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Black Skimmers & Night-Herons: Malibu Lagoon, 28 August 2022

August 31, 2022

[Chuck Almdale]

Double-crested Cormorant, getting a grip (Chris Tosdevin 8/28/22)

It’s easy to tell when surf is high: the Pacific Coast Highway free parking areas are jampacked with cars and surfers are waxing boards in the paid-parking lot. Waves packed with surfers is the secondary sign.

Lagoon, low beach, birds & clouds. What looks like rain in the distance is likely an illusion. It never rains in August. (Lillian Johnson 8/28/22)

It began with overcast and a comfortable 72°. By 10:30 it was 79°. But that’s the beach. It went above 100° in the valley over the hill. Definitely warm.

Allen’s Hummingbird (Blair Lord 8/28/22)

Migrating shorebirds are still arriving. Six new-for-the-season species (see list below) in addition to last month’s five newbies. Best of the lot was the single Red-necked Phalarope who was not too late whatever some might say, and two Black Turnstones. The latter species generally prefer rocky shorelines, but Malibu Lagoon lacks those, so they make do with the sand, alongside the Ruddy Turnstones (or “The Turnstone” for you Europeans). When the tide is low, the Black Turnstones may go to the outer rocks, but as the tide was approaching its 11:02am high, waves were washing over their tops.

Lagoonside Black Turnstone (Chris Tosdevin 8/28/22)

Here’s a little story** for those who’ve birded in England.

Thomas Hewitt-Frothingfield Edwardson was one of the greatest ornithologists/birders England was ever to witness and in the 17th century — birding without benefit of binoculars or telescope — he found first specimens of many of the sceptered isle’s limited avifauna. For this diligent work, the British birding community repeatedly honored him by utilizing his name in a great many of their English (non-scientific) bird names. But the name was long and cumbersome and the locals quickly shortened it to his initials. Thus in England we find T.H.E.’s Oystercatcher, T.H.E.’s Turnstone, T.H.E.’s Night-Heron, T.H.E.’s Kestrel, T.H.E.’s Night-Heron, T.H.E.’s Puffin, T.H.E.’s Cuckoo, T.H.E.’s Nightjar, T.H.E.’s Swift, T.H.E.’s Kingfisher, T.H.E.’s Nuthatch, T.H.E.’s Wren, and a few others. Over the decades and through the morphological changes languages typically undergo, British birdos compacted the initials and dropped the “‘s,” arriving at today’s “The.” That’s why they say “The Night-Heron,” “The Oystercatcher,” The Wren” and so on all the time. But the remarkable frequency of this honorific is due to Thomas Hewitt-Frothingfield Edwardson, birder extraordinaire, now almost entirely forgotten.

Dark Ruddy Turnstone (“The” Turnstone), above two photos (Joyce Waterman 11/22/15)

Some juvenile Ruddy Turnstones (above) can look like a Black Turnstone. Very dark juvenile Ruddy Turnstones have turned up at the lagoon for years. Uncertain as to what they were, we contacted an authority who advised us they were indeed Ruddys, and they were relatively common along the Arctic coast of Alaska.

Cloudy morning start (Lillian Johnson 8/28/22)

Back to real life.

Another Pelagic Cormorant is ready for her close-up (Blair Lord 8/28/22)
For many months last year a Pelagic Cormorant sat at this exact spot, seemingly staring at the camera. Most likely this is the same one, still waiting for a call from her agent.

Baby American Coots are surprisingly colorful. (Larry Loeher 8/26/22). Here’s a thesis waiting to be written. Why are they colorful, when most precocial young are cryptic?

American Coot numbers are still in their summer lows and will probably pop up over 100 next month. But just to prove that they do breed at the lagoon — along with Gadwall, Mallard, Killdeer and assorted passerines — here’s one family, out and about with the kids.

The coot family. (Larry Loeher 8/26/22) While feeding, each adult had one chick. Notice the stubby little wings on the chicks.

Pied-billed Grebes don’t breed here, but might if there were more reeds. They build floating nests of reeds, but the various reed beds in the channels are too small and insufficiently dense for them.

Pied-billed Grebes (Chris Tosdevin 8/28/22)

Not so for the Common Yellowthroat, who have nested among the reeds and bushes for decades. I hereby nominate the name “Tosdevin’s Crombec-Warbler” for our local, tail-less version.

Common Yellowthroat (Chris Tosdevin 8/28/22)

Here’s a Red-faced Crombec from Africa for comparison. Again, no tail.

We get Black Skimmers more often that one might expect (12% of the most recent 147 visits), and a few more dropped in today. They feed by skimming just above the water, with their elongated lower mandible cutting through the surface. When they sense something worth eating, the quickly (very quickly!) snap it up. I keep waiting for one of them to hit something solid and flip end-over-end, but I’ve never seen it happen.

Black Skimmer (Ray Juncosa 8/28/22)

Our chapter’s first record of skimmers at the lagoon was a single bird on 12/22/02. Since then we’ve seen them 25 times with a total of 224 birds. 138 of those were in July & August 2010. Most sightings are in Feb-Mar and Jul-Aug, just before and just after their breeding season. Some of them — perhaps most of our local birds — nest down at Bolsa Chica in Orange County. If you go there during the spring to see them breeding, along with many thousands of terns, be aware that there’s been a rash of car break-ins there.

Black Skimmer (Ray Juncosa 8/28/22)

Today we had a total of three. Most sightings at the lagoon are of 1-3 birds. One of them was a juvenile born this year. Because of their feeding style, they need calm water. You may see them flying over the ocean, but I doubt they’ll be trying to catch something there. Too many waves.

Three Black Skimmers (Ray Juncosa 8/28/22)

Skimmer photos from prior trips: 8-22-10, 9-1-10 (egg update), 3-2-14 (Knobby), 8-23-15, 3-26-17

A lovely puffed-up Mourning Dove (Chris Tosdevin 8/28/22)

Semipalmated Plover (Grace Murayama 8/26/22). 89% of our Semipalmated Plover sightings are in April and July-September. They breed in the Arctic and winter in Mexico. Here, they’re just passing through.

Our Western Snowy Plovers — one cooling his/her feet above on wet wood (Larry Loeher 8/26/22) — are almost the opposite. They’re reliably here late June to late April, and breed elsewhere. We had 20 today.

Look carefully at the photo below. There are two birds in it. Are the the same species? What are they?

Here’s a close-up of the upper bird. What is it?

If you said Night-Heron, you’re right. But they are two species of Night-Heron.
Yes…after many months of people reporting sightings NOT during our field trips, we finally had a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron show up for us. It’s in the bottom photo, and the top bird in the top photo. The other bird is of course a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron. I’ll let you work out the differences with the help of your field guide.

Well…it showed up for a few of us, anyway. Most of us, including me, did not go all the way around the lagoon to the Adamson House fence where the YCNH has previously been sighted, where it was today, and where I searched diligently for it last month but to no avail. (Cue: great gnashing of teeth) Last month, from across the lagoon, I could swear I had the bird, but when I reached the fence, alas, only a Black-crowned was to be seen. Now we find the two species in the same blasted bush! that I was looking at last month. Pretty sneaky, I say. Anyway…kudos to Chris Tosdevin and Blair Lord (on loan to us from Pasadena Audubon) for making the extra effort and getting these photos.
(Photos: Top – Blair Lord 8/28/22; bottom – Chris Tosdevin 8/28/22)

Willet (Grace Murayama 8/26/22)

Great Blue Heron & fish (Larry Loeher 8/26/22)

South Channel (Lillian Johnson 8/28/22)

**NOTE: The above story about Thomas Hewitt-Frothingfield Edwardson is completely fictitious. But you knew that.

Birds new for the season: Long-billed Curlew, Black Turnstone, Sanderling, Short-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Black Skimmer, Violet-green Swallow, Bewick’s Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler.  

Malibu Lagoon on eBird as of 8-31-22: 6206 lists, 314 species

Many thanks to photographers: Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa, Larry Loeher, Blair Lord, Grace Murayama, Chris Tosdevin

Whimbrels in repose (Ray Juncosa 8/28/22)

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips: Our next trip will be Malibu Lagoon on September 25. 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.

California Scrub Jay with acorn (Blair Lord 8/28/22)

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

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

Prior checklists:
2021: Jan-July
July-Dec 2022: Jan-June
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 20223/274/245/226/267/248/28
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+5.00H+4.50L-0.32H+3.33H+3.35H+4.49
 Tide Time061504421029094309091102
1(Black) Brant  6   
1Canada Goose63    
1American Wigeon612   
1Green-winged Teal152    
1Surf Scoter153    
1Common Goldeneye2     
1Red-breasted Merganser5     
1Ruddy Duck1     
2Pied-billed Grebe31 124
2Eared Grebe 1    
2Western Grebe16     
7Feral Pigeon84681710
7Band-tailed Pigeon   1  
7Mourning Dove24 225
8Anna’s Hummingbird1 1   
8Allen’s Hummingbird331233
2American Coot65144812
5Black-bellied Plover2821 1779
5Semipalmated Plover 15  115
5Snowy Plover10   1320
5Whimbrel82 38837
5Long-billed Curlew     1
5Marbled Godwit 2  16
5Ruddy Turnstone    34
5Black Turnstone     2
5Sanderling452   25
5Dunlin 1    
5Least Sandpiper1050  810
5Western Sandpiper3530  125
5Short-billed Dowitcher     2
5Long-billed Dowitcher    1 
5Spotted Sandpiper 61  1
5Willet62  748
5Red-necked Phalarope  1  1
6Heermann’s Gull81542752
6Ring-billed Gull1665    
6Western Gull9557955514553
6California Gull18535333321
6Herring Gull2     
6Glaucous-winged Gull86  1 
6Caspian Tern812152218 
6Forster’s Tern    1 
6Royal Tern351833256
6Elegant Tern622024 475255
6Black Skimmer     3
2Brandt’s Cormorant5150   
2Pelagic Cormorant112 21
2Double-crested Cormorant332622466268
2Brown Pelican23686512685112
3Great Blue Heron112352
3Great Egret532433
3Snowy Egret41121214
3Reddish Egret    1 
3Black-crowned Night-Heron   482
4Yellow-crowned Night-Heron     1
4Turkey Vulture5344 1
4Osprey1  11 
8Belted Kingfisher11    
9Black Phoebe3 2545
9California Scrub-Jay21 132
9American Crow6445117
9Common Raven  2   
9Oak Titmouse    2 
9Violet-green Swallow     1
9No. Rough-winged Swallow248 14
9Barn Swallow4815203028
9Cliff Swallow 84 31
9Bushtit410 81015
9Wrentit2 2 1 
9House Wren 2 111
9Bewick’s Wren     1
9Northern Mockingbird11 13 
9European Starling321   
9House Finch1561210128
9Lesser Goldfinch 2 1 3
9White-crowned Sparrow202    
9Song Sparrow10710426
9California Towhee2221 1
9Red-winged Blackbird 1  625
9Brown-headed Cowbird 21   
9Great-tailed Grackle521664
9Orange-crowned Warbler     1
9Common Yellowthroat1   24
9Yellow-rumped Warbler1     
Totals by TypeMarAprMayJunJulAug
2Water Birds – Other14699143177159197
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis1055132922
4Quail & Raptors634511
6Gulls & Terns363428174110673340
8Other Non-Passerines542233
 Totals Birds89477445243712221073
 Total SpeciesMarAprMayJunJulAug
2Water Birds – Other775455
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis333455
4Quail & Raptors211211
6Gulls & Terns986586
8Other Non-Passerines322111
Totals Species595739355156

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