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Boxing Day at Malibu Lagoon, 26 December 2021

December 30, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Heermann’s Gull, displaying tongue (Grace Murayama 12-21-21)

We stood at the viewpoint near the Pacific Coast Highway bridge, scanning the lagoon, sun in our eyes, searching for ducks among hundreds of black coots. All the birds were equally coal-dark and similarly sized! Slowly Gadwall, Mallard, Ruddy, Bufflehead, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, one Pintail and a few Red-breasted Mergansers emerged from dark waters and bright glare. Someone said there were 3, 4, maybe 5 Hooded Mergansers up past the bridge. Brush and wide bridge supports blocked our view, but one-by-one we glimpsed poorly one or more of these uncommonly beautiful birds. At least one was a strikingly-marked male. I decided we must clomp to and under the bridge for better views, risky these days due to the people living in the bushes and under the bridge. There turned out to be three people under the bridge, staying out of the rain of the prior two days. We startled one relaxing creekside as our group of ten birders came tromping by, and he quickly disappeared.

Common Yellowthroat female (Femi Faminu 12-26-21)

Sure enough, with bushes and cement out of the way, we saw a lot. A dozen Ruddy Duck, one Red-breasted Merganser, Double-crested Cormorants diving for fish in the deeper water below the north of the PCH bridge, and eight Hooded Mergansers—six females and two males. Over the next 20 minutes, they grew to 13 in number, now including 3 males. I suppose they came floating down the creek. They prefer fresh water and are occasionally found upstream in a few locations. I’ve never seen them in salt water, and they don’t seem to much care for brackish water either. However, with all the rain we’ve had in recent days, I suspect the lagoon is primarily fresh water throughout.

I checked my records later and since October 1979 SMBAS has recorded Hooded Merganser 23 times for a total of (at least 65) birds. Six of those sightings only their presence was noted, but not the count. The previous sighting was 2 birds on 1-26-20. Before that we had 1-5 birds from 11-27-16 to 2-26-17. Not terrifically common.

Lagoon Evening, pavilion view (Grace Murayama 12-21-21)
Cooper’s Hawk (F. Faminu 12-26-21)

A Double-crested Cormorant caught a large fish, which looked like a catfish because it seemed to have thickish “whiskers” sticking out from around it’s very wide mouth. It was quite fat side-to-side, and the cormorant was having an terrible time trying to get it oriented head first and “down the hatch.” A helpful Great Blue Heron came over for a closer look at this struggle, and decided to assist his brother bird by stealing the fish altogether and driving the cormorant away. The heron now engaged in a 10-minute struggle with the fish which—as I said—was quite fat. It was also still alive, despite being out-of-water for the last five minutes, and was still struggling madly. The heron repeatedly dipped the bird in the water as if trying to make it slippery, or perhaps getting it oriented properly (head first!, always head first!) without losing it into the creek. Finally, the fish no longer struggling—I think, as I was finding this hard to watch—the heron swallowed the fish, where it made a heck of a bulge in its gullet. We were all chilly from standing in the shade, so we went back to the viewing platform and the sun. Unfortunately, these events were so fascinating that no one took a photo.

The other big event of the day was one Osprey catching two fish, or was it two Osprey catching one fish each? The catches were maybe 1 hour apart.

That’s not a log or alligator in the water (Marsha Collins 12-26-21)

I couldn’t believe that an Osprey would want to eat two large fish only an hour apart, but none of us saw two birds at the same time, so I have to assume it was a single bird. And they were big fish!

Osprey lifting off with fish (M. Collins 12-26-21)

The Osprey(s) struggled to get aloft.

Osprey still lifting off with fish (M. Collins 12-26-21)

The Western Gulls became quite interested and chased the Osprey all around the lagoon for many circles as the Osprey—hanging onto the fish with only one foot, perhaps only one talon!—tried to gain sufficient altitude to land in a tree.

Osprey now underway with one foot on the fish (M. Collins 12-26-21)

The first bird eventually flew east past Adamson House and disappeared behind the property’s tall trees, perhaps landing in one.

Osprey with both feet on fish (M. Collins 12-26-21)

The second Osprey landed with his/her fish on top of the “Mockingbird Pole” at the northeast corner of Malibu Colony, where it slowly pulled the fish—still twitching spasmodically—apart.

Same Osprey – both feet on the fish (F. Faminu 12-26-21)

Chris Lord later emailed me the following:

Birds of prey have roughened pads on the undersides of their toes to help them to readily grasp prey. The fish-eating Osprey also has spines on the pads on the soles of its toes for holding on to slippery fishes.  These are very helpful when sequentially and sometimes simultaneously holding onto a slippery fish while evading gulls, a crow, a great egret, a snowy egret and a great blue heron.

The Birders Handbook, Ehrlich et al., page 241
Osprey – on the pole, finally! (F. Faminu 12-26-21)

These photos give a better view of the fish and this one at least is not a catfish. No whiskers, to start with. Looks like a Jumping Mullet to me.

I counted 34 Snowy Plovers but there were probably more. As usual, storm water rushing down the creek from the over-100-square-mile Malibu Creek watershed blew straight through the beach, very close to the permanent hillock near the foot of the path. All the lagoon water flowed out, leaving a wide channel full of icy cold rushing water which I was not going to attempt wading across, as I’d likely be swept out to sea and never heard of again, ruining my binoculars and telescope in the process. When I waded the channel last winter the water was so cold that the pain up to my shins was quite intense after about 20 seconds.

Channel, sand cliff, birds, lagoon, PCH bridge, Serra Retreat Center, Santa Monica Mountains (F. Faminu 12-26-21)

East of this channel the beach dropped off four feet almost straight down to the water, and the Snowy Plovers were scattered along this steep slope, which seemed a peculiar, atypical location to roost. Perhaps, for them, it was out of the undetectable wind. There were undoubted some plovers on the flat sand just above this drop off, but I couldn’t see them from across the channel.

Despite today being Boxing Day, no fisticuffians were present.

Malibu Lagoon on eBird: 12-30-21 5474 lists, 312 species.
Oddly enough, a month ago the eBird totals were 5438 lists and 315 species, so 36 lists were added yet three species disappeared. I didn’t know that not seeing a bird would remove it from the “seen” list. (Joking.) I checked to see if Femi’s November Hairy Woodpecker was one one of the “disappeared,” but it was still there.

North viewpoint view, sunset (Grace Murayama 12-21-21)

Birds new for the season: Hooded Merganser, Horned Grebe, Bonaparte’s Gull, Red-throated Loon, Green Heron, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Barn Swallow, Wrentit, Hermit Thrush, Savannah Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco.

Many thanks to photographers: Marsha Collins, Femi Faminu & Grace Murayama.

The next three SMBAS scheduled field trips?: Good Question.

The next SMBAS program: Someone discussing something interesting, most likely on Tuesday, Feb 1, 2022 at 7:30 p.m. Keep your eyes on the blog.

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 Adrian Douglas, Esme Douglas, Femi Faminu, Lillian Johnson, Chris Lord 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 20217/258/229/2610/2411/2812/26
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+4.20H+4.55L+2.52H+5.23L+2.35L+2.58
 Tide Time114810340556110511040900
1Canada Goose    104
1Northern Shoveler   2  
1Gadwall4812 4220
1American Wigeon  74210
1Northern Pintail    21
1Green-winged Teal  15515
1Bufflehead    110
1Hooded Merganser     13
1Red-breasted Merganser11  1715
1Ruddy Duck 215813
2Pied-billed Grebe213535
2Horned Grebe     1
2Eared Grebe   11 
2Western Grebe   12  
7Feral Pigeon15686523
7Mourning Dove43 511
8Anna’s Hummingbird11  12
8Allen’s Hummingbird 31314
2American Coot82130240245360
5Black-bellied Plover439010387166104
5Snowy Plover92934344034
5Semipalmated Plover1432  
5Long-billed Curlew  1   
5Marbled Godwit 43034971
5Ruddy Turnstone2836 1
5Red-necked Stint 1    
5Sanderling 12201042222
5Dunlin 2 2  
5Baird’s Sandpiper 5    
5Least Sandpiper835129335
5Western Sandpiper1265221 
5Short-billed Dowitcher 3    
5Long-billed Dowitcher  1   
5Spotted Sandpiper 21   
5Willet 4014253413
5Red-necked Phalarope44    
6Bonaparte’s Gull     2
6Heermann’s Gull21125326
6Ring-billed Gull  1228170
6Western Gull525510639285
6California Gull14 9515370
6Herring Gull    1 
6Glaucous-winged Gull 1 1 2
6Least Tern 1    
6Caspian Tern 2    
6Royal Tern5 132  
6Elegant Tern2401    
2Red-throated Loon     1
2Brandt’s Cormorant   2101
2Double-crested Cormorant522735675239
2Pelagic Cormorant 12141
2Brown Pelican583011219944
3Great Blue Heron543334
3Great Egret1141317
3Snowy Egret22241411424
3Green Heron     2
3Black-crowned Night-Heron9331 1
4Turkey Vulture     1
4Osprey  2 11
4Cooper’s Hawk11  12
4Red-shouldered Hawk 1   1
4Red-tailed Hawk    11
8Belted Kingfisher 1    
8Nuttall’s Woodpecker     1
8Downy Woodpecker     1
8Hairy Woodpecker    1 
4Merlin  1   
4Peregrine Falcon  1   
9Black Phoebe345544
9Say’s Phoebe  11  
9California Scrub-Jay11 1 2
9American Crow444617
9No. Rough-winged Swallow 2    
9Cliff Swallow 4    
9Barn Swallow40253  2
9Oak Titmouse12    
9Bushtit120  48 
9House Wren  121 
9Marsh Wren   2  
9Bewick’s Wren   1 4
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   441
9Ruby-crowned Kinglet   11 
9Wrentit 1   1
9Hermit Thrush     1
9Northern Mockingbird11 2 1
9European Starling 3040 319
9American Pipit  1   
9House Finch61874188
9Lesser Goldfinch 2 122
9Spotted Towhee 1    
9California Towhee 1 224
9Savannah Sparrow     1
9Song Sparrow535478
9White-crowned Sparrow   51517
9Dark-eyed Junco     2
9Western Meadowlark  11  
9Red-winged Blackbird25     
9Great-tailed Grackle2051437
9Orange-crowned Warbler  1 2 
9Common Yellowthroat 25456
9Yellow-rumped Warbler   61920
Totals by TypeJulAugSepOctNovDec
2Water Birds – Other12061181349414452
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis47352118838
4Quail & Raptors124036
6Gulls & Terns300652579689655
8Other Non-Passerines151338
 Totals Birds82066858487116891682
 Total SpeciesJulAugSepOctNovDec
2Water Birds – Other455878
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis444435
4Quail & Raptors123035
6Gulls & Terns574656
8Other Non-Passerines131134
Totals Species – 104406249585769

One Comment
  1. Linda R Friar permalink
    December 31, 2021 11:52 am

    Great photos! Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

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