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Elegant Terns, Barn Swallows, an Osprey and a Warbler: Malibu Lagoon, 23 April 2023

April 28, 2023

[By Chuck Almdale]

Orange-crowned Warbler showing its rarely seen orange crown.
(Chris Tosdevin 4/23/23)

The tide was really low today at -0.41 ft. — any negative tide here is exceptionally low. That came at 6:37am and by 8:30 water was beginning to rise. As the pictures below show it remained low for most of the walk.

North channel nearly dry (Ray Juncosa 4/23/23)

From the first view point we could see a lot of terns and pelicans, mostly on the lagoon far (east) side. All the pelicans were brown. We searched through the terns repeatedly but could not for certain find a Royal, and there were no Caspian. We wound up with 655 Brown Pelicans and 630 Elegant Terns. Fortunately for me I had arrived early, saw the large flock and had time to count them before the birders arrived.

2.06% of the Elegant Terns (Chris Tosdevin 4/23/23)

For me the star of the day was the Orange-crowned Warbler whose photo begins this blog. This is one of SoCal’s more common warblers, with the Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warbler leading the pack, although Wilson’s Warbler can be quite abundant during spring migration. We may see Orange-crowned any time of year and I’ve quite possibly seen them thousands of times. [I’m not going to estimate closer than that.] But I can count on one hand — aka two-thumbs-and-a-finger — how many times I’ve seen the orange crown on the Orange-crowned. We managed to get one of the telescopes on it despite the fact that it was almost directly overhead — a tough angle for a scope — singing for all it was worth. It was also frequently leaning forward and down, allowing us a glimpse of the spread feathers of the crown. I told everyone to take a good look as they might never see this again during this particular lifetime. Fortunately Chris Tosdevin got a photo that shows the crown.

Barn Swallows gathering mud by the mouthful and apparently falling all over each other. (Chris Tosdevin 4/23/23)

Another fun sighting but not nearly as rare as we see it every year at this time: Barn Swallows gathering mud. Mouthful by mouthful they build their cup-shaped nests by sticking mouth-sized globs (a technical ornithological term) of mud onto a stony (or cement or brick) wall. They used to nest under the PCH bridge, but now it’s further away, the other side of the shopping center. Someone in the group asked why they all had their wings constantly waving in the air. I didn’t (and still don’t) really know for certain, but I can conjecture two reasons: 1) the mud is sticky and by waving their arms…er, wings…around they get a little bit of extra wiggly jiggly leverage to pry a bite-sized mud glob loose from the sticky mass; 2) all the while they’re struggling with this mud they’re in the open, on a mud flat, fair game for any predator flying by or skulking in the bushes; perhaps they can escape slightly more quickly should a Peregrine Falcon choose to stoop on them. This is not totally idle speculation as there was a Peregrine Falcon present today. [Later Note] I was advised by Chris Lord that female swallows wave their wings to keep males from trying to mate with them. If this is true and applies here, then the mud-gatherers were all female.]

Whimbrel(s) (Chris Tosdevin 4/23/23)

Shorebirds were short of numerous: 88 birds in 8 species, among them 16 Whimbrel. There is a huge amount of driftwood on the sand east of the lagoon. Chris Tosdevin and/or Lu Plauzoles searched painstakingly through it by telescope and managed to find a single solitary Snowy Plover, and very little else. Anyone who has walked on Surfrider Beach during Snowy Plover roosting season (July-April) and nearly stepped on one they didn’t see because these birds look exactly like sand on a sandy beach, will have some appreciation as to how difficult it can be to find one among a large mass of driftwood, 50-150 yards away.

Cormorants, mostly beige-chinned Brandt’s. Look very closely and you see a bit of blue just below the base of the bill on a few. Find the Pelagic singleton. (Chris Tosdevin 4/23/23)

The Osprey was present and quite busy. We watched it make several passes at the lagoon during which it made serious dives over the few pools deep enough to hold a fish larger than a minnow. This involves dropping nearly straight down and pulling up at the last fraction of a second. On the third pass it plunged in feet-first-wings-upraised and came up with a Striped Mullet, then flew off to it’s favorite telephone pole/dining area and went to work on it. We debated how many fish it ate per day: did it eat every day or could it wait a day or two between meals? How big were these fish? Do they like tartar sauce? And so on. We were there on the 23rd of April, and Grace Murayama and Larry Loeher — ace Snowy Plover watcher/wardens — sent me a photo of the bird eating a fish (Mullet, of course!) taken on April 21, two days earlier. So there you have it! There is now at least one record of (almost certainly) the same Osprey eating two Mullet two days apart.

Osprey on his pole. Be thankful you’re not a Mullet! (Ray Juncosa 4/23/23)

According to that bottomless font of all knowledge — Google — an adult Osprey weigh 3 lbs. or 1.4 kg. They’re also 22-25″ long. Using a ruler to compare fish and bird lengths in the photo below, I get a fish that’s ~54% as long as the bird, or 13″.

Osprey #1 and Mullet (Chris Tosdevin 4/23/23)

I found a very handy length-weight chart for fish and dialed in Striped Mullet Mugil cephalus.

  • 10 inch – 6 oz, 0.375 lb
  • 13 inch – 13 oz, 0.8125 lb
  • 15 inch – 19 oz, 1.1875 lb
  • 18 inch – 32 oz, 2.00 lb
  • 20 inch – 44 oz, 2.75 lb
  • 25 inch – 85 oz, 5.31 lb
  • 30 inch – 145 oz, 9.06 lb
  • And so on

If the fish in the photo is 13″ (I thought longer), it weights 13oz or .8125 lb. Ospreys eat nearly all of the fish — they might skip the nearly fleshless fins and tail — so a fish like this one is ~0.8 lb / 3.0 lb. or = 27% of the bird’s body weight, roughly speaking.

Well, catching your food by flying around and diving repeatedly until you’re successful can take a lot of energy, particular when it comes to hauling a meal that weighs 27% of your total body weigh (they’re capable of hoisting up to 90% of their body weight) out of the water while it’s still mightily resisting, well up into the air and onto a perch where no one is going to come and try to steal it from you. So perhaps eating 27% of your total body weight every other day (or 14% per day on average) is not unreasonable. How much food does a human eat per day? Three pounds, five, eight pounds? If so, for a 150 lb. person, that works out to 2-5% of body weight per day. That’s — as statisticians say in their technical mumbojumbo — a heckova difference, 14% versus 2-5% of body weight. I’d hate to see what would happen to any 150 lb. person who sat down to eat a 21 lb. meal once, let alone every other day.

Osprey #2 over the lagoon (Grace Murayama 4/21/23)

Double-crested Cormorant with white eyebrows (crests), perhaps eyeballing Osprey #2. (Larry Loeher 4/21/23)

Three Mallards flying in close formation. (Ray Juncosa 4/23/23)

Male Mallard & domestic duck (Ray Juncosa 4/23/23)

The above Male Mallard and domestic duck kept very close company the entire time we were there. Grace Murayama photo’d the same pair two days earlier and they were just as close. Domestic ducks are descended from Mallards subjected to many generations of careful breeding by humans [unless they’re carbuncle-faced Muscovy Ducks].

Surf Scoter female (dark cap, some white on nape), slightly oiled.
(Chris Tosdevin 4/23/23)

Surf Scoters are really uncommon within the lagoon, but regular in winter in small numbers offshore, where they can freely dive for mollusks, crustaceans and small fish. This one was sitting on the lagoon shore near some rocks, busily preening her breast. The left side of her breast had a black spot, so she was apparently a bit oiled. The spot was not large, she was ambulatory and would easily evade capture, so we didn’t alert anyone. She was swimming in the lagoon when we left.

A Mostly dry lagoon, pelicans and terns in left distance. (Ray Juncosa 4/23/23)

Birds new for the Season: Anna’s Hummingbird, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, Peregrine Falcon, Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, Wrentit, House Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Hooded Oriole, Brown-headed Cowbird.   

American Crow gathering fluff for a nest (Ray Juncosa 4/23/23)

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

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

Song Sparrow on the rainbird. They sing a lot; hence the name.
(Grace Murayama 4/21/23)

Upcoming SMBAS scheduled field trips:

  • Morongo Valley & Black Rock Campground Sat. May 6, 3pm; Sun May 7, 7:30am. If you want to stay overnight Sat. May 6, 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.
  • Mt. Piños Birds & Butterflies, Sat Jun 17, 8am. Call the leader to let them know you’re coming.
  • Malibu Lagoon, Sun Jun 25, 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: TBA. Tuesday, 3 Oct. 2023, 7:30 p.m.

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

Bushtit male (Ray Juncosa 4/23/23)

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 Lord, 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 as updated 4 Feb 2023. If part of the chart’s right side is hidden, there’s a slider button at the bottom of the list.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2022-2311/2712/251/222/263/264/23
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+6.04H+6.59H+6.81L+0.81L+0.28L-.041
 Tide Time104509500858091108000637
1Canada Goose  4264
1Cinnamon Teal   1  
1Northern Shoveler   7  
1American Wigeon148 4  
1Green-winged Teal63815265 
1Redhead    3 
1Lesser Scaup1     
1Surf Scoter12316223
1Common Goldeneye  2   
1Hooded Merganser 51   
1Red-breasted Merganser257632 
1Ruddy Duck3242 8  
2Pied-billed Grebe452112
2Horned Grebe 1    
2Eared Grebe85    
2Western Grebe41840806
7Feral Pigeon4616561
7Mourning Dove2  212
8White-throated Swift    5 
8Anna’s Hummingbird121  1
8Allen’s Hummingbird2 2332
2American Coot851303873376
5Black-bellied Plover835143623 
5Semipalmated Plover     14
5Snowy Plover18 1616 1
5Marbled Godwit382318172 
5Ruddy Turnstone4263  
5Dunlin     2
5Least Sandpiper62192227 19
5Western Sandpiper84   30
6Heermann’s Gull1685273380
6Short-billed Gull1  1  
6Ring-billed Gull2855364046120
6Western Gull1056849382650
6California Gull39045013302379560
6Herring Gull  212 
6Glaucous-winged Gull3 74  
6Caspian Tern    2 
6Royal Tern3 21413 
6Elegant Tern    90630
6Black Skimmer   3  
2Red-throated Loon  1 1 
2Pacific Loon    11
2Common Loon1   21
2Black-vented Shearwater100     
2Brandt’s Cormorant   1 12
2Pelagic Cormorant416123
2Double-crested Cormorant456236672653
2American White Pelican   1  
2Brown Pelican22015834315962655
3Great Blue Heron352 2 
3Great Egret532221
3Snowy Egret313516621
3Black-crowned Night-Heron11    
3White-faced Ibis   1  
4Turkey Vulture111551
4Osprey    11
4Cooper’s Hawk   1  
4Red-tailed Hawk 3 122
8Belted Kingfisher2 1   
8Nuttall’s Woodpecker  1   
4American Kestrel 1    
4Merlin 1    
4Peregrine Falcon     1
9Cassin’s Kingbird11 11 
9Pacific-slope Flycatcher     1
9Black Phoebe323321
9Say’s Phoebe   1  
9California Scrub-Jay111   
9American Crow123112764
9Common Raven  212 
9Northern Rough-winged Swallow   266
9Barn Swallow    1415
9Cliff Swallow   24325
9Wrentit 21  1
9Ruby-crowned Kinglet2121  
9Cedar Waxwing    12 
9Blue-gray Gnatcatcher2 1   
9House Wren2 1  2
9Marsh Wren  1   
9Bewick’s Wren2   1 
9Northern Mockingbird     1
9European Starling  69 2
9Hermit Thrush3 1   
9House Finch18169657
9Lesser Goldfinch6 41052
9White-crowned Sparrow4016122512 
9Song Sparrow6 4557
9California Towhee613315
9Spotted Towhee1     
9Hooded Oriole     1
9Red-winged Blackbird3812 2 
9Brown-headed Cowbird     1
9Great-tailed Grackle1   64
9Orange-crowned Warbler 1 131
9Common Yellowthroat212431
9Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)1615627 
9Townsend’s Warbler 1    
Totals by TypeNovDecJanFebMarApr
2Water Birds – Other471363434343212739
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis404420962
4Quail & Raptors161785
6Gulls & Terns5466581453341277940
8Other Non-Passerines525383
 Totals Birds16901460227611707531915
 Total SpeciesNovDecJanFebMarApr
2Water Birds – Other987899
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis443332
4Quail & Raptors141334
6Gulls & Terns747985
8Other Non-Passerines314122
Totals Species – 106655561646056

One Comment
  1. Edna Alvarez permalink
    May 4, 2023 1:15 pm

    Nice report. Thank you.





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