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Ducks returning to Malibu Lagoon: 23 November, 2020

November 26, 2020

Small, controlled field trips in open spaces still seem feasible.
We had five people this time. And we stopped by Legacy Park.

[By Chuck Almdale]

Brant is a regular visitor in very small numbers (Ray Juncosa 11-23-20)

We had five masked and equidistant birders this time. Most of the irregulars were busily preparing for Thanksgiving, or simply forgot, but Chris and Ruth Tosdevin joined Lillian, Ray and I on a cool and cloudy day.

View from the meeting place (Lillian Johnson 11-23-20)

Flat, flat, flat waves. The few surfers decking the water sat upon their boards. None attempted to catch a wave. “Maybe they’re working out New Year’s resolutions to surf at least one hour each day of the year,” I mused. What other reasonable reason could there be?

Lifeguard station, barren beach, no surfers and Malibu Pier in distance on a cloudy, foggy day. (L. Johnson 11-23-20)

The duck (plus one goose) population jumped up from October’s 17 birds in 5 species to 125 birds in 7 species. The Brant, Green-winged Teal (fly-bys), Red-breasted Merganser and Bufflehead – both females and bold-patterned males – were new. The coot population more than doubled; everywhere you looked jet-black coots were crusing, fighting, diving.

Say’s Phoebe on a rain bird (R. Juncosa 11-23-20)

On 11/16/20 Grace Murayama caught a different Say’s taking off.

The gull population exploded: October had 22 birds, November had 687; most were California Gull, finally arriving from Mono Lake.

At the time we thought this was a Mew Gull.
Now it’s looks Ring-billed to me. (R. Juncosa 11-23-20)

The lagoon water level was quite high. Every year, starting November 1st, the Tapia Water Reclamation Plant, located a few miles up Malibu Creek, is permitted to channel unsold reclaimed water into the creek. It used to be that they could do this November 1 – May 1, but not during the six hot months. (Does anyone know if they’re still doing this?) This water dumping used to be a significant source of pollution some 20-40 years ago, but Tapia cleaned up their act. Now their water (if they discharge into the creek) is cleaner than that from further upstream, which runs past horse farms, malls hosing down their parking lots, homeless encampments and tens of thousands of suburban homes filled to the brim with people washing their cars and forever fertilizing their endless rolling lawns.

An inundated tidal clock sidewalk measured 6′ 9.6″ water level
(L. Johnson 11-23-20)

Even the cormorant-barely-laden snag was drowning (R. Juncosa 11-23-20)

We had some rain a few weeks ago, well under an inch (about 0.05″ at our house), and that might have added a little something. There’d also been a King Tide on November 15-16, when waves washed right over the beach into the lagoon. All that brought the water level up to about 6′ 9″. Pretty high.

Many rocks exposed by 10:55 am. Low tide was 40 minutes later. It looks cloudy and cold, doesn’t it? (L. Johnson 11-23-20)

A sleepy Sea Lion resting on the exposed shore rocks (R. Juncosa 11-23-20

Of the 10 shorebird species, most (78) were Sanderlings, but there were also 30 Black-bellied Plovers and 28 Snowy Plovers. As the tide was dropping most of the shorebirds were running around looking for prey, including nearly all the Snowy Plovers. This makes it hard to count them, but after about 10 counts, I came up with 28 three times, so that’s my official count.

Not a Snowy Plover, but a close cousin, the Black-bellied Plover. What?, you say, where’s the black belly? Gone, with the breeding plumage of spring and summer. (R. Juncosa 11-23-20)

This Great Blue Heron is looking exceedingly fit & plumy.
(R. Juncosa 11-23-20)

There were a lot of Brown Pelicans, mostly sitting on the low-tide-exposed slightly-offshore rocks. I thought 206 pelicans seemed like a lot – it’s usually less than 90 – so I checked my spreadsheet at home. Not even close; the 15th highest, with 1490 birds on 4-26-15 as the record.

If you look closely at this pelican, the underwing and body feathers seem abbreviated. They look like pinfeathers, but I haven’t seen this effect before so I’m not certain. (R. Juncosa 11-23-20)

It was a good day for raptors: 2 Turkey Vultures, 1 Osprey, 1 Cooper’s Hawk and 1 Red-tailed Hawk. Chris mentioned that he’d heard that White-tailed Kites were declining (again). I think he’s right. We used to see White-tailed Kites at the lagoon, but the last one was on 12-28-14.

This Turkey Vulture passed so closely by that you could see it’s eye color.
If you look very closely, I think you can see right through it’s nostrils.
(R. Juncosa 11-23-20)

A contemplative Marbled Godwit (R. Juncosa 11-23-20

Footprints in time. For awhile, anyway. (L. Johnson 11-23-20)

We went over to Legacy Park – it’s not Malibu Lagoon, but still Malibu – as some of our missing ducks and a couple of “good birds” had been reported from there. As we circled the shrinking freshwater pond we were constantly surrounded by Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and White-crowned Sparrows. Sure enough, when we reached the back side of the pond, there were at least 50 Mallards, all gathered around the feet of a woman scattering bread crumbs. Free lunch! No wonder the lagoon is empty of Mallards. We also found two Soras paddling around, but the reported wisp of Snipe had fled. Chris had been there a few days earlier and sent me some photos.

Easiest of the rails to view, the Sora often walks and swims in the open, unlike true skulkers like Black or Yellow Rail. I’ve never before seen the black facial feathers erect. (Chris Tosdevin ~11-20-20)

Even when people know the (Wilson’s) Snipe is really a real bird and not a myth that you send the naive out to catch with a sack, they often mistake it for a dowitcher because of the chunky shape and long straight bill. But Snipe (in my experience) vastly prefer fresh water, damp grass and maybe a few reeds, to brackish water and mud flats. Their streaky back and head plumage camouflages the motionless snipe very well.
(C. Tosdevin ~11-20-20)

I heard that someone thought this was not a Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura puntulata) but a “Checkered” Munia. I looked it up and “Checkered” is yet another of the many names for this bird. Other names: Nutmeg Mannikin, Nutmeg Finch, Spotted Munia, Spotted Mannikin, Barred Munia, Spice Finch, Spicebird, Spice Mannikin, Ricebird. Whew!) The breast feathers on this bird appear to be still growing. This common yet beautiful cage bird, native to Southeast Asia from west India to Taiwan to east Indonesia, has been feral and breeding in SoCal for at least 20 years. It was not in the bush at Legacy Park where it was supposed to be! Drat!
(Photo: C. Tosdevin ~11-20-20)

Birds new for the season: Brant, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Western Grebe, Mew Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Forster’s Tern, Pacific Loon, Brandt’s Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Tree Swallow, Bewick’s Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet .

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: December 1, Birds and Islands, the Story of Cuba: Why the Island is Unique. Or Not. With Tom Hinnebusch, on ZOOM, 7:30 PM.
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.

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 20206/257/228/269/2410/2111/23
Tide Lo/Hi HeightL-0.52L+0.71L+2.52L+3.05L+2.70L+2.17
Tide Time073308190958100406341135
(Black) Brant     1
Canada Goose88    
American Wigeon    330
Northern Pintail   2  
Green-winged Teal  1  12
Surf Scoter    3 
Bufflehead     10
Red-breasted Merganser     9
Ruddy Duck    935
Pied-billed Grebe 33223
Eared Grebe    11
Western Grebe     6
Rock Pigeon71046109
Mourning Dove435429
Vaux’s Swift   8  
Anna’s Hummingbird 1  1 
Allen’s Hummingbird33 112
American Coot 2 48118287
Black-bellied Plover1015661029130
Snowy Plover 826274228
Semipalmated Plover  48  
Marbled Godwit1  354
Ruddy Turnstone 22162
Sanderling   397578
Least Sandpiper 22112 4
Western Sandpiper2181  
Short-billed Dowitcher  2   
Long-billed Dowitcher 4    
Spotted Sandpiper   212
Wandering Tattler 1    
Heermann’s Gull9651014 85
Mew Gull     2
Ring-billed Gull     10
Western Gull1209098902153
California Gull 417121535
Herring Gull     1
Glaucous-winged Gull     1
Least Tern  2   
Caspian Tern1541   
Forster’s Tern  4  1
Royal Tern  1112  
Elegant Tern 1952211  
Red-throated Loon    1 
Pacific Loon     1
Brandt’s Cormorant1    1
Double-crested Cormorant1516184316108
Pelagic Cormorant1 1134
Brown Pelican3019855206
Great Blue Heron324333
Great Egret134201 
Snowy Egret284254
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2   
Turkey Vulture     2
Osprey  1 11
Cooper’s Hawk     1
Red-tailed Hawk     1
Belted Kingfisher  12 1
Black Phoebe155454
Say’s Phoebe   122
Vermilion Flycatcher    1 
Loggerhead Shrike   1  
California Scrub-Jay 112  
American Crow2433411
Tree Swallow     3
Rough-winged Swallow  1   
Cliff Swallow1     
Barn Swallow182220   
House Wren  1 21
Marsh Wren   5 3
Bewick’s Wren     2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   522
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     2
Wrentit 1 1  
Western Bluebird  4   
Northern Mockingbird221 2 
European Starling6012272585
House Finch2454844
Lesser Goldfinch   222
Lawrence’s Goldfinch   15  
California Towhee   111
Song Sparrow3343712
White-crowned Sparrow    412
Western Meadowlark  25   
Hooded Oriole 7    
Red-winged Blackbird 1    
Great-tailed Grackle3202 28
Orange-crowned Warbler   42 
Common Yellowthroat1 4458
Yellow Warbler   2  
Yellow-rumped Warbler    108
Totals by TypeJunJulAugSepOctNov
Water Birds – Other47403099146617
Herons, Egrets & Ibis613142597
Quail & Raptors001015
Gulls & Terns14435836412922688
Other Non-Passerines3411123
Totals Birds4406607906195731808
Total SpeciesJunJulAugSepOctNov
Water Birds – Other444579
Herons, Egrets & Ibis334332
Quail & Raptors001014
Gulls & Terns358528
Other Non-Passerines121322
Totals Species – 96334248514862

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