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June Gloom at Malibu Lagoon, 20 June 2021

June 26, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Twasn’t brillig. No toves, slithy or otherwise. (Lillian Johnson 6-20-21)

The lagoon outlet remains closed and the lagoon water level is the same level as in May—7.0 ft on the tidal sidewalk. Even more algae floats on the surface. It was thick enough for ducklings to walk upon easily. Adults had a tougher time and looked like people struggling through thick snow.

The tidal clock was at 7 ft.
(L. Johnson 6-20-21)

June gloom has fallen upon us, thick in the morning, barely beginning to burn off by 11 am. After the scorching days of early June, temperatures of  63°-69° are very welcome. Tide was falling from the +4.89 ft. high at 6:27 am. Rocks began to show, but no shorebirds, gulls or terns wished to use them. Twenty-six shorebirds snoozed at the edge of the lagoon: 13 Black-bellied Plovers, 4 Killdeer, 9 Whimbrel. Later two Ruddy Turnstones came from the west and landed on the large offshore rocks. They are probably returning migrants as their plumage looked less than perfect, but they were difficult to see in the foggy gray gloom.

Ducks: Gadwall possibly eclipse male (L) and Mallard female (R.)
(both photos Adrian Douglas 6-20-21)

Mallard and Gadwall females and eclipse males can be hard to differentiate. Useful characteristics: Gadwall has steeper forehead profile, white patch in secondaries may show, bill slightly shorter. Mallard has sloping forehead, shows mostly white in tail, may show purple speculum in wing secondaries.

(Ray Juncosa 6-20-21)

About two-thirds of the 116 ducks were ducklings ranging in size from fluffy puffball to large juvenile.

Adamson House, lagoon & algae from viewpoint near PCH bridge.
(L. Johnson 6-20-21)

Most of the Canada Geese swam to the southwestern sand island, rested around the “Osprey pole” and worked on their plumage.

Canada Geese, adults and juveniles (R. Juncosa 6-20-21)

An ultra-rare blue-winged Canada Goose? Plastic? Tag? Spy camera? (A. Douglas 6-20-21)

We spotted one goose with a baby-blue patch in the left wing. A piece of plastic? Some sort of tag? He kept turning around, and around, sorting through his feathers, and as the patch was only on the left side, it took a while to get a good look at it and work out what it was.

Blue-winged Canada Goose? (A. Douglas 6-21-20)
It’s the feather rachis growing out! I count six. That they would grow out without any sign of vanes or barbs I did not know, nor did I know they were baby blue.

Feather structure (Source: Ask a Biologist – Arizona State University

There was a total of 348 birds in 34 species. June nearly always has the lowest counts of the year, followed by May and July, but that seemed pretty low, even for June. So I checked.

Average June birds for prior 10-year period: 510, ranging 863-258.
Average June species for prior 10-year period: 40, ranging 48-33.
Lowest all-time bird count any month: 5/25/80 – 113 birds & 12 species, including 104 gulls.
Lowest all-time species count any month: 6/20/81 – 8 species and 177 birds, including 80 gulls and 60 ducks.

Brown Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants and a few others on a sand island.
(R. Juncosa 6-20-21)

There were a moderate number of swallows cruising the lagoon and beach – mostly Barn Swallows but a few Cliff Swallows as well.

Photo: A. Douglas 6-20-21

We had three very worn gulls, their scapulars and coverts reduced to little more than bare rachises (there’s that word again). The bird pictured above had crown feathers so worn down that you could see the dark skin underneath. We determined that they were Ring-billed Gulls.

Two Ruddy Turnstones on outer rock (R. Juncosa 6-20-21))

Great-tailed Grackles were making themselves well-known, with sky-pointing displays and frequent loud gurgles, bugles, burbles and boinks. This may be late nesting or re-nesting. June is not too early for re-nesting, as the Eurasian Collared-Dove pair in our back yard finished their first nesting in early May and began again in late May.

Great-tailed Grackles, male & female (both photos (R. Juncosa 6-20-21)

Birds new for the season: Mourning Dove, Ruddy Turnstone.

Many thanks to photographers: Adrian Douglas, Lillian Johnson & Ray Juncosa

The next SMBAS scheduled field trips: Maybe in September. We’ll see.

The next SMBAS program: The Floating Roost Trial: a novel solution to losses in migratory shorebird habitat, with Chris Purnell of Birdlife Australia. Zoom Evening Meeting, Tuesday, 6 July, 7:30 p.m.

The SMBAS 10 a.m. Parent’s & Kids Birdwalk remains canceled until further notice due to the near-impossibility of maintained proper masked social distancing with parents and small children.

Great Egret
(R. Juncosa 6-20-21)

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.

Many thanks to Adrian Douglas, Lillian Johnson & Ray Juncosa and others for their contributions to this month’s checklist.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 20211/222/223/224/255/226/20
Tide Lo/Hi HeightL+0.86L-0.13L+0.86H+4.83L+1.57H+4.89
Tide Time122313141223084307360627
(Black) Brant   1  
Canada Goose8868610
Cinnamon Teal 47   
Northern Shoveler  8   
American Wigeon8128   
Northern Pintail22    
Green-winged Teal61125   
Surf Scoter 152   
Red-breasted Merganser112123 1
Ruddy Duck625    
Pied-billed Grebe26611 
Eared Grebe 12   
Western Grebe 4114  
Feral Pigeon3469159
Mourning Dove 16  2
Anna’s Hummingbird 23111
Allen’s Hummingbird 22421
American Coot1102102357569
Black Oystercatcher244   
Black-bellied Plover25253122513
Snowy Plover212723   
Semipalmated Plover1  29  
Marbled Godwit101110   
Ruddy Turnstone1 5  2
Dunlin   1  
Least Sandpiper6481  
Western Sandpiper 1420  
Spotted Sandpiper 1 1  
Heermann’s Gull1624228280 
Ring-billed Gull1538126  
Western Gull308065403545
California Gull5023513035104
Herring Gull  1   
Glaucous-winged Gull31111 
Caspian Tern  420133
Royal Tern56246 2
Elegant Tern   3951071
Pacific Loon 1    
Brandt’s Cormorant 5    
Double-crested Cormorant855225122626
Pelagic Cormorant 1 1  
Brown Pelican162122710523527
Great Blue Heron13  32
Great Egret222114
Snowy Egret1093216
Green Heron    1 
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1    
Turkey Vulture1 1 1 
Osprey1 221 
Cooper’s Hawk1     
Red-shouldered Hawk    2 
Belted Kingfisher1     
Nuttall’s Woodpecker1     
Peregrine Falcon   1  
Black Phoebe12286 
Say’s Phoebe1     
Western Kingbird    1 
California Scrub-Jay 12   
American Crow625443
Common Raven  1   
Violet-green Swallow    2 
Rough-winged Swallow  623 
Cliff Swallow    84
Barn Swallow  10253018
Oak Titmouse    2 
Western Bluebird  2   
Northern Mockingbird  2452
European Starling10 755 8
House Finch4410666
Lesser Goldfinch64162  
Spotted Towhee   1  
California Towhee 14 3 
Song Sparrow347784
White-crowned Sparrow4562  
Hooded Oriole   11 
Red-winged Blackbird  224 
Brown-headed Cowbird  21 1
Great-tailed Grackle 18668
Common Yellowthroat1 3  4
Yellow Warbler    2 
Yellow-rumped Warbler614151  
Totals by TypeJanFebMarAprMayJun
Water Birds – Other35929230619826862
Herons, Egrets & Ibis131553612
Quail & Raptors303340
Gulls & Terns11936227953144655
Other Non-Passerines245532
Totals Birds7389801172962918348
Total SpeciesJanFebMarAprMayJun
Water Birds – Other496643
Herons, Egrets & Ibis342243
Quail & Raptors302230
Gulls & Terns668865
Other Non-Passerines222222
Totals Species – 89505662524434

  1. Chris Lord permalink
    July 1, 2021 6:43 pm

    Hi Chuck, Glad to see the Malibu lagoon report, I always enjoy your write ups. Strongly hoping I haven’t been wrong for all these years, but I’ve told Mallard males in eclipse, Mallard females and Gadwall females apart fairly quickly by their bills. The first has a dull yellow bill, the second has its usual dark splotch in the top middle of the bill, and the third has orange around only the edges of the bill, with no irregular dark splotch in the middle of the top. Within either species, I don’t know how to tell juvenile males and females apart from each other or from adult females of their species. Well done on the blue rachis, a new word and phenomenon to me. Chris Sent from my iPhone



    • Chukar permalink*
      July 2, 2021 1:31 pm

      Hi Chris:
      I agree with your comments. However, this month at the lagoon, there seemed to be some birds that weren’t following the rules. Orange-edged bills but with purple speculums or white tails. Blotchy black-on-orange bills with white in the wings. Far too many juvenile birds barely-smaller-than-adults with bills all over color/pattern gamut. Very confusing! So I wrote what I wrote, as the bills seemed to have become not-entirely-reliable.

      I think you’d better get better quick!, come down to the lagoon and straighten me out.


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