Skip to content

Malibu Lagoon morning, 28 November 2021

November 30, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Even the surfing Coots were sitting this one out. Notice the “toes on the nose” stance.
(Grace Murayama 11-22-21)

The Pacific Ocean lived up to its name — flat as a pancake. No surfer cars clogging up the PCH shoulders and only two surfers on the ocean, sitting on their boards. But with cool temperatures and no wind, it was a fine day for birding.

Lots of rocks & two sitting surfers (Lillian Johnson 11-28-21)

On eBird, Malibu Lagoon is what’s called a Hotspot, along with probably a million other hotspots scattered around the planet. As of this writing there are 5,438 checklists filed for “our” hotspot, totaling to 315 species. 376 of these checklists are mine, but I’m lazy and don’t file these things right away. [Link to eBird Malibu Lagoon hotspot]

Bonaparte’s Gulls don’t frequent the lagoon as they used to. Notice the Red-breasted Merganser’s bill serrations, great for hanging onto slippery fish. (G. Murayama 11-22-21)

I’ve recorded these Malibu Lagoon trips for a bit over 40 years, dating back to October 1979. During the first four years I sometimes did two or three counts per month, but since then they’ve been one per month. My cumulative species count is 241 birds, which is 77% of the total eBird species count of 315 species. This seems like a reasonable portion of the totals, seeing as my lists are only 6.9% of total lists submitted.

Pied-billed Grebes (Larry Loeher (11-22-21)

When I’ve done monthly comparisons — say 10 years of Decembers — the species count for each month is close to 2/3rds of the total for the 10 months. In other words, on any particular trip to the lagoon you’re likely to see about 2/3rds of the species that typically are present during that particular month. Many species show up only once or a few times, and stay for a few minutes to a few weeks. It’s easy to miss these species on a fourth-Sunday-of-the-month-only trip. So spotting 77% of the species reported by everyone for the lagoon seems reasonable.

Hairy Woodpecker with a long bill
(Femi Faminu 11-28-21)

All of the above is preamble to mentioning that we had a new species this trip. It was a Hairy Woodpecker, spotted in the bare top of one of the sycamores near the northern, Pacific Coast Highway edge of the park. Femi Faminu spotted it, and she snapped a quick photo. She and the now-gathered others yelled at me to look, but I was deep in conversation, didn’t hear them, and missed the bird. [Drat!] When Femi plunked her sightings into eBird, along with the photo, it was spotted by eBird eyeballer Kimball Garrett who sent a message to Femi saying it was not a Downy (an irregular semi-resident at the lagoon) but a Hairy Woodpecker, a much less common bird at the lagoon or along the coastline. We usually see it in riparian areas in the local hills (aka mountains), or up in the higher San Gabriel Mountains in the summer.

Malibu Lagoon north channel, now algae-free (L. Johnson 11-28-21)

If you go to this eBird page and scroll down, you’ll see Femi’s Hairy Woodpecker above photo, enshrined for posterity, and the (currently) grand total of two whole reported sightings at Malibu Lagoon of Hairy Woodpecker, one on 10 Mar 2021 by Naresh Satyan, and Femi’s on 28 Nov 2021.

Wing-dipping Snowy Egret (L. Loeher 11-22-21)

By the way, a recent taxonomic split caused a genus name change for Downy, Nuttall’s, Ladder-backed, Hairy and White-headed Woodpeckers. It used to be Picoides, now it’s Dryobates.

Malibu Lagoon and PCH bridge (L. Johnson 11-28-21)

They are now worldwide 25 species in Dryobates, ranging from Crimson-breasted Woodpecker Dryobates cathpharius of China-Vietnam, to Lesser Spotted D. minor of Eurasia & Northern Africa, to Red-cockaded D. borealis of SE U.S., to White-headed D. albovaratus of California-British Colombia mountains, to Yellow-eared D. maculifrons of SE Brazil. Still remaining in the Picoides genus are three species: Eurasian Three-toed P. tridactylus, American three-toed P. dorsalis, and Black-backed P. arcticus. I found a brief explanation of the genus name change:

Winter tide sidewalk shows 7’8.4″ lagoon level height. (L. Johnson 11-28-21)

A molecular phylogenetic study published in 2015 found that these genera did not form monophyletic groups. In the revised generic classification, the downy woodpecker was placed with four other species in the resurrected genus Dryobates, that had been erected in 1826 by the German naturalist Friedrich Boie with the Downy Woodpecker as the type species. Within the genus, the Downy Woodpecker is sister to a clade containing Nuttall’s woodpecker (Dryobates nuttalli) and the Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Dryobates scalaris).

Red-breasted Mergansers (L. Loeher 11-22-21)

In other lagoon news: Bizarrely, the American Coots again totaled to 240, scattered over all the lagoon and channels. They weren’t the most numerous species, as we had 515 California Gulls, most of them on the exposed offshore rock reef. Among them were other gulls and shorebirds, 92 Western Gulls, plus 53 Heermann’s Gulls, a respectable count for this species. We studied for a long time a pale-mantled gull on the sand, finally deciding it was a Herring Gull; they are a common bird on the east coast, not so much on the west coast. There was not a single tern of any species.

Black-bellied Plover in winter non-black-belly plumage (Ray Juncosa 11-28-21)

Third most numerous species again was Black-bellied Plover, totaling 166 birds. This is their fifth-highest count, well behind the (admittedly approximate) count of 700 birds on 23 Oct 2011. Most of them were also on the exposed offshore rocks.

Four Double-crested Cormorants at lagoon edge, with something going on off-screen (R. Juncosa 11-28-21)

The ten Brandt’s Cormorants were on the large offshore rocks in front of the east end of Malibu Colony, mixed in with the usual Double-crested Cormorants. The four Pelagic Cormorants were swimming and diving within and just outside the surf zone.

Western Snowy Plover ga:gy, and friend (L. Loeher 11-22-21)

The Snowy Plover count was up a bit, with at least 40 birds. I counted only 25 birds, who were running all over the beach and around the lagoon, probably getting ready for their just-past-high-tide-at-11:04am feeding time. Chris Lord arrived at their location a bit earlier, when they were slightly more sedate, and counted 40 birds.

Willet. Resting. (G. Murayama 11-22-21)

Birds new for the season: Canada Goose, Northern Pintail, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Anna’s Hummingbird, Herring Gull, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Hairy Woodpecker, Bushtit.

Surfrider Beach, Malibu Pier in distance (L. Johnson 11-28-21)

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

West channel & picnic spot (L. Johnson 11-28-21)

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: Whatever it will be, it’ll probably be on Feb 1, 2022 at 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.

Bonaparte’s Gull
(G. Murayama 11-22-21)

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.

Many thanks to Femi Famina, Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa, 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 20216/207/258/229/2610/2411/28
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+4.89H+4.20H+4.55L+2.52H+5.23L+2.35
 Tide Time062711481034055611051104
1Canada Goose10    10
1Northern Shoveler    2 
1Gadwall654812 42
1American Wigeon   742
1Northern Pintail     2
1Green-winged Teal   155
1Bufflehead     1
1Red-breasted Merganser111  17
1Ruddy Duck  2158
2Pied-billed Grebe 21353
2Eared Grebe    11
2Western Grebe    12 
7Feral Pigeon91568652
7Mourning Dove243 51
8Anna’s Hummingbird111  1
8Allen’s Hummingbird1 3131
2American Coot982130240245
5Black-bellied Plover13439010387166
5Snowy Plover 929343440
5Semipalmated Plover 1432 
5Long-billed Curlew   1  
5Marbled Godwit  430349
5Ruddy Turnstone22836 
5Red-necked Stint  1   
5Sanderling  122010422
5Dunlin  2 2 
5Baird’s Sandpiper  5   
5Least Sandpiper 8351293
5Western Sandpiper 1265221
5Short-billed Dowitcher  3   
5Long-billed Dowitcher   1  
5Spotted Sandpiper  21  
5Willet  40142534
5Red-necked Phalarope 14   
6Heermann’s Gull 211253
6Ring-billed Gull   1228
6Western Gull455255106392
6California Gull414 9515
6Herring Gull     1
6Glaucous-winged Gull  1 1 
6Least Tern  1   
6Caspian Tern3 2   
6Royal Tern25 132 
6Elegant Tern12401   
2Brandt’s Cormorant    210
2Double-crested Cormorant265227356752
2Pelagic Cormorant  1214
2Brown Pelican275830112199
3Great Blue Heron254333
3Great Egret4114131
3Snowy Egret6222414114
3Black-crowned Night-Heron 9331 
4Osprey   2 1
4Cooper’s Hawk 11  1
4Red-shouldered Hawk  1   
4Red-tailed Hawk     1
8Belted Kingfisher  1   
8Hairy Woodpecker     1
4Merlin   1  
4Peregrine Falcon   1  
9Black Phoebe 34554
9Say’s Phoebe   11 
9California Scrub-Jay 11 1 
9American Crow344461
9No. Rough-winged Swallow  2   
9Cliff Swallow4 4   
9Barn Swallow1840253  
9Oak Titmouse 12   
9Bushtit4120  48
9House Wren   121
9Marsh Wren    2 
9Bewick’s Wren    1 
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher    44
9Ruby-crowned Kinglet    11
9Wrentit  1   
9Northern Mockingbird211 2 
9European Starling8 3040 31
9American Pipit   1  
9House Finch66187418
9Lesser Goldfinch  2 12
9Spotted Towhee  1   
9California Towhee  1 22
9Song Sparrow453547
9White-crowned Sparrow    515
9Western Meadowlark   11 
9Red-winged Blackbird 25    
9Brown-headed Cowbird1     
9Great-tailed Grackle8205143
9Orange-crowned Warbler   1 2
9Common Yellowthroat4 2545
9Yellow-rumped Warbler    619
Totals by TypeJunJulAugSepOctNov
2Water Birds – Other6212061181349414
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis12473521188
4Quail & Raptors012403
6Gulls & Terns55300652579689
8Other Non-Passerines215133
 Totals Birds3488176685848711689
 Total SpeciesJunJulAugSepOctNov
2Water Birds – Other345587
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis344443
4Quail & Raptors012303
6Gulls & Terns557465
8Other Non-Passerines213113
Totals Species – 94344062495857

  1. Jane Klein permalink
    December 8, 2021 8:29 am

    Thank you so much for your consistent reports all these years. Always enjoyable interesting reading.


    On Wed, Dec 8, 2021, 12:59 AM SANTA MONICA BAY AUDUBON SOCIETY BLOG wrote:

    > Chukar posted: ” [Posted by Chuck Almdale] Even the surfing Coots were > sitting this one out. Notice the “toes on the nose” stance. (Grace Murayama > 11-22-21) The Pacific Ocean lived up to its name — flat as a pancake. No > surfer cars clogging up the PCH shoulders and” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chukar permalink*
      December 8, 2021 11:18 am

      I’m hoping the Coots are able to get into next year’s surfing competition, perhaps in a yet-to-be-created “junior lobe-toed” division.
      Perhaps I should start a petition.

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: