Skip to content

Three of a Kind?: Malibu Lagoon, 26 March 2023

March 30, 2023

[By Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Lagoon, PCH bridge, Tunney house, Adamson house, Santa Monica Mtns. A small white cross in the far distance above right end of bridge marks Serra Retreat. (Ray Juncosa 3/26/23)

We’ve had a cool wet March, with 9.3″ of rain at our house, more than we’ve had over some recent full years. Today was dry and sunny, but still cool (57-60°F) for March. That, combined with poor waves meant few surfers and sand-sitters toiling on their tans. Low tide often means lots of shorebirds around the lagoon but not today, as most of the six shorebird species we saw were among the rocks or on the damp sandy beach.

Canada Geese, perhaps heading north, honking as they go
(Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

Peering into the sun from the viewpoint near the Pacific Coast Hwy (PCH) bridge, we spotted among the Coots a duck not often seen at the lagoon.

Male Redhead (Ray Juncosa 3/26/23)

Redheads are regular in small numbers in SoCal, but mostly on freshwater, such as the various reservoirs in the San Gabriel Valley, and less often on brackish water like Malibu Lagoon. Perhaps the very low tide meant that all the water in the lagoon was fresh creek water and more to their liking.

Three Redheads, three Coots (Ray Juncosa 3/26/23)

Out of 309 visits from 10/21/79 to 3/26/23, we’ve had Redheads only 12 times with a total of 29 individuals. The record shows:
11/17/79 -2, 10/19/80 – 4, 11/2/80 – 1, 12/20/80 – 2, 1/3/81 – 3, 1/18/81 – 1,
2/14/82 – 6, 9/25/05 – 1, 11/24/13 – 4, 1/26/14 – 1, 11/24/19 – 1, 3/26/23 – 3.
When I see close clusters of a few uncommon birds such as the 5 sightings 10/19/80-1/18/81, I tend to think they’re likely the same birds staying for a while.

Male Redhead and the weird female (Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

But if you look at the two female Redheads, they don’t quite look the same. In the photo below, the left bird looks about like you’d expect for a female Redhead, but the right bird has a lot of white at the base of the bill, a bit of streak behind the eye, the head seems browner and the head shape is a bit different. The bill and body are basically the same.

Both female Redheads (Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

This drove a few of us quite crazy for quite a while (and probably the rest of the group who had to put us with our interminable dawdling). We kicked around Lesser Scaup, Ring-neck, perhaps a hybrid. Nothing quite seemed to fit. Even the two sides of the weird female’s head differed slightly, as the amount of white at the base of the bill and in the line behind the eye were different.

Weird female Redhead, R & L sides of head. (Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

But the three birds stayed very close to one another, unusual behavior if one of them was a different species. We finally decided to move on and study the photos when we got home. Chris Tosdevin reported that he was advised by Someone More Knowledgeable Than We (perhaps at eBird) that: “the 3rd duck with the extensive white patch around the beak is also ‘likely’ a redhead. Her bill coloration and head shape match the male’s. The pale throat can wrap around the base of the bill in varying amounts.

These are the birds that try men’s souls,” as famously beleaguered birder Thomas Paine once observed, and he should know. He didn’t even have a field guide or telescope to help out. He had to shoot them.

The lagoon (and Santa Catalina Is., I believe) from near the PCH bridge. (Ray Juncosa 3/26/23)

Well, of course that wasn’t all we had. The next photo proves that Osprey really do catch sizable fish in the lagoon, even in really low water like this.

Osprey with a yellow-tailed fish, properly transported head forward.
(Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

By far the most common fish in the lagoon the size of the above pictured fish is the Striped (aka Jumping and at least 8 other names) Mullet. I could not find any pictures anywhere showing this widespread and variable species having a yellow tail, and it certainly was not a Tuna, so I sent it off to local ichthyologist Rosi Dagit. After conferring with her colleague Camm Swift, they decided that although it wasn’t the greatest view possible of a fish it indeed was a Striped Mullet. As Smith put it: “The mullet often have a yellowish tail and this one is not that yellow. Too robust for a large topsmelt or a trout/steelhead.” There you have it.

Some of the 25 Whimbrels. (Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

And of course we had terns, in increasing size order, as we again approach nesting season.

Elegant Terns 17″ long. (Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

At morning’s start there were no Elegant Terns at all. By the time we left there were a very noisy ninety of them.

Royal Terns 20″ long. (Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

Caspian Tern 21″ long. (Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

Passerines were far from absent: 20 species albeit only 99 birds. Most were regular attendees.

Song Sparrow & a very leggy insect. (Chris Tosdevin, 3/26/23)

White-crowned Sparrow keeps a low profile. (Chris Tosdevin, 3/26/23)

This may be the last of the White-crowned Sparrows at the lagoon until next fall.

A very glossy male Great-tailed Grackle. (Ray Juncosa 3/26/23)

Our last bird of the day dropped in while we were tailgating in the parking lot. A small, speedy and very coordinated flock shot into a sycamore tree above us in a manner typical of Cedar Waxwings, which they turned out to be. These birds are so infrequent at the lagoon they make the Redheads almost look common: 7 visits from 10/21/79 to 3/26/23, totalling 125 birds. I won’t bother you with the dates.

One of a dozen very elegant Cedar Waxwings. (Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

Birds new for the Season: Redhead, White-throated Swift, Caspian Tern, Elegant Tern, Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Osprey, Barn Swallow, Cedar Waxwing, Bewick’s Wren, Great-tailed Grackle.

(Ray Juncosa 3/26/23)

Malibu Lagoon south channel, the red roofs of Pepperdine University in the far distance left. (Ray Juncosa 3/26/23)

Malibu Lagoon on eBird as of 4-17-23: 6785 lists, 318 species

Many thanks to photographers: Ray Juncosa, Chris Tosdevin

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips:

  • Malibu Lagoon, Sun Apr 23, 8:30 am No reservations or Covid card required for this trip.
  • Morongo Valley & Black Rock Campground Sat. May 6, 3pm; Sun 7:30am. If you want to stay overnight Sat. May 6, you’ll need to reserve a Yucca Valley motel room or Black Rock campsite.
  • Malibu Lagoon, Sun May 28, 8:30 am No reservations or Covid card required for this trip.
  • These and any other trips we announce for the foreseeable future will depend upon 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: Alvaro Jaramillo. Tuesday, 2 May 2023, 7:30 p.m.

The SMBAS 10 a.m. Parent’s & Kids Birdwalk restarts this April 23. Reservations for groups (scouts, etc.) necessary, but not for families.

Lesser Goldfinch male
(Chris Tosdevin 3/26/23)

Links: Unusual birds at Malibu Lagoon
9/23/02 Aerial photo of Malibu Lagoon
More recent aerial photo

Prior checklists:
2021: Jan-JulyJuly-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 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 2022-2310/2311/2712/251/222/263/26
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+5.33H+6.04H+6.59H+6.81L+0.81L+0.28
 Tide Time083910450950085809110800
1Canada Goose   426
1Cinnamon Teal    1 
1Northern Shoveler    7 
1American Wigeon 148 4 
1Northern Pintail1     
1Green-winged Teal263815265
1Redhead     3
1Lesser Scaup 1    
1Surf Scoter 1231622
1Bufflehead 1111105 
1Common Goldeneye   2  
1Hooded Merganser  51  
1Red-breasted Merganser 257632
1Ruddy Duck353242 8 
2Pied-billed Grebe845211
2Horned Grebe  1   
2Eared Grebe285   
2Western Grebe24184080
7Feral Pigeon15461656
7Mourning Dove42  21
8White-throated Swift     5
8Anna’s Hummingbird 121  
8Allen’s Hummingbird 2 233
2American Coot14585130387337
5Black-bellied Plover64835143623
5Semipalmated Plover2     
5Snowy Plover3918 1616 
5Marbled Godwit6382318172
5Ruddy Turnstone44263 
5Least Sandpiper1562192227 
5Western Sandpiper484   
6Heermann’s Gull816852733
6Short-billed Gull 1  1 
6Ring-billed Gull222855364046
6Western Gull6410568493826
6California Gull155390450133023795
6Herring Gull   212
6Glaucous-winged Gull 3 74 
6Caspian Tern     2
6Forster’s Tern1     
6Royal Tern123 21413
6Elegant Tern15    90
6Black Skimmer    3 
2Red-throated Loon   1 1
2Pacific Loon     1
2Common Loon 1   2
2Black-vented Shearwater 100    
2Brandt’s Cormorant    1 
2Pelagic Cormorant141612
2Double-crested Cormorant514562366726
2American White Pelican    1 
2Brown Pelican6522015834315962
3Great Blue Heron3352 2
3Great Egret253222
3Snowy Egret931351662
3Green Heron1     
3Black-crowned Night-Heron 11   
3White-faced Ibis    1 
4Turkey Vulture111155
4Osprey     1
4Cooper’s Hawk    1 
4Red-tailed Hawk  3 12
8Belted Kingfisher 2 1  
8Nuttall’s Woodpecker   1  
4American Kestrel  1   
4Merlin  1   
9Cassin’s Kingbird 11 11
9Black Phoebe332332
9Say’s Phoebe    1 
9California Scrub-Jay1111  
9American Crow812311276
9Common Raven   212
9Oak Titmouse2     
9Northern Rough-winged Swallow    26
9Barn Swallow     14
9Cliff Swallow    243
9Wrentit  21  
9Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2121 
9Cedar Waxwing     12
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2 1  
9House Wren12 1  
9Marsh Wren1  1  
9Bewick’s Wren 2   1
9European Starling   69 
9Hermit Thrush 3 1  
9House Finch151816965
9Lesser Goldfinch16 4105
9White-crowned Sparrow124016122512
9Song Sparrow36 455
9California Towhee361331
9Spotted Towhee 1    
9Red-winged Blackbird43812 2
9Great-tailed Grackle51   6
9Orange-crowned Warbler  1 13
9Common Yellowthroat321243
9Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)41615627
9Townsend’s Warbler  1   
Totals by TypeOctNovDecJanFebMar
2Water Birds – Other275471363434343212
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis1540442096
4Quail & Raptors116178
6Gulls & Terns2775466581453341277
8Other Non-Passerines052538
 Totals Birds9141690146022761170753
 Total SpeciesOctNovDecJanFebMar
2Water Birds – Other898789
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis444333
4Quail & Raptors114133
6Gulls & Terns774798
8Other Non-Passerines031412
Totals Species –  105546555616460

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: