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Foot styles at Malibu Lagoon, 23 October 2022

October 31, 2022

[Chuck Almdale]

Surfrider beach has grown quite wide. The plover enclosure virtual fence has been removed in anticipation of winter storms and the disappearance of at least a portion of the beach. (Lillian Johnson 10/23/22)

It was a very good day indeed for surfers. The photo above shows mostly birders in a group, as at 11am the surfers remaining are out in the water. Mid-to-high 60°’s, barely a wisp of cloud on the far horizon and a 10-to-20mph wind from offshore. Parking along PCH was jam-packed, leaving little room for birders arriving long after the dawn patrol were already on their boards. Despite the wind, we had a nice selection of 54 species, with 60% of the total birds being coots, gulls, pelicans and cormorants.

Grace Murayama captured a good look at the deep red forehead shield of this coot. Notice the water beading on the bird’s back.

Tidal clock sidewalk (Lillian Johnson 10/23/22)
We haven’t had any storms yet, so Malibu Creek hasn’t broken through the beach into the ocean. The surface algae seems greatly reduced from last month, and the lagoon water level is high. The tidal clock sidewalk is covered with mud up to about 7’4″, and the paving around the 7’8.4″ tile below looked damp, but mud-free. I think I’ll take my trowel next month and move the mud from the other tiles.

Tidal clock tile 7’8.4″ looks a bit damp. (Lillian Johnson 10/23/22)

Sun rising over the main channel with nary a cloud. (Lillian Johnson 10/23/22)

Royal Terns (Grace Murayama 10/21/22)
The front one appears to be checking its left pocket where it’s wallet was supposed to be. By this time of year, the dark eye nearly always stands out from the dark feathering. The eye of the Elegant Tern always remains connected to the black feathering.

Left to right: Mallards, American Wigeons, Killdeer, Coots, Green-winged Teal and another Coot and a Mallard. (Grace Murayama 10/21/22)
The two wigeons are in eclipse plumage; check the lobed toes on the coots (great adaptation for a bird that both walks and swims a lot) and the green speculum in the diminutive teal.

Least Sandpiper (Grace Murayama 10/21/22)
As one might expect, at 6″ this is the smallest sandpiper in the world, but not by much. Note the complete lack of webbing on the toes.

PCH bridge over a calm, algae-free lagoon (Lillian Johnson 10/23/22)

Western Snowy Plover landing (Grace Murayama 10/21/22)

Our wintering Western Snowy Plover flock continues to grow, typical for this time of year. On 24 July we had 13 birds, 28 Aug – 20, 25 Sep – 25, 23 Oct – 39. On average the numbers climb until December, then dwindle until March, drop precipitously in April, in May and June there are usually none, and then the whole thing starts over. People always ask if they’re nesting. If it’s late June to March, noooo, they’re roosting, aka sitting around, doing nothing. They like to sit in those little dents in the sand made by your heels when you walk, but they can make their own roosting-dimple in a few seconds if all the good holes are taken. They do a lot of sitting and snoozing when they’re not feeding in the wrack along the high tide line, which implies they prefer to feed a bit after high tide. But if it’s a high high tide, they may wait a bit to make sure they don’t get whacked by a wave. That’s what they were doing today with the 5.33 ft. tide. Unlike Sanderlings and the larger sandpipers, they really don’t want to get into turbulent water; what with their tiny legs and unwebbed toes they could easily be swept away.

Western Snowy Plover Pb:ob (Left – pink above ankle over blue: Right – orange over blue) (Grace Murayama 10/21/22)

The Willet, at 15″ tall (long?) versus the Snowy Plover’s 6.25″ is not afraid of a little water. It’s the best way to find those little sand crabs stirred up by the rushing water.

Willet with Emerita analoga (Grace Murayama 10/21/22)
The above bird is positively beaming with delight.

Willet portrait (Grace Murayama 10/21/22)

The “semipalmated” aspect of the Semipalmated Plover refers to the partial – rather than full – webbing on the toes. Most birds have four toes, and the most common arrangement of four toes in the bird world is anisodactyly, when one toe points backwards and the other three point forward. Their backward toe is equivalent to the human big toe, and is counted as toe #1. The inner forward-pointing toe is #2, with the middle and outer toes as #3 and #4. It’s just like your foot would look if you lopped off your little toe and shifted your big toe around to your heel, which I don’t recommend trying. On Semipalmated Plovers the webbing is only between toes nos. 3 & 4, and not between nos 2 & 3.

An anisodactyl right foot. Kidwings-bird feet
This page has a nice description with diagrams of the various bird foot designs.

This partial webbing arrangement is unusual; when it occurs it may become part of the bird’s name, as with this plover and the Semipalmated Sandpiper. I haven’t seen any explanations why this partial webbing occurs. My guess is that it gives the bird the ability to swim more efficiently than if it had no webs, but walk a little better than if it had three webbed toes on each foot. Full webbing can make a bird waddle like a duck, not good for a bird that finds it’s food while running up and down mud flats and beaches. Look closely at the left foot of the bird below and you’ll see a little webbing between the middle and outer toe.

Semipalmated Plover – check that web (Grace Murayama 10/21/22)

However, I would not hold off on putting this bird on your life list until you see this webbing feature. Such obscure details are far easier to see when you’re in a museum holding the dead bird in your hands. That’s why few (if any) field guides mention this as a field mark. There are loads of such characteristics in bird names which you will rarely, if ever, see in the field. The ring on the Ring-necked Duck or the orange crown on the Orange-crowned Warbler are two local examples. The entire family of Tyrant Flycatchers Tyrannidae is named for the colored crown (with the implication that a crowned “king” is also a tyrant) on many of the family members, which you may see if the bird (perhaps only the males) is angry, courting, or in your hands and you can move the crown feathers around as you wish. When duty calls the feathers are displayed, but otherwise kept out-of-sight. I’ve seen almost 300 species of Tyrannidae and I can’t recall seeing an erect colored crown on any of them (I suppose they didn’t find me exciting to look at), so don’t hold your breath waiting to see it.

Scene from 2nd viewpoint. (Lillian Johnson 10/23/22)
The Adamson House is behind the trees, Malibu Pier farther away, the sandy island with nearly all the shorebirds, gulls, pelicans and cormorants a bit closer in the center, and the low stretch of sand is Surfrider Beach, famed from Beach Blanket Bingo movies.

When Grace and Larry visited the lagoon two days earlier, they had a few birds that inconsiderately left before we arrived on Sunday.

Greater White-fronted Geese (Larry Loeher 10/21/22)

White Pelicans (Grace Murayama 10/21/22)
White Pelicans in foreground, Brown Pelicans in the rear, plus a Double-crested Cormorant and a Snowy Egret. (Grace Murayama 10/21/22)

Belted Kingfisher female (cinnamon on sides of breast & underwing) (Grace Murayama 10/21/22) This bird was probably still around, but they often go up the creek and sit in the trees.

Birds new for the season: Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Forster’s Tern, Green Heron, Oak Titmouse, Marsh Wren, White-crowned Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Malibu Lagoon on eBird as of 10-30-22: 6340 lists, 316 species

Many thanks to photographers: Lillian Johnson, Larry Loeher, Grace Murayama

Just one of many waves rolling in, making surfers very happy. (Lillian Johnson 10/23/22)

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips: Ballona Fresh Water Marsh, Sat. Nov 12  8 am; Malibu Lagoon, Sun Oct. 23  8:30 am; Newport Back Bay, Sat. Dec 10, 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. In-person Evening Meeting, Tuesday, 1 November 2022, 7:30 p.m. This program will not be on Zoom.

White-crowned Sparrow adult
(Grace Murayama 10/21/22)

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 and others for their contributions to this month’s checklist.

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 20225/226/267/248/289/2510/23
Tide Lo/Hi HeightL-0.32H+3.33H+3.35H+4.49H+5.01H+5.33
 Tide Time102909430909110209490839
1(Black) Brant6     
1American Wigeon2     
1Northern Pintail     1
1Green-winged Teal     2
1Ruddy Duck    335
2Pied-billed Grebe 12468
2Eared Grebe     2
2Western Grebe     2
7Feral Pigeon681710615
7Band-tailed Pigeon 1    
7Mourning Dove 225 4
8Anna’s Hummingbird1   1 
8Allen’s Hummingbird1233  
2Sora    11
2American Coot4481247145
5Black-bellied Plover1 17796764
5Semipalmated Plover  11532
5Snowy Plover  13202539
5Whimbrel 38837155
5Long-billed Curlew   1  
5Marbled Godwit  16216
5Ruddy Turnstone  3434
5Black Turnstone   2  
5Sanderling   251433
5Dunlin    1 
5Least Sandpiper  8102315
5Western Sandpiper  12584
5Short-billed Dowitcher   2  
5Long-billed Dowitcher  1   
5Spotted Sandpiper1  11 
5Willet  748739
5Red-necked Phalarope1  12 
6Heermann’s Gull4275298
6Ring-billed Gull    222
6Western Gull9555145537264
6California Gull33332157155
6Glaucous-winged Gull  1   
6Caspian Tern152218   
6Forster’s Tern  1  1
6Royal Tern33256112
6Elegant Tern24 475255 15
6Black Skimmer   3  
2Brandt’s Cormorant50     
2Pelagic Cormorant2 21 1
2Double-crested Cormorant224662685651
2Brown Pelican65126851126465
3Great Blue Heron235233
3Great Egret243312
3Snowy Egret12121499
3Reddish Egret  1   
3Green Heron     1
3Black-crowned Night-Heron 482  
4Yellow-crowned Night-Heron   1  
4Turkey Vulture44 1 1
4Osprey 11   
4Red-shouldered Hawk    1 
8Belted Kingfisher    1 
4Peregrine Falcon    1 
9Cassin’s Kingbird    3 
9Black Phoebe254553
9Say’s Phoebe    1 
9California Scrub-Jay 13221
9American Crow4511738
9Common Raven2     
9Oak Titmouse  2  2
9Violet-green Swallow   1  
9No. Rough-winged Swallow8 14  
9Barn Swallow15203028  
9Cliff Swallow4 31  
9Bushtit 81015810
9Wrentit2 1 1 
9House Wren 11121
9Marsh Wren     1
9Bewick’s Wren   11 
9Northern Mockingbird 13 1 
9European Starling1   8 
9House Finch1210128415
9Lesser Goldfinch 1 361
9White-crowned Sparrow     12
9Song Sparrow1042633
9California Towhee21 1 3
9Spotted Towhee    1 
9Red-winged Blackbird  625 4
9Brown-headed Cowbird1     
9Great-tailed Grackle1664 5
9Orange-crowned Warbler   12 
9Common Yellowthroat  2453
9Yellow-rumped Warbler     4
Totals by TypeMayJunJulAugSepOct
2Water Birds – Other143177159197174275
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis51329221315
4Quail & Raptors451121
6Gulls & Terns174110673340141277
8Other Non-Passerines223320
 Totals Birds45243712221073714914
 Total SpeciesMayJunJulAugSepOct
2Water Birds – Other545558
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis345534
4Quail & Raptors121121
6Gulls & Terns658657
8Other Non-Passerines211120
Totals Species – 91393551565254

One Comment
  1. October 31, 2022 4:14 pm

    Thanks so much for this interesting and informative report. The photos are great! Best, Enid HayflickNewport Beach 


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