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A Really Cool June – Malibu Lagoon, 24 June, 2018

June 27, 2018

View down north channel to Adamson House (Lillian Johnson 6-24-18)

The weather was quite pleasant for a December field trip: overcast, cool, a slight breeze riffling the lagoon. Several birders, lacking sufficient warm clothing, left early. Some might complain, I suppose, insisting, “But it’s June! It’s supposed to be hot and sunny!” Not I. Some might grumble and call it, “June Gloom.” I call it, “A welcome respite from intolerable heat.” But then I long ago gave up lying for hours in the baking sun, trying to develop the healthy glow of a deep tan. Live and learn.

Funny bunny – is it sitting on eggs? (Grace Murayama 5-27-18)

About twenty birders showed up, most of them new to the lagoon and its birds. I suspect that the regulars, knowing the avian paucity they would encounter, stayed away. I warned those present not to expect a lot, as June is the cruelest month with few birds and low diversity. On the other hand, it can only improve as we move towards winter.

Everyone always wants to see the famous Western Roof-Egret
(Randy Ehler 5-27-18)

There were plenty of Barn Swallows cruising lagoon and beach, sipping water while on the wing, nabbing any insect foolish enough to leave the safety of the sand. I doubt that Swallows can easily process brackish water, as sea birds can safely drink sea water. However, as the lagoon is quite calm and stirring and mixing of the water may be minimal, it could be that salty water, more dense than fresh water, sinks and stays at the bottom, leaving the lighter fresh water at the surface.

Looking over the west channel to the Malibu Colony (L. Johnson 6-24-18)

The mullet were jumping. That Ph.D. is still available to anyone who can determine exactly why they jump. I’ve enquired of several fish people (shades of “The Shape of Water”) why they do this, and always receive the same set of possibilities: displaying to the opposite sex, displaying to the same sex, catching aerial insects, avoiding predators, dislodging skin parasites, gulping oxygen, it’s good exercise and stimulates the skin and circulation, it’s just plain fun. My money is on the last.

Heliotrope doesn’t follow the sun (L. Johnson 6-24-18)

Heliotrope is currently growing in numerous locations. Of Greek origin, the name means the sun (Helios) + to follow (trepein). Wikipedia says the flowers don’t actually follow the sun, as will sunflowers of many sorts. Did you know that heliotrope is a sign of – in the “language of flowers” (whatever that is) – eternal love, prophetic dreams, healing, wealth and invisibility? (Power Flowers) I’ll bet not. Possessing the power of invisibility rings true in the sense that the plant might kill you and you “shuffle off this mortal coil.” All parts of the plant are “poisonous…cause gastric distress in humans and animals…has slow acting liver toxin which causes liver damage (atrophic hepatosis)… sometimes has a high death rate in cattle…might cause photosensitization…sudden hemolytic jaundice as a response to the toxin and eventually death.” Just because something is natural doesn’t make it either good or safe to eat. (Poisonous Plants – Heliotrope)

Crow eating Killdeer chick (G. Murayama 6-22-18)

Song Sparrows were out and about. Several looked like recent fledglings: indistinct breast streaks, hopping on the open pathway where any crow could snatch them up instead of properly skulking in the bushes, and no tails. They looked like “crombec sparrows.”

For those keeping track, the crombecs – small, nearly tailless African warblers reminiscent of nuthatches – were recently split from the Sylviidae family of Old World Warblers, and – with a few other African warblers – given their own family Macrosphenidae. Hooray! Another new family of birds!

Mating Caspian Terns, Royal Tern on far right (G. Murayama 6-22-18)

As in May, the beach was unbreached and lagoon water was very high, above sea level at the 8:26 AM high tide. I’d guess that about 8-12” of sand clearance remains. Sand height is lowest towards the east side of the lagoon, and here the sand was smooth and vegetation appeared wave-washed. Full moon is on Wednesday, June 27 at 9:53 PM, and I wouldn’t be surprised if waves come over the beach at this time. When this happens, backwash from the lagoon occasionally cuts a channel back to the sea. So the lagoon water level may rise, or it may drop, which just about covers it. Take your pick.

South edge of Malibu Lagoon, Santa Monica disappearing into the far foggy distance (L. Johnson 6-24-18)

Snowy Plovers have been busy. Another pair is sitting on two eggs, under the protection of the metal mobile enclosure. The two chicks we saw last month on May 27, which then had just started to fly short distances, appear (to me) to still be there, as two of the four birds present looked like juveniles.

Western Snowy Plover mom on nest inside enclosure (G. Murayama 6-22-18)

When the birding group came right up to the edge of the protective fence, the adult ran away from the nest and through the orange plastic fencing. I backed the group off about 20 ft. and she returned. The eggs are a pale gray-olive-green color with dark spots and very difficult to see even through a spotting scope. The eggs’  smooth curvature – unlike all the other objects on the beach – is what gives them away, and not the color.

Killdeer nesting at the lagoon (Randy Ehler 5-27-18)

Willets were in all varieties of plumage, from smooth winter gray to almost reddish-brown and heavily barred. They mostly slept, accompanied by a few nodding Whimbrels.

Five days later the Willets and Whimbrels still hadn’t moved
(G. Murayama 6-29-18)

Least Terns repeatedly dropped to the sand, quickly to rise, catch a small fish, then fly about, fish in mouth and calling. The small group of Terns slowly grew throughout the morning, from none at all to four species totalling eleven birds. All the Heermann’s Gulls were adults, and we wondered how their breeding season at Isla de la Rasa in the Sea of Cortez went for them.

Young Heermann’s Gulls are not entirely absent, as this chocolate-brown bird, seen at Zuma Beach in west Malibu, demonstrates
(G. Murayama, 6-22-18)

I don’t know that it warrants the term “mobbing” – usually reserved for a mixed flock harassing a predator such as a small owl or cat – but two vigorous mockingbirds took turns diving on a crow which occupied their favorite perch, the electric pole at the NE corner of the Malibu Colony, a few feet from the footpath. The crow finally left. Some 10-20 minutes later we spotted two birds soaring very high. They turned out to be a crow, repeatedly diving onto the back of a Red-tailed Hawk. Can one crow constitute a “mob?”

We briefly discussed the fact that small birds will attack a larger bird they consider a predator, and they nearly always get away with it because they are faster and more maneuverable. Dropping down on their foe from behind to peck them on back or head is their favorite tactic. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen finches or sparrows attack a mockingbird, but mockers will attack jays and crows (then again, mockers will attack anything), jays and crows will attack hawks, and hawks will attack eagles. Sort of a reverse pecking order.

Least Terns with metal leg bands on right leg (G. Murayama 6-22-18)

Birds new for the season were: Pied-billed Grebe, Sanderling, California Gull, Red-tailed Hawk, Black Phoebe, Red-winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbird.

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

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

Our next two scheduled field trips: Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 22 July; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 26 August.

Our next program: Luke Tiller will present “Tails from the Platform: Hawks, Hawkwatchers and Hawkwatching”: 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 Lillian Johnson, and Lu Plauzoles for their contributions to the checklist below.  [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2018 1/28 2/25 3/25 4/22 5/27 6/24
Temperature 67-76 55-62 55-62 63-67 61-66 62-68
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+5.99 H+5.21 L-.16 L-.15 H+3.86 H+3.50
Tide Time 0609 0459 1213 1028 0912 0826
Cinnamon Teal 1
Northern Shoveler 2
Gadwall 30 8 12 5 12 4
American Wigeon 36 4 8
Mallard 12 6 12 4 15 12
Northern Pintail 1
Green-winged Teal 6 1 6
Surf Scoter 2
Bufflehead 6 8 1
Red-breasted Merganser 3 4 6
Ruddy Duck 13 9 4
Pied-billed Grebe 1 2 1 2
Eared Grebe 2
Western Grebe 25
Clark’s Grebe 1
Rock Pigeon 8 8 10 1 3 2
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1 2
Mourning Dove 2 4 1 2
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 1 1 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 5 1 2 3
Sora 1
American Coot 125 85 75 2 4
Black-bellied Plover 22 25 10 9 1
Snowy Plover 19 34 12 9 3 4
Semipalmated Plover 4
Killdeer 4 10 12 7 4 8
Whimbrel 8 13 9 3 6 3
Marbled Godwit 18 30 7 30
Ruddy Turnstone 1 6 1
Sanderling 30 20 20 45 7
Least Sandpiper 1 3 1 12
Western Sandpiper 10 4
Willet 9 14 6 6 4 18
Bonaparte’s Gull 2
Heermann’s Gull 5 3 1 5
Ring-billed Gull 35 70 10 1
Western Gull 95 92 120 18 112 75
California Gull 1550 550 20 4
Herring Gull 2
Glaucous-winged Gull 5 3
Least Tern 9 2
Caspian Tern 2 8 11 4
Forster’s Tern 2
Royal Tern 12 15 17 2 1
Elegant Tern 3 30 130 4
Black Skimmer 1
Pacific Loon 1 1 3
Brandt’s Cormorant 2 1 1 7
Double-crested Cormorant 73 37 27 18 15 7
Pelagic Cormorant 2 3
Brown Pelican 6 14 37 32 68 5
Great Blue Heron 2 1 2 1 1 2
Great Egret 1 3 2 3 3
Snowy Egret 8 8 6 1 4 5
Green Heron 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 4 2
Turkey Vulture 1 1 4
Osprey 2 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 1
Merlin 1
Peregrine Falcon 2 1
Nanday Parakeet 4 4
Black Phoebe 3 1 4 1 2
Say’s Phoebe 3 3
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
Western Kingbird 2
American Crow 3 5 4 2 2 4
Common Raven 2
Tree Swallow 3
Violet-green Swallow 6 2
Rough-winged Swallow 3 5
Cliff Swallow 5 8 1
Barn Swallow 15 4 10 15
Oak Titmouse 1
Bushtit 20 35 6 1 20 27
Marsh Wren 1 2 2
Bewick’s Wren 3 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 8 6 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
Western Bluebird 1
Northern Mockingbird 2 1 3 2 2 2
European Starling 15 10 23
House Finch 20 8 24 4 5
Lesser Goldfinch 1 8 2
Spotted Towhee 1 2
California Towhee 1 2 1 2
Savannah Sparrow 1 2 1
Song Sparrow 4 5 2 10 5 5
White-crowned Sparrow 8 25 28
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Western Meadowlark 2 4
Red-winged Blackbird 6 15 1 7
Brown-headed Cowbird 2 2
Brewer’s Blackbird 1
Great-tailed Grackle 1 2 15 4 4 3
Orange-crowned Warbler 2 1 3 1
Common Yellowthroat 2 4 2 1
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler 12 20 12
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Totals by Type Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
Waterfowl 109 40 52 9 27 16
Water Birds – Other 211 142 172 52 88 21
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 11 12 14 4 9 10
Quail & Raptors 6 2 2 0 5 1
Shorebirds 112 155 88 90 56 41
Gulls & Terns 1704 727 179 57 269 95
Doves 8 10 15 3 4 4
Other Non-Passerines 6 6 6 3 1 1
Passerines 121 146 189 37 66 69
Totals Birds 2288 1240 717 255 525 258
             
Total Species Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
Waterfowl 9 7 9 2 2 2
Water Birds – Other 8 7 8 3 4 4
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 3 4 3 4 3
Quail & Raptors 4 2 2 0 2 1
Shorebirds 9 9 10 8 6 6
Gulls & Terns 7 4 9 4 8 7
Doves 1 2 3 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 2 3 2 1 1 1
Passerines 22 21 27 15 12 11
Totals Species – 90 65 58 74 38 41 37
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