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Gull, Loon, Wren and Winter Rain, 22 December, 2019

December 26, 2019

Green-winged Teal male (Chris Tosdevin 12-22-19)

Cool weather, predictions of rain and Christmas coming at us like an angry goose kept away the crowds. About fifteen birders assembled and had the beach to themselves. Less than a handful of surfers bobbed in the water. Even the yoganistas failed to appear, as did the threatened rain.

North channel view from meeting pavilion (Lu Plauzoles 12-22-19)

November’s bird counts were down from October’s, but species counts were up. December is a reversal: 1733 birds in 52 species. [See trip list at end of report.] The five-year December average for 2014-2018 is 1716 birds in 63 species, so this December’s total bird count is extremely average but species diversity is low.

Black-bellied Plover (Adrian Douglas 12-22-19)

Rain rushing down Malibu Creek blew a hole through the beach, just as always occurs this time of year. The standard pattern is for the creek flow to take a direct path to the ocean by cutting through the beach directly opposite the PCH bridge.

Great Blue Heron eating something other than a fish, for a change.
(G. Murayama 12-20-19 Malibu Lagoon)

After the flow subsides, our longshore current, strongly flowing eastward, moves the sea end of the outlet eastward, with the lagoon end of the outlet following along behind. We see this movement in transition in the two photos below, taken 16 days apart.

Malibu Creek blows through the beach
Left: Day after the beach breach (G. Murayama 12-6-19)
Right: Two weeks later (A. Douglas 12-22-19)

Our birding quandaries this month focused on two species: one loon and several gulls.

Snowy Egret (A. Douglas 12-24-19)

Chris the Brit spotted the loon from our meeting area. It was all the way across the channel, the sunlight wasn’t particularly helpful and it was facing us. Chris thought it was a Common Loon, but as we peered at it through our telescopes, we revised our opinions, bouncing back and forth (and back and forth) between Common and Pacific Loons. Red-throated didn’t seem likely, primarily because it had dark plumage nearly surrounding the eye and we couldn’t see a bevel in the lower bill. But we needed to see it more closely. Perhaps the light and angle would improve.

Red-throated Loon (C. Tosdevin 12-24-19)

The other side of the channel afforded better view, but the light was still not good and our group watched and debated it for about 10 minutes. [Actually, many got bored with endlessly staring at the same bird and wandered away.] As we stared, more details appeared. The back was finely speckled with white spots, the head was held tilted upwards slightly, we could see a hint of a bevel in the lower mandible, it had no sign of a dark chin strap or uneven dark half-collar. We tentatively concluded it was a Red-throated Loon after all, but waited to see the photos. This species’ scientific name is Gavia stellata; stellata means “starred” and refers to the finely-spotted back in the winter.

Red-throated Loon slightly oiled on breast, belly and flank (C. Tosdevin 12-24-19)

The legs of loons are far back on their bodies. This makes them wonderful and powerful swimmers, but exceptionally poor at walking on land. They don’t like coming to land, so if you see one on the shore, it’s likely to be ill, wounded or oiled. This bird was slightly oiled on the breast and flank.

Northern Pintails (Left – C. Tosdevin, Right – A. Douglas, both 12-24-19)

A little farther on, at the 2nd viewpoint, a very obliging Marsh Wren, well away from his usual reedy redoubt, flitted around the lagoon edge, under a large fallen log, and through the pickleweed. Most of us eventually saw this fast-moving little devil.

Marsh Wren, away from the reed bed (C. Tosdevin 12-24-19)

On the beach we sorted through the large and fluctuating gull flocks: some were in the lagoon, some on the beach, some on the two slightly offshore “islands” of low-tide-exposed rocks. Most (86%) were California Gulls, with 9% Western, 4% Ring-billed, four Heermann’s, three Glaucous-winged (first year) and one whole Herring Gull. We debated about the Glaucous-winged Gulls, trying to turn one into an Iceland (Thayer’s) Gull, but failed.

Western Gull gliding in to the lagoon (A. Douglas 12-24-19)

Glaucous-winged Gulls are regular winter visitors in small numbers. “Glaucous” means “waxy,” and the young birds do look – when compared to other species – as if they’re dipped in wax. We get mostly first-year (first-cycle) birds in SoCal. They nest around the Bering Sea and not many stray farther south than northwestern Oregon. It may be that young birds stray farther south in order to avoid directly competing with the older and better-informed adult birds. Young birds still in juvenal plumage have a slightly “buttery” yellowish tinge to their plumage. This becomes more clearly white (see below) sometime during the winter. [The timing of plumage molts in gulls are generally erratic and birds of the same age may perform the same molt months apart.)

Glaucous-winged Gull 1st winter, with bleached and abraded secondary feathers
(C. Tosdevin 12-24-19 Malibu Lagoon)

Our Snowy Plover population is still holding steady, despite the storm-caused changes to beach configuration: September – 42, October – 40, November – 43, December – 39. Most were roosting on the relative high beach east of the outlet. The rest busily ran around across the damp sand.

Ruddy Turnstone (A. Douglas 12-24-19)

When we left it was still cool – for Malibu – at 64° and the rain did not arrive until after nightfall.

Double-crested Cormorant drying wing feathers (A. Douglas 12-24-19)

Birds new for the season: Northern Pintail, Western Sandpiper, Red-throated Loon, Red-tailed Hawk, American Pipit, Golden-crowned Sparrow.

Gadwall male (A. Douglas 12-24-19)

Many thanks to our photographers: Adrian Douglas, Grace Murayama, Lu Plauzoles, Chris Tosdevin.

Whimbrel (A. Douglas 12-24-19)

Our next four scheduled field trips: LA Xmas Count – Santa Monica area, Sat 4 January; Antelope Valley Raptor Search, Sat 11 January;  Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, Sun 26 January.

Our next program: Cuban Birds & Island Biogeography, with Tom Hinnebusch. Tuesday, 4 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 (towards the water) of the parking area. Watch out 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:
2019: Jan-June,
2018: Jan-June, July-Dec  2017: 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 Adrian Douglas, Femi Faminu, Lillian Johnson, Chris Lord, Lu Plauzoles & Chris Tosdevin for their contributions to this month’s checklist.  [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2018-19 7/28 8/28 9/22 10/27 11/24 12/22
Temperature 62-66 72-78 70-77 61-71 62-72 54-64
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+3.46 H+3.39 L+3.21 H+6.41 H+6.43 H+6.08
Tide Time 0817 0725 0930 0907 0705 0603
Snow Goose 1
Gr. White-fronted Goose 2
Canada Goose 6
Gadwall 18 20 8 14
American Wigeon 6
Mallard 18 18 40 35 15 22
Northern Pintail 2
Green-winged Teal 2 4 20
Redhead 1
Ring-necked Duck 4 1
Greater Scaup 1
Red-breasted Merganser 5 13
Ruddy Duck 3 10 22
Pied-billed Grebe 1 2 8 6 7 6
Horned Grebe 1 1
Eared Grebe 4 8 2
Western Grebe 14
Rock Pigeon 18 5 6 8 8 6
Eurasian Collared-Dove 2
Mourning Dove 8 2 1 2 2 2
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 1 2 1 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 9 1 5 4 3 5
Sora 1
American Coot 4 4 84 870 210 45
Black-bellied Plover 36 72 78 74 85 35
Snowy Plover 11 14 42 40 43 39
Semipalmated Plover 2 2 3
Killdeer 8 4 5 10 17 17
Whimbrel 85 15 20 3 3 3
Long-billed Curlew 2 1 1
Marbled Godwit 1 17 24 24 10 12
Ruddy Turnstone 2 4 8 12 10
Black Turnstone 2 3
Sanderling 57 35 24 28
Least Sandpiper 3 5 3 1
Pectoral Sandpiper 1
Western Sandpiper 1 17 1 1
Short-billed Dowitcher 3 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1 1 3 1 1
Willet 15 16 52 13 6 4
Red-necked Phalarope 5 8
Heermann’s Gull 15 2 14 16 22 4
Ring-billed Gull 8 45 25 50
Western Gull 80 18 29 85 110 120
California Gull 2 93 115 420 1100
Herring Gull 2 1
Glaucous-winged Gull 1 1 3
Least Tern 2 5
Caspian Tern 3 12
Royal Tern 2 4 1 5 9 4
Elegant Tern 64
Red-throated Loon 1
Pacific Loon 1
Brandt’s Cormorant 1 1
Double-crested Cormorant 22 20 39 35 35 37
Pelagic Cormorant 1 2
Brown Pelican 34 6 30 52 12 26
Great Blue Heron 4 3 3 7 6 4
Great Egret 2 4 4
Snowy Egret 19 11 18 8 3 24
Green Heron 1 1 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 2 3 3 1
Turkey Vulture 2 2
Osprey 1 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 1
Belted Kingfisher 1 2 1 1
Nuttall’s Woodpecker 1 1 1
American Kestrel 1
Black Phoebe 3 2 8 5 8 2
Say’s Phoebe 1 2 2 2
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
Western Kingbird 3
California Scrub-Jay 1 1
American Crow 5 4 6 8 5 4
Common Raven 1
Rough-winged Swallow 1
Cliff Swallow 11
Barn Swallow 21 7 2
Bushtit 30 20 5 8 40
House Wren 4 1 1
Marsh Wren 1 5 3 2
Bewick’s Wren 1 2 1 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4 3 11
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Wrentit 1 1 3 2
Western Bluebird 7
Northern Mockingbird 4 2 2 2 2 1
European Starling 25 8 23 50 18
Cedar Waxwing 18
American Pipit 1
House Finch 25 3 5 5 6 6
Lesser Goldfinch 2
California Towhee 2 1 3
Song Sparrow 4 3 8 8 6 5
White-crowned Sparrow 2 10 4 5
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1
Western Meadowlark 1 2
Hooded Oriole 4 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 15 1
Brewer’s Blackbird 34
Great-tailed Grackle 4 2 1 7 4 2
Orange-crowned Warbler 1 3
Common Yellowthroat 2 1 7 3 8
Yellow Warbler 5
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler 15 5 11
Totals by Type Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Waterfowl 42 18 40 73 45 93
Water Birds – Other 61 32 162 969 290 119
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 27 21 29 16 11 28
Quail & Raptors 0 1 2 2 2 3
Shorebirds 162 172 305 213 205 149
Gulls & Terns 111 107 137 268 587 1282
Doves 26 7 9 10 10 8
Other Non-Passerines 11 2 6 8 6 8
Passerines 130 84 143 152 132 43
Totals Birds 570 444 833 1711 1288 1733
             
Total Species Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Waterfowl 3 1 1 8 8 6
Water Birds – Other 4 4 5 7 10 7
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 4 4 5 3 4 2
Quail & Raptors 0 1 2 1 2 2
Shorebirds 10 14 16 11 11 9
Gulls & Terns 7 7 4 6 6 7
Doves 2 2 3 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 3 2 2 3 4 4
Passerines 13 17 27 18 21 13
Totals Species – 105 46 52 65 59 68 52

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