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A Few Malibu Lagoon Plovers

December 8, 2022

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

There is not a month in the year when you’re unlikely to see a plover at Malibu Lagoon, and there are eight species from which to choose. That said, there are months with many plovers and months with few; species abundant and species rare. Here’s a quick sort out of them, ranging from most to least in abundance and rarity. All numbers are from my records for period 1979-2022 except Piping, Pacific Golden-Plover and American Golden-Plover.

Malibu LagoonTotalTotal1st Mo.2nd Mo.Least
Plover SpeciesBirdsSightingsAbundantAbundantAbundant
Black-bellied Plover11,885255OctNovJun
Snowy Plover  5,271202SepDecMay
Killdeer  1,592269NovDecJun
Semipalmated  Plover     47178AprAugJun
Piping Plover *       12 ?NovDec—-
Pacific Golden-Plover *         5 ?Nov—-—-
Mountain Plover         11Oct’16—-—-
American Golden-Plover *         11Nov’22—-—-
* eBird data for total birds is inconsistent
Link to eBird Malibu Lagoon

The above chart gives you an idea of plover relative abundance at the lagoon. The rest of this article focuses on the two most abundant and the three least abundant plovers. The Black-bellied Plover is the “default” large plover for the lagoon; the two Golden-Plovers can be easily confused with it.

We’ll start off with a good photo of our most abundant plover at Malibu Lagoon, the Black-bellied Plover, the largest plover at the lagoon at 11.5″ long.

Photo: Grace Murayama, 30 November 2021, Malibu Lagoon

Golden-Plovers in Southern California are far more frequently seen on grassy sod fields than on beaches or by lagoons.

The five following photos are by Chris Tosdevin, 11 November 2022, Malibu Lagoon. They are all of the same single American Golden-Plover recorded for the lagoon, the 3nd largest plover at 10.25″ long.

eBird on American Golden-Plover identification:

Slender, long-winged plover usually found in relatively dry habitats. Breeding plumage shows black belly and face, white neck sides, and dark back and crown spangled with gold. Note sides and undertail coverts entirely black, but beware females and molting birds can be mottled with some white. Nonbreeding plumage is much drabber; grayish overall with distinct white eyebrow and dark cap. Juveniles are crisp and neatly spangled above, washed with gold on the upperparts. At all seasons, note slender shape and narrow bill to separate from Black-bellied Plover, along with grayish underwing in flight. Extremely similar to Pacific Golden-Plover; American is slightly longer-winged, shorter-legged, and smaller-billed, but these features are difficult to judge. Juvenile American is usually duller than Pacific, especially on the face and neck. Average habitat preferences are important (Pacific Golden and Black-bellied more regular on beaches and mudflats), but much overlap. Range is also important. Breeds on Arctic tundra. Fairly common migrant through central North America, uncommon on East Coast, rare on Pacific Coast. During migration, prefers sod fields, dry mudflats, and pastures; often in small flocks, sometimes mixed with Black-bellied Plover. Winters in South America. Note voice: a plaintive “pleedoo” call.

eBird American Golden-Plover

eBird on Pacific-Golden Plover identification:

Slender plover spangled with gold. Breeding plumage shows black belly and face with mottled white sides and undertail coverts and a white stripe down the side of the neck that continues onto the sides of the chest and flanks. Nonbreeding plumage is duller grayish-brown overall with a variable golden wash, often quite bright. Juveniles are crisp and neatly spangled above, washed with gold on the upperparts. At all seasons, note more slender shape, slightly smaller bill, and brighter golden tones than Black-bellied Plover, along with grayish underwing in flight. Extremely similar to American Golden-Plover; Pacific is slightly shorter-winged, longer-legged, and larger-billed, but these features are difficult to judge. Juvenile Pacific is usually brighter than American, especially on the face and neck. Pacific found more regularly on beaches and mudflats than American, but much overlap; also note range. Breeds on Arctic tundra from Alaska to Russia. Winters extensively across Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand; small numbers found in fall on west coast of U.S. Note voice: a quick “pip” note followed by a rising “plooEEP!”, first note shorter and more clipped than Black-bellied. Also makes shorter, more plaintive calls similar to American but lower-pitched.

eBird Pacific Golden-Plover

The following five photos of Pacific Golden-Plover are by different photographers. We have no photos of this species from Malibu Lagoon; all of these – obtained from eBird – are from Ballona Creek or adjacent Dockweiler State Beach, located about 15 miles down the shoreline of Santa Monica Bay from Malibu Lagoon. If I read eBird correctly, there have been five sightings of Pacific Golden-Plover at Malibu Lagoon, all in November, but if sighting dates are available in eBird, and they ought to be as a date must be entered for every sighting, I don’t know how to extract them.

Pacific Golden-Plovers are the 4th largest plover at at 9.75″ long.

Photo: Michael Long, 19 November 2017, Dockweiler State Beach

Photo: Derek Hameister, 7 January 2021, Ballona Creek/Playa del Rey

Photo: Grigory Heaton, 6 October 2022, Ballona Creek/Playa del Rey

Photo: Darren Dowell, 30 November 2018, Ballona Creek/Playa del Rey

Photo below: Monte Neate-Clegg, 10 September 2021, Ballona Creek/Playa del Rey

The Mountain Plover below doesn’t really look much like the others, but it’s rare at the lagoon so I’m including it. It’s the 5th largest plover at the lagoon at 9″ long.
Photo: Joyce Waterman, 23 Octoberber 2016, Malibu Lagoon

Photo: John Olsen, 23 October 2016, Malibu Lagoon

And to finish off the large plovers, here’s our most commonly sighted plover, the Killdeer, nearly impossible to confuse with the previous birds. 2nd largest at 10.5″ long; chicks are shorter, of course.
Photo: Adult Killdeer by Grace Murayama, 26 May 2017, Malibu Lagoon

Adult Killdeer distraction display.
Photo: Grace Murayama, 26 May 2017, Malibu Lagoon

Killdeer nest regularly at the lagoon. Their chicks have a single black stripe on the neck/breast and — as with most toddlers — unsteady on their feet.
Photo: Killdeer chick by Joyce Waterman, 21 April 2012, Malibu Lagoon

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