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Pelicans & Phalaropes: Malibu Lagoon, 22 May 2022

May 28, 2022

[By Chuck Almdale]

Look for the mystery bird photo just above the trip list.

Lagoon, beach, pier and cloud fog (Lillian Johnson 5-22-22)

The fog kept the temperature comfortable. Big ones were rolling in at the beach, and the waves were covered with surfers. Outsiders kept appearing, and the surfers were too close in to catch them, always a disappointment for surfers and watchers alike.

Surfers find their way through the stones (L. Johnson 5-22-22)

It’s spring, (pre)-June gloom is here, and our birds are disappearing to the north. A few might be back by late June—Western Snowy Plovers, for example—but June is normally the month for low numbers and low diversity. Today we had only 452 birds in 39 species.

Turkey Vulture (Ray Juncosa 5-22-22)

That seemed a bit low for May, so I decided to check. It turns out that:
10 Mays 2012-2021 low-high range: 262-918 birds, 30-55 species
10 Mays 2012-2021 average: 530 birds, 42 species (rounded)
5/22/22 below the prior 10-year average: 15% birds, 7% species
So…below average but within ‘normal operating parameters,’ to misuse a phrase.

Barn Swallows oft’ were o’er the beach (Chris Tosdevin 5-22-22)

Most notably absent were the sandpipers (‘shorebirds,’ ‘waders,’ ‘peeps’). Two whole birds! (if you exclude the plovers).

During the winter the Spotted Sandpipers are spotless (R. Juncosa 5-22-22)

But one of them was a ‘good’ bird: a female Red-necked Phalarope. We get some of these irregularly during migration, but not many and not often. Here’s a few numbers: Out of 299 census dates, we’ve seen 70 birds total over 19 sightings. Sightings are: 2 in Apr, 3 in May, 1 in July, 7 in Aug, 5 in Sep, 1 in Nov. So August and September are your best bets, followed by May.

Red-necked Phalarope female seen a week earlier (Mel Raab 5-15-22)

There may have been something wrong with this bird. I got an email from Mel Raab who sent me a photo of a female taken on May 15 walking on the pebbled shore (of the lagoon, I believe). When we saw the bird on 5/22, a week later, it looks like it may be the same bird and it’s also walking on the shore.

Left: Brown Pelican [dead] and Red-necked Phalarope. (R. Juncosa 5-22-22)
Right: Red-necked Phalarope a bit closer. (C. Tosdevin 5-22-22)

Two passing birders said they’d seen it in the water earlier. When the bulk of our group laid eyes on it, she was walking up the sand from the water. So it’s not paralyzed or at the edge of death. Just tired, perhaps. Or…a totally different female; two birds, one at a time, a week apart. Yes, these things happen and the birds frequently fail to keep us updated on their plans.

Song Sparrow: eat and sing, sing and eat. Repeat. (L. Flynn + C. Tosdevin 5-22-22)

Phalaropes feed in the water, often by twirling in a circle which creates a little whirlpool that brings up tiny edibles from below which the bird can pick off the surface or close to the surface with it’s very thin bill. I’ve never seen one walk up and down the shore like a Least Sandpiper looking for something to grab.

Pelicans and cormorants (L. Johnson 5-22-22)

Phalaropes are also among the few avian species that are polyandrous—females take more than one mate. Female phalaropes are also more colorful than the males, a situation known as ‘reversed sexual dimorphism;’ ‘reversed’ because when the sexes look different, it’s usually the male that is more colorful. Some polyandrous females mate sequentially, breeding with one male, then traipsing off to find another, then another, and then another if time and weather permits.

Squirrels eating. What do you think that orange thing is; – a cocktail wiener?
(L. Flynn 5-22-22 & G. Murayama 5-26-22)

Other polyandrous females mate with several males at the same time. Some of the Jacana species do it this way. I haven’t been able to find out how many bird species in the world are polyandrous. When I wrote a 3-part article about polyandry and reversed sexual dimorphism six years ago, I discussed 17 polyandrous species, but found mention of about 40 polyandrous species in total—not many (0.37%) out of 10,800 species of birds.

Caspian Terns: head, shoulders & tail above Elegant Terns.
Not really; it’s an optical illusion. (R. Juncosa 5-22-22)

Most of the gulls have left, and the tern population dropped significantly as well. The Double-crested Cormorants were sitting on the stones in the lagoon, the Pelagic Cormorants were swimming in the near-surf zone, and the 50 Brandt’s Cormorants were a fly-by flock.

Brown Pelicans, flying (Lynzie Flynn 5-22-22)

There has been a drop in the local population of whatever fish the Brown Pelicans like to eat. Some of them are starving to death, literally, and we saw perhaps six pelican corpses on the edges of the lagoon and on the beach. One such corpse was in close proximity to the sleeping Red-necked Phalarope.

Brown Pelican, awake (G. Murayama 5-26-22)
Brown Pelican, asleep (G. Murayama 5-26-22)
Brown Pelican, dead (G. Murayama 5-26-22)

Once again we did not—as expected—see any Western Snowy Plovers. They’re just not here this time of year, unless a pair decides to mate and nest here. But oftentimes a few birds have returned by the time of the June trip, back from breeding somewhere farther north.

The often heard but rarely seen Wrentit appeared briefly at ‘picnic corner.’
(L. Flynn 5-22-22)

Birds new for the season: Brant, Red-necked Phalarope, Common Raven.

Heermann’s Gull 2nd year. All the adults have gone to nest
at Isla Rasa in the Sea of Cortez. (G. Murayama 5-26-22)

Malibu Lagoon on eBird as of 5-28-22: 5842 lists, 313 species

Male Gadwall. Gadwalls and Mallards will probably nest
at the lagoon again this year. (R. Juncosa 5-22-22)

Many thanks to photographers: Lynzie Floyd, Lillian Johnson, Grace Murayama, Mel Raab, Chris Tosdevin

Low tide, fog out to sea (L. Johnson 5-22-22)

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips: Our next trip will be Malibu Lagoon on June 26. This, and any other trip we announce will—for the foreseeable future—be dependent upon the expected status of the Covid pandemic at trip time. Any trip announced may be canceled shortly before trip date if it seems necessary. By now any other comments about this topic should be superfluous.

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, if desired, with parents and small children.

Not a bird commonly seen at Malibu Lagoon. What is it? (Mel Raab 5-15-22)

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 Lynzie Floyd, Lillian Johnson, Chris Lord, Grace Murayama, Mel Raab, 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 with 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 2021-2212/261/232/273/274/245/22
Tide Lo/Hi HeightL+2.58L+2.04H+5.76H+5.00H+4.50L-0.32
 Tide Time090006450621061504421029
1(Black) Brant     6
1Canada Goose42263 
1Egyptian Goose  1   
1Cinnamon Teal  2   
1American Wigeon104 612
1Northern Pintail11    
1Green-winged Teal151112152 
1Surf Scoter 10 153 
1Common Goldeneye   2  
1Hooded Merganser13     
1Red-breasted Merganser15965  
1Ruddy Duck13 41  
2Pied-billed Grebe53331 
2Horned Grebe1     
2Eared Grebe  1 1 
2Western Grebe 301216  
7Feral Pigeon32010846
7Band-tailed Pigeon  3   
7Eurasian Collared-Dove 1    
7Mourning Dove1 424 
8Anna’s Hummingbird2221 1
8Allen’s Hummingbird433331
2American Coot36049736514
5Black-bellied Plover10458252821
5Semipalmated Plover    15 
5Snowy Plover34 1510  
5Marbled Godwit71321 2 
5Ruddy Turnstone165   
5Sanderling221 452 
5Dunlin    1 
5Least Sandpiper3512201050 
5Western Sandpiper 1113530 
5Spotted Sandpiper    61
5Red-necked Phalarope     1
6Bonaparte’s Gull21    
6Heermann’s Gull264518154
6Ring-billed Gull170401751665 
6Western Gull859588955795
6California Gull3709255101853533
6Herring Gull 212  
6Glaucous-winged Gull25586 
6Caspian Tern  181215
6Royal Tern 5235183
6Elegant Tern   622024
2Red-throated Loon112   
2Pacific Loon 12   
2Common Loon 21   
2Black-vented Shearwater 1000    
2Brandt’s Cormorant1615150
2Pelagic Cormorant1123112
2Double-crested Cormorant394551332622
2Brown Pelican4411015236865
3Great Blue Heron442112
3Great Egret72 532
3Snowy Egret2463411
3Green Heron21    
3Black-crowned Night-Heron15    
4Turkey Vulture1 1534
4Cooper’s Hawk211   
4Red-shouldered Hawk111   
4Red-tailed Hawk111   
8Belted Kingfisher 1111 
8Downy Woodpecker1     
8Nuttall’s Woodpecker1     
4Merlin 1    
9Black Phoebe4433 2
9Say’s Phoebe  1   
9California Scrub-Jay22321 
9American Crow7420644
9Common Raven 1   2
9Oak Titmouse 1    
9Tree Swallow 2    
9No. Rough-winged Swallow   248
9Barn Swallow2  4815
9Cliff Swallow    84
9Bushtit 124410 
9Wrentit1  2 2
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher1 2   
9House Wren    2 
9Bewick’s Wren4     
9Northern Mockingbird11 11 
9European Starling91530321
9Hermit Thrush11    
9House Finch88515612
9Lesser Goldfinch242 2 
9Dark-eyed Junco243   
9White-crowned Sparrow173525202 
9Savannah Sparrow1     
9Song Sparrow86610710
9California Towhee422222
9Red-winged Blackbird  2 1 
9Brown-headed Cowbird    21
9Great-tailed Grackle713521
9Orange-crowned Warbler 1    
9Common Yellowthroat6311  
9Yellow-rumped Warbler201061  
Totals by TypeDecJanFebMarAprMay
2Water Birds – Other452125916414699143
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis381851055
4Quail & Raptors655634
6Gulls & Terns6551118783363428174
8Other Non-Passerines866542
 Totals Birds168227671247894774452
 Total SpeciesDecJanFebMarAprMay
2Water Birds – Other81111775
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis552333
4Quail & Raptors555211
6Gulls & Terns688986
8Other Non-Passerines433322
Totals Species – 103697267595739

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