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Shorebirds and Checklists: Malibu Lagoon, 25 September 2022

October 7, 2022

[Chuck Almdale]

Moon phases cause this high-sand-of-the-month phenomena (Grace Murayama 9-23-22)

Today was hot—for the beach—surf was high and surfers aplenty. Between the virtual Snowy Plover enclosure fence and the water the beach was narrow and a bit crowded. (Not crowded like Coney Island in August, to be sure.)

In summer, the astute birder brings her own shade (R. Juncosa 9-25-22)

We still have many of our Mallards and Gadwalls who nested here this year, and the northern-nesting ducks are just beginning to return, as demonstrated by three whole Ruddy Ducks, paddling and diving far across the lagoon. Thus no photo. There were six Pied-billed Grebes, two or three of which were young birds, still downy with bright red, white and black heads. It’s odd for young birds to be more brightly colored than the adults, but that’s PBG’s for you.

An exceptionally alert-looking Eared Grebe, seen earlier in the week.
(C. Tosdevin 9/19-24/22)

Speaking of ducks, I just saw an article in the Los Angeles Times about HPAI, a bird flu virus repeatedly sweeping across the world, hitting primarily birds that live in (sometimes enforced) colonies: in 2014-15 it caused 40 million dead birds in North America; 2021 brought many thousands of dead wild & domestic birds including gannets & puffins; in August 2022 a Fresno poultry farm was hit and all birds had to be euthanized; since then Sacramento and Tuolumne counties have been hit. Right now in California it’s in domestic bird populations in 7 counties and in wild birds, 19 counties. It’s likely to get much worse.

Heermann’s Gulls, back from colonial nesting on Isla Rasa in the Sea of Cortez
(L. Loeher 9-23-22)

The California Dept. of Food and Agriculture’s Sick Bird Hotline is 866-922-2473. They’re mostly interested in poultry flocks, but they’d probably ought to learn about sick wild birds as well. If there are significantly lower numbers of colonial birds (pelicans, gulls, terns, cormorants, etc.) or wildfowl flocks this winter, you’ll know why. And the price of chicken will rise.

Western Gull contemplates culinary logistics (L. Loeher 9-23-22)

The Night-Herons were gone or, just as likely, hiding deep in the bushes and trees. They’re crepuscular, which means they much prefer twilight (dawn & dusk) rather than full-on night, despite their name, but they will often stay out on cloudy days, and today was a very bright sunny day indeed, not even remotely foggy and gloomy as had been June, July and August. This of course means that we did not see the juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

Pectoral Sandpiper craning its neck, seen earlier in the week but not on our birdwalk. (C. Tosdevin 9/19-24/22)

Jim, a regular birder on our lagoon walks since we restarted them last spring, recently cornered me in the parking lot and asked me why the lagoon checklist I hand out to willing takers has far fewer birds listed on it than have been reported to eBird for the lagoon. A reasonable question and I explained as follows.

eBird has reports from hundreds, perhaps thousands of birders over many decades, visiting at all times of the year, on any day of the week and any time of day; these are birders particularly likely to appear when something rare has been found and follow their visit with a report to eBird. As of 9/27/22 eBird has 6,276 lagoon trip reports and 315 species.

I, on the other hand, have been keeping records for my lagoon trips since 21 Oct 1979. I have 303 trips where I censused all the birds and another 88 trips where I only recorded if the species was presence (out of sheer laziness). My total list for these trips is 244 species, including one species for whom we recorded only its presence. Totaled up, I’ve recorded 77% of the eBird species in 6.2% as many trips. I could claim that this proves I’m superbly efficient, but it’s not that, unfortunately. The 71 species I’ve missed on the monthly trips are mostly, if not all, the rare ones that show up for a day and leave. My trips are more of a transect: the same route for roughly the same amount of time on regularly spaced dates by the same person (me) but including birds on the same trip reported to me by others on the same trip.

Red Knot, not red, and not there on birdwalk day, but were earlier in the week. (C. Tosdevin 9/19-24/22)

However, the checklists I hand out show only 140 species, a paltry 44% of the eBird total. Where are the rest? How can I have missed so many? My handout checklist is a physically very small pocket-sized list: 1/4 of one regular sheet of paper, printed both sides and the print is barely discernible. I call it the “Presbyopic’s Dilemma: If you care about what’s on it, you won’t be able to read it; if you can read it, you won’t care what’s on it.” Definitely an ageist remark. However, in it’s defense, it does list every species that shows up at least 3% of the time. Rarer birds are write-ins. I can live with that.

White-faced Ibis sans white face, seen earlier in the week. (C. Tosdevin 9/19-24/22)

The three birds above—Pectoral Sandpiper, White-faced Ibis and Red Knot—are good examples of this situation, as is the Horned Grebe farther up. Chris Tosdevin who lives not very far from the lagoon is able to drop by there more often that me. (Weekday driving can take me 3 hours each way, whereas on Sunday morning it’s 35-40 minutes. That’s L.A. driving for you.) Thus he was able to photograph these four birds earlier in the week, but by Sunday morning, they had flown the coup (so to speak). These four species are all on my lagoon list from prior visits. But not for today. Alas.

Our Western Snowy Plovers keep accumulating. This time they were within their private roped-in enclosure, undisturbed and resting in their little hollows in the sand, except when a mother and her two small daughters who all thought it a good idea to hop over the fence and run at the birds to get them excited, got them excited. They (the plovers) are reliably here late-June to late-April, and breed elsewhere in May and June. We had 20 last month and 25 today. October averages in the mid-20’s.

Western Snowy Plover banded l/w: ko (G. Murayama 9-23-22)
Virtual fence & birders on narrow beach (L. Johnson 9-25-22)

But enough of that. Here’s a few more birds we did see.

Two tyrant flycatchers: Black Phoebe (L) & Cassin’s Kingbird (R) (Chris Tosdevin 9-25-22)

Submerged tidal clock. Not measuring tides now but brackish water backed up behind the beach. (L. Johnson 9-25-22)
Dunlin with that long curved black bill. Their visits peak in April & October.
(C. Tosdevin 9-25-22)
Middle channel & beach (L. Johnson 9-25-22)
The Sora showed up right on time, currently a fall migrant visitor, passing through. (C. Tosdevin 9-25-22)
Song Sparrow (C. Tosdevin 9-25-22)
Lagoon and Santa Monica Mtns. (R. Juncosa 9-25-22)

Birds new for the season: Ruddy Duck, Anna’s Hummingbird, Sora, Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull, Red-shouldered Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Peregrine Falcon, Cassin’s Kingbird, Say’s Phoebe, European Starling, Spotted Towhee.  

Malibu Lagoon on eBird as of 9-27-22: 6276 lists, 315 species

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

Beach driftwood in Western Snowy Plover enclosure (L. Johnson 9-25-22)

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips: Huntington Beach Central Park, Sat. Oct. 15 8:30 am, Malibu Lagoon, Sun Oct. 23  8:30 am; Ballona Fresh Water Marsh, Sat. Nov 12  8 am. These 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: “Evolution of Feather Color in the Tanagers” with Allison Shultz. Hybrid Zoom Evening Meeting, Tuesday, 1 November 2022, 7:30 p.m. We will continue to Zoom our programs for the foreseeable future.

Bushtit, in a bush (C. Tosdevin 9-25-22)

The SMBAS 10 a.m. Parent’s & Kids Birdwalk is currently under discussion concerning its 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 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 20224/245/226/267/248/289/25
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+4.50L-0.32H+3.33H+3.35H+4.49H+5.01
 Tide Time044210290943090911020949
1(Black) Brant 6    
1Canada Goose3     
1American Wigeon12    
1Green-winged Teal2     
1Surf Scoter3     
1Ruddy Duck     3
2Pied-billed Grebe1 1246
2Eared Grebe1     
7Feral Pigeon46817106
7Band-tailed Pigeon  1   
7Mourning Dove4 225 
8Anna’s Hummingbird 1   1
8Allen’s Hummingbird31233 
2Sora     1
2American Coot14481247
5Black-bellied Plover21 177967
5Semipalmated Plover15  1153
5Snowy Plover   132025
5Whimbrel2 3883715
5Long-billed Curlew    1 
5Marbled Godwit2  1621
5Ruddy Turnstone   343
5Black Turnstone    2 
5Sanderling2   2514
5Dunlin1    1
5Least Sandpiper50  81023
5Western Sandpiper30  1258
5Short-billed Dowitcher    2 
5Long-billed Dowitcher   1  
5Spotted Sandpiper61  11
5Willet2  74873
5Red-necked Phalarope 1  12
6Heermann’s Gull15427529
6Ring-billed Gull65    2
6Western Gull5795551455372
6California Gull3533332157
6Glaucous-winged Gull6  1  
6Caspian Tern12152218  
6Forster’s Tern   1  
6Royal Tern18332561
6Elegant Tern22024 475255 
6Black Skimmer    3 
2Brandt’s Cormorant150    
2Pelagic Cormorant12 21 
2Double-crested Cormorant262246626856
2Brown Pelican68651268511264
3Great Blue Heron123523
3Great Egret324331
3Snowy Egret11212149
3Reddish Egret   1  
3Black-crowned Night-Heron  482 
4Yellow-crowned Night-Heron    1 
4Turkey Vulture344 1 
4Osprey  11  
4Red-shouldered Hawk     1
8Belted Kingfisher1    1
4Peregrine Falcon     1
9Cassin’s Kingbird     3
9Black Phoebe 25455
9Say’s Phoebe     1
9California Scrub-Jay1 1322
9American Crow4451173
9Common Raven 2    
9Oak Titmouse   2  
9Violet-green Swallow    1 
9No. Rough-winged Swallow48 14 
9Barn Swallow815203028 
9Cliff Swallow84 31 
9Bushtit10 810158
9Wrentit 2 1 1
9House Wren2 1112
9Bewick’s Wren    11
9Northern Mockingbird1 13 1
9European Starling21   8
9House Finch612101284
9Lesser Goldfinch2 1 36
9White-crowned Sparrow2     
9Song Sparrow7104263
9California Towhee221 1 
9Spotted Towhee     1
9Red-winged Blackbird1  625 
9Brown-headed Cowbird21    
9Great-tailed Grackle21664 
9Orange-crowned Warbler    12
9Common Yellowthroat   245
Totals by TypeAprMayJunJulAugSep
2Water Birds – Other99143177159197174
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis5513292213
4Quail & Raptors345112
6Gulls & Terns428174110673340141
8Other Non-Passerines422332
 Totals Birds77445243712221073714
 Total SpeciesAprMayJunJulAugSep
2Water Birds – Other754555
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis334553
4Quail & Raptors112112
6Gulls & Terns865865
8Other Non-Passerines221112
Totals Species – 88573935515652

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