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1st Sunday of Spring, Malibu Lagoon, 21 March 2021

March 28, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Double-crested Cormorant (Ray Juncosa 3-21-21)

After doing our non-official, nearly-impromptu lagoon census-walk on weekdays for the past ten months, primarily to avoid maskless crowds, I decided to try one on the weekend. People in Los Angeles are seeing a (perhaps illusory) light at the end of the Covid tunnel, vaccines are being injected, the maskless are again on the loose, and the weekday morning roads and highways are refilling with drivers. So Sunday morning it was to be.

Mudflat, rocks with cormorants, lagoon, Surfrider Beach, Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica in the distance (Lillian Johnson 3-21-21)

Male Yellowthroat (Chris Tosdevin 3-21-21)

Good weather, a lowering tide, acceptably cool and not as breezy as predicted all made for a good day. Some who worked or are otherwise occupied during the week were able to come, and we had thirteen birders, all masked and ready to go. That’s the most we’ve had since February 2020, and it’s about the limit of social-distancing birders the narrower paths can handle. In my opinion.

Reed beds were flattened from the rain and hail earlier in the month, leaving nowhere for Soras and Virginia Rails to hide, if there were any, which there aren’t. An Osprey – absent last month – alit upon a pipe protruding from the north channel mud. It soon began chirp-calling in its odd, un-raptorlike manner, and within a few minutes another Osprey approached from the south and dropped out of the sky. After circling the calling bird it headed off towards the shopping center to the north. Territorial display? Courting? Saying hi? Kemosabe?

Osprey calling; none of the photos of this bird showed any more of a right leg than this (R. Juncosa 3-21-21)

The two Western Bluebirds flitted about in the trees over the port-a-potties, which seems to be their favorite spot. We’ve seen them there in the past, scarfing Sugarbush berries. It’s leafy and they can perch high to spot snacks (aka insects) flying by. Perhaps they drop down to the grassy private golf course a few feet away, invisible to us on the other side of a high brick wall.

Western Bluebird male (Femi Faminu 3-21-21)

Nine species of ducks and geese rested on the exposed mud or dabbled in the water. Last month’s Pintails, Buffleheads and Ruddy Ducks were absent, but Northern Shovelers were there. Relatively abundant were the 25 Green-winged Teal, most of them lying on the muddy shore of a sand island. Pied-billed Grebes dove in the deeper water by the PCH bridge, accompanied by many coots and several Red-breasted Mergansers.

Northern Shovelers have a very large bill for a duck (C. Tosdevin 3-21-21)

The mockingbirds were back in place – after their two-month absence (perhaps they went to Cancun?) – near the telephone at the colony west end corner. Although neither sang from the top of their rightful pole, there was plenty of chasing around and singing from the lower bushes and small trees.

Allen’s Hummingbird male 3-21-21 Left: R. Juncosa — Right: C. Tosdevin

The oft-referred-to “outer rocks” are at upper left, perhaps 100 meters offshore (L. Johnson 3-21-21)

While checking the higher offshore rocks in front of Malibu Colony’s west end, we found a large number of shorebirds among the low exposed rocks (we were well on our way towards 11:53am low tide of +0.74 ft.). They turned out to be mostly Sanderlings, 160 of them, with some larger Whimbrels, Willets and Marbled Godwits mixed in.

Thirty-three or so of the Sanderlings (C. Tosdevin 3-21-21)

A single Brown Pelican sat on the outer rocks, alone, probably because the waves were still making the seaward side of the rocks unusable. But a closer look revealed a Black Oystercatcher standing atop one rock. Searching more carefully, we found three more Black Oystercatchers, blending in very well with the dark wet rocks. Photographs were taken, of course. One obliging bird saw us staring at him and flew to a nearby rock to give us a better look, or maybe take a better look at us, or perhaps something else entirely.

Black Oystercatcher glides in (C. Tosdevin 3-21-21)

Black Oystercatcher (C. Tosdevin 3-21-21)

As we walked eastward towards the other exposed rocky reefs, two of the oystercatchers flew by and dropped into those dark damp rocks near the gulls and terns, and began exploring the newly-exposed crevices and gravel.

Beach wrack, exposed rocks and Santa Monica in far distance (L. Johnson 3-21-21)

Jean and Liz had already explored the beach and informed us they didn’t see any Snowy Plovers. So we needed to do a close investigation of all the little pockmark holes across the now-broad beach, widened by the lowering tide and the near-empty lagoon. To our surprise we found them fairly close to the beachblanketed sunbathers perched on the beach berm, widely scattered, in small groups of two to eight birds, totaling 23 birds, including winter resident gg:yg.

Western Snowy Plovers gets quite colorful in the spring (Grace Murayama 3-20-21)

The ~250 gulls included six species: 130 California, 65 Westerns, 42 Heermann’s, a dozen Ring-bills and one each of Herring and Glaucous-winged. The 28 terns were 4 Caspian and 24 Royal. Elegant Terns and the other smaller terns will probably show up next month. Ruddy Turnstones and Black-bellied Plovers roamed and rested on the rocks among the gulls.

Marbled Godwit, almost fully extended (R. Juncosa 3-21-21)

I forded the outlet stream – about 6 inches deep and warmer than last month’s ice water – and went on to Adamson House. Crossing over Surfrider beach, swarming with surfers and surfer-watchers, I noticed two Eared Grebes diving under Malibu Pier, darkening into breeding plumage.

A small example of Giant Coriopsis, coming into bloom, endemic to local shoreline and nearby channel islands (G. Murayama 3-20-21)

Male Lesser Goldfinch (C. Tosdevin 3-21-21)

Local birder Tom Miko, one who certainly gets around the L.A. area a lot, had reported a weird woodpecker there the day before, seemingly a blend of Nuttall’s and Downy, but with a black face. I searched the grounds high and low, but found little other than a large flock of European Starlings. There weren’t even any hummingbirds in the flowering hedges! However, I was quite pleased to see that the boathouse rooftop viewing platform has been completely repaired, finally! (it’s been years), and open for use. Unfortunately, lagoon water level was so low that the pool below the boathouse was bone dry, with not a bird to see. C’est La Vie.

Birds new for the season: Northern Shoveler, Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Raven, Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Western Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird.

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

The next three SMBAS scheduled field trips: Who knows? Not I.

The next SMBAS program: April 6, The Secret Lives of Gulls (and what their poo may reveal), with Kristen Covino, on ZOOM, 7:45 PM. NOTE NEW TIME (this meeting only).

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.

Turkey Vulture (C. Tosdevin 3-21-21)

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

Prior checklists:
2020: Jan-JulyJuly-Dec  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 2020-2110/2111/2312/221/222/223/22
Tide Lo/Hi HeightL+2.70L+2.17L+2.15L+0.86L-0.13L+0.86
Tide Time063411351052122313141223
Snow Goose  2   
(Black) Brant 1    
Canada Goose   886
Cinnamon Teal    47
Northern Shoveler     8
American Wigeon330268128
Mallard  1481016
Northern Pintail  122 
Green-winged Teal 12861125
Surf Scoter3 13 152
Bufflehead 10564 
Red-breasted Merganser 91211212
Ruddy Duck93519625 
Pied-billed Grebe233266
Eared Grebe115 12
Western Grebe 62 411
Rock Pigeon10914346
Mourning Dove292 16
Anna’s Hummingbird1 2 23
Allen’s Hummingbird122 22
Sora  1   
American Coot118287445110210235
Black Oystercatcher  4244
Black-bellied Plover913010252531
Snowy Plover422822212723
Semipalmated Plover  41  
Marbled Godwit548101110
Ruddy Turnstone6261 5
Least Sandpiper 413648
Western Sandpiper    14
Spotted Sandpiper122 1 
Greater Yellowlegs  1   
Heermann’s Gull 854316242
Mew Gull 2    
Ring-billed Gull 1065153812
Western Gull215334308065
California Gull153548550235130
Herring Gull 11  1
Glaucous-winged Gull 13311
Caspian Tern     4
Forster’s Tern 1    
Royal Tern  35624
Red-throated Loon1     
Pacific Loon 11 1 
Brandt’s Cormorant 1  5 
Double-crested Cormorant1610828855225
Pelagic Cormorant341 1 
Brown Pelican5206321621227
Great Blue Heron33313 
Great Egret1 1222
Snowy Egret54231093
Black-crowned Night-Heron    1 
Turkey Vulture 221 1
Osprey1111 2
Cooper’s Hawk 1 1  
Red-tailed Hawk 1    
Belted Kingfisher 111  
Nuttall’s Woodpecker   1  
Downy Woodpecker  1   
Black Phoebe546122
Say’s Phoebe2251  
Vermilion Flycatcher1     
California Scrub-Jay    12
American Crow41114625
Common Raven     1
Tree Swallow 3    
Rough-winged Swallow     6
Barn Swallow     10
Bushtit75 3030820
House Wren21    
Marsh Wren 3    
Bewick’s Wren 2    
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher22    
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2    
Western Bluebird     2
Northern Mockingbird2 1  2
European Starling5853010 75
House Finch4464410
Lesser Goldfinch2256416
California Towhee11  14
Song Sparrow7123347
White-crowned Sparrow412 456
Dark-eyed Junco  1   
Red-winged Blackbird     2
Brown-headed Cowbird     2
Great-tailed Grackle283 18
Orange-crowned Warbler2 1   
Common Yellowthroat5851 3
Yellow-rumped(Aud) Warbler1081661415
Totals by TypeOctNovDecJanFebMar
Water Birds – Other146617518359292306
Herons, Egrets & Ibis972713155
Quail & Raptors153303
Gulls & Terns22688634119362279
Other Non-Passerines236245
Totals Birds573180815637389801172
Total SpeciesOctNovDecJanFebMar
Water Birds – Other799496
Herons, Egrets & Ibis323342
Quail & Raptors142302
Gulls & Terns287668
Other Non-Passerines224222
Totals Species – 94486264505662

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