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Cool Malibu Lagoon morning, 24 October 2021

October 29, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Double-crested Cormorant & Great Egret (Ray Juncosa 10/24/21)

Low morning light turns a Double-crested Cormorant and Great Egret into shadowbirds. The lowering lagoon level drapes their snag in dead algae.

Unlike last month, there were few waves and few surfers. Partly cloudy, it remained cool all morning: 54°F at 8:30 and only 63° at 11am. The beach available to beach-sitters was quite narrow. Lagoon water level was down below the tidal clock sidewalk, so probably about 5 ft. high in the lagoon, and even more covered with algae, although that hardly seems possible. About a dozen people showed up.

American Coots, adult and now full-sized young (R. Juncosa 10/24/21)

The American Coots were the largest group of the day with 240 of them all over the lagoon and channels, paddling through the algae. Among them were 5 Ruddy Ducks. These little diving ducks would swim below the surface, leaving a trail of quivering algae as they swam along, mystifying us, then pop up. At first I thought it was a Mullet roiling the water. Nope—it was a Ruddy.

Ruddy Duck; hunters call them “stifftails” (C. Tosdevin 10/24/21)

Common Yellowthroats, both male and female, occasionally popped out of the brush, usually to quickly pop back in.

Tidal clock sidewalk, picnic corner & Malibu Colony (L. Johnson 10/24/21)
Female Common Yellowthroat (C. Tosdevin 10/24/21)

Sanderlings were the next most numerous, with 104 birds crammed into a small patch 8-10 ft. across. Probably resting from a long flight, these birds are not at all territorial now that breeding season has past. They’ll happily crowd together with Snowy Plovers and Western Sandpipers into a small portion of a great wide beach. Third most numerous were Black-bellied Plovers. They have all lost their alternate (breeding) plumage and none have black bellies, and the British name Gray Plover will be more appropriate until next spring.

Whimbrel, braced by two warm-brown Marbled Godwits (R. Juncosa 10/24/21)

In addition to the coots and ducks, several other species of swimming birds ploughed through the algae.

Two Grebes: (L) Pied-billed (R) Eared (C. Tosdevin 10/24/21)

Gulls and terns are again low in numbers—79 birds—although above last month’s all-time second lowest count of 25 birds. Where oh where are they all?

Great Blue Heron (R. Juncosa 10/24/21)

West channel (L. Johnson 10/24/21)
Great Egret (R. Juncosa 10/24/21)

Out on the ocean were a few gulls and Brown Pelicans. Swimming among them were Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants, plus a dozen Western Grebes. I saw a dozen dark sea ducks flying directly towards us, very low over the water, a long way away. They dropped down and out of sight onto the water. They seemed like Surf Scoters, which I’ve yet to see this fall, so that’s just a guess.

Pelagic Cormorant (C. Tosdevin 10/24/21)

This Pelagic Cormorant, landing on the ocean, appears very poorly assembled (C. Tosdevin 10/24/21)

Say’s Phoebe – (L) scouting for a fly | (R) spotted a fly (Chris Tosdevin 10/24/21)

 We had a few migrant passerines: House Wren, Marsh Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The Say’s Phoebe, White-crowned Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers have definitely returned and will likely be with us all winter. Local chaparral-dweller Bewick’s Wren made an appearance. Great-tailed Grackles amused themselves by pointing the sky out to one other, just in case they hadn’t noticed it. 

Least Sandpiper is a bit unsteady on the floating algal mat (R. Juncosa 10/24/21)

Shorebirds were there in good numbers, although the dowitchers and curlew left. Well, they don’t usually stay long anyway. Spotted Sandpiper was also absent (or just overlooked; sometimes they skulk). Aug-Oct is when they’re most likely to be present, although we’ve recorded them in every month except June, and just barely (3 birds total) in May.

Dunlin in dull gray-brown basic (winter) plumage. Not much to shout about in terms of “specky” plumage, but the long stout black bill with a droopy tip is distinctive. (C. Tosdevin 10/24/21)

Lagoon, Surfrider Beach and Malibu Pier in distance (L. Johnson 10/24/21)

Western Snowy Plovers were in their preferred location, at the southeast corner of the lagoon, resting in their assortment of heel-sized hollows on the beach, just inland of the berm (high point of the beach). They were more scattered than usual as an oddly-dressed person (draped in blanket or shawls, wearing many necklaces, feathers and various unidentifiable objects stuffed into their hair, had decided that the perfect spot to practice their Hatha Yoga asanas (the cobra, among others) was right in the middle of the flock of tiny—therefore inconsequential—birds. Grokking the universe in fullness and all that, no doubt. There were 34 WSP’s, just like last month, a most unusual repetition in numbers. I saw no bands, but I didn’t make them all stand up to be counted.

Western Snowy Plover – (L) resting in its little sand-dimple, its usual behavior | (R) standing and alert (C. Tosdevin 10/24/21)

Tidal sidewalk now above water, coated with algae (L. Johnson 10/24/21)

Birds new for the season: Northern Shoveler, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Brandt’s Cormorant, Marsh Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-crowned Sparrow, Yellow-rumped 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, Birding the Horn of Africa, with Catherine McFadden, 2nd Tuesday! 9 November 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.

Wallwalker Song Sparrow (R. Juncosa 10/24/21)

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.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (R. Juncosa 10/24/21)

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 20215/226/207/258/229/2610/24
Tide Lo/Hi HeightL+1.57H+4.89H+4.20H+4.55L+2.52H+5.23
 Tide Time073606271148103405561105
1Canada Goose610    
1Northern Shoveler     2
1Gadwall18654812 4
1American Wigeon    74
1Green-winged Teal    15
1Red-breasted Merganser 111  
1Ruddy Duck   215
2Pied-billed Grebe1 2135
2Eared Grebe     1
2Western Grebe     12
7Feral Pigeon15915686
7Mourning Dove 243 5
8Anna’s Hummingbird1111  
8Allen’s Hummingbird21 313
2American Coot6982130240
5Black-bellied Plover513439010387
5Snowy Plover  9293434
5Semipalmated Plover  1432
5Long-billed Curlew    1 
5Marbled Godwit   43034
5Ruddy Turnstone 22836
5Red-necked Stint   1  
5Sanderling   1220104
5Dunlin   2 2
5Baird’s Sandpiper   5  
5Least Sandpiper  835129
5Western Sandpiper  126522
5Short-billed Dowitcher   3  
5Long-billed Dowitcher    1 
5Spotted Sandpiper   21 
5Willet1  401425
5Red-necked Phalarope  14  
6Heermann’s Gull280 2112
6Ring-billed Gull    12
6Western Gull354552551063
6California Gull10414 9
6Glaucous-winged Gull1  1 1
6Least Tern   1  
6Caspian Tern133 2  
6Royal Tern 25 132
6Elegant Tern10712401  
2Brandt’s Cormorant     2
2Double-crested Cormorant262652273567
2Pelagic Cormorant   121
2Brown Pelican2352758301121
3Great Blue Heron325433
3Great Egret1411413
3Snowy Egret1622241411
3Green Heron1     
3Black-crowned Night-Heron  9331
4Turkey Vulture1     
4Osprey1   2 
4Cooper’s Hawk  11  
4Red-shouldered Hawk2  1  
8Belted Kingfisher   1  
4Merlin    1 
4Peregrine Falcon    1 
9Black Phoebe6 3455
9Say’s Phoebe    11
9Western Kingbird1     
9California Scrub-Jay  11 1
9American Crow434446
9Violet-green Swallow2     
9No. Rough-winged Swallow3  2  
9Cliff Swallow84 4  
9Barn Swallow301840253 
9Oak Titmouse2 12  
9House Wren    12
9Marsh Wren     2
9Bewick’s Wren     1
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     4
9Ruby-crowned Kinglet     1
9Wrentit   1  
9Northern Mockingbird5211 2
9European Starling 8 3040 
9American Pipit    1 
9House Finch6661874
9Lesser Goldfinch   2 1
9Spotted Towhee   1  
9California Towhee3  1 2
9Song Sparrow845354
9White-crowned Sparrow     5
9Western Meadowlark    11
9Hooded Oriole1     
9Red-winged Blackbird4 25   
9Brown-headed Cowbird 1    
9Great-tailed Grackle6820514
9Orange-crowned Warbler    1 
9Common Yellowthroat 4 254
9Yellow Warbler2     
9Yellow-rumped Warbler     6
 Totals by TypeMayJunJulAugSepOct
2Water Birds – Other2686212061181349
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis61247352118
4Quail & Raptors401240
6Gulls & Terns44655300652579
8Other Non-Passerines321513
 Totals Birds918348817668584871
 Total SpeciesMayJunJulAugSepOct
2Water Birds – Other434558
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis434444
4Quail & Raptors301230
6Gulls & Terns655746
8Other Non-Passerines221311
Totals Species – 95443440624958

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