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Oystercatchers at Malibu Lagoon, 22 February 2021

February 28, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

View south towards Malibu Colony and picnic area (L. Johnson 2-22-21)

The weather really was perfect. The temperature started at 65°F at 9am, rising to 74°F by 11:30. A slight breeze rose as the day warmed, keeping it very pleasant. We never needed to add or shed clothing. While descending Malibu Canyon Road we saw a light brown haze stretching south from Santa Monica over the bay, but at sea level we couldn’t see it, and the sky was a cloudless pristine blue.

Low tide and high water at Malibu Lagoon (L – L. Johnson 2-22-21, R – G. Murayama 7-31-20)

Very few, if any, surfers graced the water. Tide was very low, heading lower to -0.13 ft. at 1:14pm. A high-pressure zone in the desert was blowing from land to sea, hence the smog layer. When there’s little swell, such winds flatten whatever waves there are. I saw one paddleboarder over by the pier.

Low tide at Malibu — where did all those rocks come from? (Photos L. Johnson 2-22-21)

There were seven birders, all masked – save for one nose – and ready to bird. Bring ‘em on!

Glaucous-winged Gull discovers the joys of watermelon (L – C. Bragg, R – R. Juncosa 2-22-21)

Well…we had a good variety of ducks, a fair number of gulls and good diversity but low counts of shorebirds, but the passerines were conspicuous by their absence. Not even a mockingbird!

An immaculate Brown Pelican ready to breed (Photos L – C. Bragg R – C. Tosdevin 2-22-21)

A Great Egret stayed very close to the picnic area behind Malibu Colony. We speculated whether it could reach into the trash bin (probably couldn’t), then discovered why it was there, when it caught and ate a lizard. (Photos: L – C. Bragg, R – R. Juncosa 2-22-21)


I would not be surprised to find at least two pair of Canada Geese nesting this spring at the lagoon. They seemed to quite like the easternmost sand & brush island – one pair at each end – but last month a pair seemed to be very interested in the area near the “osprey perch” at the western island’s east end. With eight geese honking and fighting, if they pair up there’s plenty of room.

Five of the eight Canada Geese (C. Tosdevin 2-22-21)

By the time we got to the ocean, the tide was really, really out, with perhaps more rocky reefs exposed than I’ve ever seen before. [I have a sneaking hunch that I think this every time the water is really low.] Back home, I checked to see how accurate this memory is. Not bad, as it turned out. During the exactly 200 visits since 6/27/04, there have been only 17 dates with negative tides, the lowest being -1.10 ft on 4/23/13 (on-line table now says -1.06 ft). So…today’s -0.17 ft. was not the lowest, but not far off.

Black Phoebe. Also a birder. (L. Johnson 2-22-21

The high offshore rocks near the Malibu Colony had an assortment of cormorants – five Brandt’s among the Double-crested, plus a sleeping Harbor Seal at the other end, well away from the potentially noisy and annoying birds. Several of the Brandt’s had breeding-blue gular pouches and white cheek plumes. These birds usually leave about the time they develop these features, so we don’t see them every year.

Brandt’s Cormorant with blue gular pouch and white cheek plumes
(digiscope photo C. Tosdevin 2-22-21)
Bath time for Black Oystercatchers (R. Juncosa 2-22-21)

The most interesting birds were the oystercatchers – three Black and one not-Black. They were all out on the exposed rocky reefs among the gulls. The three Blacks even left the rocks and ran around on the sand, unusual for Oystercatchers. One even took a bath in the waves with a gull. Quite astonishing!

A frolic in the waves with a Western Gull – how could an oystercatcher pass that up?
(photos: C. Bragg 1/22/21)

I wrote a long blog in March 2020 about the oystercatchers at and around Malibu Lagoon so if you want to know everything I know about them, read it here. It’s a tricky call. “Frazar’s” American Oystercatcher breeds around the Sea of Cortez and on the west coast of Baja, and they look very much like our bird here. Black Oystercatchers also breed on the west coast of Baja and will hybridize with the Frazar’s. They do not hybridize with Frazar’s breeding around the Sea of Cortez. In Southern California we can have four types of Oystercatcher: Black (by far the most common), full American (least common, coming from Gulf of Mexico), Frazar’s (either side of Baja), and hybrid Frazar’s/Black (west coast of Baja).

Hybrid Oystercatcher or American “Frazar’s” Oystercatcher (H.p.frazari) — a close call.
The stance of the right-hand bird reminds me a bit of Mae West. (All 4 photos C. Tosdevin 2-22-21)


A bird rated 30 or higher on the the Jehl Scale is supposed to be an American. I rate this bird overall 28-33 of 42 points. Some criteria are difficult to impossible to see. Upper Tail Coverts – 2-3, Tail – 2, Chest – 3, Belly – 6, Under Tail Coverts – 3-4, Thighs – 4, Greater Secondary Coverts – 2-3, Extent of Primary Wing Stripe – 1-2, Underwing Coverts – 2-3, and Axillars – 3. The Jehl Scale is given at the end of the March 2020 blog, and can be downloaded or printed here.

This bird, in my inexpert opinion, is on the borderline between Hybrid and H.p.frazari. I feel it ought to have a bit more white going up the shoulder between black breast and wing. I also think this is one of the birds in the March 2020 blog, which I couldn’t reach a firm conclusion on. It probably spends most of it’s time along the wet rocky areas within a few miles of Malibu, and drops in at Malibu when the tide is low.

Two Western Snowy Plovers (L – R. Juncosa R – C. Tosdevin 2/22/21)


I waded across the outlet stream, opting for wide and shallow rather than narrow and deep. The water rose halfway up my shins — more where the sand was very soft and I started sinking in. Icy cold! I though my feet had fallen off by the time I got across. The point of crossing was to search all areas for Western Snowy Plovers which we hadn’t seen on our trip down the wide beach. Of course there were none. Back across the stream and westward we walked, finally finding 27 birds in their little sand-pockets, inland of the berm.

Black Phoebe, a bit closer. Tide-wet sand. (L – R. Juncosa R – L. Johnson 2-22-21)


Birds new for the season: Cinnamon Teal, Western Sandpiper, Brandt’s Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, California Scrub-Jay, California Towhee.

White-crowned Sparrow
(C. Tosdevin 2-22-21)

Many thanks to photographers: Chuck Bragg, Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa and Chris Tosdevin

The next three SMBAS scheduled field trips: Who knows? Not I.
The next SMBAS program: March 2, Changes in Bird Status in California’s Central Valley, with John Sterling, 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-JulyJuly-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 2020-219/2410/2111/2312/221/222/22
Temperature 66-7764-6852-6457-6460-6165-74
Tide Lo/Hi HeightL+3.05L+2.70L+2.17L+2.15L+0.86L-0.13
Tide Time100406341135105212231314
Snow Goose   2  
(Black) Brant  1   
Canada Goose    88
Cinnamon Teal     4
Gadwall22286812
American Wigeon 33026812
Mallard14  14810
Northern Pintail2  122
Green-winged Teal  128611
Surf Scoter 3 13 15
Bufflehead  10564
Red-breasted Merganser  912112
Ruddy Duck 93519625
Pied-billed Grebe223326
Eared Grebe 115 1
Western Grebe  62 4
Rock Pigeon61091434
Mourning Dove4292 1
Vaux’s Swift8     
Anna’s Hummingbird 1 2 2
Allen’s Hummingbird1122 2
Sora   1  
American Coot48118287445110210
Black Oystercatcher   424
Black-bellied Plover1029130102525
Snowy Plover274228222127
Semipalmated Plover8  41 
Killdeer121814204
Whimbrel135883
Marbled Godwit35481011
Ruddy Turnstone16261 
Sanderling39757825850
Least Sandpiper12 41364
Western Sandpiper1    1
Spotted Sandpiper2122 1
Willet40514101211
Greater Yellowlegs   1  
Heermann’s Gull14 8543162
Mew Gull  2   
Ring-billed Gull  10651538
Western Gull902153343080
California Gull12153548550235
Herring Gull  11  
Glaucous-winged Gull  1331
Forster’s Tern  1   
Royal Tern12  356
Elegant Tern1     
Red-throated Loon 1    
Pacific Loon  11 1
Brandt’s Cormorant  1  5
Double-crested Cormorant4316108288552
Pelagic Cormorant1341 1
Brown Pelican552063216212
Great Blue Heron333313
Great Egret201 122
Snowy Egret25423109
Black-crowned Night-Heron     1
Turkey Vulture  221 
Osprey 1111 
Cooper’s Hawk  1 1 
Red-tailed Hawk  1   
Belted Kingfisher2 111 
Nuttall’s Woodpecker    1 
Downy Woodpecker   1  
Black Phoebe454612
Say’s Phoebe12251 
Vermilion Flycatcher 1    
Loggerhead Shrike1     
California Scrub-Jay2    1
American Crow34111462
Tree Swallow  3   
Bushtit1675 30308
House Wren 21   
Marsh Wren5 3   
Bewick’s Wren  2   
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher522   
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2   
Wrentit1     
Northern Mockingbird 2 1  
European Starling25853010 
House Finch844644
Lesser Goldfinch222564
Lawrence’s Goldfinch15     
California Towhee111  1
Song Sparrow3712334
White-crowned Sparrow 412 45
Dark-eyed Junco   1  
Great-tailed Grackle 283 1
Orange-crowned Warbler42 1  
Common Yellowthroat45851 
Yellow Warbler2     
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler 10816614
Totals by TypeSepOctNovDecJanFeb
Waterfowl181712510653115
Water Birds – Other99146617518359292
Herons, Egrets & Ibis2597271315
Quail & Raptors015330
Shorebirds248229175127114141
Gulls & Terns12922688634119362
Doves1012181635
Other Non-Passerines1123624
Passerines791351701267246
Totals Birds61957318081563738980
       
Total SpeciesSepOctNovDecJanFeb
Waterfowl34710911
Water Birds – Other579949
Herons, Egrets & Ibis332334
Quail & Raptors014230
Shorebirds12910131111
Gulls & Terns528766
Doves222212
Other Non-Passerines322422
Passerines181818141111
Totals Species – 92514862645056

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