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Birds special, birds returning: Malibu Lagoon, 24 July 2022

August 6, 2022

[By Chuck Almdale]

Boot-toe island in the channel. You need an aerial view to see the boot or the toe. (L. Johnson 7-24-22)

We don’t have “July Gloom” because it doesn’t rhyme, so it’s always “June Gloom” whether it’s March or June or October. For November through February it’s “winter low clouds.” So if the sky looks gray and cloudy in our photos, it’s still “June Gloom.” Remember that. There will be a test.

Snowy Egret, feeling plumish (C. Tosdevin 7/24/22)

The clouds kept temperatures quite pleasant: 70-73°F. I suppose those on the sand, lying, trying to get a nice “healthy glow” as we used to say before our skin cracked and and flaked and fell off, leaving us scarred and saggy — they would prefer that the sun shown in the summer as it is contractually obligated to do, but those of us who know better…well, we know better. They’ll be grateful in 40 years.

Glaucous-winged Gull with wing coverts feathers worn down to the shafts. (C. Tosdevin 7/24/22)
The Winter Ramp-Summer Clock, mostly dry, but wet at the far end and the curvy part of the sidewalk was under water. Those seemingly-yellowish rectangles along the left side are the water level markers.

Speaking of things to remember, there is that weird-looking curving sidewalk that is sometimes under water and has numbers along it. It was installed about a decade ago during the 2012-13 reconfiguration of the lagoon. It’s called the “Winter Ramp-Summer Clock.” There’s been a page on our blog [we also have permanent pages, not merely blog postings] for only nine years, devoted entirely to it and detailing the construction process, so it’s understandable that you might have missed it.

It was specifically designed to be “sometimes under water” as it measures the water level in the lagoon. (It’s really tough to measure water level without something being under water at least part of the time.) I don’t know if this piece of civic architecture satisfies a great public need other than giving people something to complain about. “What idiot designed this thing? It’s under water!” I cannot say how many times I’ve heard this. No one notices the colored tile plaques marking water level. That’s partially because the paving and plaques gets covered with slimy muck (aka algae) when the water is high.

The previously wet 8-foot 0.8-inch marker tile. At the time of our visit the sidewalk was wet to the 7-foot 7.8-inch level.

The numbers then become covered with muck, and the muck is ugly and slippery and then no one in their right mind walks down the summer clock sidewalk because sometimes it’s also underwater! So, for what’s it’s worth, that’s what it’s called and that’s what it does. This will not be on the test because although I know it has a name, I can never remember what it is. Despite all the foregoing, I still think it’s kind of cool.

View of picnic area, curving summer clock sidewalk by the water. (L. Johnson 7-24-22)
Plovers: Black-bellied, Semipalmated & Western Snowy
(Left+Center: C. Tosdevin 7/24/22, Right: L. Loeher 7/29/22)

That aside, we had a few good birds today. (Of course, all these birds always think they’re good.) Species numbers jumped from our typical low month for the year – June’s 35 species – to a respectable 51 in July (see chart at bottom). Birds were returning from the north: Semipalmated Plover, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Long-billed Dowitcher, Willet, Glaucous-winged Gull, Forster’s Tern.

Barn Swallow feeding frenzy (C. Tosdevin 7/24/22)

Plus a few local passerines were out and about after springtime’s busy breeding season ended: Oak Titmouse, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Yellowthroat. Barn Swallows, if they’re here, are always flying around and sitting in highly visible places. The Yellowthroats breed at the lagoon (I believe – I’ve never seen their nest, and I’d be shocked it I did – but they’re nearly always here) but we’ve missed them for the past few months.

Barn Swallow taking some “me time.” (R. Juncosa 7/24/22)

There were also a few especially good birds. Such as the Reddish Egret.

Reddish Egret (Chris Tosdevin 7/24/22)

It’s not that the the Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) is terrifically rare in SoCal. They’ve been around for over three decades. The first one I ever saw was in Del Mar (San Diego County) in 1986, jumping around in San Dieguito Creek. If you’re used to the slow and sedate feeding style of most herons/egrets, they’re not like that at all; they jump and dance and chase fish around in the shallow water. They’re a lot of fun to watch. The only heron/egret that’s more fun to watch is the Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, which can be easily mistaken for a black umbrella some fool left standing up in the pond. (Notice that genus Egretta has both egret and heron members).

Reddish Egret, searching, searching (Chris Tosdevin 7/24/22)

But there aren’t many Reddish Egrets around and Malibu Lagoon is not at all a reliable place to look for them. I’ve birded at Malibu Lagoon since 1979 and this was the first I’ve seen here. And it was a treat. eBird records the first Reddish Egret at Malibu Lagoon on 1 May 2014, and maybe 95 sightings since then, but most of those sightings are of the same few birds, probably under half a dozen (if anyone knows how many different Reddish Egrets have been at the lagoon, let me know). Birders tend to flock to see this bird, especially if they want to see it in L.A. County. Out of the 313 (or 314, but who’s counting) species on eBird records at the lagoon, the Reddish Egret was #293 in order of date.

Reddish Egret (L – Larry Loeher, R – Grace Murayama 7/29/22)

The Reddish Egret was still there five days later, when Grace and Larry took these photos. As I said, they jump and run around and wave their wings. They do get more reddish than this bird, but mostly on the neck.

Long-billed Dowitcher, 3.5″ shorter than Willet and far less bulky (Ray Juncosa 7/24/22)

The other relatively good bird was the Long-billed Dowitcher. Now, we get them every year at the lagoon, but never in large numbers and not for very long, and this one was in especially colorful plumage, thus nice to see. We could even figure out that it was a Long-billed rather than a Short-billed Dowitcher, which can be far from simple except for birders better than me. [It’s not a “dowager,” as on Downton Abbey. The name used to be dowitchee, doewitch or dowitch, corruptions of Deutsher (German) or Duitsch (Dutch). In England it is (or used to be) called the Red-breasted Snipe. With that long straight bill, they look a lot like snipe.]

Long-billed Dowitcher (Chris Tosdevin 7/24/22)

According to Jon Dunn & Kimball Garrett’s Birds of Southern California: Status and Distribution (1981), along the SoCal coast:
Long-billed presence: Common to abundant late Aug to late Apr; fairly common late Apr to early May & late Jul to late Aug; uncommon early-to-late July; casual or rare individuals early May to early July.

Short-billed presence: Common to abundant mid-to-late Apr & mid-July to mid-Sept; fairly common mid-Mar to mid-Apr, early-to-mid May, late June to mid-July, and mid-to-late Sept; uncommon Oct thru mid-Mar & mid-Mar thru June. They also winter along the coast at a few large marshes such as San Diego Bay and Seal Beach NWS.

For our trips at Malibu Lagoon for 301 trip dates, the sightings are almost even, but the Long-billed outnumber the Short-billed:
Long-billed: 34 visits, 208 birds.
Short-billed: 29 visits, 120 birds.
Here’s a “cheat-sheet” of dowitcher characteristics. Download/print here.
Pretend that you didn’t already know which species it is, and see if you can use it to figure out.

Check the bill-tip on the right-hand bird below.

Long-billed Dowitcher (Chris Tosdevin 7/24/22)

That’s how they grab invertebrates when they shove their bill into the sand or mud. Controllable flexi-tip.

Our last “special bird” was the juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. It had been reported earlier in the week and we were on the lookout for it all morning, with two adults and six juveniles constantly shifting positions to repeatedly comb through. Finally, lurking on the shore by the Adamson House fence, disappearing and reappearing as it walked between and through the bushes overhanging the water we found it. Chris and Lu went over to see it close-up, instead of from 200 yards away, and Chris got a photo.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron. From a distance we thought/hoped it was the Yellow-crowned. (C. Tosdevin 7/24/22)

No, it’s definitely not a Black-crowned, but it sure looked like one much farther away, when you could only see the top of the bill and a direct frontal view made the bill look short and we could not see the back. (Reasons, not excuses! Reasons!) The breast-streaks did look a little too reddish and wide. So it goes, as famous birder Kurt Vonnegut once wrote.

Least Sandpiper (Grace Murayama 7/29/22)
Western & Least Sandpipers – which is which? (Grace Murayama 7/29/22)

The Snowy Plovers are definitely back, hanging around the southeastern corner of the lagoon. I saw five hunkered down in little hollows in the sand; Chris Tosdevin saw thirteen, and Grace & Larry saw sixteen five days later.

Ruddy Turnstone still in bright breeding plumage. (C. Tosdevin 7/24/22)

By the way, if you see a large, older man drawing on a pad of paper in the meeting area or at the nearby picnic tables, his name is Real. If you’re polite he might show you some of his artwork. His style reminds me of the multidirectional point-of-view (that’s my term for it) work of the First Americans of the Pacific Northwest and the Inuit, blended with the somewhat similar style but far more colorful work of the Australian Aboriginal artists. (I like those artistic traditions, so I’m predisposed to like Real’s work.) He’s very good. Perhaps a local Malibu gallery might be interested in showing it. (Hint, hint.)

Pied-billed Grebe (C. Tosdevin 7/24/22)

Malibu Lagoon on eBird as of 8-04-22: 5981 lists, 313 species.
A question for those of you who use eBird: Is there some way to get sighting dates for a particular species at a particular Hot Spot – say, Reddish Egret at Malibu Lagoon? I can’t figure out how to do it. Their line graphs are useless as far as I’m concerned.

Birds new for the season: Semipalmated Plover, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Long-billed Dowitcher, Willet, Glaucous-winged Gull, Forster’s Tern, Reddish Egret, Oak Titmouse, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Yellowthroat.

Malibu Lagoon on eBird as of 6-27-22: 5873 lists, 313 species

Many thanks to photographers: Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa, Grace Murayama, Chris Tosdevin

Snag in water is almost submerged (L. Johnson 7-24-22)

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips: Our next trip will be Malibu Lagoon on August 28. This, and any other trip we announce for the foreseeable future will 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 should be superfluous.

The next SMBAS program: Zoom Evening Meeting, Tuesday, 4 October 2022, 7:30 p.m. We will continue to Zoom our programs for a while.

The SMBAS 10 a.m. Parent’s & Kids Birdwalk is currently under discussion concerning resumption.

Osprey: “Did you bring a fish? I forgot mine.” (C. Tosdevin 7/24/22)

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 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 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 20222/273/274/245/226/267/24
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+5.76H+5.00H+4.50L-0.32H+3.33H+3.35
 Tide Time062106150442102909430909
1(Black) Brant   6  
1Canada Goose263   
1Egyptian Goose1     
1Cinnamon Teal2     
1American Wigeon 612  
1Green-winged Teal12152   
1Surf Scoter 153   
1Common Goldeneye 2    
1Red-breasted Merganser65    
1Ruddy Duck41    
2Pied-billed Grebe331 12
2Eared Grebe1 1   
2Western Grebe1216    
7Feral Pigeon10846817
7Band-tailed Pigeon3   1 
7Mourning Dove424 22
8Anna’s Hummingbird21 1  
8Allen’s Hummingbird333123
2American Coot73651448
5Black-bellied Plover252821 17
5Semipalmated Plover  15  1
5Snowy Plover1510   13
5Whimbrel282 388
5Marbled Godwit1 2  1
5Ruddy Turnstone5    3
5Sanderling 452   
5Dunlin  1   
5Least Sandpiper201050  8
5Western Sandpiper113530  1
5Long-billed Dowitcher     1
5Spotted Sandpiper  61  
5Willet862  7
5Red-necked Phalarope   1  
6Heermann’s Gull18154275
6Ring-billed Gull1751665   
6Western Gull8895579555145
6California Gull510185353333
6Herring Gull12    
6Glaucous-winged Gull586  1
6Caspian Tern1812152218
6Forster’s Tern     1
6Royal Tern235183325
6Elegant Tern 622024 475
2Red-throated Loon2     
2Pacific Loon2     
2Common Loon1     
2Brandt’s Cormorant15150  
2Pelagic Cormorant3112 2
2Double-crested Cormorant513326224662
2Brown Pelican1523686512685
3Great Blue Heron211235
3Great Egret 53243
3Snowy Egret3411212
3Reddish Egret     1
3Black-crowned Night-Heron    48
4Turkey Vulture15344 
4Osprey11  11
4Cooper’s Hawk1     
4Red-shouldered Hawk1     
4Red-tailed Hawk1     
8Belted Kingfisher111   
9Black Phoebe33 254
9Say’s Phoebe1     
9California Scrub-Jay321 13
9American Crow2064451
9Common Raven   2  
9Oak Titmouse     2
9No. Rough-winged Swallow 248 1
9Barn Swallow 48152030
9Cliff Swallow  84 3
9Bushtit4410 810
9Wrentit 2 2 1
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher2     
9House Wren  2 11
9Northern Mockingbird 11 13
9European Starling30321  
9House Finch5156121012
9Lesser Goldfinch2 2 1 
9Dark-eyed Junco3     
9White-crowned Sparrow25202   
9Song Sparrow61071042
9California Towhee22221 
9Red-winged Blackbird2 1  6
9Brown-headed Cowbird  21  
9Great-tailed Grackle352166
9Common Yellowthroat11   2
9Yellow-rumped Warbler61    
Totals by TypeFebMarAprMayJunJul
2Water Birds – Other16414699143177159
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis510551329
4Quail & Raptors563451
6Gulls & Terns783363428174110673
8Other Non-Passerines654223
 Totals Birds12478947744524371222
 Total SpeciesFebMarAprMayJunJul
2Water Birds – Other1177545
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis233345
4Quail & Raptors521121
6Gulls & Terns898658
8Other Non-Passerines332211
Totals Species – 91675957393551

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