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Pandemic wave-trough field trip: Malibu Lagoon, 27 March 2022

March 31, 2022

[By Chuck Almdale]

Overcast day, picnic corner (Lillian Johnson 3/27/22)

The water level in the lagoon was ‘middlin’—below the tidal clock sidewalk, but most of the channels remained wet. The tide dropped rapidly from 5.0 ft. @ 0615 to -0.81 ft @ 1339; a drop of almost 6 ft in 7 hours. Rocks were exposed offshore, and mud appeared in the lagoon.

High and dry tidal clock sidewalk (L. Johnson 3/27/22)
Pale tiles along left side are water level markers.

This was our first ‘open-to-the-public’ bird walk since Feb. 2020. I approached it with trepidation: there would be more than twice the usual number of people, half of them unknown personally to me, how would they behave, would there be fistfights about masking vs unmasking, would my voice carry through my mask, would my voice hold out (I am more easily winded these days), would I still be able to do my census, etc. etc. blah blah blah.

It went pretty well, I think.

Across middle channel to the beach (L. Johnson 3/27/22)

I did not require than anyone other than myself wear a mask (as LA County is continually claiming to soon drop the requirement for people indoors) and to my enormous surprise, everyone was masked. At least, as long as they were with the main group.

Northern Mockingbird had his face in the flowers (C. Tosdevin 3/27/22)

As usual, people wandered off by themselves—sometimes to return, sometimes not—at which point they usually (I think) drop their masks. I tend to go more slowly than some to point out things to new people and answer questions.

Mystery Bird (C. Tosdevin 3/27/22)
Typical view of a not-uncommon bird at the lagoon
Answer at end of blog

When people bird by themselves, I think they may learn fewer new details, but they learn them more thoroughly because they figure them out for themselves.

Across lagoon to beach and gloom-shrouded sea (L. Johnson 3/27/22)

About half the group was new (in varying degrees) to birding or at least new to the lagoon. Some of them had watched the Zoom presentation I did for the UCLA Retirees Association earlier in the week and it piqued their interest.

Terns – Elegant, Caspian & Royal (C. Tosdevin 3/27/22)
The Elegants are beginning to develop a rosy tint on their breasts.

So, all that aside, it was a very nice day for birding. Because it was overcast the temperature began mild and remained mild. May the weather gods grant us overcast and foggy weather until next December!

Green-winged Teal pair with green visible (R. Juncosa 3/27/22)

We had three events which bordered on being new and unusual.

Firstly, the Song Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows were singing like crazy. What a racket! All along the pathways we were surrounded by songsters. You would have thought it was springtime. It gave us a great opportunity to hear these two quite different songs and compare them, over and over and over. I think a few people learned to tell the difference. White-crowned Sparrow: a nasally slightly whiney song with a narrower range of frequency than the Song Sparrow, thus sounding a bit more ‘tinny.’ Song Sparrow: richer song, wider frequencies, three parts – slow, fast & short, slow. The three parts can vary widely in content; the last time I read about the Song Sparrow, a few years back, the count was up to 95 different song varieties across their continent-wide range.

Song Sparrow in full voice (Ray Juncosa 3/27/22)

Secondly were the eight Glaucous-winged Gulls. [‘Glaucous’ means waxy.] We regularly get this species in small numbers in the winter & spring months, and our previous high counts were twelve birds on 2-22-09 and eleven birds the following month on 3-22-09. I would not be shocked to learn that those were the same individuals in both months.

Glaucous-winged Gull (C. Tosdevin 3/27/22)
Compare pale mantle & primaries to Western Gull below
Secondary feathers are very worn

Following that, we had two counts of eight birds, one count of seven, six counts of six, and seven counts of 5 birds, including Jan & Feb of 2022. With 131 census days on which at least one Glaucous-winged Gull was sighted, that leaves 113 sightings of 1 to 4 birds. The resulting average is 2.6 birds/sighting. That’s a good definition for “regular in small numbers.” December through May are the best months for seeing them at the lagoon. We’ve never seen one in September and only one in August.

Surf Scoters fly past Western Grebes (C. Tosdevin 3/27/22)

I suspect (but don’t know for sure) that Glaucous-winged and Western Gulls are each other’s closest relative, for three reasons: they hybridize, they look a great deal alike (Western is much darker on mantle and primaries) and their breeding ranges overlap only slightly, around Seattle and Vancouver. From that location the Western breeds southward to mid-Baja California, while Glaucous-winged breeds northward to Nome and the tip of the Aleutian Islands. It’s interesting to note that the northern subspecies of the Western Gull Larus occidentalis occidentalis, has a lighter mantle (back) than the southern subspecies L. o. wymani.

South side of lagoon, Malibu Pier in distance (L. Johnson 3/27/22)

The third unusual event concerned the other member of the above discussion, the Western Gull. Tidepools formed due to the negative low tide (-0.81 ft), and we came upon a nicely-plumaged adult Western Gull, standing on a small rock next to a tidepool and screaming for all (s)he was worth. It took a while, but we finally figured out what it was all about. See pictures below.

Western Gull poking at something (R. Juncosa 3/27/22)
Western Gull has something (R. Juncosa 3/27/22)
Western Gull and an Octopus 3 (R. Juncosa 3/27/22)

I’d never seen an octopus in the Malibu tidepools before. I have empathy for these interesting creatures who can figure how to pull a cork out of a bottle and reach inside to latch onto a fish. I’d once had a minor tug-of-war with one while scuba-diving at White’s Cove on the Palos Verdes peninsula, and got to watch it go through instantaneous and stunning skin pattern & color changes. In the Alaskan ‘banana belt’ a restaurant-owner with an aquarium told us of the octopuses that would escape. They’d lift up the glass aquarium cover, climb out and down the side to the floor, out the door and across the sand and rock beach to the water about 100 yards away. Holding its breath (gills?) all the way, of course. After several such escapes, the owners gave up trying to keep them.

We managed to find some Snowy Plovers. Counts ranged from seven to ten. I always count at least 5 times. Sometimes 15 times, if they’re at distance or up and running around. Other people are counting as well. Even when the birds are resting they are very difficult to see, as they sit quite low in their little scoops in the sand and can hide behind inch-high bumps. In this case, Chris Tosdevin had a count of ten, so I’m using that.

A sleepy-looking Snowy Plover (C. Tosdevin 3/27/22)

Malibu Lagoon on eBird: 4/04/22 – 5713 lists, 312 species

Low-tide and offshore rocks (L. Johnson 3/27/22)

Birds new for the season: Elegant Tern, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Wrentit.

Brown Pelican immature ruffles his back (R. Juncosa 3/27/22)

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

Great Egret grows plumes for breeding season (C. Tosdevin 3/27/22)

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips: The 24 April lagoon trip may—or may not—be open to the public, depending on pandemic, of course. You can email your reservation to me beginning 10 April. Limit 30 people by reservation only, vaccine card required (QR code NOT sufficient), bring your own equipment. Two leaders. No 10am Children & Parents walk. Watch the blog for announcements AND for cancellation by 22 April if warranted. Same deal for 22 May lagoon trip.

Osprey (R. Juncosa 3/27/22)

The next SMBAS program: Laysan Albatrosses & Lead, with Dr. Myra Finkelstein of UC Santa Cruz. Zoom Evening Meeting, Tuesday, 4 May 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.

Great-tailed Grackles, male & two females (C. Tosdevin 3/27/22)
The males have been displaying for several months.

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

Allen’s Hummingbird male (R. Juncosa 3/27/22)

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 Lillian Johnson, Chris Lord, Chris Tosdevin and others for their contributions to this month’s checklist.

The list below now includes 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]

The mystery bird is a Wrentit. We’ve had them 13 out of the past 36 months.
This “voice of the chaparral” is far more often seen than heard.

Malibu Census 2021-2210/2411/2812/261/232/273/27
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+5.23L+2.35L+2.58L+2.04H+5.76H+5.00
 Tide Time110511040900064506210615
1Canada Goose 104226
1Egyptian Goose    1 
1Cinnamon Teal    2 
1Northern Shoveler2     
1American Wigeon42104 6
1Northern Pintail 211  
1Green-winged Teal5515111215
1Surf Scoter   10 15
1Bufflehead 110252
1Hooded Merganser  13   
1Red-breasted Merganser 1715965
1Ruddy Duck5813 41
2Pied-billed Grebe535333
2Horned Grebe  1   
2Eared Grebe11  1 
2Western Grebe12  301216
7Feral Pigeon652320108
7Band-tailed Pigeon    3 
7Eurasian Collared-Dove   1  
7Mourning Dove511 42
8Anna’s Hummingbird 12221
8Allen’s Hummingbird314333
2American Coot240245360497365
5Black-bellied Plover87166104582528
5Semipalmated Plover2     
5Snowy Plover344034 1510
5Marbled Godwit34971321 
5Ruddy Turnstone6 165 
5Sanderling10422221 45
5Least Sandpiper9335122010
5Western Sandpiper21 11135
6Bonaparte’s Gull  21  
6Heermann’s Gull253264518
6Ring-billed Gull2281704017516
6Western Gull639285958895
6California Gull9515370925510185
6Herring Gull 1 212
6Glaucous-winged Gull1 2558
6Caspian Tern    18
6Royal Tern2  5235
6Elegant Tern     6
2Red-throated Loon  112 
2Pacific Loon   12 
2Common Loon   21 
2Black-vented Shearwater   1000  
2Brandt’s Cormorant2101615
2Pelagic Cormorant1411231
2Double-crested Cormorant675239455133
2Brown Pelican2199441101523
3Great Blue Heron334421
3Great Egret3172 5
3Snowy Egret11424634
3Green Heron  21  
3Black-crowned Night-Heron1 15  
4Turkey Vulture  1 15
4Osprey 11111
4Cooper’s Hawk 1211 
4Red-shouldered Hawk  111 
4Red-tailed Hawk 1111 
8Belted Kingfisher   111
8Downy Woodpecker  1   
8Nuttall’s Woodpecker  1   
8Hairy Woodpecker 1    
4Merlin   1  
9Black Phoebe544433
9Say’s Phoebe1   1 
9California Scrub-Jay1 2232
9American Crow6174206
9Common Raven   1  
9Oak Titmouse   1  
9Tree Swallow   2  
9No. Rough-winged Swallow     2
9Barn Swallow  2  4
9Bushtit 48 1244
9Wrentit  1  2
9Ruby-crowned Kinglet11    
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher441 2 
9House Wren21    
9Marsh Wren2     
9Bewick’s Wren1 4   
9Northern Mockingbird2 11 1
9European Starling 31915303
9Hermit Thrush  11  
9House Finch41888515
9Lesser Goldfinch12242 
9Dark-eyed Junco  243 
9White-crowned Sparrow51517352520
9Savannah Sparrow  1   
9Song Sparrow4786610
9California Towhee224222
9Western Meadowlark1     
9Red-winged Blackbird    2 
9Great-tailed Grackle437135
9Orange-crowned Warbler 2 1  
9Common Yellowthroat456311
9Yellow-rumped Warbler619201061
Totals by TypeOctNovDecJanFebMar
2Water Birds – Other3494144521259164146
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis1883818510
4Quail & Raptors036556
6Gulls & Terns796896551118783363
8Other Non-Passerines338665
 Totals Birds8711689168227671247894
 Total SpeciesOctNovDecJanFebMar
2Water Birds – Other87811117
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis435523
4Quail & Raptors035552
6Gulls & Terns656889
8Other Non-Passerines134333
Totals Species – 102585769726759

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