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A welcome gloom at Malibu Lagoon, 25 July 2021

July 28, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Great Egret (Chris Tosdevin 7-25-21)

As usual for summer months the Malibu Lagoon outlet is closed and the water level is high, still about 7 ft. above sea level. The surface algae is thick and the smallest ducklings can gallop over it. Surf shapes were really nice, waves festooned with surfers and the slim portion of beach outside the Snowy Plover exclosure was jammed gill-to-gill with families, beachlayers and surfwatchers. Some of our birding group, upon seeing the dense crowd, decided to skip a last look at the lagoon’s south shore and head home, probably to a beer and sandwich (always a recommended choice of refreshment).

July gloom over Malibu Lagoon. Most of the algae is in the channels, not the main lagoon (Lillian Johnson 7-25-21)

June gloom stretches into July, welcome when nearby valley temperatures head towards and past 100°F. At 8:30 am it was 66°F, then 74°F at 11 am, when we left. Very pleasant. Again, as usual, birding begins to pick up after the low diversity of June. Today we had 819 birds in 40 species; in June it was 348 and 34, respectively. The resting flock of Elegant Terns accounted for half of the increase.

Should you ever want to see what eBird has to report on Malibu Lagoon, go here:

All Elegant Terns, various stages of molt (Larry Loeher 7-30-21)

Duck numbers (Mallard and Gadwall) dropped about 20%. Immature ducklings account for about 80% of the ducks, so most of the drop was probably youngsters. The ducks certainly spread their breeding period out, as there are nearly full size and well-plumaged ducklings, as well as small and exceedingly buoyant puffballs. The Canada Geese were gone.

Intermediate-sized ducklings (Ray Juncosa 7-25-21)

The Great-tailed Grackles are still quite noisy and busy. One got into the snack portion of lagoon-resident Sergio’s possession-pile. Others preened, sky-pointed, gurgled and boinked from pole-top and tree.

Great-tailed Grackle male checkin’ it out (Grace Murayama 7-30-21)

Shorebirds are returning. June’s paltry four species are now nine and numbers jumped from 28 to 138. Most of the increase were Whimbrels and Black-bellied (Grey, for you Brits) Plovers, some still with black bellies.

Western Sandpiper (G. Murayama 7-30-21)

But there were also Least and Western Sandpipers in small numbers, a crowd of three Red-necked Phalaropes in the algae-free portion of the lagoon, two stunning Ruddy Turnstones, and nine Western Snowy Plovers pockmarked the beach.

Western Snowy Plover (G. Murayama 7-30-21)

And all those noisy Elegant Terns, with a few Royal Terns mixed in just to keep them honest.

Ruddy Turnstone aka “The” Turnstone (G. Murayama 7-30-21)

Perhaps most unusual were all the Black-crowned Night-Herons (not to mention 38 other herons/egrets). Eight juveniles were scattered around the lagoon edge, standing on logs, lurking in the pickleweed.

Black-crowned Night-Heron juvenile (R. Juncosa 7-25-21)

As their name implies, you might expect night-herons to be out at night. Otherwise why call them “night”-herons? Daytime feeding is the default for herons, so we don’t call them “day”-herons. However, by the time the newly-fledged juvenile night-herons get to Malibu Lagoon, they’re on their own. Mom and dad no longer feed them, so they must hunt for themselves and do it when they can. They’re less efficient than adults, they have to spend more time doing it and they do get hungry. So daytime feeding is common among juveniles.

Great Egret shows the juvenile Black-crowned Night-Herons how to fish (G. Murayama 7-30-21)

Adult night-herons tend to day-roost in dense trees, reeds or bushes during the day. We used to find a dozen or so of them in the row of eucalypts behind the market across PCH, well-hidden high in the foliage.

West channel looks like a paved road due to algae (L. Johnson 7-25-21)

Night-herons comprise the subfamily Nycticoracinae in the heron family of Ardeidae, with eight species spread over three tribes. Black-crowned is the most widespread species, found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica, and some islands. The similar Yellow-crowned breeds from the U.S. eastern seaboard and Baja California down both coasts to south of the equator in Brazil and Ecuador. In recent decades they have extended their coastal breeding range northward in California.

Joe Morlan writes:

Yellow-crowned Night Herons have expanded their breeding range and multiple pairs now nest in a restricted area at the nearby Point Mugu Naval Air Station in Ventura County, which is now the northern end of their West Coast breeding range. First successful nesting of this species in California was in 2006 at Imperial Beach, San Diego County. Despite its recent range expansion, it remains a rarity in most of California. Six subspecies are recognized. This [Santa Barbara county bird, photo on linked page] is N. v. bancrofti characterized by pale coloration, narrower dorsal streaks and having a thicker bill than the nominate East Coast race. Distribution of N. v. bancrofti is weird with two widely spaced populations, one centered in NW Mexico and the other in the Bahamas and West Indies.

Black-crowned Night-Heron juvenile (R. Juncosa 7-25-21)

A few of us thought one of our birds might be a Yellow-crowned, due to some coloration on the face or neck or lores (fleshy area between the eyes and bill). But all the birds had the Black-crowned two-toned bill and large pale teardrop-spots on the back. Juvenile Yellow-crowned have a dark bill, grayish face and smaller spots on the back. I’m sure a Yellow-crowned will eventually show up on one of our walks. We did have a hybrid Yellow/Black-crowned juvenile about a decade ago.

Black-crowned Night-Heron juvenile (R. Juncosa 7-25-21)

The other six night-herons are scattered around the world: Rufous Night-Heron in Australasia; White-backed in sub-Saharan Africa; White-eared is restricted to a tiny area in southern China; Japanese in Japan, China and Philippines; Malayan in Malaysia, China, Philippines and Indonesia. Boat-billed Heron, in its own Tribe of Cochleariini, has an enormous bill and is found from southern Mexico to southern Brazil.

Snowy Egret partially supported by algae (L. Johnson 7-25-21)

All the Night-herons have, for herons, large eyes, the better to see you with in the dark, my dear. They could be called crepuscular-herons, as they prefer feeding at dusk and dawn, but they will feed at night, so Night-herons it is.

Western Pygmy Blue Butterfly Brephidium exilis (C. Tosdevin 7-25-21)

Earlier in the day Chris Tosdevin and I watched a Cooper’s Hawk flush and fly across the lagoon. It shot into a large eucalypt (I believe) at the east end of Malibu Colony, and an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron immediately shot out the other side. I checked this tree before leaving the beach and sure enough, about 20 ft. above a patch of whitewashed leaves, I found the night-heron peering down at me from behind a clump of foliage.

Size difference in egrets – Snowy (L) Great (R)
(R. Juncosa 7-25-21)

Birds new for the season: Snowy Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Cooper’s Hawk, California Scrub-Jay.

House Finch male (R. Juncosa 7-25-21)

Many thanks to photographers: Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa, Larry Loeher, Grace Murayama & Chris Tosdevin

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

The next SMBAS program: Most likely a Zoom Evening Meeting, Tuesday, 5 October, 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.

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

Prior checklists:
2021: Jan-July

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, remain available—despite numerous complaints—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, Chris Tosdevin and others for their contributions to this month’s checklist.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 20212/223/224/255/226/207/25
Tide Lo/Hi HeightL-0.13L+0.86H+4.83L+1.57H+4.89H+4.20
Tide Time131412230843073606271148
(Black) Brant  1   
Canada Goose868610 
Cinnamon Teal47    
Northern Shoveler 8    
American Wigeon128    
Northern Pintail2     
Green-winged Teal1125    
Surf Scoter152    
Red-breasted Merganser12123 11
Ruddy Duck25     
Pied-billed Grebe6611 2
Eared Grebe12    
Western Grebe4114   
Feral Pigeon46915915
Mourning Dove16  24
Anna’s Hummingbird231111
Allen’s Hummingbird22421 
American Coot21023575698
Black Oystercatcher44    
Black-bellied Plover25312251343
Snowy Plover2723   9
Semipalmated Plover  29  1
Marbled Godwit1110    
Ruddy Turnstone 5  22
Dunlin  1   
Least Sandpiper481  8
Western Sandpiper1420  12
Spotted Sandpiper1 1   
Red-necked Phalarope     3
Heermann’s Gull24228280 2
Ring-billed Gull38126   
Western Gull806540354552
California Gull235130351041
Herring Gull 1    
Glaucous-winged Gull1111  
Caspian Tern 420133 
Royal Tern6246 25
Elegant Tern  3951071240
Pacific Loon1     
Brandt’s Cormorant5     
Double-crested Cormorant522512262652
Pelagic Cormorant1 1   
Brown Pelican12271052352758
Great Blue Heron3  325
Great Egret2211411
Snowy Egret9321622
Green Heron   1  
Black-crowned Night-Heron1    9
Turkey Vulture 1 1  
Osprey 221  
Cooper’s Hawk     1
Red-shouldered Hawk   2  
Peregrine Falcon  1   
Black Phoebe2286 3
Western Kingbird   1  
California Scrub-Jay12   1
American Crow254434
Common Raven 1    
Violet-green Swallow   2  
Rough-winged Swallow 623  
Cliff Swallow   84 
Barn Swallow 1025301840
Oak Titmouse   2 1
Western Bluebird 2    
Northern Mockingbird 24521
European Starling 755 8 
House Finch4106666
Lesser Goldfinch4162   
Spotted Towhee  1   
California Towhee14 3  
Song Sparrow477845
White-crowned Sparrow562   
Hooded Oriole  11  
Red-winged Blackbird 224 25
Brown-headed Cowbird 21 1 
Great-tailed Grackle1866820
Common Yellowthroat 3  4 
Yellow Warbler   2  
Yellow-rumped Warbler14151   
Totals by TypeFebMarAprMayJunJul
Water Birds – Other29230619826862120
Herons, Egrets & Ibis155361247
Quail & Raptors033401
Gulls & Terns36227953144655300
Other Non-Passerines455321
Totals Birds9801172962918348819
Total SpeciesFebMarAprMayJunJul
Water Birds – Other966434
Herons, Egrets & Ibis422434
Quail & Raptors022301
Gulls & Terns688655
Other Non-Passerines222221
Totals Species – 87566252443440

  1. Charles Fox permalink
    August 5, 2021 6:05 pm

    Question: Can I send you a photo that may — or may not — be of interest. Shaky; hand-held long lens. But we were convinced this was a juvenile Tricolored heron.


    • Chukar permalink*
      August 6, 2021 10:36 am

      Charles: Sure. I sent you a separate email to use for your reply.


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