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Fires Surround, Birds Abound, Lagoon Breaches: Malibu Lagoon, 25 November, 2018

November 27, 2018

Showy Snowy Egret (R. Juncosa 11-25-18)

If you haven’t heard of the Woolsey Fire, you must live a long way from Southern California. It started on Nov. 8 and by the time it was 100% contained on Nov. 21, it had burned 97,000 acres (39,000 hectares) of brushland and trees. Fifteen hundred structures totally destroyed, 340 damaged; 3 firefighters injured, 3 civilians dead. The cause is uncertain, but local electrical power company equipment malfunction is being investigated. It’s a mess. Many roads are still closed, and it wasn’t until Friday Nov. 21 that we knew we’d be able to reach the lagoon at all. Although we began our birdwalk at 8:30am, the park didn’t officially open until 10am today, after being straightened up by park personnel.

Yellow-rumped Warbler lifting off (C. Bragg 11-25-18)

Our birdwalk logistical problems don’t even twitch the needle when compared to the misery around us. I’ll leave that situation to the real reporters, and from here on stick to the lagoon.

Waves crash on what’s left of the beach (R. Juncosa 11-25-18)

From the lagoon, you could not tell there’d been a fire, other than the merest whiff of ash in the air. The most notable event was that the lagoon had finally breached the beach. Waves washed through a 100 yard gap. Closer inspection showed that about half of that was still beach, with high tide waves washing over the sand and into the lagoon. Tide was very high: +6.5 ft. at 9:44 am.

Beach Breach – you can just make out the Sanderling flock at the end of the sandy spit. At far right the waves roll across the beach and into the lagoon. (R. Juncosa 11-25-18)

We later checked the tidal clock ramp and before the breach the lagoon water level height reached 7 ft. 1.6 in. It was now about 6 in. below that, making it slightly higher than the current high tide (but not higher than the waves coming up and over the beach). The beach was so inundated and eroded that we could not go farther than the small area immediately adjacent to the south end of the Malibu Colony. All the shorebirds were either hiding in the grassy low dune-hills, or poking around the edge of the lagoon. The gulls were spread all over the place.

Sanderling flock on end of beach spit (R. Juncosa 11-25-18)

November seems to be a peak month for Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at the lagoon. It’s probably a post-breeding dispersal, but there were 9 on 11-22-15, 15 on 11-26-17, and 12 today, 11-25-18. This species usually prefers the chaparral, but they do wander into suburban areas.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (C. Bragg 11-25-18)

More worrisome, as it may be the result of birds fleeing their destroyed chaparral habitat, was one Rock Wren – a species we’ve never had before near the lagoon – on the grass-brush dune by the beach end of the path, and four Wrentits. The first species much prefers rocky hillsides, while the second is rarely seen outside its chaparral habitat (where it’s much more often heard than seen).

American Wigeon male (R. Juncosa 11-25-18)

Ducks have returned, twelve species, all in small numbers except for the Ruddy Ducks. 95 of them rested on the deep water just inland of the PCH bridge. This is their second-highest count, following the 110 birds which appeared on 11-22-15.

Cackling Goose  (C. Bragg 11-25-18)

A lone Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii) appeared, the second lagoon visit for this species which is a regular but uncommon winter visitor in low numbers in Los Angeles County. It’s only other visit was 11-24-13. This species was long classified as several subspecies of the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), but in July 2004 the American Ornithologists’ Union divided them up between the two species.

Go here and click “Listen” for the sound of Cackling Geese cackling.

B. canadensis currently includes seven subspecies. B. hutchinsii includes four: B. h. leucopareia (Aleutian), B. h. hutchinsii (Richardson’s), B. h.  minima (minima), and B. h. taverneri (Taverner’s). A possible fifth subspecies, B. h. asiatica (Bering’s) became extinct in 1929. Chris “The Brit” Tosdevin looked the bird over carefully and concluded it was the hutchinsii subspecies. Back home and after studying Chuck Bragg’s above photo, I concur. This subspecies most commonly winters in the southern Midwest (Texas-E. Colorado-S. Illinois) but they wander widely and can be found nearly anywhere from California to Connecticut.

Eared Grebe in winter sombre-gray (R. Juncosa 11-25-18)

We found Five species of grebe, a full complement for the lagoon, as the uncommon-in-SoCal Red-necked Grebe has appeared there only once, a decade ago.

QUIZ TIME!  – Identify this duck! (the species, not its “Christian” name)
(R. Juncosa 11-25-18)

We – Snowy Plover maven Tom Ryan, actually – counted only seven Snowy Plovers. They were across the 100 yard breach, so getting an accurate and complete count was impossible without returning to the highway, crossing the PCH bridge, and going back down to the beach. I didn’t have time for that. Lu Plauzoles did, but by the time he got there, the birds had removed to parts unknown.

Black-necked Stilt with a wigeon and a Gadwall (that gray rock is not a rock)
(R. Juncosa 11-25-18)

The Mullet are again jumping. Considering the thousands that died two months ago, these jumpers probably recently entered the lagoon from the sea, either swimming through the channel or carried across the very low beach by the waves.

Double-crested Cormorants perform their wing-drying pas de deux.
(R. Juncosa 11-25-18)

Our day’s total of 70 species was very respectable for November, which more often than not has more than 60 species. This, in fact, ties the prior all-time November high on 11-28-93 (a mere 25 years ago).

Birds new for the season were: Cackling Goose, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Greater & Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck; Pied-billed, Horned, Western & Clark’s Grebe; Least & Spotted Sandpipers; Ring-billed Gull, Red-shouldered & Red-tailed Hawks; Cassin’s Kingbird, Rock & Marsh Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Wrentit, Hermit Thrush, American Pipit, White-crowned Sparrow.

Many thanks to our photographers: Chuck Bragg & Ray Juncosa.

Song Sparrow, looking comfy (C. Bragg 11-25-18)

Our next three scheduled field trips: Back Bay Newport (reservation), 8am, 8 December; Butterbredt Xmas Count, 8:30am, 15 December;  Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 23 December.

Our next program: “The Sounds of Birds from A to Zed,” presented by Don Klabunde. Tuesday, 4 December, 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 recently updated with new photos
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 Chuck Bragg, Liz Galton, Lillian Johnson, Chris Lord, Lu Plauzoles, Tom Ryan and Chris Tosdevin for their contributions to the checklist below.  [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2018 5/27 6/24 7/22 8/26 9/23 11/25
Temperature 61-66 62-68 70-79 72-76 63-70 64-75
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+3.86 H+3.50 H+3.31 H+4.36 L+4.72 H+6.5
Tide Time 0912 0826 0733 1030 0923 0944
Cackling Goose 1
Northern Shoveler 2
Gadwall 12 4 15 4
American Wigeon 12
Mallard 15 12 12 6 2 14
Northern Pintail 2
Green-winged Teal 2
Greater Scaup 2
Lesser Scaup 2
Bufflehead 6
Red-breasted Merganser 4
Ruddy Duck 95
Pied-billed Grebe 2 1
Horned Grebe 1
Eared Grebe 4 4
Western Grebe 4
Clark’s Grebe 1
Rock Pigeon 3 2 6 30 47 12
Mourning Dove 1 2 2 4
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 1 2
Allen’s Hummingbird 1 2 4 2
American Coot 4 1 1 27 85
Black-necked Stilt 1 2
Black-bellied Plover 9 1 17 125 95 79
Snowy Plover 3 4 9 33 41 7
Killdeer 4 8 8 4 8 7
Whimbrel 6 3 113 39 15 9
Marbled Godwit 30 3 14 15
Ruddy Turnstone 6 4 2
Sanderling 7 3 15 110
Least Sandpiper 15
Western Sandpiper 9
Short-billed Dowitcher 1
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Willet 4 18 2 23 13
Red-necked Phalarope 1 9
Bonaparte’s Gull 2
Heermann’s Gull 1 5 28 8 11 14
Ring-billed Gull 30
Western Gull 112 75 95 85 81 45
California Gull 4 2 4 43 90
Least Tern 9 2
Caspian Tern 11 4 1 15 1
Forster’s Tern 2 3
Royal Tern 2 1 6 7
Elegant Tern 130 4 11 48
Brandt’s Cormorant 1 7
Double-crested Cormorant 15 7 16 15 22 34
Pelagic Cormorant 1 1 1
Brown Pelican 68 5 5 7 35 8
Great Blue Heron 1 2 3 3 3 2
Great Egret 3 3 3 4 3 2
Snowy Egret 4 5 10 25 9 12
Green Heron 1 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1 1 2
Turkey Vulture 4 5 9
Osprey 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Black Phoebe 2 3 3 2 3
Say’s Phoebe 2 2
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
Warbling Vireo 1
California Scrub-Jay 1 1
American Crow 2 4 4 2 8 2
Violet-green Swallow 2
Rough-winged Swallow 5 1 4
Cliff Swallow 8 1 3
Barn Swallow 10 15 25 16 1
Bushtit 20 27 60 30 75
Rock Wren 1
House Wren 1 2
Marsh Wren 1
Bewick’s Wren 1 4 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3 12
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Wrentit 4
Western Bluebird 1
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 1
Northern Mockingbird 2 2 2 2 1
European Starling 13 35 8
American Pipit 1
House Finch 5 8 6 11 10
California Towhee 2 1 6
Savannah Sparrow 2 1
Song Sparrow 5 5 2 6 9 3
White-crowned Sparrow 4
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Western Meadowlark 2 3
Hooded Oriole 4
Red-winged Blackbird 7 30 25 3
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Brewer’s Blackbird 1
Great-tailed Grackle 4 3 4 7 6 3
Orange-crowned Warbler 3
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 6 3
Yellow Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler 18
Totals by Type May Jun Jul Aug Sep Nov
Waterfowl 27 16 27 6 2 146
Water Birds – Other 88 21 22 24 89 139
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 9 10 17 32 17 18
Quail & Raptors 5 1 0 5 11 2
Shorebirds 56 41 149 215 234 261
Gulls & Terns 269 95 137 169 136 186
Doves 4 4 8 30 51 12
Other Non-Passerines 1 1 1 2 6 2
Passerines 66 69 161 75 210 96
Totals Birds 525 258 522 558 756 862
             
Total Species May Jun Jul Aug Sep Nov
Waterfowl 2 2 2 1 1 12
Water Birds – Other 4 4 3 4 5 9
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 4 3 4 3 5 4
Quail & Raptors 2 1 0 1 3 2
Shorebirds 6 6 5 9 11 11
Gulls & Terns 8 7 5 7 4 5
Doves 2 2 2 1 2 1
Other Non-Passerines 1 1 1 1 2 1
Passerines 12 11 15 9 24 25
Totals Species – 102
41 37 37 36 57 70
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