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Old coots visit Malibu Lagoon, 26 September 2021

September 29, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

American Pipit, winter visitor (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

It was unseasonably cool from morning fog, still hanging low by the time we left. [Of course there is no such thing as unseasonably hot anymore.] Temperature was 63-70°F and I never took off my fleece. It’s SoCal, remember? At 65° in Beverly Hills, they’re bundling up in furry boots, getting ready for the Great Freeze of January, when it plunges down to 60° above. 

North channel with algae (Lillian Johnson 9-26-21)

No stints this morning, not even a Long-toed Stint. But the large crowd of American Coots more than made up for their absence, 130 strong, their black bodies and white forehead shields checkerboarding the lagoon.

Coots have large baby-blue lobed toes, not webbed feet. (G. Murayama)

Ah…the lagoon! Never have I seen so much algae. Not just the channels where the current is slow, but about half or more of the lagoon itself is algae-covered. Most of the peeps were strolling on it, finding invertebrates. The water level has dropped about 6 inches.

Malibu Lagoon with algae (Lillian Johnson 9-26-21)

A great deal of sandy beach up to about 6” above lagoon water level is now covered with a continuous, unbroken, dark brown-to-black blanket of deadish algae. It really does resemble a wrinkled blanket. You expect to see a head poke out from under it, wondering why you’re walking on their bed and rudely awakening them.

Surfers on the water under a gray sky (Lillian Johnson 9-26-21)

Speaking of checkerboarding, the next most common species at the lagoon were surfers on the waves. We knew there’d be a lot of them—jam-packed cars along the no-cost edges of Pacific Coast Highway, and surfers pay to park only as a last resort—but I didn’t expect to see this many. I had to count them, of course. (That’s rule #1 in The Compulsive’s Handbook.) I got to 110 surfers in the water waiting for a wave, on a wave, or paddling back out to catch another wave. They vanished from view around the curvature of the beach. More were on the beach, suiting up or resting.

Pelagic Cormorant watches the surfers (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

The surf was very good. (No surprise there. If it wasn’t good, there would be no surfers. There is a clear causal relationship there.) They always check the surf reports which must be remarkably accurate. The waves were not windblown and ragged from a breeze. The big ones came in sets, nicely cresting, some even forming tubes. Every time the first one of a set arrived, the surfers who weren’t far enough out to catch it would paddle furiously to catch the next one. I used to body surf—a lot—so I know the frustration of deciding where to wait for a worthwhile ride, yet not missing them all by being out too far.

Pieces of dead birds lay all along the edge of the lagoon and the sand bar: lone wings, pairs of wings, tail, a pile of feathers, bones & feathers, a neck, a head, a neck & head and so on. The Merlin and Peregrine Falcon (perhaps several of each) had evidently found their happy hunting ground. Maybe that was why there were so few birds.

Black-crowned Night-Heron juvenile – lagoonside lurker (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

Especially the gulls and terns. The small flocklet of five Royal Terns ballooned to thirteen birds by the time we left, and the initial five gulls mushroomed to twelve. Four species. Back home, I checked my records and found that this was indeed a Very Low Number of gulls & terns. In fact, in 291 visits since October, 1979, the only lower count of gulls & terns was last year, October 21, 2020, when we had a walloping 22 birds in two species—21 Western Gulls and 1 California Gull. One can only hope they were all out to sea, stuffing themselves on vast schools of delicious mouth-watering fish. It’s either that or they got sick and tired of being dive-bombed by falcons and left for a more peaceful stretch of sand.

Royal Tern brakes for landing (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

I spoke briefly to a young couple looking at the flock of shorebirds on the sandy island. They turned out to be volunteers—or maybe employees, I didn’t get that detail nailed down—for International Bird Rescue (IBR). They’d just spent a lot of time down at Long Beach Harbor, helping the Elegant Terns with their (the terns) wild & crazy idea of nesting on two (momentarily) unused barges. Nesting, I should add, over the objections of the owner who had previously made other plans for his barges, plans in which terns played no part. But he cooperated, so kudos to him.

A quarter of the gull flock (Ray Juncosa 9-26-21)

If you recall (from prior blogs here), the Elegant Terns had been frightened off their nests down at Bolsa Chica Wildlife Reserve in Orange County. They relocated en masse to Long Beach Harbor. It was a decent spot to nest, until the chicks hatched and began wandering around the nesting area, as they tend to do. Normally Elegant Terns nest on sand flats where the chicks can’t get into too much trouble. But the barge edges were shear drop-offs to the water with no retaining walls, so the chicks continually fell off the edges into the harbor water, with absolutely no way to clamber back up to the barge deck and their parents, much less leap out of the water and fly up.

Say’s Phoebe (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

IBR to the rescue! Using small boats they’d pluck the floundering chicks from the water, take them to a safe place, and feed them. Some they banded, some they returned to the barge. About 6,000-8,000 Elegant Terns nested on the barges, and IBR rescued about 2,000 chicks from the water. Nesting season is now over and done. We hope that next year they return to Bolsa Chica and that the drone-flyers stay away. But Elegant Terns have a history of abandoning areas from which they’ve been frightened. We’ll see.

Link to a IBR 9-28-21 posting about Long Beach Harbor and Elegant Terns.

(L) Whimbrel (Ray Juncosa 9-26-21) (R) Marbled Godwit (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

Great Egret (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

So this couple had a few hours or days off, and decided to visit Malibu Lagoon and see if any of “their” birds were around, and if they could find any with bands. Unfortunately—not just very unfortunately but astonishingly unfortunately—for them, they picked the second worse day in over 40 years to look for gulls and terns at Malibu Lagoon.

So it—as Kurt Vonnegut often wrote—goes.

We had an interesting Great-tailed Grackle at the lagoon, a shiny blue-black male. It looked a lot like a member of a small family of African Warblers known as Crombecs. If it’s a new species, I suggest it be named Black-faced Crombec-Grackle.

Long-tailed [Black-faced] [Crombec]-Grackle (Ray Juncosa 9-26-21)
Red-faced Crombec (Glen Tepke Birds of the World)

We had yet one more of the Long-billed Curlews that have been recently dropping by the lagoon. Sandy beach or lagoon edges are really not their preferred habitat, so their presence is infrequent and of short-duration. 60 birds on 17 occasions, including this one, is the grand total since October 1979, and 39 of them were on 8/16/80.

Long-billed Curlew (Grace Murayama 9-22-21)

The Snowy Plover count was 34 birds. No bands were seen, but then we didn’t make them all stand up for inspection. This seemed to me to be a higher-than-usual number of birds for September, but when I got home and counted them up for the ten year period 2011-2020, the average was 41 birds. So much for memory! That’s why we (humans) invented writing.

Western Snowy Plover banded g:y/g, now an oldster at the lagoon (Grace Murayama 9-22-21)
Sidewalk tidal clock formerly inundated (Lillian Johnson 9-26-21)

Birds new for the season: American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Long-billed Curlew, Long-billed Dowitcher, Ring-billed Gull, Osprey, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Say’s Phoebe, House Wren, American Pipit, Western Meadowlark, Orange-crowned Warbler.

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

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, Birds of Northeast Brazil & the Atlantic Forest, with Chuck Bragg, 5 October 2021, 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.

Song Sparrow (C. Tosdevin 9-21-26)

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.

Semipalmated Plover (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

Many thanks to Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa, Chris Tosdevin and others for their contributions to this month’s checklist.

The appearance of the list below has changed slightly. I’ve added a column on the left side with numbers 1-9, keyed to the nine categories of birds at the bottom.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 20214/255/226/207/258/229/26
Temperature58-6359-6863-6966-7468-7363-70
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+4.83L+1.57H+4.89H+4.20H+4.55L+2.52
 Tide Time084307360627114810340556
1(Black) Brant1     
1Canada Goose8610   
1Gadwall2518654812 
1American Wigeon     7
1Mallard18224037918
1Green-winged Teal     1
1Red-breasted Merganser3 111 
1Ruddy Duck    21
2Pied-billed Grebe11 213
2Western Grebe4     
7Feral Pigeon91591568
7Mourning Dove  243 
8Anna’s Hummingbird11111 
8Allen’s Hummingbird421 31
2American Coot756982130
5Black-bellied Plover225134390103
5Snowy Plover   92934
5Semipalmated Plover29  143
5Killdeer16492010
5Whimbrel319951178
5Long-billed Curlew     1
5Marbled Godwit    430
5Ruddy Turnstone  2283
5Red-necked Stint    1 
5Sanderling    1220
5Dunlin1   2 
5Baird’s Sandpiper    5 
5Least Sandpiper1  83512
5Western Sandpiper20  12652
5Short-billed Dowitcher    3 
5Long-billed Dowitcher     1
5Spotted Sandpiper1   21
5Willet21  4014
5Red-necked Phalarope   14 
6Heermann’s Gull28280 211
6Ring-billed Gull6    1
6Western Gull403545525510
6California Gull3510414 
6Glaucous-winged Gull11  1 
6Least Tern    1 
6Caspian Tern20133 2 
6Royal Tern6 25 13
6Elegant Tern39510712401 
2Double-crested Cormorant122626522735
2Pelagic Cormorant1   12
2Brown Pelican10523527583011
3Great Blue Heron 32543
3Great Egret1141141
3Snowy Egret216222414
3Green Heron 1    
3Black-crowned Night-Heron   933
4Turkey Vulture 1    
4Osprey21   2
4Cooper’s Hawk   11 
4Red-shouldered Hawk 2  1 
8Belted Kingfisher    1 
4Merlin     1
4Peregrine Falcon1    1
9Black Phoebe86 345
9Say’s Phoebe     1
9Western Kingbird 1    
9California Scrub-Jay   11 
9American Crow443444
9Violet-green Swallow 2    
9No. Rough-winged Swallow23  2 
9Cliff Swallow 84 4 
9Barn Swallow25301840253
9Oak Titmouse 2 12 
9Bushtit184120 
9House Wren     1
9Wrentit    1 
9Northern Mockingbird45211 
9European Starling5 8 3040
9American Pipit     1
9House Finch6666187
9Lesser Goldfinch2   2 
9Spotted Towhee1   1 
9California Towhee 3  1 
9Song Sparrow784535
9White-crowned Sparrow2     
9Western Meadowlark     1
9Hooded Oriole11    
9Red-winged Blackbird24 25  
9Brown-headed Cowbird1 1   
9Great-tailed Grackle6682051
9Orange-crowned Warbler     1
9Common Yellowthroat  4 25
9Yellow Warbler 2    
9Yellow-rumped Warbler1     
Totals by TypeAprMayJunJulAugSep
1Waterfowl5546116862427
2Water Birds – Other1982686212061181
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis3612473521
4Quail & Raptors340124
5Shorebirds803128136341242
6Gulls & Terns531446553006525
7Doves915111998
8Other Non-Passerines532151
9Passerines78996210712675
 Totals Birds962918348817668584
        
 Total SpeciesAprMayJunJulAugSep
1Waterfowl534344
2Water Birds – Other643455
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis243444
4Quail & Raptors230123
5Shorebirds94491714
6Gulls & Terns865574
7Doves112221
8Other Non-Passerines222131
9Passerines171711111813
Totals Species – 89524434406249

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