Skip to content

Spring Migration & Plumage Changes: Malibu Lagoon, 24 April 2022

April 29, 2022

[By Chuck Almdale]

A gracefulness of Elegant Terns (Lynzie Flynn 4-24-22)

Springtime is definitely here. It was very breezy; at least 5 mph with gusts to 20. “We’re probably not going to see a lot of passerines today…it’s tough to see birds moving through moving leaves.” The variety of passerine species—17—turned out to be higher than I expected, but total passerine count of 64 was only 60% of our average over 25 years of April count days.

Looking seaward from gathering spot (Lillian Johnson 4-24-22)

The temperature started at 72°F at 8:30 am, a bad place to start, as it can end well (not well) into the 80° by 11:30. We were lucky and it was only 75° when we stopped, although the breeze had died by then. Warm, but not hot. Quite pleasant, in fact, with a clear blue sky. Another you-know-what day in paradise.

Barn Swallow on the beach, taking a break from flycatching on the wing. Note the two long tail feathers jutting out from under the wingtips. (Chris Tosdevin 4-24-22)

We changed the attendance format slightly this month. We still took reservations, raising it from 25 to 30, and the trip was sold out due to the low, low cost of admission (because we pass the savings on to you!), although there are always a few no-shows. Lu Plauzoles was again the co-leader, and this time he came equipped with a microphone connected to a small speaker near his solar plexus. “Saves my voice,” he said, the sound issuing disconcertingly from his stomach instead of his mouth, like some sort of ventriloquist. “Otherwise, I’ll be croaking by eleven.” It looked odd but worked well.

Tide-pooling Willet molts into alternate plumage (Lynzie Flynn 4-24-22)

I don’t know what changes—if any—we’ll make for the May 22 field trip. Look for a trip announcement with details around May 10, and a go/no go announcement two days prior to the trip.

Belted Kingfisher rockets by (Lynzie Flynn 4-24-22)

We had a few avian surprises. The coot population had dropped from 65 last month to one whole bird, but we had six waterfowl species, with Gadwalls amounting to half of the totals. There were eleven species of sandpiper and plover, more than I expected. I also hoped for an oriole, whether Bullock’s or Hooded, but none appeared nor announced their presence.

North viewpoint: pelicans, cormorants, gulls, terns and peeps (Lillian Johnson 4-24-22)
Peep Quiz: Who are they? (Chris Tosdevin 4-24-22)
Does the forward leg of the middle bird look weird to you?

It was really nice to see an Eared Grebe in breeding (alternate) plumage. You can see their ears, for instance, those bushy reddish-brown feather-sprays sprouting from behind their eyes. Most of the time when they’re here they’re in their basic (non-breeding) plumage, but sometimes, just before they leave for the north, they grace us with their finery.

Eared Grebe with water-beaded back (Chris Tosdevin 4-24-22)

Semipalmated Plovers are passing through again, this time on their way north. April is their most reliable month. I looked at the past 12 years and if we’re there (I missed two Aprils), they’re there. I strongly suspect that they’re there in April whether or not we’re there to observe them. [Take that!, Schrödinger wave function collapse fans!] Fifteen birds is a good count for this species, but by no means their highest.

Semipalmated Plover, one of 15 stopping by on their northbound journey (Chris Tosdevin 4-24-22)

The other unexpected sighting was six Spotted Sandpipers. All had spots, unlike the fall and winter birds which are inconveniently spotless. We usually have 1-3 birds spend the whole winter at the lagoon, but not this year; we hadn’t seen one since last August and September. We never have many: the highest count for 168 sighting-days was ten birds on 25 Oct 2015, but we usually have one or two prowling the edge of the lagoon during non-breeding season. The first one we saw (see left bird below) was happily resting on top of a large boulder among the low-tide-exposed rocky tidepools in front of Malibu Colony. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one on the ocean side of the beach before; they really prefer the edges of the lagoon and channels, or even inland of the PCH bridge along the edge of the creek.

Spotted Sandpiper, one of six (Chris Tosdevin 4-24-22)
Tidal sidewalk high and dry
(Lillian Johnson 4-24-22)

Unlike Western and Least Sandpipers (and the occasional Dunlin and Red-necked Stint), they don’t freely associate with other species of small sandpipers (aka ‘Peeps’), and just barely associate with other Spotted Sandpipers. When we have 2-4 at the lagoon, a typical number range, they’re all in different places, not hanging out with each other. This is reminiscent of the very-well-named Solitary Sandpiper. I’ve never seen more than one ‘Solitary’ at a time, anywhere, ever. Perhaps they reproduce by parthenogenesis, or budding off clones of themselves like coral polyps.

Water was lowish in the lagoon; the tidal sidewalk clock was completely dry and mud-free, and the west end of the channels was dry mud.

California Towhee checks out both directions (Lynzie Flynn 4-24-22)

Song Sparrows were singing from the brush in numerous locations. We managed to spot a few. White-crowned Sparrows—unlike Song Sparrows—don’t nest at the lagoon, and have mostly fled. California Towhees were calling. Two male Brown-headed Cowbirds were present; we didn’t see any females. This prompted me to give the group a brief discussion of Cowbirds, Buffalo-birds, Cuckoos and nest parasitism. Fascinating stuff (cue eye-roll).

Tidepooling up & down: Whimbrel & Marbled Godwit (Lynzie Flynn 4-24-22)

Killdeer are probably nesting somewhere on the beach or sandy islands, but we didn’t see any signs of them. Double-crested Cormorants are also up their old tricks with sticks and strands of kelp streaming from their bills, from the beach to their several nesting trees in the shopping center.

The big prize (Double-crested Cormorants (Lynzie Flynn 4-24-22)

There was one group of ten Bushtits, which may still be hanging on as a group since last fall, or may be the result of several new families already fledged and prowling the bushes together. We couldn’t see them well enough to try and tell if they were a mixture of adult and fledglings.

Picnic table corner next-the-colony (Lillian Johnson 4-24-22)

We looked and looked but found no Western Snowy Plovers. Presumably they have all left for their usual nesting grounds farther north. Five days earlier, on 19 April, Grace & Larry had only one WSP at Malibu Lagoon and none at all at Zuma.

It’s not always this easy to discern size difference in Elegant and Royal Terns
(Lynzie Flynn 4-24-22)

Malibu Lagoon on eBird: as of 5-1-22: 5781 lists, 315 species

Birds new for the season: Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, Spotted Sandpiper, Cliff Swallow, House Wren, Brown-headed Cowbird.

Many thanks to photographers: Lynzie Flynn, Lillian Johnson & Chris Tosdevin

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips: We may do this again on May 22, depending on the oncoming Omikron Ba.2…whateva infection wave. Watch for blog announcements.  Reservations will be taken starting May 10. Limit 30 people by reservation only, vaccine card, bring your own equipment. No 10am Children & Parents walk. Maybe we will have some other, different trips if anyone is interested.
Watch the blog for announcements AND for cancellation by 20 May if warranted. Same deal for 26 June lagoon trip; June 10 and 24 will be announcement dates.

The next SMBAS program: Bird Migration at the Bear Divide, San Gabriel Mtns., with Ryan Terrill of Occidental College. Zoom Evening Meeting, Tuesday, 7 June 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.

Allen’s Hummingbird looking gargoylish (Chris Tosdevin 4-24-22)

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 Lillian Johnson, 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 sequence update at the start of each year.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2021-2211/2812/261/232/273/274/24
Tide Lo/Hi HeightL+2.35L+2.58L+2.04H+5.76H+5.00H+4.50
 Tide Time110409000645062106150442
1Canada Goose1042263
1Egyptian Goose   1  
1Cinnamon Teal   2  
1American Wigeon2104 61
1Northern Pintail211   
1Green-winged Teal5151112152
1Surf Scoter  10 153
1Common Goldeneye    2 
1Hooded Merganser 13    
1Red-breasted Merganser1715965 
1Ruddy Duck813 41 
2Pied-billed Grebe353331
2Horned Grebe 1    
2Eared Grebe1  1 1
2Western Grebe  301216 
7Feral Pigeon523201084
7Band-tailed Pigeon   3  
7Eurasian Collared-Dove  1   
7Mourning Dove11 424
8Anna’s Hummingbird12221 
8Allen’s Hummingbird143333
2American Coot2453604973651
5Black-bellied Plover1661045825282
5Semipalmated Plover     15
5Snowy Plover4034 1510 
5Marbled Godwit971321 2
5Ruddy Turnstone 165  
5Sanderling22221 452
5Dunlin     1
5Least Sandpiper33512201050
5Western Sandpiper1 1113530
5Spotted Sandpiper     6
6Bonaparte’s Gull 21   
6Heermann’s Gull5326451815
6Ring-billed Gull28170401751665
6Western Gull928595889557
6California Gull51537092551018535
6Herring Gull1 212 
6Glaucous-winged Gull 25586
6Caspian Tern   1812
6Royal Tern  523518
6Elegant Tern    6220
2Red-throated Loon 112  
2Pacific Loon  12  
2Common Loon  21  
2Black-vented Shearwater  1000   
2Brandt’s Cormorant1016151
2Pelagic Cormorant4112311
2Double-crested Cormorant523945513326
2Brown Pelican9944110152368
3Great Blue Heron344211
3Great Egret172 53
3Snowy Egret4246341
3Green Heron 21   
3Black-crowned Night-Heron 15   
4Turkey Vulture 1 153
4Cooper’s Hawk1211  
4Red-shouldered Hawk 111  
4Red-tailed Hawk1111  
8Belted Kingfisher  1111
8Downy Woodpecker 1    
8Nuttall’s Woodpecker 1    
8Hairy Woodpecker1     
4Merlin  1   
9Black Phoebe44433 
9Say’s Phoebe   1  
9California Scrub-Jay 22321
9American Crow1742064
9Common Raven  1   
9Oak Titmouse  1   
9Tree Swallow  2   
9No. Rough-winged Swallow    24
9Barn Swallow 2  48
9Cliff Swallow     8
9Bushtit48 124410
9Wrentit 1  2 
9Ruby-crowned Kinglet1     
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher41 2  
9House Wren1    2
9Bewick’s Wren 4    
9Northern Mockingbird 11 11
9European Starling319153032
9Hermit Thrush 11   
9House Finch18885156
9Lesser Goldfinch2242 2
9Dark-eyed Junco 243  
9White-crowned Sparrow15173525202
9Savannah Sparrow 1    
9Song Sparrow7866107
9California Towhee242222
9Red-winged Blackbird   2 1
9Brown-headed Cowbird     2
9Great-tailed Grackle371352
9Orange-crowned Warbler2 1   
9Common Yellowthroat56311 
9Yellow-rumped Warbler19201061 
Totals by TypeNovDecJanFebMarApr
2Water Birds – Other414452125916414699
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis838185105
4Quail & Raptors365563
6Gulls & Terns6896551118783363428
8Other Non-Passerines386654
 Totals Birds1689168227671247894774
 Total SpeciesNovDecJanFebMarApr
2Water Birds – Other78111177
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis355233
4Quail & Raptors355521
6Gulls & Terns568898
8Other Non-Passerines343332
Totals Species – 103576972675957

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: