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The Masked Birders at Malibu Lagoon, 22 May, 2020

May 29, 2020
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North across lagoon to PCH bridge, Serra Retreat Center on distant hill
(L. Johnson 5-22-20)

The sun was warm despite the scudding clouds, and a brisk breeze riffled the water. Typically for late May, there were few birds on the water, but the distant beach had a sizable flock of gulls, Brown Pelicans, and terns. People were few and mostly scattered, and the first we saw were three homeless people, two in animated maskless conversation and one resting at a picnic table.

We decided that birding qualifies as “active” rather than “passive” behavior – thus now legal on our SoCal beaches  – so Lillian and I ventured to Malibu for the first time in three months. The parking lot was closed and the south side of Pacific Coast Highway was jammed with cars belonging to surfers, a surmise later supported by the numbers of surfers thrashing in the wind-blown waves. Plenty of parking was still available on the north side of PCH. It felt a little strange to be out and about and back at the lagoon, wearing mask and carrying scope. The Masked Birders ride again!

Eastward down the north channel, Adamson House in the distance
(L. Johnson 5-22-20)

Sure enough, duck and coots were few, and many of them were ducklings in various sizes. Eight Canada Geese rested on the west most sand island near the “Osprey snag.” They roused themselves a bit later, floated about for a few minutes, then flew off past Adamson House. On the long sand island paralleling the beach, just east of the large mixed flock, were two more adult geese, tending their troop of fluffy goslings. We counted four goslings, but there may have been an additional two. [Followup report.]

A solitary Western Grebe snoozed in mid-lagoon. Two pairs of American Coots were all that remained of February’s forty birds and October’s record count of 870.

SW across channel towards picnic corner and Malibu Colony
(L. Johnson 5-22-20)

Passerines were remarkably absent, except for Song Sparrows and House Finches in the brush, Barn Swallows in the sky, and one family of six Bushtits near the picnic corner, foraging in their usual rolling wave manner. We checked that corner for signs of Hooded Orioles, but found none. Neither were there any oriole nests visibly suspended from fronds of the nearby palms.

The sand spit points towards the sand island with bird flock
(L. Johnson 5-22-20)

The beach has become remarkably narrow in places, so narrow that it would be difficult to maintain social distancing should people plop themselves down on the sand and others tried to walk past them.

Searching for height markers on the tidal clock (L. Johnson 5-22-20)

The beach breech from lagoon to ocean is closed, as it always is by late May, and nearly all of the sea- and shorebirds were on a long and narrow island of sand, paralleling the beach. This gave them some safety from the encroachment of humans who – if they know “what’s what” (not all do) – stay out of the lagoon as the water can be polluted this time of year.

When the breach closes water collects in the lagoon; the water now is relatively high, about 7 feet above sea level. We couldn’t be certain about the exact elevation as the tiles indicating height along the Winter Ramp / Summer Clock are covered with mud and we couldn’t find them. Next time we go I’ll try to remember to take a trowel.

Looking west towards Malibu Colony & south portion of the lagoon
(L. Johnson 5-22-20)

We counted, recounted and re-re-re-recounted the few species there were. 94 Brown Pelicans was a fairly good number. The pelicans nest on the Channel Islands, particularly Anacapa, the smallest and closest of them, and the lagoon is a handy resting spot for them when they’re out and about searching for schools of fish. In addition to the 14 Double-crested Cormorants among the pelicans, there were another 10 in their two nesting trees in the shopping center across the street. Don’t park under them! – cormorants are famous for their guano-producing skills.

Not a lot of people on the beach (L. Johnson 5-22-20)

The terns in the flock were almost evenly divided between Caspian and Royal, and we were surprised to find not a single Elegant among them. The two Least Terns were quite busy diving on small lagoon fish although the breeze was riffling the water’s surface. The weather website later said the wind was 6mph, it seemed a bit stiffer than that to me. Traffic to and from Malibu was light, thanks to the pandemic, and what could have been a 2 ½ hour trip each way was under an hour.

A different angle on the sandy bird island, Adamson House and Malibu Pier
(L. Johnson 5-22-20)

We couldn’t do the usual six-consecutive-months census report as we missed March and April. Instead, you will find below a comparison of May trips for the past six years.

Birds new for the season: Least Tern, Caspian Tern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Cooper’s Hawk, Barn Swallow. [Some of these species may have been present in March & April, but we weren’t there to see.]

Many thanks to photographer Lillian Johnson.

Our next three scheduled field trips: Who knows? Not I.
Our next program: We’ll have to wait and see.
NOTE: Our 10 a.m. Parent’s & Kids Birdwalk is canceled until further notice due to the near-impossibility of maintaining proper masked social distancing with parents and small children.

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.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
May 2015-2020 5/24 5/22 5/28 5/27 5/26 5/22
Temperature 59-70 61-66 63-68 61-66 57-59 61-65
Tide Lo/Hi Height L+0.54 H+3.69 L+1.32 H+3.86 L+0.66 H+3.53
Tide Time 1139 1101 0627 0912 1040 1031
Snow Goose 3
(Black) Brant 7 1
Canada Goose 6 14
Gadwall 22 8 15 12 13 34
Mallard 8 4 25 15 22 12
Red-breasted Merganser 1 4
Pied-billed Grebe 1 1
Western Grebe 1 1
Rock Pigeon 9 1 13 3 18
Mourning Dove 2 2 4 1 2
Anna’s Hummingbird 2 1
Allen’s Hummingbird 6 2 3 3 4
American Coot 1 1 4 4
Black-bellied Plover 6 5 9 14
Snowy Plover 2 3
Killdeer 6 6 14 4 4 2
Whimbrel 1 6 18
Marbled Godwit 30 4
Willet 1 16 4 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 1 2
Heermann’s Gull 45 8 1 2 4
Ring-billed Gull 8 26 15
Western Gull 135 23 45 112 125 210
California Gull 6 3
Glaucous-winged Gull 1 3
Least Tern 3 9 12 2
Caspian Tern 11 9 4 11 13 60
Forster’s Tern 2
Royal Tern 2 48 2 2 55
Elegant Tern 85 10 45 130 165
Pacific Loon 1
Brandt’s Cormorant 1 1 1
Double-crested Cormorant 55 7 12 15 27 14
Pelagic Cormorant 4 2
Brown Pelican 70 14 18 68 108 94
Great Blue Heron 2 2 3 1
Great Egret 5 1 3 2
Snowy Egret 4 2 2 4 8 3
Green Heron 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1 1 1
Turkey Vulture 4
Osprey 1 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Nanday Parakeet 3
Black Phoebe 2 1 5 5
California Scrub-Jay 2
American Crow 5 4 5 2 6 2
Violet-green Swallow 2 1
Rough-winged Swallow 6 6 3 5
Cliff Swallow 10 4 3 8 6
Barn Swallow 12 4 10 10 14 10
Bushtit 2 2 20 1 6
Bewick’s Wren 1
Western Bluebird 1
American Robin 1
Northern Mockingbird 3 2 8 2 3 2
European Starling 3 2 12 12 9
House Sparrow 3
House Finch 20 7 30 5 8 16
Spotted Towhee 1
California Towhee 2 2 1
Song Sparrow 9 2 12 5 5 12
Hooded Oriole 3 2
Red-winged Blackbird 2 4
Brewer’s Blackbird 2 12
Great-tailed Grackle 3 3 4 4
Common Yellowthroat 1 4
Totals by Type 5/24 5/22 5/28 5/27 5/26 5/22
Waterfowl 37 14 47 27 41 60
Water Birds – Other 134 22 31 88 138 113
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 11 5 6 9 11 4
Quail & Raptors 1 1 0 5 0 2
Shorebirds 8 28 21 56 4 39
Gulls & Terns 294 127 97 269 334 334
Doves 11 3 17 4 20 0
Other Non-Passerines 8 2 3 1 6 4
Passerines 86 60 92 66 63 62
Totals Birds 590 262 314 525 617 618
 Year 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Total Species 5/24 5/22 5/28 5/27 5/26 5/22
Waterfowl 3 4 4 2 3 3
Water Birds – Other 8 3 3 4 4 4
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 3 3 4 3 2
Quail & Raptors 1 1 0 2 0 2
Shorebirds 3 3 3 6 1 5
Gulls & Terns 9 7 4 8 7 6
Doves 2 2 2 2 2 0
Other Non-Passerines 2 1 1 1 2 1
Passerines 17 17 10 12 11 9
Totals Species – 69 48 41 30 41 33 32

 

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