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Seal Beach NWR Field Trip: Saturday, 18 November, 8 AM

October 9, 2017


Seal Beach NWR wetland, looking west towards the Pacific

It’s been several decades since we last visited Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge. If you join us, you’ll be surprised that such an astonishing area for wildlife can co-exist with a U.S. Navy installation. But if you’ve ever been to Point Mugu Naval Air Station, you’ll know that our military is actually an excellent steward of many valuable and beautiful wildlife areas.

Seal Beach is a remnant of the once-vast system of wetlands located just inland of our coastal dunes. These wetlands used to host millions of ducks, shorebirds, passerines, hawks, owls – you name it. The wetlands and birds began disappearing in the 1800’s as they were replaced by millions of humans and their homes, and now only a few parcels remain.

Light-footed Ridgway’s Rail

Among the wide variety of birds already mentioned, we will also look for three local-and-difficult-to-find birds: Pacific Golden-Plover, Light-footed Ridgway’s Rail and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. The plovers – pausing in their migration to southern climes – are usually in the barren patches between the railroad tracks and the lagoon, the rails hide in the reed beds, while the sparrows often winter in a shrubby area in the midst of the lagoon.

Expect the unexpected.

Viewing platform

Seal Beach Bird List PDF file
Map of Refuge

VISITING THE REFUGE ON YOUR OWN: Guided tours are held the last Saturday of every month except in December.

You must sign-up in advance in order to attend this trip.
Reservations can NOT be accepted after November 8, 2017

Attendance is limited. There may be a waiting list. Please do not sign up unless you are certain you will be there. The refuge is located within a U.S. Military installation, and you must be a U.S. CITIZEN and bring a PHOTO ID in order to enter.

Contact the organizer, Grace Murayama by email:
She will need: First name, Last Name, Middle Initial, Phone, ZIP Code, Date of Birth, Adult or Child

Photography: Cameras are allowed on this tour, just to make sure that all who take pictures only take pictures of wildlife and each other.

Google Map to Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge

Directions to Refuge [800 Seal Beach Blvd., Seal Beach, CA 90740]
From Santa Monica – 37 miles, allow 50 minutes
Take SAN DIEGO FWY (I-405) south to SEAL BEACH BLVD. Go south to sign on right for FORRESTAL DRIVE. Turn left into base entrance parking lot. Meet there. Participants must be signed-up and be approved by officials to enter.
[Chuck Almdale]


Autumn Creeps in at Malibu Lagoon, 24 September, 2017

October 8, 2017

Whimbrels, back from the Arctic (R. Juncosa 9-24-17)

There seemed to be a lot of birders today, perhaps the after-effects of last month’s article in the Santa Monica Daily Press. Bird species numbers, however, were a bit lower than usual. The only ducks were the locally breeding Mallards! I suppose nice weather up north is making the wildfowl reluctant to leave.

Least Terns – after occupying the beach all summer – have fled to southern climes. Snowy Plovers, which bred on Surfrider Beach for the first time since the beach became known as Surfrider Beach, continue to grow in numbers as the wintering migrants continue to arrive.

Brown Pelicans – fish-catching training camp (G. Murayama 9-24-17)

Snowy Plover NR:GY, born & banded this summer at Vandenberg AFB
(L. Loeher 9-24-17)

When counting Snowy Plovers, you can’t do it just once and walk away. We probably did several dozen counts. First it was four birds, then five, then six, seven, nine, thirteen, fourteen, eighteen, and finally thirty-four, including two banded birds. New birds were arriving, for sure, but the first fourteen were there all the time – they’re just so darned cryptic and small that if they aren’t moving, they’re nearly impossible to see. The Malibu Beach mother-of-the-year, Snowy Plover RR:BB, has returned to spend the winter, as she did last year. Also present was NR:GY, a new bird banded this summer at Vandenberg AFB, located up the coast past Santa Barbara.

Snowy Plover RR:BB, mom to this summer’s beach chick (L. Loeher 9-24-17)

A Clay-colored Sparrow had been sighted at the lagoon earlier this week, so when we spotted a drab brown sparrow who was not one of the Usual Suspects (Song, White-crowned, Chipping, Savannah or Lincoln’s), and it looked a lot like the eastern vagrant Clay-colored Sparrow, we got a bit excited. It kept flitting rapidly from bush to bush, allowing us partial looks at a tail, the belly, the breast and the crown as it moved all the way from the picnic area to the east end of the Malibu Colony

Brewer’s Sparrow
(J. Waterman 9-24-17)

houses, with us trailing along. We finally decided it was a Brewer’s Sparrow, which nests in mountains and high deserts to the north, but which I’d never previously recorded at the lagoon.

Brewer’s Sparrow (J. Waterman 9-24-17)


Local bird expert and Keeper-Of-The-Skins at the L.A. County Museum of Natural History commented:

Brewer’s are pretty widespread in September, showing up in many coastal localities (though very sparsely, of course).

Brewer’s Sparrow (R. Juncosa 9-24-17)

The coots have definitely returned for the winter (62 birds), and the 89 Black-bellied Plovers was a good population, although nowhere near their all-time high of 700 (estimated) on 10/23/11. Vaux’s Swifts kept flying by in small groups of 4-10 birds. I counted 40 birds, but there could easily have been five times that passing by.

Yellow Warbler, heading south (J. Waterman 9-24-17)

Five species of warbler was a nice variety, including fall migrants Townsend’s, Yellow and Wilson’s Warbler, in addition to the more frequent Orange-crowned Warbler and the resident breeding Common Yellowthroat.

Orange-crowned Warbler – don’t try to find the orange crown (J. Waterman 9-24-17)

Every month I hand out lagoon bird checklists for the lagoon, small but densely packed with information. I finally ran through the several hundred we’d printed about 10 years ago, and it was time to update the taxonomic sequence and print some new ones. Taxonomic sequence changes were numerous and massive. If you compare this month’s list sequence to that of July 2017 (August’s report is missing, but the counts are included in this month’s report), you will see the changes listed below. The sequence – now and previously – follows that of the California Bird Records Committee, which follows the A.O.U. Check-list of North American birds, including all supplements. This check-list is the American Orhithological Society’s (AOS) accepted sequence. The American Ornithological Union (AOU) and the Cooper Ornithological Society merged in October 2016, becoming the AOS.

  • Loons, cormorants, pelicans, herons, vultures and hawks moved to later in the list and are now located between terns and kingfishers, rather than following the ducks.
  • Doves, swifts and hummingbirds moved forward, now located between grebes and coots, rather than between terns and kingfishers.
  • Sandpipers were significantly shuffled within their family.
  • Falcons and parakeets are now located between woodpeckers and flycatchers.
  • Finches moved from the very end of the list to just after the pipits, with sparrows immediately following them.
  • Blackbirds still follow the sparrows, but the wood-warblers are now at the end of the list, following the blackbirds.

Say’s Phoebe (J. Waterman 9-24-17)

The proper model for the avian sequence (or any group of organisms) is really a three-dimensional tree, not the flat list which we are forced to use on paper. Just because woodpeckers are next to falcons in the list doesn’t mean that they are closely related. just a a photograph of a mountain and the sun means that they were in physical proximity. It’s the angle from which you look.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron – big spots and no black crown
(J. Waterman 9-24-17)

Birds new for the season were: Vaux’s Swift; American Avocet; Sanderling; Baird’s, Least, Western, and Spotted Sandpipers; Ring-billed Gull; Green Heron; Belted Kingfisher; Bushtit; Marsh & Bewick’s Wrens; Lesser Goldfinch; California Towhee; Brewer’s Sparrow; Dark-eyed Junco; Nashville, Yellow & Wilson’s Warblers.

Many thanks to our photographers: Ray Juncosa, Larry Loeler, Grace Murayama and Joyce Waterman.

Local artists help out
(G. Murayama 9-24-17)

Our next three scheduled field trips: Huntington Beach Central Park, 8am, 14 October; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 22 October; Newport Back Bay 8:30am, 4 November.

Our next program: Miracle of the Serengeti, 7 November, 7:30 pm; Chris Reed Park, 1133 7th St., NE corner of 7th and Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica.

NOTE: Our 10 a.m. Parent’s & Kids Birdwalk meets at the shaded viewpoint just south of the parking area. Watch for Willie the Weasel. He’ll be watching for you and your big floppy feet.

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

Prior checklists:
2017: Jan-June
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 project period, despite numerous complaints, remain available on our Lagoon Project Bird Census Page. Very briefly summarized, the results unexpectedly indicate that avian species diversification and numbers improved slightly during the period Jun’12-June’14.

The trail is getting bushy (G. Murayama 9-24-17)

Many thanks to Lillian Johnson, Larry Loeher, Grace Murayama, Lu Plauzoles, Joyce Waterman and others for their contributions to the checklist below.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 2017 2/26 3/26 4/23 5/28 6/25 7/23
Temperature 46-52 55-68 63-70 63-68 68-81 70-75
Tide Lo/Hi Height H+5.6 H+5.21 H+4.54 L+1.32 H+4.18 H+4.39
Tide Time 0845 0851 0749 0627 1147 1039
Canada Goose 2
Gadwall 10 12 10 15 18 15
American Wigeon 6 18
Mallard 24 14 20 25 35 30
Northern Shoveler 2 1
Green-winged Teal 12 2
Surf Scoter 8 30
Bufflehead 1
Hooded Merganser 2
Red-brstd Merganser 1 2 4
Ruddy Duck 10
Pacific Loon 2 80
Pied-billed Grebe 1 2
Eared Grebe 1 3
Western Grebe 3 1
Black-vented Shearwater 50
Dble-crstd Cormorant 42 41 19 12 11 22
Pelagic Cormorant 1
Brown Pelican 30 8 28 18 68 35
Great Blue Heron 4 2 3 5 6
Great Egret 3 1 3 5
Snowy Egret 9 5 4 2 9 12
Blk-crwnd N-Heron 1 1 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Osprey 1 1 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
American Coot 85 32 1 4 6
Blk-bellied Plover 35 14 15 5 5 27
Snowy Plover 8 8 3 2 5 9
Semipalmated Plover 20
Killdeer 4 8 12 14 8 4
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Willet 12 13 4 2 3
Whimbrel 5 4 4 27
Long-billed Curlew 1
Marbled Godwit 8 23 1 8
Ruddy Turnstone 10 1 3 2
Black Turnstone 1
Dunlin 1
Least Sandpiper 4 2 30
Western Sandpiper 3 3 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 1 1 1
Heermann’s Gull 3 1 24 19
Mew Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 30 2 1
Western Gull 45 39 75 45 103 52
California Gull 1350 6 3 2
Herring Gull 1
Glaucous-wingd Gull 2
Least Tern 3 20 30
Caspian Tern 2 17 4 12 12
Royal Tern 14 5 2 2
Elegant Tern 65 45 3 90
Black Skimmer 1
Rock Pigeon 10 6 18 13 15 17
Mourning Dove 1 1 2 4 2 4
Allen’s Hummingbird 2 2 1 3 4 6
Belted Kingfisher 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Black Phoebe 2 6 4 5 5 5
Cassin’s Kingbird 1
Western Kingbird 1
California Scrub-Jay 1
American Crow 4 3 3 5 7 2
Common Raven 1
Violet-green Swallow 1
Rough-wingd Swallow 20 4 3 2
Cliff Swallow 16 3 15
Barn Swallow 5 10 10 9 12
Bushtit 8 3 1
House Wren 1 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Hermit Thrush 1
Northern Mockingbird 2 4 8 4 2
European Starling 1 1 1 12 7
Ornge-crwnd Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 3 4 3 4 1 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 8
California Towhee 1 1 3
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 8 8 15 12 6 6
White-crwnd Sparrow 20 10
Red-winged Blackbird 1 30
Western Meadowlark 1 1
Great-tailed Grackle 2 3 8 4 15
Hooded Oriole 1
House Finch 10 6 16 30 10 10
Totals by Type Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul
Waterfowl 75 80 32 44 53 45
Water Birds – Other 165 132 130 31 83 65
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 16 8 4 6 18 24
Quail & Raptors 2 1 2 0 0 2
Shorebirds 86 76 96 21 22 82
Gulls & Terns 1445 58 160 97 167 207
Doves 11 7 20 17 17 21
Other Non-Passerines 3 2 1 3 4 6
Passerines 94 53 89 92 104 57
Totals Birds 1897 417 534 311 468 509
Total Species Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul
Waterfowl 9 8 3 3 2 2
Water Birds – Other 8 5 4 3 3 4
Herons, Egrets & Ibis 3 3 1 3 4 4
Quail & Raptors 2 1 2 0 0 2
Shorebirds 8 9 11 3 6 9
Gulls & Terns 7 9 6 4 7 7
Doves 2 2 2 2 2 2
Other Non-Passerines 2 1 1 1 1 1
Passerines 18 13 16 10 14 11
Totals Species – 87 59 51 46 29 39 42


A Real Alien Invasion Is Coming to a Palm Tree Near You | Deep Look Video

October 7, 2017

The South American palm weevil is bursting onto the scene in California. Its arrival could put one of the state’s most cherished botanical icons at risk of oblivion.

This is another installment of the PBS Deep Look series. If no film or link appears in this email, go to the blog to view it by clicking on the blog title above. If the film stops & starts in an annoying manner, press pause (lower left double bars ||) to let it buffer and get ahead of you.  [Chuck Almdale]

Native Plant Sale, coming soon “near you”

October 4, 2017

Okay, this isn’t really next door, but it’s just a hop over Sepulveda Pass and a jump down from the Ventura Freeway. But ever since the V.A. was pressured (maybe rightly so) to shut down the Veterans’ Native Garden two years ago, we haven’t had a local WLA/SM source for CA natives. Thus, the value of the sale where we can purchase native plant species in a number greater than ten. Actually, the flyer promises something in the order of fifty! And this doesn’t include the seed selections for those who love a challenge. (My recommended; try the blue-eyed grass! in the sunshine.)

So make sure you mark your calendar “des maintenant” –right away, in Frog. It’s only a hop, skip and a jump from here and now.


Dogs and Humans: A 30,000-Year Friendship | PBS Science Video

October 3, 2017

Of all the species that humans have domesticated, dogs are our oldest animal friends. But how did a group of wolves become the furry pup at the end of the bed? New research is finally unlocking the paw-in-hand evolution of dogs and humans. In this episode we’re answering one big question: Did we domesticate dogs, or did dogs domesticate us?

This is an installment of the PBS – It’s OK to be Smart series. If no film or link appears in this email, go to the blog to view it by clicking on the blog title above. If the film stops & starts in an annoying manner, press pause (lower left double bars ||) to let it buffer and get ahead of you.  [Chuck Almdale]

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