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Fall Migration Begins – Malibu Lagoon, 22 July, 2018

July 25, 2018

Young Brown Pelican (L. Loeher 7-22-18)

Parking was jammed on Pacific Coast Highway and in the park’s car lot, an early indication that we were part way through yet another week – or longer – of triple-digit temperatures. The beach was crowded; surfers covered what few waves leisurely rolled in. At 11am our car claimed it was only 79° but it felt hotter. A half-hour later it was 104° as we crept through Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley. But enough about global warming.

About 40 people showed up for the 8:30am walk and another 30 for the 10am parents and kids walk. Several were new to birding. This is a good trip for new birders because: we take our time, we loan binoculars, free checklist!, ask all the questions you want, short walking distance, nice views, most of the birds (ducks, waders, shorebirds) don’t move quickly and you can get a good look even while you fiddle with your binoculars. And you can quit birding and go swimming whenever you want.

View across channel to picnic area and colony (L. Johnson 7-22-18)

Just as we were getting started, thirty Red-winged Blackbirds dropped into the reed bed next to us. A wide variety of plumages were noted.

Red-winged Blackbirds (G. Murayama 7-22-18)

The mighty Mullet still roam the depths of the lagoon, jumping often enough to keep themselves (and us) amused. There were few ducks on the water, just several families composed mostly of young ducklings of various sizes. A single coot was present; in June there weren’t any, so we could say their population increased infinitely. But we won’t.

Gadwall family (L. Loeher 7-22-18)

Many Black-bellied Plovers still had black, or partially black, bellies. They looked tired, rarely moving. They’d probably just flown a long distance. They nest in the high Arctic from northwestern Alaska through the Canadian archipelago. Many fly to southern South America for the winter, but there are always several dozen at the lagoon on any winter’s day.

Great Blue Heron (L. Loeher 7-22-18)

Below is the most recent aerial photo of the lagoon I could find. The view is from above Santa Monica Bay, looking due north. Taken only four months after the dedication of the reconfigured lagoon, it shows a lot of brown algae floating on the water’s surface. Before the reconfiguration such algae was a common phenomenon during warm months, and the air often smelled of its rot. My recollection is that little algae appeared in 2014, and we have seen very little or none of it at all during the past four summers. In my opinion, its absence is an indication that the lagoon water quality has improved, and the reconfiguration was, in this regard, successful. Sorry to say, I did not properly document its presence or absence following the reconfiguration.

Malibu Lagoon, Sept. 29, 2013 (CaliforniaCoastline.Org)

In the foreground is the western 1/3rd of Surfrider Beach, famed in film and song. At low tides many rocky areas are exposed, good for tide-pool exploration. The extreme eastern end of Malibu Colony residential area is in the lower left. The beach end of the footpath from the parking lot curves around it. Right of the path-end is a then-denuded low hill, with the 2nd viewing point just behind it. This hill is now covered with vegetation, as are the sandy islands and the northern side of of the lagoon. The green area in upper left corner is a tiny portion of a small private golf course, with the parking and meeting areas just to its right. Another viewing area lies on the south point of then-bare land just west of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) bridge over Malibu Creek/Malibu Lagoon. A shopping center lies north of PCH and west of the creek. The Adamson House property, mostly out-of-view, lies east of the lagoon, south of PCH.

Heermann’s Gulls, juvenile on right (L. Loeher 7-22-18)

Heermann’s Gulls are one of the few species who travel north after breeding. Well, some of them do. They breed early on Isla de la Rasa in the Sea of Cortez, spread out in their post-breeding dispersal, and can be found in diminishing numbers as far north as Seattle. They’ve suffered immense nesting failures in recent years, so we attempt to note the presence of sub-adult birds on our beaches. The picture above shows a juvenile bird, born this spring, with a slightly pale base to the dark bill and chocolate-brown plumage with pale scalloped markings barely visible on its shoulders. Below is a 2nd-year bird, now mostly gray, with bright red on the base of the bill. Heermann’s Gulls are “four-year” gulls; they take four years to reach their adult plumage and breeding age.

Heermann’s Gulls, 2nd year bird on right (L. Loeher 7-22-18)

The Hooded Orioles were finally seen by nearly everyone. They were in the trees and climbing Bougainvillea bush at the edge of Malibu Colony above the picnic area, which I suspect is where they nested. I’m sure they’ve been there for months but I (for one) kept missing them.

Whimbrel assortment – striped heads and decurved bills (L. Loeher 7-22-18)

Nearby, resting very quietly, was a Black-crowned Night-Heron. There are eight species of Night-Herons (including the Boat-billed Heron of Central & South America) and they all have several obvious features in common: squat and chunky build, large eyes, and daytime roosting out-of-sight in tree canopy or reed bed. Their large eyes are better adapted to darkness than the smaller eyes of the rest of the herons and egrets. They are more crepuscular-herons than night-herons, preferring to feed during the twilight of dawn and dusk. Black-crowned Night-Heron has a nearly worldwide distribution: southern Canada to Tierra del Fuego, Eurasia, Africa, and Indonesia. The ranges of the seven other species are more limited. The White-eared Night-Heron is the most restricted, living only on Hainan Island and adjacent southeastern China.

Western Snowy Plover (G. Murayama 7-22-18)

Our Western Snowy Plovers now number nine (thanks to SNPL mavens Grace Murayama and Larry Loeher). Nesting season appears to now be over, and we could find no banded birds among them. As you will note from the trip list below, their numbers are rising from three birds in May and four in June, counts which included recently-hatched birds.

Birds new for the season were: Allen’s Hummingbird, Black-crowned Night-Heron, American Robin, European Starling, Hooded Oriole.

Many thanks to our photographers: 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 2018: Jan-June
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 Chris Lord for their contributions to the checklist below.  [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2018 2/25 3/25 4/22 5/27 6/24 7/22
Temperature 55-62 55-62 63-67 61-66 62-68 70-79
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+5.21 L-.16 L-.15 H+3.86 H+3.50 H+3.31
Tide Time 0459 1213 1028 0912 0826 0733
Northern Shoveler 2
Gadwall 8 12 5 12 4 15
American Wigeon 4 8
Mallard 6 12 4 15 12 12
Northern Pintail 1
Green-winged Teal 1 6
Bufflehead 8 1
Red-breasted Merganser 4 6
Ruddy Duck 9 4
Pied-billed Grebe 2 1 2
Western Grebe 25
Rock Pigeon 8 10 1 3 2 6
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1 2
Mourning Dove 2 4 1 2 2
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 1 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 1 2 3 1
Sora 1
American Coot 85 75 2 4 1
Black-bellied Plover 25 10 9 1 17
Snowy Plover 34 12 9 3 4 9
Semipalmated Plover 4
Killdeer 10 12 7 4 8 8
Whimbrel 13 9 3 6 3 113
Marbled Godwit 30 7 30
Ruddy Turnstone 6 1
Sanderling 20 20 45 7
Least Sandpiper 3 1 12
Western Sandpiper 10 4
Willet 14 6 6 4 18 2
Bonaparte’s Gull 2
Heermann’s Gull 3 1 5 28
Ring-billed Gull 70 10 1
Western Gull 92 120 18 112 75 95
California Gull 550 20 4 2
Glaucous-winged Gull 3
Least Tern 9 2
Caspian Tern 2 8 11 4 1
Forster’s Tern 2
Royal Tern 15 17 2 1
Elegant Tern 3 30 130 4 11
Black Skimmer 1
Pacific Loon 1 3
Brandt’s Cormorant 1 1 7
Double-crested Cormorant 37 27 18 15 7 16
Pelagic Cormorant 2 3
Brown Pelican 14 37 32 68 5 5
Great Blue Heron 1 2 1 1 2 3
Great Egret 3 2 3 3 3
Snowy Egret 8 6 1 4 5 10
Green Heron 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 4 2 1
Turkey Vulture 1 4
Osprey 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Merlin 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Nanday Parakeet 4 4
Black Phoebe 1 4 1 2 3
Say’s Phoebe 3
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
Western Kingbird 2
American Crow 5 4 2 2 4 4
Common Raven 2
Tree Swallow 3
Violet-green Swallow 6 2
Rough-winged Swallow 3 5 1
Cliff Swallow 5 8 1 3
Barn Swallow 15 4 10 15 25
Oak Titmouse 1
Bushtit 35 6 1 20 27 60
Marsh Wren 2 2
Bewick’s Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 6 2
Western Bluebird 1
American Robin 1
Northern Mockingbird 1 3 2 2 2 2
European Starling 10 23 13
House Finch 8 24 4 5 8
Lesser Goldfinch 8 2
Spotted Towhee 2
California Towhee 2 1 2 1
Savannah Sparrow 1 2 1
Song Sparrow 5 2 10 5 5 2
White-crowned Sparrow 25 28
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Western Meadowlark 4
Hooded Oriole 4
Red-winged Blackbird 15 1 7 30
Brown-headed Cowbird 2 2
Brewer’s Blackbird 1
Great-tailed Grackle 2 15 4 4 3 4
Orange-crowned Warbler 1 3 1
Common Yellowthroat 4 2 1
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler 20 12
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Totals by Type Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul
Waterfowl 40 52 9 27 16 27
Water Birds – Other 142 172 52 88 21 22
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 12 14 4 9 10 17
Quail & Raptors 2 2 0 5 1 0
Shorebirds 155 88 90 56 41 149
Gulls & Terns 727 179 57 269 95 137
Doves 10 15 3 4 4 8
Other Non-Passerines 6 6 3 1 1 1
Passerines 146 189 37 66 69 161
Totals Birds 1240 717 255 525 258 522
Total Species Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul
Waterfowl 7 9 2 2 2 2
Water Birds – Other 7 8 3 4 4 3
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 4 3 4 3 4
Quail & Raptors 2 2 0 2 1 0
Shorebirds 9 10 8 6 6 5
Gulls & Terns 4 9 4 8 7 5
Doves 2 3 2 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 3 2 1 1 1 1
Passerines 21 27 15 12 11 15
Totals Species – 95 58 74 38 41 37 37
  1. Chukar permalink*
    August 30, 2018 3:48 pm

    PART TWO of comment from

    Biologists are really excited about the first historic return since the 1940’s and the successful nesting by the endangered Snowy Plovers and endangered Least Terns.These birds have been seen nesting on the sand inside of the protective fencing that was set up to keep human activity out of the nesting sites near 3rd point. One nest of eggs was protected from predator crows with a wire cage.

    Biologist Rosi Dagit recently conducted a post-restoration fish survey of Malibu Lagoon on Tuesday 19 June 2018 by a team from the RCD of the Santa Monica Mountains with assistance from Santa Monica Bay Foundation staff and volunteers.

    “This was the 10th post construction survey since January 2013. One of the restoration goals was to improve habitat conditions for native fish species, especially the federally endangered Tidewater Goby, and reduce the numbers of non-native species.

    Even during the drought years the newly planted native vegetation has grown quicker than many had hoped for and with many different varieties taking hold the along the waters edge, millions of new born fish are using the plants as protective nursery hiding from the larger predator fish. Malibu Lagoon has been closed to the ocean since late April 2018, with lagoon levels remaining relatively constant and deep. We were able to seine to depletion at all sites. High water levels contributed to emergent vegetation at the banks of all survey sites. Low tide was at 9:12 am (1.3’ elevation) and high tide was at 4:14 pm (6.2’ elevation). Due to closed conditions, tide did not affect depth levels in the lagoon during this survey.

    Site 4, established for monitoring in 2013, continued to be inaccessible. We therefore continued to use site (2a) to comply with the monitoring plan requirements. In addition, we conducted two spot surveys along the eastern end of the beach along the closed berm.


  2. Chukar permalink*
    August 30, 2018 4:05 pm

    PART ONE of comment from

    For those of you wanting to observe wildlife at one of our most popular local State Parks, the Malibu Lagoon will be that place. Since 2013, an increasing population of bird watchers have been observing a growing population of migrating birds, as well as an uptick in the diversity of bird species visiting and staying longer at the Malibu Lagoon and Wetlands.

    Bird and fish biologists have both noticed that there has been very little to no eutrophication or algae buildup since the first year after the Malibu Lagoon restoration in 2012. Improved water quality from wind and tidal circulation seems to have degraded previous historic concentrations of nitrogen and phosphate pollution. A decrease in detrimental excessive algae blooms and higher Dissolved Oxygen levels has improved the environmental health for fish, crab, shrimp crustacean, invertebrates barnacles and according to the Santa Monica Audubon Society, fishing bird populations are also increasing in the areas once deemed the lifeless ‘Dead Zones’ by the EPA.

    Although there have been an increase in the local year around bird populations, large migrating bird flocks are usually not seen during the summer but in the coming months there will be a steady increase of birds that will stop in for a rest and eat the increasing fish populations that are on the menu in the lagoon. Binocular toting bird watchers excitedly tick off many birds on their survey check list and as hard as they look they have not seen the return of the Virginia Rail but experts believe that as the native reeds continue to expand that they will return.


  3. Chukar permalink*
    August 30, 2018 3:56 pm

    PART THREE of comment from

    A total of 5 juvenile federally endangered tidewater gobies (Eucyclogobius newberryi) were captured during seining at Site 3 and Site 6. All individuals were subsequently released after identification and size classification. Striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) were observed jumping throughout the lagoon and were observed swimming away from sites as blocking nets were being positioned. The dominant species surveyed and identified was topsmelt (Atherinops affinis, larva = 3128, juveniles =15, adult = 2), followed by smelt larva that appeared to have recently hatched (Atherinops sp = 2400), and Oriental Shrimp (Palaemonetes spp. = 442). A total of 10 longjawed mudsucker larvae (Gillichthys mirabilis) and 1 adult were also observed. Additionally, 12 Staghorn sculpin (L. armatus) juveniles and 2 adults were observed. The majority of individuals collected were extremely young larval or juvenile fish, which suggests that Malibu Lagoon is currently serving as a nursery site for both lagoon species. It was great to see the continued dominance and recovery of native species.”

    Species captured or observed during the June 2018 survey include:
    Native Fish Species
    Tidewater Goby Eucyclogobius newberryi
    Topsmelt Atherinops affinis
    Staghorn Sculpin Leptocottus armatus
    Striped mullet Mugil cephalus
    Longjawed mudsucker Gillithys mirabilis

    Non-Native Fish Species
    Mississippi Silversides Menidia beryllina
    Mosquitofish Gambusia affinis

    Oriental Shrimp Palaemonetes sp.
    Hemigraspus Crab
    Water boatman juvenile
    Damselfly nymph
    Caddisfly larva
    For a detailed account of current bird populations click here on the Santa Monica Audubon Society Blog Site



  1. Malibu Lagoon Observations - The Local Malibu

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