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More Birds, Fewer Mullet: Malibu Lagoon, 23 September, 2018

September 27, 2018

Seafood lovers alert! A mortified Sea Hare on the beach. It tastes just like Land Hare, or so I am told. (G. Murayama 9-21-18)

We didn’t have any shocks (later for the surprise) like last month when the lagoon and channel were covered with dead Striped Mullet. Somewhere between 3000 and 6000 dead fish were removed by lucky State Parks personnel during the final week of August. I for one was stunned that the lagoon held that many fish. More fish were removed during the past week (I assume) as on Sep. 15 I counted 289 dead mullet along the northwest lagoon/channel shoreline, and well under 100 today in the same area. Some research results point towards low dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water as the mortality culprit. This could interrelate with water temperature; as water temperature goes up, DO goes down.

View across west channel towards Malibu Colony shows very few dead mullet.
Compare to last month. (L. Johnson 9-23-18)

Migrants are definitely returning. Very few birds are on or in the water of the lagoon or channel. The Red-necked Phalaropes, many twirling close to shore, were one of the few exceptions. Their twirling creates a vortex which brings edibles up the the surface where the birds can snap them up with their needle-like bills.

Red-necked Phalarope (G. Murayama 9-21-18)

Coot numbers are growing and they are busily paddling around the lagoon.

Coots have lobed toes, not webbed feet. Convergent evolution strikes again!
(G. Murayama 9-08-18)

Coots are common all across America and birders tend to ignore them. Non-birders usually assume coots are some sort of duck as they’re often out swimming with the ducks, but they’re actually far more closely related to cranes. This relationship is not obvious: Whooping Cranes, for example, are 52″ long, whereas the Coot is 15.5″ long. Unlike the wide duck bill, the coot bill is laterally compressed. Most interesting (to me) is their feet. Ducks have wide fully-webbed feet, great for swimming, lousy for walking. Coots have lobed toes, one lobe for every toe-bone. The lobes make them good swimmers – although probably a bit less efficient than ducks – and the lack of webbing allows them to easily walk on land. We often see flocks of them grazing across park lawns. This difference points to the separate evolutionary paths of ducks and coots. They now share their aquatic habitat, but natural selection solved their problems of efficiently swimming in different manners. In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.

If my explanation of convergent evolution doesn’t work for you, watch this video from the “It’s OK to be Smart” PBS people.

There, that ought to hold you for a while.

Brown Pelican trio (R. Juncosa 9-23-18)

Black-bellied Plover and Whimbrel numbers are down, but all the other shorebird, pelican, cormorant and gull numbers were up. The terns, save for one lonely Caspian, must have been off feeding somewhere out on the sea.

Caspian Tern, resting Black-bellied Plovers, and stone (R. Juncosa 9-23-18)

The Osprey was seen in the early morning in the large Aracaria evergreen tree on the Adamson House property. We’ve often seen them there in the past, concealed among the large shady branches.

Sanderling emerges from a mussel shell. Perhaps aging Gooseneck Clams really do become Barnacle Geese, as once believed. (G. Murayama 9-21-18)

Plover sign on the virtual fence (D. Roberts 9-20-18)

Snowy Plover numbers continue to grow. We had 41 birds, including banded bird gg:pg (left: green over green, right pink over green). This bird was banded this summer at Oceano Dunes SVRA, near Pismo Beach on the central California coast. They were all resting together outside the east end of the virtual fence. The surf had eaten away the sand right up to the fencepoles, and it was moved inland on Sep. 20 about 3 pm. Now the beachwalkers don’t have to walk within the exclosure in order to stay out of the waves. I wonder how long this will last, as high surf, notorious for eating beaches, is heading north from the Baja hurricane.

Snowy Plover gg:pg, born Summer 2018 at Oceano Dunes.
(G. Murayama 9-21-18)

Passerines were definitely passing through. Seventy-five Bushtits was an all-time lagoon high. Our common wintering warbler, the Yellow-rumped, has not arrived, but still we had four species of warbler.

Bushtit in – of all places – the bushes (G. Murayama 9-14-18)

Of greatest surprise among the passerines was a single MacGillivray’s Warbler, seen along the border fence between Adamson House and the easternmost section of lagoon, skulking low in the brush near the tree overhanging the lagoon. I (alone, unfortunately) watched it for several minutes before it disappeared into the brush to the west, below the palms south of the boathouse. This is the first new species for our 4th Sunday lagoon birdwalks since the White Pelicans showed up in October, 2017. We unfortunately can’t count the Magnificent Frigatebird from Aug. 10, 2018, as it was not there during our bird walk. The lagoon has hosted dozens of species whose visits fell outside our census dates. As of 10-1-18, eBird shows a total of 305 species reported for the lagoon, of which I have reported 236, or 77%.

Great Blue Heron, still heavily colored on shoulder (R. Juncosa 9-23-18)

Birds new for the season were: Eared Grebe, Anna’s Hummingbird, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Green Heron, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Say’s Phoebe, Warbling Vireo, California Scrub-Jay, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Savannah Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Western Meadowlark, Orange-crowned, MacGillivray’s & Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat. Anna’s Hummingbird and California Scrub-Jay are always around somewhere, but sometimes we just miss them.

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

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron (R. Juncosa 9-23-18)

Our next three scheduled field trips: Huntington Beach Central Park, 8am, 13 October; Butterbredt Springs Fall Campout 8:30am, 27-28 October;  Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 28 October.

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 rope & pole “virtual fence” was moved. It had been where the beach berm is now. (L. Johnson 9-23-18)

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, Chris Lord, Clyde Singleton and Chris Tosdevin for their contributions to the checklist below.  [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2018 4/22 5/27 6/24 7/22 8/26 9/23
Temperature 63-67 61-66 62-68 70-79 72-76 63-70
Tide Lo/Hi Height L-.15 H+3.86 H+3.50 H+3.31 H+4.36 L+4.72
Tide Time 1028 0912 0826 0733 1030 0923
Gadwall 5 12 4 15
Mallard 4 15 12 12 6 2
Pied-billed Grebe 2
Eared Grebe 4
Rock Pigeon 1 3 2 6 30 47
Eurasian Collard-Dove 2
Mourning Dove 1 2 2 4
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 1 2
Allen’s Hummingbird 3 1 2 4
American Coot 2 4 1 1 27
Black-necked Stilt 1
Black-bellied Plover 9 1 17 125 95
Snowy Plover 9 3 4 9 33 41
Semipalmated Plover 4
Killdeer 7 4 8 8 4 8
Whimbrel 3 6 3 113 39 15
Marbled Godwit 30 3 14
Ruddy Turnstone 6 4
Sanderling 45 7 3 15
Least Sandpiper 12
Western Sandpiper 4 9
Short-billed Dowitcher 1
Willet 6 4 18 2 23
Red-necked Phalarope 1 9
Bonaparte’s Gull 2
Heermann’s Gull 1 5 28 8 11
Ring-billed Gull 1
Western Gull 18 112 75 95 85 81
California Gull 4 2 4 43
Least Tern 9 2
Caspian Tern 8 11 4 1 15 1
Forster’s Tern 2 3
Royal Tern 2 1 6
Elegant Tern 30 130 4 11 48
Brandt’s Cormorant 1 7
Dble-crest Cormorant 18 15 7 16 15 22
Pelagic Cormorant 1 1
Brown Pelican 32 68 5 5 7 35
Great Blue Heron 1 1 2 3 3 3
Great Egret 3 3 3 4 3
Snowy Egret 1 4 5 10 25 9
Green Heron 1 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 2 1 1
Turkey Vulture 4 5 9
Osprey 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Black Phoebe 1 2 3 3 2
Say’s Phoebe 2
Warbling Vireo 1
California Scrub-Jay 1
American Crow 2 2 4 4 2 8
Violet-green Swallow 2
Rough-wnged Swallow 5 1 4
Cliff Swallow 8 1 3
Barn Swallow 4 10 15 25 16 1
Bushtit 1 20 27 60 30 75
House Wren 1
Bewick’s Wren 1 4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3
Western Bluebird 1
American Robin 1
Northern Mockingbird 2 2 2 2 2
European Starling 13 35
House Finch 4 5 8 6 11
Spotted Towhee 2
California Towhee 1 2 1 6
Savannah Sparrow 1 2
Song Sparrow 10 5 5 2 6 9
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Western Meadowlark 2
Hooded Oriole 4
Red-winged Blackbird 1 7 30 25
Brown-head Cowbird 2 2
Brewer’s Blackbird 1
Great-tailed Grackle 4 4 3 4 7 6
Orange-crowned Warbler 1 3
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 1 6
Yellow Warbler 2
Totals by Type Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep
Waterfowl 9 27 16 27 6 2
Water Birds – Other 52 88 21 22 24 89
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 4 9 10 17 32 17
Quail & Raptors 0 5 1 0 5 11
Shorebirds 90 56 41 149 215 234
Gulls & Terns 57 269 95 137 169 136
Doves 3 4 4 8 30 51
Other Non-Passerines 3 1 1 1 2 6
Passerines 37 66 69 161 75 210
Totals Birds 255 525 258 522 558 756
Total Species Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep
Waterfowl 2 2 2 2 1 1
Water Birds – Other 3 4 4 3 4 5
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 4 3 4 3 5
Quail & Raptors 0 2 1 0 1 3
Shorebirds 8 6 6 5 9 11
Gulls & Terns 4 8 7 5 7 4
Doves 2 2 2 2 1 2
Other Non-Passerines 1 1 1 1 1 2
Passerines 15 12 11 15 9 24
Totals Species – 80 38 41 37 37 36 57
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