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Early fall at Malibu Lagoon: 24 September, 2020

September 29, 2020

Small, controlled field trips in open spaces seem feasible.

Channel & surface algae (Lillian Johnson 9/24/20)

Social distanced birding seems to work in small groups – ours have been seven – the area is open and the paths are wide enough to pass. The main path around the lagoon and down to the beach is about 12 feet wide, wide enough for the beachworker vans to pass and wide enough for the unmasked to get by. No scope sharing, no group lunch afterwards.

Mallard takeoff (Ray Juncosa 9/24/20)

The diversity bumped up a bit from August’s 48 to 51 species, but the numbers dropped from 790 to 619. As the Elegant Terns had dropped from the crowd of 221 in August to 1 lonely bird among the dozen Royal Terns, the other species were better represented this month.

Heermann’s Gulls gather on beachfront roof, accompanied by a Western Roof-Owl (Grace Murayama 9/25/20)

The two most interesting (to me) species were the first and last seen. First was a small flock of 15 Lawrence’s Finches, containing adults and young birds in all stages of plumage. They are quite beautiful with that lovely chartreuse in their wings and a purer yellow on the adult’s breast. They landed in a large bush and twittered for a few minutes.

Marbled Godwit (Ray Juncosa 9/24/20)

The last bird was a Loggerhead Shrike, sitting on a bare branch on the easternmost sand & brush island. It spotted something on the ground and disappeared for a while into the brush, then returned to his or her branch. This increasingly uncommon bird is known as the “butcherbird” for its habit of impaling small birds and lizards and large insects on thorns and barbed wire, creating a “meat larder.” Their numbers have dropped by about 85% in the past few decades. We’ve recorded only 20 birds in 17 visits at the lagoon. The most recent visits were 16 years ago, Sep. 26 and Oct. 24, 2004. Like I said, increasingly uncommon.

Pacific Coast Highway across the lagoon (Lillian Johnson 9/24/20)

We had eight Semipalmated Plovers. If you’ve been birding for a while, you’ve noticed that some birds are named for obscure, difficult-to-see characteristics. The Ring-necked Duck is very commonly miscalled the Ring-billed Duck, as that ring is easily seen and is one of the most used field I.D. characteristics, whereas the iridescent violet neck ring is rarely seen, unless you’re in a museum staring down at a skin. Then it’s quite easy. The recently-renamed Thick-billed Longspur (formerly McCown’s Longspur) is another such bird, and one British wit suggested the name was chosen for it’s high point value on the “obscure characteristic scale.” The incomplete webbing on toes of the Semipalmated Plover (and also on Semipalmated Sandpiper and Western Sandpiper) is another such characteristic. But you can sometimes see that webbing, perhaps most easily in a good photograph (or on a dead museum bird).

Other notable sightings was a pair (male & female) of Belted Kingfishers who rattled away at each other as they chased back and forth across the lagoon and channel. I didn’t see either of them dive on any fish – they seemed far more interested in each other.

Belted Kingfisher female (Ray Juncosa 9/24/20)

There was also a small overflight of Vaux’s Swifts high over the cypress trees in the Malibu Colony. I spotted them only because I was checking the treetops from across the lagoon, looking for resting raptors, and one swift flew by beyond the trees. To the naked eye they were invisible. These small, dingy light & dark brown flying cigars are only 4 ¾ inches long. Birders have gone back and forth on the name pronunciation – either rhyming with “toes” as the French might have it, or with hawks. Google – which I just now googled (can you google Google?) – said “he pronounced his name like ‘Fox,’” so the bird’s name should be said like “foxes.” There you have it.

Not a busy Surfrider’s Beach as we approach Crocford Creek (Lillian Johnson 9/24/20)

As with last month, when we got to “Crocford Creek” – the lagoon outlet stream – I waded across alone to hunt the wily Western Snowy Plovers. I found them – 27 strong – resting in their little beachsand-dimples adjacent to the SE corner of the lagoon. Among them was g:y/g, the only banded bird.

Western Snowy Plover g:y/g (Grace Murayama 9/25/20)

I went on to the Adamson House to search for more passerines. There was a handy low gate near a homeless person’s shelter, begging to be stepped over, so I accommodated it, as it was a much shorter distance than going around to the front gate on PCH. However, once on the property, I found out it was closed for the day when three park rangers spotted me skulking about, staring at the trees, and yelled, “Hey you, what are you doing here!”

“Looking for birds, like I’ve been doing here for the past 40 years,” I replied, telescope on my shoulder, binos hanging from my neck, bird book in pouch suspended from my other shoulder. After grilling me about some sightings they’d recently had – mostly raptors – they relieved me of some of my tiny lagoon bird checklists and suggested I leave the premises, which I did through a handy hole in the fence.

Sanderling rear-ender in traffic (Grace Murayama 9/25/20)

Birds new for the season: Northern Pintail, Vaux’s Swift, Marbled Godwit, Sanderling, Spotted Sandpiper, Say’s Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Marsh Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, California Towhee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler.

Many thanks to photographers: Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa, Grace Murayama and Chris Tosdevin.

The next three SMBAS scheduled field trips: Who knows? Not I.
The next SMBAS program: TONIGHT!, October 6, Tropical Birds with Benny Jacob-Schwartz, on ZOOM, 7PM.
The SMBAS 10 a.m. Parent’s & Kids Birdwalk is canceled until further notice due to the near-impossibility of maintained proper masked social distancing with parents and small children.

Gnatcatcher chatter (Ray Juncosa 9/24/20)

Links: Unusual birds at Malibu Lagoon
9/23/02 Aerial photo of Malibu Lagoon

Prior checklists:
2019: Jan-June, July-Dec 
2020: Jan-July,    
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 20202/235/226/257/228/269/24
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+5.70H+3.53L-0.52L+0.71L+2.52L+3.05
Tide Time093410310733081909581004
Canada Goose 1488  
Cinnamon Teal19     
Northern Shoveler12     
American Wigeon7     
Northern Pintail1    2
Green-winged Teal35    1 
Surf Scoter5     
White-winged Scoter1     
Red-breasted Merganser6     
Ruddy Duck35     
Pied-billed Grebe1  332
Western Grebe61    
Rock Pigeon15 71046
Mourning Dove4 4354
Vaux’s Swift     8
Anna’s Hummingbird1  1  
Allen’s Hummingbird3433 1
American Coot404 2 48
Black-bellied Plover5714101566102
Snowy Plover4  82627
Semipalmated Plover    48
Marbled Godwit5241  3
Ruddy Turnstone8  221
Sanderling14    39
Least Sandpiper   22112
Western Sandpiper5 2181
Short-billed Dowitcher    2 
Long-billed Dowitcher   4  
Spotted Sandpiper     2
Wandering Tattler   1  
Heermann’s Gull349651014
Ring-billed Gull44     
Western Gull82210120909890
California Gull215  41712
Glaucous-winged Gull33    
Least Tern 2  2 
Caspian Tern 601541 
Forster’s Tern    4 
Royal Tern655  1112
Elegant Tern   1952211
Brandt’s Cormorant  1   
Double-crested Cormorant351415161843
Pelagic Cormorant  1 11
Brown Pelican3894301985
Great Blue Heron2 3243
Great Egret  13420
Snowy Egret632842
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1  2 
Turkey Vulture5     
Osprey 1  1 
Cooper’s Hawk 1    
Red-tailed Hawk3     
Belted Kingfisher1   12
Nuttall’s Woodpecker1     
Nanday Parakeet7     
Black Phoebe4 1554
Say’s Phoebe2    1
Loggerhead Shrike     1
California Scrub-Jay1  112
American Crow622433
Tree Swallow2     
Rough-winged Swallow    1 
Cliff Swallow  1   
Barn Swallow 10182220 
Oak Titmouse1     
House Wren2   1 
Marsh Wren2    5
Bewick’s Wren2     
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher2    5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet1     
Wrentit1  1 1
Western Bluebird    4 
Hermit Thrush1     
Northern Mockingbird22221 
European Starling396012272
House Finch81624548
Lesser Goldfinch3    2
Lawrence’s Goldfinch     15
California Towhee11   1
Song Sparrow16123343
White-crowned Sparrow6     
Western Meadowlark1   25 
Hooded Oriole   7  
Red-winged Blackbird6  1  
Great-tailed Grackle 43202 
Orange-crowned Warbler     4
Common Yellowthroat3 1 44
Yellow Warbler     2
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler6     
Totals by TypeFebMayJunJulAugSep
Water Birds – Other12011347403099
Herons, Egrets & Ibis846131425
Quail & Raptors820010
Gulls & Terns353334144358364129
Other Non-Passerines13434111
Totals Birds958618440660790619
Total SpeciesFebMayJunJulAugSep
Water Birds – Other544445
Herons, Egrets & Ibis223343
Quail & Raptors220010
Gulls & Terns663585
Other Non-Passerines511213
Totals Species – 96683233424851

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