Skip to content

Return of the Terns: Malibu Lagoon, 24 March, 2019

March 29, 2019

California Towhee’s dull-brown plumage is tinged green from leaf-reflected light
(L. Loeher 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

Another low tide and very pleasant weather made for plenty of exposed sand and a nice birdwalk.  Temperatures ranged from 55-64° but felt warmer without an onshore wind. The lagoon and west channel were mostly exposed mud. The wave zone was full of surfers, indicating that winds were blowing somewhere far out at sea.

Northern Mockingbird knows it’s spring (L. Loeher 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

The Gadwalls were busily rapidly flapping their bills open and shut in the nearly liquid mud. “What are they eating?” someone wondered aloud. I hazarded a guess: “Small invertebrates. They sense their presence with their tongues or the inside surfaces of their bill, then use their tongue to retain them while getting rid of the mud.” Or something like that – an educated guess. That’s how I’d do it if I were a duck.

Female Red-breasted Merganser (L. Loeher 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

View of Malibu Colony from our meeting place (L. Johnson 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

We were accompanied on our walk by two journalists from Malibu Surfside News – reporter Barbara and photographer Susie. They took lots of photographs and asked lots of questions of various people including myself. I was happy to reply to either the best of my recollection or limit of my imagination, whichever seem appropriate. I assume an article will be forthcoming but I don’t know when. Checking their website reveals that they regularly mention local birds bird-related events: nesting Snowy Plovers, the fall Bird Fest, Coastal Cleanup, wintering birds. So a report on our birdwalks fits in there fairly well.

The two Cinnamon Teal who appeared in late January are still present, looking as beautiful as ever. This time we had good views of their blue speculums; some described it as Robin’s-egg blue or sky blue; I call it baby blue. Only rarely will you see most or all of the speculum on a floating duck. Perhaps it was a sort of display.

Cinnamon Teal males are still here (G. Murayama 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

Water levels are just as low as last month, so there’s not much depth for the ducks to paddle around in. All the coots were just inland of the PCH bridge in the deepest water available. The creek’s main flow passes under the east end of the PCH bridge, along the shore of the Adamson House (east) side, and out to sea. The water in the rest of the lagoon and west channel remains quite still.

View to north across mostly empty lagoon towards PCH bridge and Adamson House
(L. Johnson 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

A few swallows – Rough-winged and Barn – flew back and forth across the lagoon. We often see Barn Swallows flying low over the length of the beach, catching small flies, but today they were mostly over the water.

If his tail were spread, you could see this Allen’s Hummingbird central four tail feathers are narrow and unnotched when compared to those of the Rufous Hummingbird
(L. Loeher 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

Great Blue Heron in the treetop breeze
(R. Juncosa 3-24-19)

Everyone got good views of the Belted Kingfisher sitting on the end of a snag jutting from the water near the PCH bridge. It lacked any cinnamon on the breast of flanks, making it a male. Belted Kingfishers are one of the few species exhibiting “reverse sexual dimorphism” – the female is more brightly plumaged than the male – which is related to polyandry (female takes multiple mates). There are some indications that the amount of reverse sexual dimorphism is also related to the strength of her polyandrous breeding behavior. In other words, the more the female is more brightly plumaged than the male, the more likely she is to be strongly polyandrous. This relationship is still somewhat conjectural. However, the Belted Kingfisher female is not greatly more colorful than the male, nor is she strongly polyandrous.

View from north viewpoint looking west along north side of channel towards the meeting point
(L. Johnson 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

Among the numerous Double-crested Cormorants was last month’s visitor still wearing his silver ankle bracelet and the yellow plastic bracelet coded in black characters “EN3.” We don’t often get to confirm the lasting present of individual birds. This happens mostly with the ringed Snowy Plovers, some of whom remain all winter and return in following years. But we can be sure this is the same individual cormorant, and that the two male Cinnamon Teal are also continuing birds.

Snowy Plover with a rusty crown, one of 14 hiding among the driftwood
(G. Murayama 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

Low tide today was early: -0.05 feet at 6:38am. By the time we got to the beach, the tide was moving in. Most of the birds had earlier been on the exposed offshore rocky reefs, but as the waves began washing over their feet, they either moved to the sandy flats edging the lagoon or flew off to sea. Most of the gulls flew away (we found only 79); following that the terns – previously absent – moved in.

Royal Terns surround two pink-breasted Elegant Terns (G. Murayama 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

We hadn’t seen Caspian Terns since a single bird last September, and all the Elegant Terns left, as usual, in November. It was nice to see them back. Most of the Elegant Terns had rosy breasts. The rosy color comes from carotenoids which they get from either crustaceans or fish in their diet. It may built into the feather itself while growing, or be a component of the waxy secretions of the uropygial gland which they rub on their plumage with their bill. There’s more on this topic in our Oct. 27, 2017 lagoon report.

Terns can be quite acrobatic, although they might occasionally get sloppy and drag a wingtip in the water (L. Loeher 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

Birds new for the season were: Canada Goose, Northern Shoveler, Anna’s Hummingbird, Bonaparte’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Elegant Tern, American Kestrel, California Scrub-Jay, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Wrentit, California Towhee. The last species is always around, often within the dense brush in the middle of the parking area, but for some reason no one had seen or heard one since last October.

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet’s white eyering is broken at the top (R. Juncosa 3-24-19)

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

Song Sparrow, taking a break from song
(G. Murayama 3-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

Our next three scheduled field trips: King Gillette State Park 8am, 13 April; Butterbredt Spring Campout 8:30am 27-28 April; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 28 April.

Our next program: Birds of Madagascar, presented by Doug Cheeseman. Tuesday, 2 April, 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 restoration period June’12-June’14.

Many thanks to Femi Faminu, Lillian Johnson, Chris Lord & Chris Tosdevin for their contributions to the checklist below.  [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2018-19 10/28 11/25 12/23 1/27 2/24 3/24
Temperature 61-67 64-75 55-62 65-75 54-60 55-64
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+5.83 H+6.46 H+6.87 L+1.36 L+0.84 L-0.05
Tide Time 1143 0944 0850 0913 0708 0638
Cackling Goose 1
Canada Goose 1 2
Blue-winged Teal 2
Cinnamon Teal 2 2
Northern Shoveler 2 1
Gadwall 4 8 6 12 18
American Wigeon 12 5 4 8 15
Mallard 17 14 12 27 18 14
Northern Pintail 2
Green-winged Teal 2 4 2 2
Ring-necked Duck 2
Greater Scaup 2
Lesser Scaup 2
Surf Scoter 14
Bufflehead 6
Red-breasted Merganser 4 2 3 1 1
Ruddy Duck 61 95 2 3 5
Pied-billed Grebe 1 2 1
Horned Grebe 1 1
Eared Grebe 4 4
Western Grebe 4 2 2 22
Clark’s Grebe 1 1
Rock Pigeon 23 12 22 13 17 15
Mourning Dove 2 2 2 6
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 4
Allen’s Hummingbird 4 2 2 4 2 2
American Coot 17 85 58 38 36 55
Black-necked Stilt 2
Black-bellied Plover 82 79 70 99 35 14
Snowy Plover 5 7 32 31 14
Killdeer 2 7 14 17 10 10
Whimbrel 7 9 2 7 4 55
Marbled Godwit 13 15 14 17 23 15
Ruddy Turnstone 5 2 3 4 3
Sanderling 110 60 72 32
Least Sandpiper 15 17 23 16 3
Western Sandpiper 2
Spotted Sandpiper 2 1 1 2 2
Willet 11 13 12 20 12 9
Bonaparte’s Gull 1
Heermann’s Gull 25 14 14 13 5
Ring-billed Gull 13 30 95 50 85 25
Western Gull 20 45 75 127 98 30
California Gull 90 700 460 140 22
Herring Gull 1 2 1
Glaucous-winged Gull 1 1
Caspian Tern 2
Royal Tern 7 1 4 12 65
Elegant Tern 1 43
Red-throated Loon 1
Pacific Loon 2 1 1
Common Loon 2 2
Brandt’s Cormorant 1 1 20 2
Double-crested Cormorant 23 34 42 31 24 60
Pelagic Cormorant 1 2 2 2
Brown Pelican 11 8 29 15 37 65
Great Blue Heron 2 2 2 2 1 2
Great Egret 2 2 1 5
Snowy Egret 12 11 7 5 2
Black-crowned Night-Heron 2
Turkey Vulture 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 1 1 1 2 1
Belted Kingfisher 1 1 1
American Kestrel 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Nanday Parakeet 3
Black Phoebe 4 3 6 4 6 2
Say’s Phoebe 5 2 1 1
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
California Scrub-Jay 1 1
American Crow 13 2 6 9 6 6
Rough-winged Swallow 2
Barn Swallow 3
Oak Titmouse 1
Bushtit 60 6 8 2 8
Rock Wren 1
House Wren 2 1 1
Marsh Wren 2 1 3 1 1
Bewick’s Wren 1 3 3 1 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3 12 10 1 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5 3 2 1
Wrentit 4 3 2
Hermit Thrush 1 1 3 2
Northern Mockingbird 2 1 1 2 3
European Starling 24 8 35 3
American Pipit 1 1 1
House Finch 2 10 30 28 15 8
Lesser Goldfinch 1 5
Spotted Towhee 1 2
California Towhee 1 1
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 6 3 4 5 15 10
White-crowned Sparrow 4 4 27 15 18 9
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1 1
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Western Meadowlark 2 3 2 2
Red-winged Blackbird 1 3 4
Great-tailed Grackle 7 3 2 6 3 3
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 4 3 10 5 5 1
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler 38 18 27 20 16 2
Black-throated Gray Warbler 2
Townsend’s Warbler 1
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Totals by Type Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar
Waterfowl 83 146 47 45 48 53
Water Birds – Other 56 139 139 90 146 184
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 2 18 15 10 6 9
Quail & Raptors 1 2 3 1 3 2
Shorebirds 125 261 193 294 168 122
Gulls & Terns 59 186 886 657 341 189
Doves 23 12 24 15 19 21
Other Non-Passerines 5 2 3 4 6 7
Passerines 187 96 149 150 107 63
Totals Birds 541 862 1459 1266 844 650
             
Total Species Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar
Waterfowl 5 12 7 6 7 7
Water Birds – Other 5 9 9 7 10 5
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 1 4 3 3 2 3
Quail & Raptors 1 2 3 1 2 2
Shorebirds 7 11 9 11 10 8
Gulls & Terns 4 5 6 7 6 8
Doves 1 1 2 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 2 1 2 1 3 3
Passerines 25 25 20 20 19 17
Totals Species – 106 51 70 61 58 61 55
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: