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Friday, November 15, 2013

Malibu Lagoon State Beach and Zuma Beach

After our warm hike at Temescal Canyon on November 8th, we headed a little further north along the coast to Malibu Lagoon State Beach. Doing some research via eBird ahead of time, I had circled this beach on the map as one of the most prolific birding sites in the area in terms of the variety of birds seen. It did not disappoint!

Malibu Lagoon - nestled between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean
When we arrived, I immediately took my shoes off and enjoyed the warm sand between my toes. Among the first birds I saw were a trio of western grebes, four different gull species, and a flyby from an osprey. I didn't have to walk far to see my first year bird at the site - a single spotted sandpiper (182). While looking at several snowy and great egrets, Keith's sharp eyesight found my second year bird across the lagoon. It was a juvenile green heron (183).

My most hoped for species at this site was a snowy plover, a species I have only seen once before, 12 years ago, also along the California coast. The thing I remembered most about them was that I practically stepped on one before seeing one, and the exact same thing happened this time (184). These sparrow-sized shorebirds blend into the sand almost entirely when they aren't moving, and they don't flush until you're pretty close to them.

Snowy plover close-up
I would see one plover, and then while kneeling to take a photo of it, five others I didn't see would scurry out of the way. In total, there were probably about 30 of them there. Snowy plovers are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. One major threat occurs during the breeding the season. They lay eggs on sandy beaches, where they are easily trampled by humans.

Snowy plover: officially the cutest bird I saw on my trip
I spotted one plover with bands on its legs. I sent some photos and info to a researcher at the Point Reyes  Bird Observatory that's part of a snowy plover banding project and learned and this bird a chick from this year that was banded at Oceano Dunes 150 miles north of Malibu Lagoon. The same bird was spotted at Malibu Lagoon a month ago, so it will probably spend the whole winter here.

A banded snowy plover at Malibu Lagoon - two green bands on its left leg and a blue and red band on its right

 While looking at the plovers, a great-tailed grackle (185) made himself known while rummaging through the wrack. I didn't look at him long, because a mixed flock of shorebirds a little further along caught my attention. In addition to the snowy plovers and spotted sandpiper from before, I also identified some least sandpipers, willets, a black turnstone, godwits, a couple of whimbrel (186), a killdeer, and a whole slew of black-bellied plovers. Nine shorebird species in one little stretch of beach!

From left to right: whimbrel, black turnstone, black-bellied plovers
In fact, it was pretty much the case that no matter where you looked, you were seeing multiple bird species right together. It was a real birder's paradise that way!

Great egret with a whimbrel

Brown pelicans with double-crested cormorants and black-bellied plovers
An hour there turned up about 30 species, with the cherry on top being a Say's phoebe (187) just as we were leaving. I probably could have stayed there the rest of the day, but the boys were ready to hit Zuma Beach and take a dip in the ocean. While they swam, I waded up to my knees in the cool Pacific, camera in hand. Again, the numbers of shorebirds in crowded SoCal was impressive.

Some of the hundreds of sanderlings at Zuma Beach, paying no mind to the surfers, birders, or sun bathers
I spotted two distant long-billed curlews (188) here at Zuma, but was more taken with the large flock of very photogenic marbled godwits. Just like our first day in California, the late afternoon lighting was perfect for shooting shorebirds.

Marbled godwit at Zuma Beach

Marbled godwits at Zuma Beach
Finally, as we drove back towards Venice, we saw a pair of red-shouldered hawks (189) perched along Highway 1. With one more full day ahead of us, I was hoping to pass 190 species on the year list before heading home, but birds weren't going to be my main target the next day when we headed out onto the water....


Vera said...

Wow! What more can I say? Love the photos.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's a lot of birds! I've always enjoyed birds but it's really neat to pair the identification with them.