great Blue Heron 5 2 1 2 1 1
Great Egret 1 3 2 3
Snowy Egret 18 8 8 6 1 4
Green Heron 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 3 4 2
Turkey Vulture 1 1 4
Osprey 1 2 1 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Nuttall’s Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 1 1
Peregrine Falcon 2 1
Nanday Parakeet 4 4
Black Phoebe 4 3 1 4 1
Say’s Phoebe 3 3 3
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
Western Kingbird 2
American Crow 4 3 5 4 2 2
Common Raven 2
Tree Swallow 3
Violet-green Swallow 6 2
Rough-winged Swallow 2 3 5
Cliff Swallow 5 8
Barn Swallow 1 15 4 10
Oak Titmouse 1
Bushtit 10 20 35 6 1 20
House Wren 1
Marsh Wren 1 1 2 2
Bewick’s Wren 3 3 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 7 8 6 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 3
Western Bluebird 1
Northern Mockingbird 2 2 1 3 2 2
European Starling 50 15 10 23
House Finch 41 20 8 24 4 5
Lesser Goldfinch 1 8 2
Spotted Towhee 1 2
California Towhee 2 1 2 1 2
Savannah Sparrow 1 2 1
Song Sparrow 9 4 5 2 10 5
White-crowned Sparrow 27 8 25 28
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Western Meadowlark 2 2 4
Red-winged Blackbird 6 15 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Great-tailed Grackle 6 1 2 15 4 4
Orange-crowned Warbler 1 2 1 3 1
Common Yellowthroat 5 2 4 2 1
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler 12 12 20 12
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Totals by Type Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May
Waterfowl 58 109 40 52 9 27
Water Birds – Other 126 211 142 172 52 88
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 26 11 12 14 4 9
Quail & Raptors 4 6 2 2 0 5
Shorebirds 173 112 155 88 90 56
Gulls & Terns 729 1704 727 179 57 269
Doves 8 8 10 15 3 4
Other Non-Passerines 5 6 6 6 3 1
Passerines 194 121 146 189 37 66
Totals Birds 1323 2288 1240 717 255 525
             
Total Species Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May
Waterfowl 8 9 7 9 2 2
Water Birds – Other 8 8 7 8 3 4
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 3 3 4 3 4
Quail & Raptors 4 4 2 2 0 2
Shorebirds 9 9 9 10 8 6
Gulls & Terns 9 7 4 9 4 8
Doves 2 1 2 3 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 3 2 3 2 1 1
Passerines 22 22 21 27 15 12
Totals Species – 104 68 65 58 74 38 41
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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mary Prismon permalink
    June 2, 2018 5:34 pm

    Outstanding report, Chuck! Your breadth of bird lore continues to amaze me, not to mention all the other tidbits of info and humor! We are lucky for your writing and for such talented photographers also!
    M. Prismon

    Like

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