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Black-vented Shearwaters at Malibu Lagoon, 23 January 2022

January 28, 2022

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

When did this place get so crowded? (Ray Juncosa 01-23-22)

The lagoon was still open to the ocean, the tide was at a typical waning-quarter-of-the-moon intermediate level with no great fluctuation, and water flowed neither in nor out.

Lagoon low water (Lillian Johnson 1-23-22)

From the first viewpoint near the Pacific Coast Highway bridge we could see, far out over the ocean, a steady stream of seabirds flowing by from east to west. [The coast at Malibu faces south, not west.] They could be nothing other than shearwaters.

Male Hummingbirds, Allan’s and Anna’s (Chris Tosdevin 1-23-22)
In profile the bright structural colors of their gorgets don’t show

At this distance, they were little more than tiny dots in the telescope. But shearwaters fly in a very distinguishable manner, described by their name – Shearwater. They fly very low, often barely skimming the surface of the water. Usually they’re actually in the troughs between waves, barrelling along what to them looks like a long narrow valley, often out-of-sight of land-based birders. Every so often they rise up, only to quickly drop out of sight.

Green-winged Teal pair (C. Tosdevin 01-23-22)
The green in their wings is usually hidden when wings are folded

When there is a bit of wind, as there was this morning, they don’t need to flap much to stay aloft. The differential of wind speed at the surface, and 10-30 feet above the surface, plus the updrafts created by the wind bouncing off the wave peaks, create enough speed and uplift for them to cruise – to shear – the water.

Tidal clock walk well above water (L. Johnson 1-23-22)
They must have steam cleaned the slime off

There’s little else that flies that way – albatross are famous for it, but I’ve never seen an albatross off Malibu, and besides they’re huge compared to shearwaters and usually fly in a forward moving spiral called dynamic soaring.

Black-vented Shearwaters (C. Tosdevin 01-23-22)

Ten species of shearwater and petrel show up off our SoCal coast; as usual, some are a lot more frequent than others. I’ve seen only half of them, and all but one of those five were seen only from boats out around the Channel Islands. They generally stay well offshore, except for a few areas like Monterey Bay which has a deep water canyon.

Black-vented Shearwaters (C. Tosdevin 01-23-22)

The sole species I’ve recognizably seen from land is the relatively small Black-vented Shearwater. They nest on islands off the west coast of Baja California, and are often seen from SoCal shores, especially in the winter, when large numbers of them get up and move around.

Black-vented Shearwaters (C. Tosdevin 01-23-22)

When we see a large mass of similarly-sized shearwaters, Black-vented is almost certainly the species. But we had to get down to the beach to get as close as possible for a better look. Meanwhile there were plenty of other birds around, although the coots had mostly disappeared. They’d ranged from 130 to 360 in number for the past four months, but there were only 49 of them today. The lagoon looked almost bare.

Lagoon low-to-no water, bereft of birdlife (L. Johnson 1-23-22)
Osprey (R. Juncosa 01-23-22)
Guess who was in the other guy’s photo

Despite the relative barrenness of the lagoon, we had a lot of species and a lot of birds: 72 species and 2,767 birds. That second number contains a very large estimate of 1,000 Black-vented Shearwater. None of them were actually in the lagoon – no self-respecting shearwater would be caught dead that far inland, except when breeding – but there could easily have been three times that amount. I counted 925 California Gulls and there were a lot more shearwaters that that. Most of the gulls, cormorants and pelicans were standing on the exposed offshore rocks, but the gulls particularly moved around a lot.

Red-tailed Hawk sub-adult (C. Tosdevin 01-23-22)

Today was a good raptor day: Osprey, Cooper’s, Red-shouldered & Red-tailed Hawks, and a Merlin. The Merlin rocketed through, as falcons often do, so…no photo.

Red-shouldered Hawk (C. Tosdevin 01-23-22)
Cormorants and pelicans on offshore rock (R. Juncosa 01-23-22)
There was a Harbor Seal sleeping on the rock next door

There were a lot of cormorants today, probably because of all the fish. All three species. Twelve Pelagic Cormorants was a lot – we’ve averaged two per appearance over the past 40-odd years.

Lagoon breach now doubled (L. Johnson 1-23-22)

As always, the lagoon outlet moves eastward over time. Occasionally it doubles itself, as seen here. The eastern edge of the outlet will continue to erode and the western edge – or in this case, edges – will continue to fill in, so the outlet seems to move. Eventually the whole thing fills in and usually stays closed for 4-6 months during the summer. It may come up against the riprap rocks edging Adamson House, if we get more rain and stays open long enough. If no more rain the outlet usually fills in as more sand arrives.

Western Scrub-Jay (C. Tosdevin 01-23-22)
Scrub-Jays are always around, but we don’t always see them
Black-vented Shearwater (C. Tosdevin 01-23-22)

It was the Pelagic Cormorants that alerted me to the fact that the school of fish that attracted all the birds had moved right up next to the beach. Three Pelagics popped out of the front of a cresting wave almost simultaneously, each with a big fish sticking out of their bill. The other birds on the water also spotted this event and quickly moved in, either to steal someone’s fish or find their own. This activity brought the shearwaters close enough to photograph. They had been slowly moving closer over the past half-hour or so, but were still at least several hundred yards away, too far for decent photos. But we got lucky, and Chris Tosdevin snapped a sequence of (mostly) the same bird flying left, wheeling, then flying right.

A few birders, some masked, on the beach (L. Johnson 1-23-22)
They’re certainly not focused on any particular bird

We couldn’t find any Snowy Plovers. They were most likely on the far side of the wide outlet(s), just over the edge of the beach berm where we couldn’t seen them without trooping all the way around via the PCH bridge. By that time no one felt up to it.

Among the few peeps present, most were Least Sandpiper (C. Tosdevin 01-23-22)

Malibu Lagoon on eBird: 1/25/22 – 5569 lists, 312 species

Birds new for the season: Surf Scoter, Western Grebe, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Royal Tern, Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Black-vented Shearwater, Belted Kingfisher, Merlin, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Oak Titmouse.

South channel to the lagoon (L. Johnson 1-23-22)

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

The next three SMBAS scheduled field trips?: Excellent question. We’ll have to get back to you on that. (read: haven’t the foggiest)

The next SMBAS program: Important Birds of Ancient Lake Cahuilla and the Salton Sea, with Kurt Leuschner, Zoom Evening Meeting, Tuesday, 1 February 2022, 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.

Osprey (C. Tosdevin 01-23-22)
That’s “Mr. Claws,” to you.

Links: Unusual birds at Malibu Lagoon
9/23/02 Aerial photo of Malibu Lagoon
More recent aerial photo

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. The species are re-sequenced to agree to the California Bird Records Committee Official California Checklist, updated 15 Jan 2022. I generally do this at the start of each year.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2021-228/229/2610/2411/2812/261/23
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+4.55L+2.52H+5.23L+2.35L+2.58L+2.04
 Tide Time103405561105110409000645
1Canada Goose   1042
1Northern Shoveler  2   
1Gadwall12 422029
1American Wigeon 742104
1Northern Pintail   211
1Green-winged Teal 1551511
1Surf Scoter     10
1Bufflehead   1102
1Hooded Merganser    13 
1Red-breasted Merganser1  17159
1Ruddy Duck215813 
2Pied-billed Grebe135353
2Horned Grebe    1 
2Eared Grebe  11  
2Western Grebe  12  30
7Feral Pigeon68652320
7Eurasian Collared-Dove     1
7Mourning Dove3 511 
8Anna’s Hummingbird1  122
8Allen’s Hummingbird313143
2American Coot213024024536049
5Black-bellied Plover901038716610458
5Snowy Plover2934344034 
5Semipalmated Plover432   
5Long-billed Curlew 1    
5Marbled Godwit4303497132
5Ruddy Turnstone836 16
5Red-necked Stint1     
5Dunlin2 2   
5Baird’s Sandpiper5     
5Least Sandpiper3512933512
5Western Sandpiper65221 1
5Short-billed Dowitcher3     
5Long-billed Dowitcher 1    
5Spotted Sandpiper21    
5Red-necked Phalarope4     
6Bonaparte’s Gull    21
6Heermann’s Gull112532645
6Ring-billed Gull 122817040
6Western Gull551063928595
6California Gull4 9515370925
6Herring Gull   1 2
6Glaucous-winged Gull1 1 25
6Least Tern1     
6Caspian Tern2     
6Royal Tern 132  5
6Elegant Tern1     
2Red-throated Loon    11
2Pacific Loon     1
2Common Loon     2
2Black-vented Shearwater     1000
2Brandt’s Cormorant  21016
2Double-crested Cormorant273567523945
2Pelagic Cormorant1214112
2Brown Pelican3011219944110
3Great Blue Heron433344
3Great Egret413172
3Snowy Egret2414114246
3Green Heron    21
3Black-crowned Night-Heron331 15
4Turkey Vulture    1 
4Osprey 2 111
4Cooper’s Hawk1  121
4Red-shouldered Hawk1   11
4Red-tailed Hawk   111
8Belted Kingfisher1    1
8Nuttall’s Woodpecker    1 
8Downy Woodpecker    1 
8Hairy Woodpecker   1  
4Merlin 1   1
4Peregrine Falcon 1    
9Black Phoebe455444
9Say’s Phoebe 11   
9California Scrub-Jay1 1 22
9American Crow446174
9Common Raven     1
9Tree Swallow     2
9No. Rough-winged Swallow2     
9Cliff Swallow4     
9Barn Swallow253  2 
9Oak Titmouse2    1
9Bushtit20  48 12
9House Wren 121  
9Marsh Wren  2   
9Bewick’s Wren  1 4 
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  441 
9Ruby-crowned Kinglet  11  
9Wrentit1   1 
9Hermit Thrush    11
9Northern Mockingbird1 2 11
9European Starling3040 31915
9American Pipit 1    
9House Finch18741888
9Lesser Goldfinch2 1224
9Dark-eyed Junco    24
9White-crowned Sparrow  5151735
9Savannah Sparrow    1 
9Song Sparrow354786
9California Towhee1 2242
9Spotted Towhee1     
9Western Meadowlark 11   
9Great-tailed Grackle514371
9Orange-crowned Warbler 1 2 1
9Common Yellowthroat254563
9Yellow-rumped Warbler  6192010
Totals by TypeAugSepOctNovDecJan
2Water Birds – Other611813494144521259
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis35211883818
4Quail & Raptors240365
6Gulls & Terns6525796896551118
8Other Non-Passerines513386
 Totals Birds668584871168916822767
 Total SpeciesAugSepOctNovDecJan
2Water Birds – Other5587811
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis444355
4Quail & Raptors230355
6Gulls & Terns746568
8Other Non-Passerines311343
Totals Species – 110624958576972

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