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January High Tide, Malibu Lagoon, 22 January 2023

January 31, 2023

[By Chuck Almdale]

The obscure White-crowned Sparrow adult (Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)

The highest tide of winter was 21 Jan., the day before our visit, when it peaked at 6.84 feet. On 22 Jan., the highest point was a whole 1/3rd (0.03 ft.) inch lower. The channels were very full with no sand or mud visible.

North channel at 8:58am high tide of 6.81 ft. (Ray Juncosa 1-22-23)

Two-and-a-half hours later the tide had dropped a couple of feet. Mud and sand were plentiful.

North channel lower tide at 11:30am. (Ray Juncosa 1-22-23)

What little sand showed was on the other side of the outlet channel, where it was so crowded with birds that not all the cormorants could comfortably fit.

One lonely squeezed-out cormorant on a rock (Ray Juncosa 1-22-23)

There was sand on our side, but there were also people, too many for birds to feel safe. Amongst the numerous Brown Pelicans (343) and Double-crested Cormorants (36) there were a lot of gulls. I counted over 1450 gulls— not including the ones that earlier flew away — in six species; 92% of them were California Gull. Here’s three of the other species, all of them large 4-year gulls,

We’ll start with the most frequent and reliable species, Western Gull. Many of them nest on nearby offshore islands such as Anacapa, where predation of nests by rats is low or absent. Their nesting range runs from the southern tip of Baja California to NW Washington. Present at the lagoon every month, averaging 75 birds/visit, but least abundant March-May during breeding season. They average 25″ long, wingspan 58″. It has a darker back than the other two species, its primary difference, but north of Monterey Ca. they have paler backs and darker eyes than southern birds. The wingtips are black with a few white “mirrors.” Both forms appear at the lagoon.

Western Gull, probably 2nd-winter bird (Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)

Far less numerous and more infrequent is our next species, Glaucous-winged Gull. Their nesting range runs from NW Oregon to NW Alaska, thus beginning just about where the Western’s breeding range ends. They’re slightly larger, averaging 26″ long, wingspan 58″. The back is a much paler gray, with same-gray wingtips with a few white “mirrors.” Most of those at the lagoon are 1st-winter birds like the bird below, no black anywhere, with an off-white waxy-looking plumage. “Glaucous” means waxy. We see them 44% as often as the Western, mostly January-April, but their numbers are only 1.6% of the Western’s, averaging 2.6 birds/visit. Just to additionally confuse the issue, Westerns and Glaucous-winged hybridize. As their barely-overlapping breeding ranges, similar appearance and ability to hybridize suggests, one might assume they are close relatives, probably (I think) with the darker Westerns splitting off from a paler Glaucous-winged ancestral population.

Glaucous-winged Gull, probably 1st Winter (Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)

The third species is the Herring Gull, an abundant world-wide species with many forms, very common on the east coast where they frequent garbage dumps, but are regular in small numbers in SoCal. Same size as the Western at 25″ long, 58″ wingspan. The mantle is intermediate between Glaucous-winged and Western in darkness, with black wingtips and white “mirrors.” They breed in inland Alaska and northern Canada and along the Atlantic coast to South Carolina. Of these three species they’re the least common at the lagoon, appearing 22% as often as the Western and 0.8% as abundant, averaging 3 birds/visit. Most sighting are November-April, and they’re absent in July-August.

Herring Gull, probably winter adult (Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)

Adults of all three species have large yellow bills with a single red spot on the lower mandible, pink legs at most ages and varying amounts of head/neck streaking in the winter. As 4-year gulls, they all go through 7 plumage stages, very roughly every six months, with a mind-bogglingly huge and depressing amount of variability in molting times and colors. The Western and Herring have pale eyes, but the Glaucous-winged eyes are dark.

There! That information and these photos, plus an additional couple of decades of study and looking at actual living birds will put you solidly on the first few steps of being able to distinguish one gull from another. I know one or two people who are fairly good at doing this.

Wooden tepee and colony house. Look closely at left corner of the house roof. (Ray Juncosa 1-22-23)
Pelagic Cormorants on roof. (Ray Juncosa 1-22-23)

I think it was July 2022 that we first saw a Pelagic Cormorant sitting on this roof. There’s been at least one monthly since then, except September when Pelagic’s were absent. There’s a camera sticking out of the house side just to the right of these birds (see below), but out-of-frame. I like to think the birds are on “cormorant-cam.” This is good safe spot with a wide view for them when tide is high and they cannot sit on the offshore rocky reef, and they really don’t like going so far inland as the lagoon, which must be at least all of 25 feet from the ocean. Plus it’s out of the way of humans and dogs and screaming youngsters running up and down the beach waving their arms.
Camera slightly to R of R cormorant, blurry crop from 1st photo above (R. Juncosa 1-22-23)

There were lots of other birds at the lagoon, not just gulls.

Western Grebe with small spots of oil (Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)
Bushtit in—of all places—a bush. Yes, it’s adorable. (Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)
Mallard with a Mona Lisa smile and water dripping of its flank (Grace Murayama) 1-31-23)
An exceptionally plumy Great Egret (Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)
A curvaceous Whimbrel (Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)
Lesser Goldfinch working on the seeds (Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)
Marbled Godwits on the beach a few days later (Grace Murayama 1-31-23)

If you missed our prior “Moon News” blog, you missed this tide prediction chart below. [I love it’s combination of symmetry and asymmetry.] Look closely and see that Jan 21 had the highest & lowest tides of the winter.
The chart is interactive here: Tide table for period: 30 Dec 2022 to 28 Jan 2023.
Full Moon: 6 Jan 2023 6:09 PM High tide: 5.78 feet on both 5 Jan 7:38am, 6 Jan 8:11am
New Moon: 21 Jan 2023 12:53 PM High tide: 6.84 feet 21 Jan 8:11am
The new moon high tide was 16 days farther from perihelion than was full moon high tide, yet was more than a foot higher. Thus perigee + new moon outweighed perihelion + full moon.

Birds new for the Season: Canada Goose, Common Goldeneye, Herring Gull, Red-throated Loon, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Common Raven, Marsh Wren, European Starling.

Red-winged Blackbird (Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)
Throughout the fall and much of the winter, the 1st-year male bird has brownish edges to many of his black feathers.

Malibu Lagoon on eBird as of 1-27-23: 6566 lists, 317 species

Many thanks to photographers: Ray Juncosa, Grace Murayama, Chris Tosdevin

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips:
Madrona Marsh, Sat. Feb 11, 8 am; Malibu Lagoon, Sun Feb. 26 8:30 am; Sepulveda Basin Sat. Mar. 11 8 am; Malibu Lagoon, Sun Mar 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.

The next SMBAS Zoom program: The migrating birds of Bear Divide, with Ryan Terrill. Tuesday, 7 March 2023, 7:30 p.m.

The SMBAS 10 a.m. Parent’s & Kids Birdwalk may begin in April, reservations necessary.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
(Chris Tosdevin 1-22-23)

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, July-Dec
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 Chris & Ruth Tosdevin, Ray Juncosa, Chris Lord and others for their contributions to this month’s checklist.

The species lists below is irregularly re-sequenced to agree with the California Bird Records Committee Official California Checklist, which was updated 4 Feb 2023. If part of the chart’s right side is hidden, there’s a slider button at the bottom.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2022-238/289/2510/2311/2712/251/22
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+4.49H+5.01H+5.33H+6.04H+6.59H+6.81
 Tide Time110209490839104509500858
1Canada Goose     4
1American Wigeon   148 
1Northern Pintail  1   
1Green-winged Teal  263815
1Lesser Scaup   1  
1Surf Scoter   1231
1Bufflehead   111110
1Common Goldeneye     2
1Hooded Merganser    51
1Red-breasted Merganser   2576
1Ruddy Duck 3353242 
2Pied-billed Grebe468452
2Horned Grebe    1 
2Eared Grebe  285 
2Western Grebe  2418
7Feral Pigeon106154616
7Mourning Dove5 42  
8Anna’s Hummingbird 1 121
8Allen’s Hummingbird3  2 2
2Sora 11   
2American Coot12471458513038
5Black-bellied Plover796764835143
5Semipalmated Plover1532   
5Snowy Plover20253918 16
5Long-billed Curlew1     
5Marbled Godwit6216382318
5Ruddy Turnstone434426
5Black Turnstone2     
5Dunlin 1    
5Least Sandpiper102315621922
5Western Sandpiper258484 
5Short-billed Dowitcher2     
5Spotted Sandpiper11    
5Red-necked Phalarope12    
6Heermann’s Gull298168527
6Short-billed Gull   1  
6Ring-billed Gull 222285536
6Western Gull5372641056849
6California Gull21571553904501330
6Herring Gull     2
6Glaucous-winged Gull   3 7
6Forster’s Tern  1   
6Royal Tern61123 2
6Elegant Tern255 15   
6Black Skimmer3     
2Red-throated Loon     1
2Common Loon   1  
2Black-vented Shearwater   100  
2Pelagic Cormorant1 1416
2Double-crested Cormorant685651456236
2Brown Pelican1126465220158343
3Great Blue Heron233352
3Great Egret312532
3Snowy Egret1499313516
3Green Heron  1   
3Black-crowned Night-Heron2  11 
4Yellow-crowned Night-Heron1     
4Turkey Vulture1 1111
4Red-shouldered Hawk 1    
4Red-tailed Hawk    3 
8Belted Kingfisher 1 2 1
8Nuttall’s Woodpecker     1
4American Kestrel    1 
4Merlin    1 
4Peregrine Falcon 1    
9Cassin’s Kingbird 3 11 
9Black Phoebe553323
9Say’s Phoebe 1    
9California Scrub-Jay221111
9American Crow173812311
9Common Raven     2
9Oak Titmouse  2   
9Violet-green Swallow1     
9Northern Rough-winged Swallow4     
9Barn Swallow28     
9Cliff Swallow1     
9Wrentit 1  21
9Ruby-crowned Kinglet   212
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   2 1
9House Wren1212 1
9Marsh Wren  1  1
9Bewick’s Wren11 2  
9Northern Mockingbird 1    
9European Starling 8   6
9Hermit Thrush   3 1
9House Finch841518169
9Lesser Goldfinch3616 4
9White-crowned Sparrow  12401612
9Song Sparrow6336 4
9California Towhee1 3613
9Spotted Towhee 1 1  
9Red-winged Blackbird25 43812
9Great-tailed Grackle4 51  
9Orange-crowned Warbler12  1 
9Common Yellowthroat453212
9Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  416156
9Townsend’s Warbler    1 
Totals by TypeAugSepOctNovDecJan
2Water Birds – Other197174275471363434
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis221315404420
4Quail & Raptors121161
6Gulls & Terns3401412775466581453
8Other Non-Passerines320525
 Totals Birds1073714914169014602276
 Total SpeciesAugSepOctNovDecJan
2Water Birds – Other558987
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis534443
4Quail & Raptors121141
6Gulls & Terns657747
8Other Non-Passerines120314
Totals Species – 104565254655561

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