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Migratory songbirds flying high

October 8, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Most birders have read that migrating Bar-headed Geese fly over the Himalayas on their migratory way from India to Siberia, and then again on the return flight. They’ve even been seen from the top of Mt. Everest, overhead, presumably honking away as geese tend to do while in migratory flight. But they’re not the only high-flyers. Follow the links below to learn about others.

Migratory songbirds climb to extreme altitudes during daytime
Lund University | ScienceDaily | 7 May 2021 | 5 min read

From the article:

Great reed warblers normally migrate by night during its month-long migration from northern Europe to Sub-Saharan Africa. However, researchers have now discovered that during the few occasions when it continues to fly during daytime, it flies at extremely high altitudes (up to 6300 meters). One possible explanation for this unexpected and consistent behaviour could be that the birds want to avoid overheating. The study is published in Science.

Migratory birds found to be flying much higher than expected – new research
The Conversation | Sissel Sjöberg | 13 Sep 2021 | 8 minute read

From the article:

During crossings of the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert, the great reed warblers sometimes prolong their night flights either for a few hours into the following day, or for the full day and next night, lasting up to 35 hours.

Great snipes, meanwhile, are waders weighing about 200g and breed in the mountains of northern Sweden. An international team of researchers led by Åke Lindström at Lund have been tracking these birds for the last decade. Studies have revealed that great snipes have developed a migratory strategy where most of the 6,000km journey to their wintering ranges in sub-Saharan Africa is performed in one long non-stop flight, lasting 60-90 hours.

The Far Side | 6-Oct-2020

October 6, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Go to The Far Side today – Weds. 6 Oct 2020 – and you’ll see something that will make you smile.

Birds of NE Brazil & the Atlantic Forest, with Chuck Bragg. Zoom Evening Meeting Reminder, Tuesday, 5 October, 7:30 p.m.

October 5, 2021

You are all invited to the next ZOOM meeting
of Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society

Gilt-edged Tanager
On October 5, 2021 at 7:30 pm, Join the Zoom Presentation by CLICKING HERE

Birds of Northeast Brazil & the Atlantic Forest, with Chuck Bragg of SMBAS. Zoom Evening Meeting, Tuesday, 5 October, 7:30 p.m..

Chuck Bragg has been a member of SMBAS since 1976. He has been, at various times, a board member and officer of SMBAS. He has led a particularly interesting life – feel free to ask about it at our Zoom meeting on Tuesday, October 5th.

Dry plateau at Canudos Biological Station.

More importantly, he enjoys being a birder and bird photographer. In January 2020 he went on a long-planned birding trip to northeast Brazil, sneaking it in just before COVID-19 began to shut down exotic excursions. What comes to most people’s minds when thinking about Brazil is Amazonia or the Pantanal, but Northeast Brazil contains a wider variety of habitats than the better-known regions. There are desert, mangrove coastline, scrubland, mountains, forests and rainforests – the variety is the attraction. NE Brazil has a lot of endemics – on this trip we saw a manakin that was not even discovered until 1996, and a macaw where the wild population was only found in 1978 (and got pictures of both!).

Black Jacobin (Florisuga fusca)

On October 5, 2021 at 7:30 pm, Join the Zoom Presentation by CLICKING HERE

(If this button isn’t working for you, see detailed zoom invitation below.)

Icapui mangroves.

Meeting ID: 821 1894 8270
Passcode: 025968
One tap mobile:
+16699009128,,82118948270#,,,,*025968# US (San Jose) +12532158782,,82118948270#,,,,*025968# US (Tacoma)

Dial by your location
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Meeting ID: 821 1894 8270
Passcode: 025968
Find your local number:

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

October stargazing events | Natural History

October 5, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Sunrise at South Pole – NASA 5 Oct 2021 – Martin Wolf

Joe Rao writes a monthly column in Natural History Magazine, and I’ve mined it for information for many years. He characterizes October as “the best month for stargazing,” so I’m passing on some of his comments to you. If you’re lucky you have a dark sky in your area, and can see more than the couple-of-dozen stars available to us here in in light-saturated Los Angeles. A few additional comments from me are in [brackets].

Quiz time: If you’re standing at the South Pole (as in the picture above), how many “days” (start of sunrise start to next start of sunrise) will you have during the course of a calendar year? Answer at end.

Mercury: It’s always difficult to see this fast-moving, close-to-the-sun messenger of the gods. [Many earthlings have never seen it.] It’s highly elliptical orbit is only 88 days long, and the planet is 50% farther from the sun at aphelion [43.5 million miles] than at perhelion [28.5 million miles]. [Orbital mechanics dictates that it spends a lot less time close to the sun than farther away. From our viewpoint, it’s never more than 28° from the sun (56 times the width of full moon).]

9 Oct: Mercury passes inferior conjunction between the sun and earth, and passes into the morning sky. By the 17th it will be of 1st-magnitude brightness and will rise just south of east more than an hour before the sun.

25 October: Mercury reaches greatest western elongation and is magnitude -0.6 this morning. Although only 18° from the sun [36 times width of full moon], for several days surrounding this date the planet will rise before the beginning of morning twilight, making this the year’s most favorable morning apparition for observers in mid-northern latitudes. Brightening to -0.8, Mercury will pass 4° to the left of sparkly Spica on 2 November.

[Note on star magnitudes: The scale is reverse logarithmic: the brighter an object is, the lower its magnitude number. For example, a star of magnitude 2.0 is 2.512 times brighter than a star of magnitude 3.0, 6.31 times brighter than a star of magnitude 4.0, and 100 times brighter than one of magnitude 7.0. Wikipedia]

Saturn is the bright yellow “star” in the south during early evening. It lies on the western side of the dim, boat-shaped Capricornus, which is composed of 3rd and 4th-magnitude stars that Saturn, along with brilliant Jupiter to the east, overshadow. Saturn ceases its westward or “retrograde” motion (the direction all outer planets appear to move for a few months around opposition) and resumes its eastward travel against the stars. [Check your handy epicycle charts for details on retrograde motion.]

The moon is new on 6 Oct. at 4:05 a.m. PDT, at first quarter on 12 Oct 8:25 p.m. PDT, full “Hunter’s” moon on 20 Oct 7:56 a.m. PDT, and last quarter on 28 Oct 1:05 p.m. PDT.

Mars is in solar conjunction and invisible all month.

Venus is resplendent at magnitude -4.6, arrives at its greatest eastern elongation, or greatest angular distance east of the Sun (47°). But it is so far south on the celestial sphere that it remains fairly low, just 12° above the southwest horizon 45 minutes after sunset.

Quiz answer: One “day” sunrise to sunrise, per calendar year. The sun begins rising at the South Pole around 21 Sept (Autumnal equinox), begins setting around 21 March (Vernal equinox), then rises again at the next Autumnal equinox. It takes a few weeks to fully rise or set.

Old coots visit Malibu Lagoon, 26 September 2021

September 29, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

American Pipit, winter visitor (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

It was unseasonably cool from morning fog, still hanging low by the time we left. [Of course there is no such thing as unseasonably hot anymore.] Temperature was 63-70°F and I never took off my fleece. It’s SoCal, remember? At 65° in Beverly Hills, they’re bundling up in furry boots, getting ready for the Great Freeze of January, when it plunges down to 60° above. 

North channel with algae (Lillian Johnson 9-26-21)

No stints this morning, not even a Long-toed Stint. But the large crowd of American Coots more than made up for their absence, 130 strong, their black bodies and white forehead shields checkerboarding the lagoon.

Coots have large baby-blue lobed toes, not webbed feet. (G. Murayama)

Ah…the lagoon! Never have I seen so much algae. Not just the channels where the current is slow, but about half or more of the lagoon itself is algae-covered. Most of the peeps were strolling on it, finding invertebrates. The water level has dropped about 6 inches.

Malibu Lagoon with algae (Lillian Johnson 9-26-21)

A great deal of sandy beach up to about 6” above lagoon water level is now covered with a continuous, unbroken, dark brown-to-black blanket of deadish algae. It really does resemble a wrinkled blanket. You expect to see a head poke out from under it, wondering why you’re walking on their bed and rudely awakening them.

Surfers on the water under a gray sky (Lillian Johnson 9-26-21)

Speaking of checkerboarding, the next most common species at the lagoon were surfers on the waves. We knew there’d be a lot of them—jam-packed cars along the no-cost edges of Pacific Coast Highway, and surfers pay to park only as a last resort—but I didn’t expect to see this many. I had to count them, of course. (That’s rule #1 in The Compulsive’s Handbook.) I got to 110 surfers in the water waiting for a wave, on a wave, or paddling back out to catch another wave. They vanished from view around the curvature of the beach. More were on the beach, suiting up or resting.

Pelagic Cormorant watches the surfers (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

The surf was very good. (No surprise there. If it wasn’t good, there would be no surfers. There is a clear causal relationship there.) They always check the surf reports which must be remarkably accurate. The waves were not windblown and ragged from a breeze. The big ones came in sets, nicely cresting, some even forming tubes. Every time the first one of a set arrived, the surfers who weren’t far enough out to catch it would paddle furiously to catch the next one. I used to body surf—a lot—so I know the frustration of deciding where to wait for a worthwhile ride, yet not missing them all by being out too far.

Pieces of dead birds lay all along the edge of the lagoon and the sand bar: lone wings, pairs of wings, tail, a pile of feathers, bones & feathers, a neck, a head, a neck & head and so on. The Merlin and Peregrine Falcon (perhaps several of each) had evidently found their happy hunting ground. Maybe that was why there were so few birds.

Black-crowned Night-Heron juvenile – lagoonside lurker (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

Especially the gulls and terns. The small flocklet of five Royal Terns ballooned to thirteen birds by the time we left, and the initial five gulls mushroomed to twelve. Four species. Back home, I checked my records and found that this was indeed a Very Low Number of gulls & terns. In fact, in 291 visits since October, 1979, the only lower count of gulls & terns was last year, October 21, 2020, when we had a walloping 22 birds in two species—21 Western Gulls and 1 California Gull. One can only hope they were all out to sea, stuffing themselves on vast schools of delicious mouth-watering fish. It’s either that or they got sick and tired of being dive-bombed by falcons and left for a more peaceful stretch of sand.

Royal Tern brakes for landing (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

I spoke briefly to a young couple looking at the flock of shorebirds on the sandy island. They turned out to be volunteers—or maybe employees, I didn’t get that detail nailed down—for International Bird Rescue (IBR). They’d just spent a lot of time down at Long Beach Harbor, helping the Elegant Terns with their (the terns) wild & crazy idea of nesting on two (momentarily) unused barges. Nesting, I should add, over the objections of the owner who had previously made other plans for his barges, plans in which terns played no part. But he cooperated, so kudos to him.

A quarter of the gull flock (Ray Juncosa 9-26-21)

If you recall (from prior blogs here), the Elegant Terns had been frightened off their nests down at Bolsa Chica Wildlife Reserve in Orange County. They relocated en masse to Long Beach Harbor. It was a decent spot to nest, until the chicks hatched and began wandering around the nesting area, as they tend to do. Normally Elegant Terns nest on sand flats where the chicks can’t get into too much trouble. But the barge edges were shear drop-offs to the water with no retaining walls, so the chicks continually fell off the edges into the harbor water, with absolutely no way to clamber back up to the barge deck and their parents, much less leap out of the water and fly up.

Say’s Phoebe (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

IBR to the rescue! Using small boats they’d pluck the floundering chicks from the water, take them to a safe place, and feed them. Some they banded, some they returned to the barge. About 6,000-8,000 Elegant Terns nested on the barges, and IBR rescued about 2,000 chicks from the water. Nesting season is now over and done. We hope that next year they return to Bolsa Chica and that the drone-flyers stay away. But Elegant Terns have a history of abandoning areas from which they’ve been frightened. We’ll see.

Link to a IBR 9-28-21 posting about Long Beach Harbor and Elegant Terns.

(L) Whimbrel (Ray Juncosa 9-26-21) (R) Marbled Godwit (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

Great Egret (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

So this couple had a few hours or days off, and decided to visit Malibu Lagoon and see if any of “their” birds were around, and if they could find any with bands. Unfortunately—not just very unfortunately but astonishingly unfortunately—for them, they picked the second worse day in over 40 years to look for gulls and terns at Malibu Lagoon.

So it—as Kurt Vonnegut often wrote—goes.

We had an interesting Great-tailed Grackle at the lagoon, a shiny blue-black male. It looked a lot like a member of a small family of African Warblers known as Crombecs. If it’s a new species, I suggest it be named Black-faced Crombec-Grackle.

Long-tailed [Black-faced] [Crombec]-Grackle (Ray Juncosa 9-26-21)
Red-faced Crombec (Glen Tepke Birds of the World)

We had yet one more of the Long-billed Curlews that have been recently dropping by the lagoon. Sandy beach or lagoon edges are really not their preferred habitat, so their presence is infrequent and of short-duration. 60 birds on 17 occasions, including this one, is the grand total since October 1979, and 39 of them were on 8/16/80.

Long-billed Curlew (Grace Murayama 9-22-21)

The Snowy Plover count was 34 birds. No bands were seen, but then we didn’t make them all stand up for inspection. This seemed to me to be a higher-than-usual number of birds for September, but when I got home and counted them up for the ten year period 2011-2020, the average was 41 birds. So much for memory! That’s why we (humans) invented writing.

Western Snowy Plover banded g:y/g, now an oldster at the lagoon (Grace Murayama 9-22-21)
Sidewalk tidal clock formerly inundated (Lillian Johnson 9-26-21)

Birds new for the season: American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Long-billed Curlew, Long-billed Dowitcher, Ring-billed Gull, Osprey, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Say’s Phoebe, House Wren, American Pipit, Western Meadowlark, Orange-crowned Warbler.

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

The next SMBAS scheduled field trips: Maybe January 2022. Wear your masks, get your shots, and maybe someday we can have organized trips again.

The next SMBAS program: Zoom Evening Meeting, Birds of Northeast Brazil & the Atlantic Forest, with Chuck Bragg, 5 October 2021, 7:30 p.m.

The SMBAS 10 a.m. Parent’s & Kids Birdwalk remains canceled until further notice due to the near-impossibility of maintained proper masked social distancing with parents and small children.

Song Sparrow (C. Tosdevin 9-21-26)

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

Prior checklists:
2021: Jan-July

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.

Semipalmated Plover (Chris Tosdevin 9-26-21)

Many thanks to Lillian Johnson, Ray Juncosa, Chris Tosdevin and others for their contributions to this month’s checklist.

The appearance of the list below has changed slightly. I’ve added a column on the left side with numbers 1-9, keyed to the nine categories of birds at the bottom.
[Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Census 20214/255/226/207/258/229/26
Tide Lo/Hi HeightH+4.83L+1.57H+4.89H+4.20H+4.55L+2.52
 Tide Time084307360627114810340556
1(Black) Brant1     
1Canada Goose8610   
1American Wigeon     7
1Green-winged Teal     1
1Red-breasted Merganser3 111 
1Ruddy Duck    21
2Pied-billed Grebe11 213
2Western Grebe4     
7Feral Pigeon91591568
7Mourning Dove  243 
8Anna’s Hummingbird11111 
8Allen’s Hummingbird421 31
2American Coot756982130
5Black-bellied Plover225134390103
5Snowy Plover   92934
5Semipalmated Plover29  143
5Long-billed Curlew     1
5Marbled Godwit    430
5Ruddy Turnstone  2283
5Red-necked Stint    1 
5Sanderling    1220
5Dunlin1   2 
5Baird’s Sandpiper    5 
5Least Sandpiper1  83512
5Western Sandpiper20  12652
5Short-billed Dowitcher    3 
5Long-billed Dowitcher     1
5Spotted Sandpiper1   21
5Willet21  4014
5Red-necked Phalarope   14 
6Heermann’s Gull28280 211
6Ring-billed Gull6    1
6Western Gull403545525510
6California Gull3510414 
6Glaucous-winged Gull11  1 
6Least Tern    1 
6Caspian Tern20133 2 
6Royal Tern6 25 13
6Elegant Tern39510712401 
2Double-crested Cormorant122626522735
2Pelagic Cormorant1   12
2Brown Pelican10523527583011
3Great Blue Heron 32543
3Great Egret1141141
3Snowy Egret216222414
3Green Heron 1    
3Black-crowned Night-Heron   933
4Turkey Vulture 1    
4Osprey21   2
4Cooper’s Hawk   11 
4Red-shouldered Hawk 2  1 
8Belted Kingfisher    1 
4Merlin     1
4Peregrine Falcon1    1
9Black Phoebe86 345
9Say’s Phoebe     1
9Western Kingbird 1    
9California Scrub-Jay   11 
9American Crow443444
9Violet-green Swallow 2    
9No. Rough-winged Swallow23  2 
9Cliff Swallow 84 4 
9Barn Swallow25301840253
9Oak Titmouse 2 12 
9House Wren     1
9Wrentit    1 
9Northern Mockingbird45211 
9European Starling5 8 3040
9American Pipit     1
9House Finch6666187
9Lesser Goldfinch2   2 
9Spotted Towhee1   1 
9California Towhee 3  1 
9Song Sparrow784535
9White-crowned Sparrow2     
9Western Meadowlark     1
9Hooded Oriole11    
9Red-winged Blackbird24 25  
9Brown-headed Cowbird1 1   
9Great-tailed Grackle6682051
9Orange-crowned Warbler     1
9Common Yellowthroat  4 25
9Yellow Warbler 2    
9Yellow-rumped Warbler1     
Totals by TypeAprMayJunJulAugSep
2Water Birds – Other1982686212061181
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis3612473521
4Quail & Raptors340124
6Gulls & Terns531446553006525
8Other Non-Passerines532151
 Totals Birds962918348817668584
 Total SpeciesAprMayJunJulAugSep
2Water Birds – Other643455
3Herons, Egrets & Ibis243444
4Quail & Raptors230123
6Gulls & Terns865574
8Other Non-Passerines222131
Totals Species – 89524434406249

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