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Stints, Baird’s & other birds, Malibu Lagoon, 22 August 2021

August 26, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Barn Swallow feeding time (Ray Juncosa 8-22-21)
Hexagonal mouths? Who knew?

August can be excruciatingly hot. At least in theory. In actual practice on seaside Sunday mornings it’s quite pleasant. Today was slightly foggy—that’s our famous SoCal morning fog “burning off by noon.” The temperature was at 68°F at 0830, and 73°F at 1130. That is only slightly below the typical late August morning.

View towards beach & east colony from meeting place.
A break in the algae. (Lillian Johnson 8-22-21)

For the 13-year period 2009-21:
Temperature at 0830 ranged 63-72°F, average 68.3°F
Temperature at 1130 ranged 68-81°F, average 75.5°F.
Nothing to complain about there.
Then check back at 1700, after the temperature’s gone past 100°F.

An early arrival for this Ruddy Duck (Chris Tosdevin 8-22-21)

Migrants from the north and possibly elsewhere continue to drop into the lagoon. We keep seeing reports of a Reddish Egret hopping around at the lagoon, but no one I personally know has ever been there at the right time to spot it. One of our birders keeps leapfrogging it: it’s there on Thursday, he’s there on Friday, it’s there on Saturday, he’s there on Sunday. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut frequently observed.

Barring on the back of this Spotted Sandpiper (Ray Juncosa 8-22-21)

Our total species count popped up to 62 from July’s 40 and June’s yearly low of 34 species. Most Mallards and Gadwall have left, now that they have grown flight feathers and can fly, and the numbers of gulls, terns, cormorants and pelicans dropped. The shorebirds jumped up though: 341 birds in 17 species versus July’s 138 birds in 9 species.

The lagoon water level was high: 7’8.4″ on the tidal clock.

Black-crowned Night-Heron adult & juvenile (Ray Juncosa 8-22-21)

We dawdled at the meeting point, waiting for another group to vacate our next stop, the viewpoint near the Pacific Coast Hwy bridge. We didn’t want to be crowded, due to—you know—the current Covid-19 Delta variant explosion in infected, sick and dying.

And this is where a typical relaxed August morning’s birding took a sharp left turn.

Lots of algae at this end of the channel; picnic area & Malibu Colony in background, view from meeting place. (Lillian Johnson 8-22-21)

We were sorting through a small group of about a dozen shorebirds wandering around on the thick algae coating the channel. Mostly Western and Least Sandpipers, at least 75 yards away and sunward, so we’re squinting to see color and patterns.

Western (L) and Least (R) Sandpipers (Ray Juncosa 8-22-21)

We picked out a couple of Baird’s Sandpipers, which tend to show up in small numbers at this season. Baird’s normally travel south from their high Arctic breeding grounds via the central flyway—Mississippi River and Great Plains—but a few always wander out our way. They’re about one inch longer than the 6.5” Western Sandpiper, which itself is 0.25-.50” larger than the Least Sandpiper (the world’s smallest sandpiper). Baird’s have shorter, straighter bills than the Western, and an odd yellowish color on their breasts and heads, with thin dark streaks running vertically through the yellow breast.

The elusive Baird’s Sandpiper out on the algae (Ray Juncosa 8-22-21)

Chris Lord got our attention (not everyone at once) when he said: “I think one of those Baird’s has a darker throat, sort of orange or reddish…not really yellow. Maybe you should take a look at it. It might be something different.” So we all—one by one—figured out where it was and watched it through out binoculars and several scopes, as it walked around, poking at tiny invertebrates on the surface of the algae. Views weren’t wonderful.

Red-necked Stint, 1st sighting. Malibu Lagoon
(Photo: Chris Tosdevin, 8-22-21, time: approx 08:58)
This could be a late-in-life Claude Monet painting.

Chris Tosdevin commented at some point: “There are little dark spots on the breast below the orange.” Chris Lord said that was a good mark to remember.

Red-necked Stint and Western Sandpiper behind. Malibu Lagoon
(Photo: Femi Faminu, 8-22-21, time: 08:58)

After several minutes of squinting sunward at the bird, we had decided: the color of the throat was decidedly darker in an orange or reddish or rufous sort of way; the bill was definitely short, almost straight, and thicker than the thin bill of the Least Sandpipers; the wings seemed longer than the tail although we couldn’t see the tail to judge how much longer, there were some flecks of rufous in the scapulars (back); the bird was not larger than the Western Sandpiper, possibly slightly smaller.

Black-bellied Plover plumage stages (Ray Juncosa 8-22-21)

One of our group, either Lillian or me, commented, “Maybe it’s a Red-necked Stint. [Ha ha ha.] It sort of looks like one. [Ha ha ha.]” At some point, recalls Chris L, he asked me what my candidate species were and I said Red-necked Stint, which got him looking at his Sibley. We were all now taking turns checking through my National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America and Chris L.’s copy of Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. I don’t think anyone was ready to take this suggestion seriously; not because it didn’t look like a Red-necked Stint—it did—but because it was so galfangled rare.

Coming and going, Western Gull and Sanderlings (Ray Juncosa 8-22-21)

After a few more minutes we were slowly moving towards thinking maybe that was not an absurd speculation after all and the bird actually was a Red-necked Stint, a species none of us had ever seen in North America. Lillian and I had seen a few of them in 1988-89, thirty-three years ago, in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, when it was in basic (non-breeding or Winter) plumage, lacking any trace of red. Many of the others had never seen one at all. So…not a lot of experience in our group with this species. We’re starting to agree among ourselves that yeah, maybe it really is a Red-necked Stint, what do you think?, too bad it’s so far away, any chance at getting a photo?, and I’m looking at the bird through the telescope when it flies out of the field of view, heading west towards the private golf course.

It didn’t land, it didn’t come back. We waited 5-10 minutes but it was gone. Cue moans and groans.

Western Pygmy Blue Butterfly, Brephidium exilis, Malibu Lagoon (Chris Tosdevin 8-22-21) The smallest butterfly in the world with wing-span of 3/8ths to 3/4ths of an inch. Many live in the brush around the lagoon, almost too tiny to see.

Black-crowned Night-Heron & Great Egret (Ray Juncosa 8-22-21)

We then continued on our usual route, heading east to the viewspot near the PCH bridge. There we found a few ducks and saw a lot of shorebirds—Willets, Whimbrels, a Spotted Sandpiper, peeps, Black-bellied Plovers, a Least Tern and two Caspian Terns, a few gulls and cormorants and some scurrying Snowy Plovers—far across the lagoon to the south, on the lagoon shore of the beach. So we headed back around the lagoon to get a closer look at them.

Birds on the south lagoon sand spit (Ray Juncosa 8-22-21)

We birded as we went, as always. Four species of egret/heron, some Killdeer, Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbird, a moblet of Bushtits, House Finches, several Common Yellowthroats, a Mockingbird, Black Phoebes, Starlings, Great-tailed Grackles. The usual suspects.

We made our way through the beach crowd enraptured by large, surfer-covered waves, and to the SE corner of the lagoon, past the long flock of gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, Brown Pelican and the many larger shorebirds including Willet, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit and Black-bellied Plovers. Here, walking on the algae coat, were about 150 peeps—small shorebirds like Western and Least Sandpiper, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plover and two Short-billed Dowitcher. Nearby, in the sand, were about thirty Snowy Plovers, doing their best to dodge the many zombified beachwalkers oblivious to the presence of tiny sandpipers underfoot.

View towards beach from viewpoint by PCH bridge.
Main lagoon is mostly clear of algae. (Lillian Johnson 8-22-21)

Among the peeps on the algae were a few Baird’s Sandpipers and far out, near the edge of the algal mat, two Red-necked Phalaropes. Unbeknownst to us, Chris Lord was vigorously scope-combing one-by-one through the peeps for the “stint,” subjecting them to this analysis: “It was the only bird I sought in those peeps. I used a yes/no screen until I got to yes! I called our attention to it, ‘That orangey bird is right in front of us,’ then gave better directions.”

Red-necked Stint. Malibu Lagoon (Photo: Chris Tosdevin, 8-22-21, time: 10:01:11)

I waved in the few members of our group who were off chatting, and we all got on the bird for at least 40 minutes. The light was better at this angle, the bird was closer, and we slowly became more certain that it was indeed a Red-necked Stint. Not convinced, just more certain. Several of us got photos.

Red-necked Stint. Malibu Lagoon (Photo: Chris Tosdevin, 8-22-21, time: 10:25:02)

Chris Lord recollects: “As we discussed the bird’s field marks, all indicated Red-necked Stint. I also pointed out that nothing we’d seen made it not a Red-necked Stint except the unlikelihood of its being in Malibu. I should have quoted (but didn’t) my uncle Ralph, the first bird watcher I knew or even heard of, who would say about finding an unlikely oddity, ‘Well you know they have wings, and they fly.’ However anybody else saw and described the color, it was always—rightly or wrongly—orangey to me, never rufous or otherwise.”

Size comparison of Red-necked Stint and closer Western Sandpiper.
Malibu Lagoon (Photo: Femi Faminu, 8-22-21, time: 11:08)

Most of us don’t carry phones (what’s the collective noun for Luddites?—how about A smashing of Luddites) and no one had anyone we could call anyway. So I suggested to Chris T. that he send some photos off to Kimball Garrett at the L.A. County Museum of Natural History when he got home. He did that, posted the sighting with some photos into eBird and after Kimball confirmed the sighting as Red-necked Stint, Chris sent a note to the manager of LA County weekly rare bird report.

Short-billed Dowitchers (Chris Tosdevin 8-22-21)

Apparently others were interested in seeing this bird, and a few people showed up before dawn the next day (Monday, 23 August). It (or another Red-necked Stint just like it) was relocated around 0810. Three days later, it’s still there. As of blog posting time, it was last reported to LACoBirds hot line on Weds. 25 Aug, and last reported to eBird on 26 Aug at 7:26am., the 71st such reporting
Link to Malibu Lagoon on eBird

Ruddy Turnstone plumage variations (Ray Juncosa 8-22-21)

Birds new for the season: Ruddy Duck, Marbled Godwit, Red-necked Stint, Sanderling, Dunlin, Baird’s Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Glaucous-winged Gull, Least Tern, Pelagic Cormorant, Red-shouldered Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Rough-winged Swallow, Wrentit, Lesser Goldfinch, Spotted Towhee, California Towhee.

Two plovers: Semipalmated and Western Snowy (ringed g:y/g) (Chris Tostevin 8-22-21)

Many thanks to photographers: Femi Faminu, Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa & Chris Tosdevin

Two Red-necked Phalaropes (Chris Tosdevin 8-25-21)

The next SMBAS scheduled field trips: Maybe January 2022. Wear your masks, get your shots, and maybe someday we can have organized trips again.

The next SMBAS program: Zoom Evening Meeting, Topic TBA, early 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 Jean Garrett, Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa, Chris Lord, Chris Tosdevin, Ruth Tosdevin, and others for their contributions to this month’s checklist.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 20213/224/255/226/207/228/22
Tide Lo/Hi HeightL+0.86H+4.83L+1.57H+4.89H+4.20H+4.55
 Tide Time122308430736062711481034
1(Black) Brant 1    
1Canada Goose68610  
1Cinnamon Teal7     
1Northern Shoveler8     
1American Wigeon8     
1Green-winged Teal25     
1Surf Scoter2     
1Red-breasted Merganser123 111
1Ruddy Duck     2
2Pied-billed Grebe611 21
2Eared Grebe2     
2Western Grebe114    
7Feral Pigeon69159156
7Mourning Dove6  243
8Anna’s Hummingbird311111
8Allen’s Hummingbird2421 3
2American Coot235756982
5Black Oystercatcher4     
5Black-bellied Plover31225134390
5Snowy Plover23   929
5Semipalmated Plover 29  14
5Marbled Godwit10    4
5Ruddy Turnstone5  228
5Red-necked Stint     1
5Sanderling160    12
5Dunlin 1              2
5Baird’s Sandpiper     5
5Least Sandpiper81  835
5Western Sandpiper420  1265
5Short-billed Dowitcher     3
5Spotted Sandpiper 1   2
5Willet621  40
5Red-necked Phalarope    14
6Heermann’s Gull4228280 21
6Ring-billed Gull126    
6Western Gull654035455255
6California Gull1303510414
6Herring Gull1     
6Glaucous-winged Gull111  1
6Least Tern     1
6Caspian Tern420133 2
6Royal Tern246 25 
6Elegant Tern 39510712401
2Double-crested Cormorant251226265227
2Pelagic Cormorant 1   1
2Brown Pelican27105235275830
3Great Blue Heron  3254
3Great Egret2114114
3Snowy Egret32162224
3Green Heron  1   
3Black-crowned Night-Heron    93
4Turkey Vulture1 1   
4Cooper’s Hawk    11
4Red-shouldered Hawk  2  1
8Belted Kingfisher     1
4Peregrine Falcon 1    
9Black Phoebe286 34
9Western Kingbird  1   
9California Scrub-Jay2   11
9American Crow544344
9Common Raven1     
9Violet-green Swallow  2   
9Rough-winged Swallow623  2
9Cliff Swallow  84 4
9Barn Swallow102530184025
9Oak Titmouse  2 12
9Wrentit     1
9Western Bluebird2     
9Northern Mockingbird245211
9European Starling755 8 30
9House Finch10666618
9Lesser Goldfinch162   2
9Spotted Towhee 1   1
9California Towhee4 3  1
9Song Sparrow778453
9White-crowned Sparrow62    
9Hooded Oriole 11   
9Red-winged Blackbird224 25 
9Brown-headed Cowbird21 1  
9Great-tailed Grackle8668205
9Common Yellowthroat3  4 2
9Yellow Warbler  2   
9Yellow-rumped Warbler151    
Totals by TypeMarAprMayJunJulAug
2Water Birds – Other3061982686212061
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis536124735
4Quail & Raptors334012
6Gulls & Terns2795314465530065
8Other Non-Passerines553215
 Totals Birds1172962918348817668
 Total SpeciesMarAprMayJunJulAug
2Water Birds – Other664345
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis224344
4Quail & Raptors223012
6Gulls & Terns886557
8Other Non-Passerines222213
Totals Species – 89625244344062

One Comment
  1. cgbjr67 permalink
    August 27, 2021 7:37 am

    Fabulous photos! The stint of course, but even better were the barn swallow babies. Wow.


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