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New Year’s Day Birding – Malibu Lagoon to King Gillette

January 4, 2022

[Chuck Almdale]

Low sun over lagoon, 8:16am (Lillian Johnson 1-1-22)

Just to kick off the new year right — or wrong, depending on one’s point of view — a few of us decided impromptuishly to tuck a few year-birds under our proverbial birders’ belts. Nothing major — shore/sea birds, creek birds, small park birds, big park birds.

Ruddy Duck male in basic plumage, but for the bright blue bill. (C. Tosdevin, Malibu Lagoon 1-1-22)

Maybe we’d hit 100 species — a number with lots of roundness to it. Probably not. Merely rising early on New Year’s Day doesn’t offset one’s inherent laziness, albeit along a spectrum of laziness, to be sure.

North channel (L. Johnson 1-1-22)

It hit 34°F passing by Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains enroute to the lagoon, our low for the day, but at the beach a few miles away it was a roasty toasty 50°.

An inundated tidal sidewalk with river driftwood (Lillian Johnson 1-1-22)

Breezy, chilly — thin gloves a comfort. Still, surfers in the water, kicking the year off right, waiting for that great big set outside.

I thought perhaps we’d be efficient, find all the birds quickly and move on to the next location. Ha! Not a chance! Three-and-a-half hours for lagoon, upcreek and circling the small Legacy Park pond, where one of us added one whole species – Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. By the time we arrived at King Gillette State Park, it was already time to knock off for lunch.

California Towhee. Every bush had at least one. (F. Faminu 1-1-22)
Open channel on Kinglet Tide day from lagoon south shore (L. Johnson 1-1-22)

The tide was high and the lagoon was full, the beach was gone and most of the birds stood in the water and on damp sand at the far side of the wide outlet stream. Floating wood choked the southern channel and the western edge of the outlet, almost certainly washed down the creek during the recent storm.

Open channel from beach. Plenty of downstreamed driftwood. (L. Johnson 1-1-22)

Still we picked out seven species of gull and Royal Tern. I’m sure that Marbled Godwit and Snowy Plover were over there but we couldn’t find them.

Western Grebes beyond “the rocks” (C. Tosdevin, Malibu Lagoon 1-1-22)

Western Grebe are common in SoCal nearshore waters in flotillas of varying sizes. Loons appear in small numbers: a Pacific Loon today, but a Red-throated Loon last Sunday. Small flocks of Surf Scoter dotted the water, several svelte Pelagic Cormorant dove in the surf zone, and – more unexpected at sea – a nice-looking Red-breasted Merganser about 100-200 yards out.

Red-breasted Merganser male at sea (C. Tosdevin, Malibu Beach 1-1-22)

The Hooded Mergansers had left, to our great disappointment, no doubt because millions of gallons of water came charging down the creek earlier in the week. Not very pleasant for diving ducks who prefer still waters.

Osprey (C. Tosdevin, Malibu Creek 1-1-22)
Green Heron (C. Tosdevin, Malibu Creek 1-1-22)

An Osprey sat perched on a low metal pole for hours. Shortly after we arrived Malibu Creek-side, just the other side of PCH bridge, it flew over for a closer look. After seeing those talons up close, I have a better understanding how it hangs on so securely to those thrashing mullet when using only one claw.

Two Green Herons, seven Black-crowned Night-Herons (2 adult), a female Belted Kingfisher (with rust on sides of the breast), and a Spotted Sandpiper, which we hadn’t seen in months in the lagoon proper — all were nice to see.

Belted Kingfisher female (C. Tosdevin, Malibu Creek 1-1-22)

I wrote an essay a while back about “Sexual Dimorphism Reversal and Polyandry” which I mention now only because Belted Kingfisher is one of very few avian species in which the female is more colorful than the male, but has no noticeable tendencies towards polyandry (female has multiple mates). This has been widely noticed and remarked upon, but no one has figured out why. Several conjectures are offered:

  • Many males maintain year-round territories, fending off other males. The bright cinnamon band of the females, returning from migration, signals the males to welcome, not attack.
  • In breeding season, females tend to be more aggressive and territorial than males. Their testosterone levels may be higher-than-normal testosterone levels, and may affect how pigment (specifically carotinoids) is incorporated into their plumage.
Lesser Goldfinch male on Sycamore seedball (C. Tosdevin, Malibu Lagoon 1-1-22)

There was surprisingly little activity at Legacy Park, other than a small girl feeding seed to the Mallards. Generally speaking, Sora and Wilson’s Snipe are more common there than they now are at the lagoon, as are a few fresh-water ducks, and even oddballs like Red-whiskered Bulbul pop in and out — the last bird mostly out, as in somewhere else, in my experience. Nope. Nada. Nil. Femi visited there earlier and found a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, which the rest of us missed.

Female Common Yellowthroat at pond’s edge. Note sharp border between yellow throat and brown face. (Femi Faminu Legacy Park 1-1-22)
Lewis’ Woodpecker
(C. Tosdevin, King Gillette 1-1-22)

Chris Lord and I stopped at the SW corner of Mulholland Drive and Las Virgenes road and found seven Lewis’ Woodpeckers, where I’d found a bunch four days earlier. Over fifty have been reported from the general area, including Malibu Creek State Park where Lillian and I saw about a dozen last Tuesday. Quite an irruption; the most I’ve every heard of in this area.

Lunchtime at King Gillette (named for the razor blade magnate) brought towhees, kinglets, titmice, Yellow-rumped Warblers, two Red-tailed Hawks and foreboding Turkey Vultures. Do they like peanut-butter sandwiches? I hope not. No Nanday Parakeets though, which are usually around.

Hermit Thrush (F. Faminu, King Gillette 1-1-22)

King Gillette set up a very weird drive-through display for Christmas. The fronts (only the fronts) of little houses and stores, animals of wicker (see checklist below), fake snow, Santas and elves in abundance, little lights everywhere. Drive through it at night with the lights all aglow and it would look quite cheery and festive and a delight for children of all ages, as they say. I suppose. In daylight it just looked weird.

Many Mourning Doves and not a single Partridge in the tree (C. Tosdevin, 1-1-22)

In the middle of all this excitement was a pine tree with a roosting Barn Owl. Chris and Ruth have been peeking at it for months. There are sometimes two, in two adjacent trees, but only one today, peeking at us, squinty-eyed.

Barn Owl (C. Tosdevin, King Gillette 1-1-22)

Nuttall’s Woodpecker are a near-endemic species of California; their breeding range extends down into northern Baja California and they occasionally wander north into Oregon. Not a large range, but common enough within it. We heard their rattle more often than we saw the bird.

Nuttall’s Woodpecker female – no red on head, narrow black on top of back
(F. Faminu, King Gillette 1-1-22)

I originally put “raindeer” on the list and several people felt compelled to send me a correction to “reindeer.” Now duly corrected. But that piqued my etymological curiosity. I can understand deer in the rain being called (erroneously) “raindeer,” but are they “reindeer” because the Saami (Santa Claus’ Laplandian native tribe (not)) make them haul their sleighs around, controlled with reins by the driver?


Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker. They often search the ground for insects. (C. Tosdevin, King Gillette 1-1-22)

The word comes not from rain-deer or rein-deer, but from (most likely) an Old Norse word ‘hreindyri,’ which divides into hreinn + dyr. ‘Dyr’ means ‘animal’ while ‘hreinn‘ is — and this is really helpful — the Old Norse name for the reindeer. This seems a bit strange, as I’m sure the Old Norse could discern that a reindeer was an animal, so appending ‘animal’ onto a perfectly adequate name for an animal doesn’t make much sense. To me. They weren’t always whacked out on mead. And I wonder if ‘hreinn‘ might not be cognate with ‘horn.’ ‘Horn-deer’ makes a lot more sense than ‘reindeer animal.’ Further searching quickly led me into repetitive and viciously cyclical self-referential entries about proto-Germanic and proto-Indo-European languages, folk and fake etymologies, without any satisfactory enlightenment.

Anyone out there care to take a look at ‘reindeer’ and ‘hreindyri‘, and get back to us?

Lu stopped by Malibu Creek State Park, across Las Virgenes Hwy. from King Gillette after meeting us for lunch, and then by Sepulveda Basin Nature Reserve on his way back home, and picked up a few additional birds at both locations (see list below).

One person sighted a swallow which they identified as a Violet-green. Problem with that ID is that this species is quite uncommon in SoCal in December, whereas Tree Swallow is abundant in some areas. The two are easily confused because they are both glossy, have pale faces and prominent white areas on their sides between the tail and the rear of the wings—their fuselage, so to speak. So I put it down as a Tree/Violet-green Swallow.

White-throated Swift – hard to photo because they’re so….swift.
Superficially swallow-like (C. Tosdevin, Legacy Park 1-1-22)
Bobcat (C. Tosdevin, King Gillette 1-1-22)

Last but far from least was an excellent sighting of a Bobcat at King Gillette. We’ve seen them before in various parks in this part of the Santa Monica Mountains, but they always beat a hasty retreat, vanishing over the hill or into the brush. This Bobcat was sitting in the sun on the ground squirrel-festooned lawn at King Gillette, near the brush at the northern border of the property, quite close to one of Santa’s Little Helper-houses, and did not look at all like it was thinking about moving just because a few pesky humans had come along. We all looked at each other for a few minutes, then it roused itself and stretched-staggered-slunk into the brush, not far from the California Quail who had been enjoying the sun not far away. The Bobcat’s tail was short and curly.

Bobcat. Interesting pattern of color. (C. Tosdevin, King Gillette 1-1-22)
 Birder’s OutingMalibuMalibuLegacyKingMalibuSepul.
 New Year’s Day 1-1-22LagoonCreekParkGilletteCk. SPBasin
1Gr. White-fronted Goose     X
1Canada GooseX     
1Northern ShovelerX     
1American WigeonXX    
1Green-winged TealX     
1Ring-necked Duck   X  
1Surf ScoterX     
1Red-breasted MerganserXX    
1Ruddy DuckX X   
4California Quail   X  
2Pied-billed GrebeX     
2Eared GrebeX     
2Western GrebeX     
7Feral PigeonX XX  
7Band-tailed Pigeon   X  
7Mourning DoveX XX  
8White-throated SwiftX   X 
8Anna’s HummingbirdX X   
8Allen’s HummingbirdX XX  
2American CootX XX  
5Black-bellied PloverX     
5KilldeerX X   
5Ruddy TurnstoneX     
5Least SandpiperX     
5Spotted Sandpiper X    
6Bonaparte’s GullX     
6Heermann’s GullX     
6Ring-billed GullX     
6Western GullX X   
6California GullX     
6Herring GullX     
6Glaucous-winged GullX     
6Royal TernX     
2Pacific LoonX     
2Black-vented ShearwaterX     
2Double-crested CormorantX X   
2Pelagic CormorantX     
2American White Pelican     X
2Brown PelicanX     
3Great Blue HeronX     
3Great EgretX X   
3Snowy EgretX  X  
3Green HeronXX    
3Black-crowned Night-HeronXX   X
4Turkey VultureXXXX  
4Northern Harrier    X 
4Red-shouldered HawkX  X  
4Red-tailed HawkXXXX  
8Barn Owl   X  
8Belted Kingfisher X    
8Acorn Woodpecker   X  
8Lewis’ Woodpecker   X  
8Nuttall’s WoodpeckerXX X  
8Downy WoodpeckerX X   
8North.(Red-shafted) Flicker   X  
9Black PhoebeX XX  
9Say’s Phoebe   X  
9Cassin’s Kingbird   X  
9California Scrub-JayX  X  
9American CrowXXXX  
9Common Raven  XX  
9Tree/Violet-green Swallow    X 
9Oak Titmouse   X  
9BushtitX X   
9Marsh WrenX     
9White-breasted Nuthatch   X  
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  X   
9Ruby-crowned KingletX  X  
9Western Bluebird   X  
9Hermit Thrush  XX  
9Northern MockingbirdX     
9European StarlingX XX  
9House FinchX XXX 
9Lesser GoldfinchX XX  
9Spotted Towhee   X  
9California TowheeX XX  
9Song SparrowX X   
9White-crowned SparrowX XX  
9Golden-crowned Sparrow   X  
9Dark-eyed Junco   XX 
9Western Meadowlark  XX  
9Red-winged BlackbirdX   X 
9Great-tailed GrackleX     
9Orange-crowned WarblerX     
9Common YellowthroatX XX  
9Yellow-rumped WarblerX XX  
 Total SpeciesLagoonCreekParkGilletteCreek SPBasin
2Water Birds – Other902101
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis521101
4Quail & Raptors432410
6Gulls & Terns801000
8Other Non-Passerines523610
 Totals Species – 936813303963
 Bobcat   1  
 Wicker Reindeer7 
 Wicker Bear3 
 Suger Plum Fairy4,842 
 Ground Squirrel (minimum)   25  

  1. Sue Bird permalink
    January 7, 2022 8:41 pm

    Hi Chuck – could you tell me where in King Gillette I’d find the pine tree with the barn owls?

    thanks, Ted

    On Tue, Jan 4, 2022 at 3:39 PM SANTA MONICA BAY AUDUBON SOCIETY BLOG wrote:

    > Chukar posted: ” [Chuck Almdale] Low sun over lagoon, 8:16am (Lillian > Johnson 1-1-22) Just to kick off the new year right — or wrong, depending > on one’s point of view — a few of us decided impromptuishly to tuck a few > year-birds under our proverbial birders’ belts.” >


    • Chukar permalink*
      January 8, 2022 12:13 pm

      No I can’t. It’s the generally accepted policy of birders to never give exact locations of owl roosting or nesting locations.
      We will show others whom we know and trust the locations, but not in print.
      Chuck Almdale


  2. Conley Day permalink
    January 4, 2022 8:11 pm

    I’ve loved this, Chuck. Thanks for sending it. Clearly I missed a fabulous day. Darn it!


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