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Christmas Day, Malibu Lagoon, 25 December 2022

December 31, 2022

[Chuck Almdale]

Oddly enough, no one seemed to mind that it was Christmas Day.

Heron Silhouettes (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)

The temperatures were exceptionally nice for Christmas Day: 65°F when we got there, 72° when we left. [A week later they were 20° lower.] Tide was high, +6.59 ft. at 9:50 am., dropping from the King Tide highs of 6.84 ft. the day before, and 6.86 ft. the day before that. In case anyone is wondering and as you can see by the chart below, the “King Low Tides” (to coin a phrase) of the year occur right after the highs.

The total species count was not especially high — only 55 species, 10 less than last month, with most of the drop in the passerines and the gull/tern groups. I should mention that the gull count could easily have been triple the 658 you’ll see below. Before we got to the disappearing beach and as the tide was rising, large flocks of California Gulls — at least 1,000 birds — kept lifting off the beach and heading inland.

Heermann’s Gulls. (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)
The 85 birds today were among the 4% highest counts for this species.

The highlight of the day was the five Hooded Mergansers Chris Lord spotted on the inland side of PCH bridge and waved at us to come and see. The water is a bit deeper in this spot and diving ducks — Mergansers, Ruddys and Buffleheads tend to prefer it, particularly the Hooded Mergansers. They don’t show up often — 18 times out of 306 count days over 40+ years — and when they do, they often never swim south into the main lagoon.

Hooded Mergansers were inland of the PCH bridge (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)
Picnic corner, tide clock sidewalk, back of Malibu Colony.(Lillian Johnson 12-22-22)

The water level hit 7’4.8″ on the sidewalk tidal clock. Most of the time we were there, water flowed oceanward. Lack of sand and mud around the channel and lagoon edges didn’t leave much for the sandpipers to do, and they huddled together in various places. In the driftwood pile around the “Osprey Pole” there were a dozen each of Killdeer and Least Sandpipers.

Not all Least Sandpipers look the same (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)
The apparent size difference may be partially a photographic optical illusion.

On the west end of one sand island over 30 Snowy Egrets gathered, plus some Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons. You wouldn’t know from the photos below that the Great Blue Heron was 22″ taller than the Snowy Egret. Some people have wondered aloud to me how the Snowy Egret changes its leg color while they’re watching it. Answer is, he doesn’t! Black on the front and yellow on the rear is common much of the year.

Great Blue Heron and Snowy Egret (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)
South Channel with oft-egret-laden sandy island, a few of which appear (look closely) in this photograph. Narrow low beach past the island. (Lillian Johnson 12-22-22)
“Tennis, anyone?” cries Cary Gull, winging his way to Malibu Colony (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)
Orange-crowned Warbler (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)

You can see Orange-crowned Warblers every year for 40 years and never see their orange crown, which they use as a signal to rival males and potential mates. I think I’ve seen it once, but it was so long ago that I’m no longer certain. A few of these birds hang around all winter in SoCal.

Brown Pelican & Double-crested Cormorant (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)

The Brown Pelican above is far along into its breeding plumage (male & female look the same), but it has not yet developed a bright-red gular pouch. The first-year Double-crested Cormorant above has a white border at the base of its lower mandible and a short section of white along the upper. The Neotropic Cormorant also has white edging with a bit more white between the gape and the back of the eye. But it is dark above/in front of the eye, whereas the Double-crested, like the one above, has yellow skin. The Neotropic’ gular pouch is a duller yellow, the back feathers are more pointed and the tail is proportionally longer. The Neotropic also has a more acute angle at gape, whereas the DC has a rounded gape. A fine distinction – check your field guide. If you lucky enough to find them standing side-by-side, the 26″ Neotropic is 20% smaller than the 32″ Double-crested. I mention all this because Neotropics are spreading northward through SoCal and it’s easy to confuse the two.

Malibu Lagoon, low Surfrider’s Beach & Santa Monica Bay.
Palos Verdes Peninsula (center left) is 23 miles away; Santa Catalina Island on right is 40 miles. (Lillian Johnson 12-22-22)
Gadwall and Red-breasted Merganser (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)

From a distance the male Gadwall is a rather boring gray-brown-black bird. Up close you can see the fine vermiculations that make it one of the most beautiful of ducks. Red-breasted Mergansers are common at the lagoon in winter. Most look like the above as the young look like the females until their alternate (breeding) plumage grows out in the spring. The much-less-common (at the lagoon) Common Merganser female & young differ primarily in the chin and neck.

Song Sparrow (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)

Song Sparrows were singing up a storm. Two were having a rattle-battle in the brush — something I’d never heard before.

Ring-billed Gull has a pale eye (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)

This is a nice example of a winter adult Ring-billed Gull. The dark bill-ring is obvious — not always true as the bill starts dark in the juvenile and by 1st winter has shrunk to the entire tip. They have a gonys (that bump on the lower bill) but it’s not big; sometimes it’s nearly absent, at which point you begin to wonder if you have a Small-billed Gull (formerly Mew). The mantle is pale gray, like the 20% larger California Gull (CaGu), and the black wing-tips have white mirrors, also like the CaGu. The eye is dark for a year, then becomes light, whereas the CaGu eye stays dark. The legs can be bright yellow in breeding, dull yellow in winter. The crown and nape are lightly streaked & spotted with brown, whereas the CaGu has a heavier brown wash. Despite all these theoretically-obvious differences, I still have difficulty telling Ring-billed from California Gull.

Currents in the outlet at 11:15am, 85 minutes after high tide. Not much beach remains. (Lillian Johnson 12-22-22)

Birds new for the season: Hooded Merganser, Horned Grebe, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Wrentit, Orange-crowned Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler.

Eared Grebe (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)

Eared Grebes have a dingier neck-front than Horned Grebes. Also a pointier crown, an often slightly-fluffed tail than doesn’t slope gently down to the water (thanks to Chris Lord for that point), the bill is slightly upturned, and the white patch on the side/back of the neck is usually disconnected to a quite variable degree from any white on the chin or throat. They are also a whopping 7.4% smaller! And a lot more common in SoCal! Nevertheless, the two are often confused.

Malibu Lagoon on eBird as of 1-4-23: 6941 lists, 317 species

Many thanks to photographers: Lynzie Flynn & Lillian Johnson

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips:
Antelope Valley Raptor Search, Sat. Jan 14, 7 am departure time; Malibu Lagoon, Sun Jan. 22 8:30 am; Madrona Marsh, Sat. Feb 11, 8 am; Malibu Lagoon, Sun Feb 26 8:30 am These and any other trips we announce for the foreseeable future will be dependent upon the expected status of the Covid/flu/etc. 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. Link to Programs & Field Trip schedule.

Channel clouds & light (Lillian Johnson 12-22-22)

The next SMBAS program: To-be-announced, Evening Meeting, Tuesday, 7 February 2023, 7:30 p.m.. This program will probably be on Zoom.

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

Red-tailed Hawk (Lynzie Flynn 12-25-22)

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 Lynzie Flynn, Lillian Johnson, Chris Lord 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 20227/248/289/2510/2311/2712/25
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+3.35H+4.49H+5.01H+5.33H+6.04H+6.59
 Tide Time090911020949083910450950
1American Wigeon    148
1Northern Pintail   1  
1Green-winged Teal   2638
1Lesser Scaup    1 
1Surf Scoter    123
1Bufflehead    1111
1Hooded Merganser     5
1Red-breasted Merganser    257
1Ruddy Duck  3353242
2Pied-billed Grebe246845
2Horned Grebe     1
2Eared Grebe   285
2Western Grebe   241
7Feral Pigeon171061546
7Mourning Dove25 42 
8Anna’s Hummingbird  1 12
8Allen’s Hummingbird33  2 
2Sora  11  
2American Coot8124714585130
5Black-bellied Plover177967648351
5Semipalmated Plover11532  
5Snowy Plover1320253918 
5Long-billed Curlew 1    
5Marbled Godwit162163823
5Ruddy Turnstone343442
5Black Turnstone 2    
5Sanderling 2514334527
5Dunlin  1   
5Least Sandpiper81023156219
5Western Sandpiper1258484
5Short-billed Dowitcher 2    
5Long-billed Dowitcher1     
5Spotted Sandpiper 11   
5Red-necked Phalarope 12   
6Heermann’s Gull52981685
6Short-billed Gull    1 
6Ring-billed Gull  2222855
6Western Gull14553726410568
6California Gull32157155390450
6Glaucous-winged Gull1   3 
6Caspian Tern18     
6Forster’s Tern1  1  
6Royal Tern2561123 
6Elegant Tern475255 15  
6Black Skimmer 3    
2Common Loon    1 
2Black-vented Shearwater    100 
2Pelagic Cormorant21 141
2Double-crested Cormorant626856514562
2Brown Pelican851126465220158
3Great Blue Heron523335
3Great Egret331253
3Snowy Egret1214993135
3Reddish Egret1     
3Green Heron   1  
3Black-crowned Night-Heron82  11
4Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 1    
4Turkey Vulture 1 111
4Red-shouldered Hawk  1   
4Red-tailed Hawk     3
8Belted Kingfisher  1 2 
4American Kestrel     1
4Merlin     1
4Peregrine Falcon  1   
9Cassin’s Kingbird  3 11
9Black Phoebe455332
9Say’s Phoebe  1   
9California Scrub-Jay322111
9American Crow11738123
9Oak Titmouse2  2  
9Violet-green Swallow 1    
9Northern Rough-winged Swallow14    
9Barn Swallow3028    
9Cliff Swallow31    
9Wrentit1 1  2
9Ruby-crowned Kinglet    21
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher    2 
9House Wren11212 
9Marsh Wren   1  
9Bewick’s Wren 11 2 
9Northern Mockingbird3 1   
9European Starling  8   
9Hermit Thrush    3 
9House Finch1284151816
9Lesser Goldfinch 3616 
9White-crowned Sparrow   124016
9Song Sparrow26336 
9California Towhee 1 361
9Spotted Towhee  1 1 
9Red-winged Blackbird625 438
9Great-tailed Grackle64 51 
9Orange-crowned Warbler 12  1
9Common Yellowthroat245321
9Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)   41615
9Townsend’s Warbler     1
Totals by TypeJulAugSepOctNovDec
2Water Birds – Other159197174275471363
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis292213154044
4Quail & Raptors112116
6Gulls & Terns673340141277546658
8Other Non-Passerines332052
 Totals Birds1222107371491416901460
 Total SpeciesJulAugSepOctNovDec
2Water Birds – Other555898
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis553444
4Quail & Raptors112114
6Gulls & Terns865774
8Other Non-Passerines112031
Totals Species – 102515652546555

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