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Ducks Galore at Malibu Lagoon, 23 February, 2020

February 27, 2020
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Western Snowy Plovers in flight (L. Loeher 2-14-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Good weather and moderate temperatures made for a fine day, and thirty birders showed up to enjoy it. The 9:34 am high tide was dropping by the time we reached the beach, and no one got their feet wet. Lagoon water level was moderately high but was emptying into the ocean. The lagoon end of the breach is far to the west while the ocean end is far to the east, leaving a long channel lying diagonally across the beach, with water too fast and deep for anyone to want to cross it. Many birds were hiding on the other side of the berm north of this channel, including most of the Western Snowy Plovers and the peeps (small sandpipers like Least and Western Sandpipers and Sanderling). Larry & Grace, our Snowy Plover warden/counters, found 23 birds on Friday, 21 Feb., but we found only four when they intermittently poked their heads above the berm.

Western Snowy Plovers (L. Loeher 2-21-20 Malibu Lagoon)

The bird of the day was the female White-winged Scoter. This species is outnumbered at least 100-to-1, perhaps even 500-to-1, by Surf Scoters along our SoCal shore, and they’re most often sighted among the large rafts of Surf Scoters and Western Grebes wintering off Dockweiler Beach, south of Marina del Rey, about 20 miles southeast of Malibu. They’re very uncommon at Malibu and this is the only the third sighting and fourth bird on our walks since 1979. Even more unusual, this bird was swimming and diving within the lagoon rather than beyond the surf zone. Scoters are sea-ducks, diving birds, and we rarely see them in the lagoon. Unfortunately, the bird stayed well away from us, across the lagoon, and no one got a photograph.

Cinnamon Teal have a baby-blue forewing, mostly hidden in the folded wing.
(L. Loeher 2-21-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Other than the scoter, none of today’s twelve species of duck are uncommon at the lagoon. Cinnamon Teal appear less often and usually in smaller numbers than they did thirty years ago, so it’s always nice to see these beautiful birds.

The male of this Green-winged Teal pair has an iridescent green eye patch
(G. Murayama 2-21-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Grebes numbers have been low this winter, and February continues this trend. A mere six Western Grebes – not seen since November – were offshore, just beyond the rocks, and a single Pied-billed Grebe dove in the lagoon below the PCH bridge.

The Pied-billed Grebe has a whitish bill with a dark band around it
(L. Loeher 2-21-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Red-breasted Mergansers are with us every winter. Most of them are females and female-appearing young males. The males will soon start to develop their alternate (breeding) plumage. These diving ducks can be anywhere in the lagoon, channel, breach channel, surf zone and outside the surf zone.

The serrated bill-edge of the Red-breasted Merganser grips its slippery fishy prey
(G. Murayama 2-21-20 Malibu Lagoon)

We have two species of hummingbirds at the lagoon. The traditional resident hummer is the Anna’s and they have been with us year-round as far back as records go. All other hummer species, save one, either migrate through (e.g. Rufous) or (mostly) breed and return south (e.g. Costa’s, Black-chinned). Beginning about twenty years, the Allen’s subspecies (Selasphorus sasin sedentarius) resident on the channel islands began appearing in greater numbers along the mainland coast. The chart below shows this major shift occurring in 2001. The identical numbers for Allen’s in the first two columns (5 times, 13 total) are not a typo, but are what we counted. This shift appears to precede the wider area change. According to Compiler Dan Cooper, the January 5, 2020 edition of the Los Angeles Christmas Count yielded 225 Anna’s and 366 Allen’s, with the shift occurring in 2013.  There is no evidence that this population shift has anything to do with climate change, but there’s no evidence showing that it doesn’t, either.

Lagoon Hummingbirds
Period Period Period Period
Dates 1979-2000 2001 2002-10 2011-19
Total Trips
63 8 98 107
Anna’s Hummingbird
     Times Sighted 25 6 89 69
     Total Birds 35 17 224 115
Allen’s Hummingbird
     Times Sighted 5 5 79 99
     Total Birds 13 13 244 368

 

Alan’s Hummingbird male (R. Juncosa 2-23-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Our Brown Pelicans are beginning to get colorful again ans will soon fly off to breed. With the Western Gulls, many nest on Anacapa Island, the small, most northeasterly of the Channel Islands. Supposedly (I have read) the rats were cleared off this island decades ago so these birds could safely nest there again. I haven’t been on the island for about 30 years, but if I recall correctly, you could not touch the shore with a boat. This keeps the ship rats from getting back onto the island. Although the birds nest on the island, they still need to forage and rest elsewhere, so we have both species daily at the lagoon, resting from their labors.

Brown Pelican gular pouches becomes colorful as they approach breeding season
(R. Juncosa 2-23-20 Malibu Lagoon)

This time of year most of our gulls are California Gulls, which nest in large numbers at Mono Lake. But we also have the 3.5″ shorter but similar Ring-billed Gull. This species takes three years to reach adult plumage. Here’s a nice comparison of the first-winter bird to an adult bird in winter.

Ring-billed Gulls: 1st winter (L) & winter adult (R) (R. Juncosa 2-23-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Although Red-winged Blackbirds, along with Brewer’s Blackbirds, Great-tailed Grackles and European Starlings, frequent the food court at the mall across the street, scarfing up scraps from tables and ground – sometimes right from your hands – the Red-winged Blackbirds haven’t shown up a lot at the lagoon in recent years. It’s probably because all the reed beds were removed in the 2012-13 lagoon reconfiguration. The beds are regrowing, and perhaps the birds will become more regular. We are already seeing (and hearing!) Marsh Wrens and – less frequently – Soras in the reeds. While it’s nice that these birds are returning, I hope that the reeds don’t completely overgrow the channels as they did before 2012. Young male Red-wings typically have rusty margins, as shown in the photo below. I suspect that some of the Rusty Blackbirds which are reported locally in the fall are actually these young birds. The lack of a yellow eye helps identify this as a Red-wing.

Red-winged Blackbird, young male with rusty feather margins
(R. Juncosa 2-23-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Red-tailed Hawks are regular visitors at the lagoon. They rarely, if ever, actually nest here, preferring to nest on snags and cliffs not far away in Malibu Canyon and the Santa Monica Mountains. This young bird (note lack of red tail) was very intent on keeping an eye on this crow, who was probably trying to drive the hawk away through persistent annoyance.

Young Red-tailed Hawk keeps his eyes on an annoying crow
(R. Juncosa 2-23-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Double-crested Cormorant, leg-banded EN3 (G. Murayama 2-21-20)

Birds new for the season: Cinnamon Teal, White-winged Scoter, Western Grebe, Nanday Parakeet, California Scrub-Jay, Tree Swallow, Oak Titmouse, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wrentit, Hermit Thrush, European Starling, California Towhee, Western Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird.

Many thanks to our photographers: Ray Juncosa, Larry Loeher and Grace Murayama.

Bushtit foraging on Mulefat (Baccharis sp)
(L. Loeher 2-21-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Our next three scheduled field trips: Sepulveda Basin 8am, Sat. 14 March; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, Sun. 22 March; Sycamore Canyon 8am, Sat. 11 April.

Our next program: California’s flightless duck Chendytes and our coastal lagoons, with Professor David Jacobs. Tuesday, 3 March, 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
9/23/02 Aerial photo of Malibu Lagoon

Prior checklists:
2019: Jan-June, July-Dec
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 Chris Lord, Chris Tosdevin and others for contributions to this month’s checklist.  [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2019-20 9/22 10/27 11/24 12/22 1/26 2/23
Temperature 70-77 61-71 62-72 54-64 56-58 56-62
Tide Lo/Hi Height L+3.21 H+6.41 H+6.43 H+6.08 H+6.43 H+5.70
Tide Time 0930 0907 0705 0603 0705 0934
Snow Goose 1
Gr. White-fronted Goose 2
Canada Goose 6
Cinnamon Teal 19
Northern Shoveler 13 12
Gadwall 20 8 14 29 39
American Wigeon 6 14 7
Mallard 40 35 15 22 13 10
Northern Pintail 2 1
Green-winged Teal 2 4 20 36 35
Redhead 1
Ring-necked Duck 4 1
Greater Scaup 1
Surf Scoter 34 5
White-winged Scoter 1
Bufflehead 8 4
Hooded Merganser 2
Red-breasted Merganser 5 13 2 6
Ruddy Duck 3 10 22 35
Pied-billed Grebe 8 6 7 6 1 1
Horned Grebe 1 1
Eared Grebe 4 8 2
Western Grebe 14 6
Rock Pigeon 6 8 8 6 8 15
Eurasian Collared-Dove 2
Mourning Dove 1 2 2 2 2 4
Anna’s Hummingbird 2 1 1 1 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 5 4 3 5 3 3
Sora 1
American Coot 84 870 210 45 12 40
Black-bellied Plover 78 74 85 35 43 57
Snowy Plover 42 40 43 39 14 4
Semipalmated Plover 3
Killdeer 5 10 17 17 16 12
Whimbrel 20 3 3 3 4 3
Long-billed Curlew 1
Marbled Godwit 24 24 10 12 12 52
Ruddy Turnstone 4 8 12 10 5 8
Black Turnstone 2 3
Sanderling 57 35 24 28 12 14
Least Sandpiper 5 3 1 2
Pectoral Sandpiper 1
Western Sandpiper 1 1 5
Short-billed Dowitcher 1
Spotted Sandpiper 3 1 1
Willet 52 13 6 4 20 6
Red-necked Phalarope 8
Heermann’s Gull 14 16 22 4 8 3
Ring-billed Gull 45 25 50 6 44
Western Gull 29 85 110 120 11 82
California Gull 93 115 420 1100 110 215
Herring Gull 2 1 2
Glaucous-winged Gull 1 3 2 3
Royal Tern 1 5 9 4 1 6
Red-throated Loon 1
Pacific Loon 1
Brandt’s Cormorant 1 1 2
Double-crested Cormorant 39 35 35 37 18 35
Pelagic Cormorant 1 2 1
Brown Pelican 30 52 12 26 32 38
Great Blue Heron 3 7 6 4 2 2
Great Egret 4
Snowy Egret 18 8 3 24 1 6
Green Heron 1 1 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 3 1
Turkey Vulture 2 2 1 5
Osprey 1 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1 3
Belted Kingfisher 1 2 1 1 1 1
Nuttall’s Woodpecker 1 1 1
American Kestrel 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Nanday Parakeet 7
Black Phoebe 8 5 8 2 3 4
Say’s Phoebe 1 2 2 2 3 2
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
Western Kingbird 3
California Scrub-Jay 1 1 1
American Crow 6 8 5 4 2 6
Common Raven 1
Tree Swallow 2
Rough-wingllow 1
Barn Swallow 2
Oak Titmouse 1
Bushtit 5 8 40 10 20
House Wren 4 1 1 2
Marsh Wren 1 5 3 2 2
Bewick’s Wren 2 1 1 1 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4 3 11 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 1 1
Wrentit 3 2 1
Western Bluebird 7
Hermit Thrush 1
Northern Mockingbird 2 2 2 1 2 2
European Starling 23 50 18 3
Cedar Waxwing 18
American Pipit 1
House Finch 5 5 6 6 8
Lesser Goldfinch 2 1 3
Spotted Towhee 1
California Towhee 3 1
Song Sparrow 8 8 6 5 1 16
White-crowned Sparrow 2 10 4 5 4 6
Golden-crowned Sparrow 1 1
Western Meadowlark 1 2 1
Red-winged Blackbird 6
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Brewer’s Blackbird 34
Great-tailed Grackle 1 7 4 2 3
Orange-crowned Warbler 3
Common Yellowthroat 7 3 8 2 3
Yellow Warbler 5
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler 15 5 11 8 6
Totals by Type Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Dec
Waterfowl 40 73 45 93 157 174
Water Birds – Other 162 969 290 119 66 120
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 29 16 11 28 3 8
Quail & Raptors 2 2 2 3 2 8
Shorebirds 305 213 205 149 128 161
Gulls & Terns 137 268 587 1282 140 353
Doves 9 10 10 8 10 19
Other Non-Passerines 6 8 6 8 5 13
Passerines 143 152 132 43 43 102
Totals Birds 833 1711 1288 1733 554 958
             
Total Species Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Dec
Waterfowl 1 8 8 6 10 12
Water Birds – Other 5 7 10 7 6 5
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 5 3 4 2 2 2
Quail & Raptors 2 1 2 2 2 2
Shorebirds 16 11 11 9 9 9
Gulls & Terns 4 6 6 7 7 6
Doves 3 2 2 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 2 3 4 4 3 5
Passerines 27 18 21 13 15 25
Totals Species – 114 65 59 68 52 56 68
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