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A Wide Sandy Beach: Malibu Lagoon, 27 January, 2019

January 31, 2019

The wide sandy beach at low tide, Malibu Pier in distance, lone birder on the sand.
(L. Johnson 1-27-19)

Finally! A lagoon walk that didn’t coincide with the high tide of the month. In fact the low tide of +1.36 ft. was at 9:13 am, exposing a wide expanse of beach. What last month was reduced to a pitifully short and narrow peninsula of sand was now at least a football field in width.

Tidal clock, high & dry compared to last month.
(L. Johnson 1-27-19)

Water was very low in the lagoon; the tidal clock was completely exposed and bone-dry. Surf was low as well. It’s easy to tell when the surf is bad without even seeing the ocean – no parked surfer cars on Pacific Coast Highway.

Other than Mallards, ducks were scarce, probably due to the low water. Even Ruddy Ducks who usually hang out in the deepest park of Malibu Creek just inland of the PCH bridge had left. The Red-breasted Mergansers were out on the ocean. There’s little for a diving duck to do when the water is only 2 feet deep.

Some people wondered what happens to the fish when the water is so low. The Tidewater Gobies are OK. They’re small and can hide in brackish nooks and crannies of the lagoon and channel. The same goes for the small shrimp, crabs, minnows and God-Only-Knows what else is paddling around in there. The Mullet likely went to sea (without a pea-green boat). I didn’t see any jumping; they might be there but unable to get up to speed in shallow water.

Snowy Plovers by the exposed rocks (G. Murayama 1-30-19)

Snowy Plovers were relatively plentiful, with 32 on the beach. No banded birds were seen. Most were resting in their little hollows, as they prefer feeding just after high tide, when they can search through the high-tide beach wrack for invertebrates of a miscellaneous nature.

Snowy Plover in his water-filled hollow (G. Murayama 1-30-19)

Most gulls were California, followed by Western, as is typical for our winters. Two Herring Gulls (known as Dump Gulls on the east coast where they frequent the abundant “dispose-all” municipal trash heaps) showed up as well as a singleton Glaucous-winged. There was one first-year Heermann’s Gull among twelve wintering adults. Terns were absent at first, but in late morning four flew in from the sea to rest on exposed offshore rocks.

South end of lagoon. Did you notice the Black Phoebe? (L. Johnson 1-27-19)

Among birds reliably at the lagoon, the Black Phoebe rates very high. Over the past eleven years Mallard has been present 100% of the time as has Double-crested Cormorant and Brown Pelican; Western Gull, Snowy Egret and American Crow at 99%; Black Phoebe and Song Sparrow 98%; Feral Pigeon, American Coot, Killdeer and Great Blue Heron 95%; Allen’s Hummingbird and House Finch 94%, and Northern Mockingbird 92%.

Black Phoebe again, plus the rest of the snag and the south side of the lagoon. (L. Johnson 1-27-19)

Mallard, Black Phoebe, Song Sparrow, Killdeer, Mockingbird and almost certainly Allen’s Hummingbird and House Finch breed at the lagoon. Herons and Egrets breed nearby in the shopping center (unless the managers cut down their nesting tree), Feral Pigeons breed all over the place, and Western Gull, Cormorant and Brown Pelican breed on the Channel Islands. There are other, more skulky species like Common Yellowthroat which are almost certainly always present, but we don’t always hear or see them.

Willet watches, making sure no mussel escapes. (L. Loeher 1-30-19)

Our birds visiting from the nearby – burnt – chaparral have dwindled. Perhaps they return to their hillsides to see what was left of their former homes. I’m referring to birds like Bewick’s Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Wrentit.

American Wigeon male, muckin’ about (G. Murayama 1-30-19)

On the other hand, the Golden-crowned Sparrow was still present. I say “still” because it was in exactly the same spot as in December – next to the back fence at the east end of the colony, hanging out with a small flock of White-crowned Sparrows. Prior to last month, we had only five records of this species on our monthly walks since 1979. We usually find them back in the canyons in riparian areas.

The increasingly uncommon Cinnamon Teal. Last seen on a field trip Jan. 2018; only 13 visits in the last 18 years. (G. Murayama 1-30-19)

Sea mammals are common just outside the lagoon. Pinnipeds swim by, catch fish and when the large offshore rocks are exposed will lie on them. Dolphins (or porpoises) show up on about half of our monthly walks, swimming by in small pods of 3-8 individuals. I don’t know if they’re residents or if we just get that many swimming by on their way to somewhere else. We don’t get a lot of whales, but one did show up today, spouting and sinking. I couldn’t call it “diving” as it was out about twice as far as the wave-break zone, and the water is shallow, perhaps 20-40 ft. deep. I think it was a California Gray.

Snowy Plover bathing; head is facing right, between the wings. (G. Murayama 1-30-19)

Birds can come and go quickly at the lagoon. Black Oystercatchers may show up when the tide is quite low and mussel-encrusted rocks exposed.  When those rocks are submerged, the birds fly off to more reliable mussel reefs. We didn’t see an Oystercatcher on Jan. 27, but Grace Murayama & Larry Loeher saw one three days later while working on the Countywide Snowy Plover survey.

Black Oystercatcher standing on his lunch (L. Loeher 1-30-19)

Birds new for the season were: Western Sandpiper, Glaucous-winged Gull, Oak Titmouse, Spotted Towhee.

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

House Finches are always around.
(R. Juncosa 12-23-18)

Our next three scheduled field trips: Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area 8am 9 February; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 24 February; Sycamore Canyon 8am, 9 March.

Our next program: “International Bird Rescue,” presented by Julie Skogland of IBR. Tuesday, 5 February, 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, 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 Lagoon Reconfiguration 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 for their contributions to the checklist below.  [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2018-19 8/26 9/23 10/28 11/25 12/23 1/27
Temperature 72-76 63-70 61-67 64-75 55-62 65-75
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+4.50 L+4.88 H+5.83 H+6.46 H+6.87 L+1.36
Tide Time 1030 0923 1143 0944 0850 0913
Cackling Goose 1
Canada Goose 1
Blue-winged Teal 2
Northern Shoveler 2
Gadwall 4 8 6
American Wigeon 12 5 4
Mallard 6 2 17 14 12 27
Northern Pintail 2
Green-winged Teal 2 4 2
Ring-necked Duck 2
Greater Scaup 2
Lesser Scaup 2
Surf Scoter 14
Bufflehead 6
Red-breasted Merganser 4 2 3
Ruddy Duck 61 95 2 3
Pied-billed Grebe 1 2
Horned Grebe 1 1
Eared Grebe 4 4 4
Western Grebe 4 2 2
Clark’s Grebe 1
Rock Pigeon 30 47 23 12 22 13
Mourning Dove 4 2 2
Anna’s Hummingbird 2 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 2 4 4 2 2 4
American Coot 1 27 17 85 58 38
Black-necked Stilt 1 2
Black-bellied Plover 125 95 82 79 70 99
Snowy Plover 33 41 5 7 32
Killdeer 4 8 2 7 14 17
Whimbrel 39 15 7 9 2 7
Marbled Godwit 3 14 13 15 14 17
Ruddy Turnstone 6 4 5 2 3 4
Sanderling 3 15 110 60 72
Least Sandpiper 15 17 23
Western Sandpiper 9 2
Short-billed Dowitcher 1
Spotted Sandpiper 2 1 1
Willet 23 11 13 12 20
Red-necked Phalarope 1 9
Heermann’s Gull 8 11 25 14 14 13
Ring-billed Gull 13 30 95 50
Western Gull 85 81 20 45 75 127
California Gull 4 43 90 700 460
Herring Gull 1 2
Glaucous-winged Gull 1
Caspian Tern 15 1
Forster’s Tern 3
Royal Tern 6 7 1 4
Elegant Tern 48 1
Red-throated Loon 1
Pacific Loon 2 1
Common Loon 2
Brandt’s Cormorant 1 1
Double-crested Cormorant 15 22 23 34 42 31
Pelagic Cormorant 1 1 1 2
Brown Pelican 7 35 11 8 29 15
Great Blue Heron 3 3 2 2 2 2
Great Egret 4 3 2 2 1
Snowy Egret 25 9 12 11 7
Green Heron 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1 2
Turkey Vulture 5 9
Osprey 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 1 1 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Black Phoebe 3 2 4 3 6 4
Say’s Phoebe 2 5 2 1 1
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
Warbling Vireo 1
California Scrub-Jay 1 1
American Crow 2 8 13 2 6 9
Rough-winged Swallow 4
Barn Swallow 16 1
Oak Titmouse 1
Bushtit 30 75 60 6 8
Rock Wren 1
House Wren 1 2 1 1
Marsh Wren 2 1 3
Bewick’s Wren 1 4 1 3 3 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3 3 12 10 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5 3
Wrentit 4 3
Hermit Thrush 1 1 3 2
Northern Mockingbird 2 2 1 1
European Starling 35 24 8 35
American Pipit 1 1 1
House Finch 6 11 2 10 30 28
Lesser Goldfinch 1 5
Spotted Towhee 1
California Towhee 6 1
Savannah Sparrow 2 1
Song Sparrow 6 9 6 3 4 5
White-crowned Sparrow 4 4 27 15
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1 1
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Western Meadowlark 2 2 3 2
Red-winged Blackbird 25 1 3
Great-tailed Grackle 7 6 7 3 2 6
Orange-crowned Warbler 3 1
MacGillivray’s Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 6 4 3 10 5
Yellow Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler 38 18 27 20
Black-throated Gray Warbler 2
Townsend’s Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Totals by Type Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan
Waterfowl 6 2 83 146 47 45
Water Birds – Other 24 89 56 139 139 90
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 32 17 2 18 15 10
Quail & Raptors 5 11 1 2 3 1
Shorebirds 215 234 125 261 193 294
Gulls & Terns 169 136 59 186 886 657
Doves 30 51 23 12 24 15
Other Non-Passerines 2 6 5 2 3 4
Passerines 75 210 187 96 149 150
Totals Birds 558 756 541 862 1459 1266
             
Total Species Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan
Waterfowl 1 1 5 12 7 6
Water Birds – Other 4 5 5 9 9 7
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 5 1 4 3 3
Quail & Raptors 1 3 1 2 3 1
Shorebirds 9 11 7 11 9 11
Gulls & Terns 7 4 4 5 6 7
Doves 1 2 1 1 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 1 2 2 1 2 1
Passerines 9 24 25 25 20 20
Totals Species – 110 36 57 51 70 61 58
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2019 4:58 pm

    I live 500 miles away now, I cannot overstate how much I love the photos and the essays you write and share with us.

    Like

    • Chukar permalink*
      February 15, 2019 2:57 pm

      Thank you. Readers from over 100 countries get our blogs. I try to give them some local flavor of SoCal and birding here, and not just a dry recitation of “saw this…saw that…” Los Angeles is much more than Tinseltown and La La Land. For example, we have actual seasons, notwithstanding all rumors to the contrary: fog, smog, fire and mudslide, roughly equivalent to Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter elsewhere. Many of our readers may not be birders themselves, so I try to insert a little bird lore as well. Birds are endlessly fascinating creatures and we birders dearly love them. For no charge and without trying or intention they make our lives brighter, and lift us – even if only momentarily – from what might otherwise be lives of quiet desperation.

      Like

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