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Terns and Meadowlarks at Malibu Lagoon

October 21, 2014

Common Terns (Sterna hirundo) are not especially common anywhere on the U.S. west coast.

Adult Common Tern in alternate (non-breeding) plumage (Jim Kenney 9/11/14)

Adult Common Tern in alternate (non-breeding) plumage (Jim Kenney 9/11/14)

World population is at least 250,000 pairs and possibly as high as 500,000 pairs, of which about 35,000 pairs nest in North America, primarily in central-eastern Canada, but also along the Atlantic Coast from South Carolina to Labrador. The Canadian population migrates mainly along the Atlantic coast, which is why California sees so few. Most Common Terns winter along the coastlines of South America, Africa, India, Southeast Asia and Australia.

Occasionally we do find them at Malibu Lagoon, usually not for long, as they are on their way to or from Mexico and South America. Since 1979, our monthly walks at the lagoon have found a total of fourty-nine birds on twelve visits, as follows (month: visits/birds): July: 1/1, Aug: 1/2, Sept: 4/13, Oct: 1/10,  Nov: 1/1,  Dec: 1/1, Jan: 1/5, Apr: 1/15, May: 1/1. They may appear in nearly any month (nine out of twelve) but September is the most likely.

Common Terns - juvenile on left, adult on right (Jim Kenney 9/11/14)

Common Terns – juvenile on left, adult on right (Jim Kenney 9/11/14)

They closely resemble the far more common Forster’s Tern. The most noticeable difference in winter is the back of the head. On the Common Tern, the black extends from eye-to-eye around the back of the head. On the Forster’s the black is restricted to a patch around each eye, with a paler shade of connecting  gray across the back of the head. Juvenile and first summer Commons have a dark carpel bar (see wing of left bird above) which Forster’s lacks. There are also subtle differences in bill color, leg length and black in the outer primaries, best left to those able to view both species.

Western Meadowlarks are another visitor to the lagoon. Although they prefer prairies, grasslands, and meadows, as one might expect from their name, the sandy islands and shores are sufficiently similar habitat to hold their attention and presence.

Western Meadowlark (Jim Kenney 10/19/14)

Western Meadowlark (Jim Kenney 10/19/14)

Western Meadowlarks can be found from the Pacific Ocean to east Texas and Michigan, and their breeding range overlaps with the Eastern Meadowlark from central Arizona to Wisconsin. The best way to tell their plumages apart is by the amount of yellow on the cheek (more on the Eastern) and the thickness of the black chest-“vee” (thinner on the Western). Their songs are different, both are very musical and lively, a delight to hear. I have read that when the two species meet, the differences in song and courting responses prevents the completion of courtship.

We regularly find Western Meadowlarks at the lagoon in fall and winter as follows; twenty-four visits with sixty-five birds (month: visits/birds): Sep: 6/24, Oct: 8/23, Nov: 4/7, Dec: 3/4, Feb: 2/4, Mar: 1/3. The best place to look for them is in the large flat area nearest the highway between the parking lot and the lagoon; if they aren’t there, they may be on any of the sandy islands. Unfortunately, they rarely sing at the lagoon.

The blame, or credit, for the English names we use for birds can be placed primarily on British ornithologists and birders of earlier centuries, who tended to name birds based on how closely they resembled native birds of Britain. Lark species in England, members of the nearly worldwide family Alaudidae, all have white outer tail feathers, easily visible in flight to birders who carried shotguns rather than binoculars. Thus, around the world, if you hear of a bird species with “lark” somewhere in their name, they will have white outer tail feathers: Lark Bunting, Lark Sparrow, Magpie-lark.

In what may be an odd example of convergent evolution, the plumage of the Yellow-throated Longclaw of sub-Saharan Africa is almost identical to that of our meadowlarks. It inhabits grasslands, frequently walks on the ground, and sings from a raised perch, as do our meadowlarks. Yet it is quite unrelated, belonging to the Motacillidae (Pipits & Wagtails), while our meadowlarks are members of Icteridae (New World Orioles and Blackbirds).

Many thanks to Jim Kenney for documenting these two species.   [Chuck Almdale]


October 17, 2014

For Part One:
Last time the focus was on the crows. Now we’ll take a look at the terns.  The Venice Tern Colony (at the Marina Del Rey breakwater) has been challenged by dwindeling food sources such as sardines that have disappeared from local shores or are  so far out to sea that tern parents must leave their chicks unattended for hours while they hunt.

This year, false tern eggs were planted at the site that gave crows a mild shock as an aversion tactic.

Last year, no chicks survived. This year-

-after getting off to a slow start, the chicks that hatched were banded, weighed and measured. But first – the chicks had to be caught by hand-
A fleeing tern fledgling can move pretty quickly, and it sometimes takes several tries to get the little guys. They sit in a net bag or a box waiting for their turn–ChicksInNetBag


Next the tern chicks are carefully hand held, in waiting for photographing and banding–WaitingToBand

The bands are placed on the leg, and the band numbers and colors are recorded–BandingChicks


Next the chicks’ wings are measured.WingMeasure
Once the chick is banded and it’s details taken, it is set all too willingly free. But after a week or two, the same chick may be corralled, and it’s growth and progress can be monitored, as in the case of this recaptured chick-

They soon start to look more like their parents-


And get ready to fly off into the world-DSCN2735
Ultimately, over 60 chicks were born this year.
Whether this is due to the right fish closer to shore or the electrified egg experament is unclear. But next year’s season looks very promising.

Meanwhile, CrowChicksthe next generation of crows are being born and fledged at the same time as the tern chicks….

To volunteer as a crow and tern monitor at the Venice Beach Tern Colony, contact The 2015 breeding season promises to be an exciting one.

All photos taken by me during the 2014 breeding season.
Laurel Hoctor Jones, Education Chair

Bolsa Chica Trip Report: 11 October, 2014

October 16, 2014
A brand new species for California - Ridgway's Rail!!! (formerly known as Clapper Rail)  (Kirsten Wahlquist 10/11/14)

A new species for California – Ridgway’s Rail!!! (formerly known as Clapper Rail)
(Kirsten Wahlquist 10/11/14)

Bolsa Chica ( little pocket, small purse or ***) is an Ecological Reserve in Orange County, separated from the beach by Pacific Coast Highway, and is a tidal inlet. We met on a lovely overcast morning with the temperature never above the low 70s and set out to see what we could see. We crossed the boardwalk admiring the splashing pelicans and diving terns. Our first surprise, a Ridgway’s Rail, was spotted in the pickleweed. We tracked it around the weeds, under the boardwalk and finally to the fence which it ducked under and vanished.

Brown Pelican in winter (basic) plumage (Kirsten Wahlquist 10/11/14)

Brown Pelican in winter (basic) plumage (Kirsten Wahlquist 10/11/14)

We had a lazy day and saw several of our favorites – the Reddish Egrets – dancing and generally seeming to be enjoying the morning. We had another rail, many sparrows, Brown Pelicans, a White Pelican, a White-Faced Ibis and many others. We seemed to have the large shore birds : Marbled Godwits, Willets, Long Billed Curlews, Whimbrel, Black Bellied Plovers, Long-Billed Dowitchers and only a few little guys.

Humanoids from The Deep have invaded Bolsa Chica Lagoon  (Kirsten Wahlquist 10/11/14)

Humanoids from The Deep have invaded Bolsa Chica Lagoon
(Kirsten Wahlquist 10/11/14)

Our grebe count was interesting: at one point we had 63 Eared Grebes and several Pied-billed Grebes, but no Western Grebes. One of the most bizarre things we saw was a large hand draped in weeds coming out of the water – early Halloween ? or ??? We even had lots of Striped Mullet and Round Rays. As we came back to the parking lot, the tide was so high that most of the pickleweed was underwater and the birds had moved to drier ground. A beautiful Southern California day with good company and good birds.  [Ellen Vahan]

Beldings Savannah Sparrow is always found near pickleweed (Kirsten Wahlquist 10/11/14)

Belding’s Savannah Sparrow is always found near pickleweed
(Kirsten Wahlquist 10/11/14)

***More on Bolsa Chica: It could also be “small bag.” On the other hand,  Chica is often “girl” or “young woman”, while bolsa can be “bag,” “pocket,” “sack,” “purse,” etc., so it could mean “bag girl“, “pocket girl,” “sack girl.” Isn’t this fun? However, bolsa may also refer to a “market,” while chica is a diminutive adjective, so it could mean “small market.” Then again, it could mean “market girl,” or “young woman of the market.” As markets were usually “street markets”, maybe it means “young woman of the street” who may or may not be marketing something. What could she be marketing? Hmmm….Best to leave it there. [Editor]

Bolsa Chica Reserve 10/11 10/12 10/6
Trip List 2014 2013 2012
Brant X
American Wigeon X X
Mallard X
Blue-winged Teal X
Cinnamon Teal X
Northern Shoveler X
Northern Pintail X
Green-winged Teal X
Redhead X
Lesser Scaup X
Ruddy Duck X X X
Pied-billed Grebe X X X
Eared Grebe X X X
Western Grebe X X
Double-crested Cormorant X X
American White Pelican X X X
Brown Pelican X X X
Great Blue Heron X X X
Great Egret X X X
Snowy Egret X X X
Reddish Egret X X X
Green Heron X
Black-crowned Night Heron X X
White-faced Ibis X
Turkey Vulture X X X
Osprey X X X
White-tailed Kite X X
Northern Harrier X X X
Red-tailed Hawk X X
Ridgway’s Rail X
American Coot X X X
Black-bellied Plover X X X
Semipalmated Plover X X
Killdeer X X
Greater Yellowlegs X X
Willet X X X
Lesser Yellowlegs X
Whimbrel X X X
Long-billed Curlew X X X
Marbled Godwit X X X
Ruddy Turnstone X X
Red Knot X X
Sanderling X X
Western Sandpiper X X X
Least Sandpiper X X X
Dunlin X X
Short Billed Dowitcher X X X
Ring-billed Gull X X
Western Gull X X X
California Gull X
Black Tern X
Forster’s Tern X X X
Royal Tern X
Elegant Tern X X X
Rock Pigeon X X X
Mourning Dove X X X
Anna’s Hummingbird X
Allen’s Hummingbird X X
Belted Kingfisher X X X
Nuttall’s Woodpecker X
Downy Woodpecker X
American Kestrel X X
Peregrine Falcon X
Black Phoebe X X X
Say’s Phoebe X X X
Loggerhead Shrike X
American Crow X X
Bushtit X
House Wren X X
European Starling X X
American Pipit X
Common Yellowthroat X X X
Yellow-rumped Warbler X
California Towhee X
Savannah (Belding’s) Sparrow X X
Savannah Sparrow X X X
Song Sparrow X
White-Crowned Sparrow X X X
House Finch X X X
Total Species – 79 45 51 69

Reminder: Santa Monica Mountains Bird Fest – 18 October, 9:30AM- 4PM

October 16, 2014
Red-shouldered Hawk in Sycamore Canyon (J. Waterman 3/9/13)

Red-shouldered Hawk in Sycamore Canyon
(Joyce Waterman 3/9/13)

The Bird Fest of the Santa Monica Mountains is less than a month away!

Numerous activities include:
* Guided Bird Walks – starting at 9:00 am; last walk 11:00 am  (10 am walk geared toward families with kids)

* Live Bird Program:  11 am, 12 noon, 1 pm – The Nature of Wildworks

* Speaker Programs:
*10 am ­ The Plight of the California Condors — Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, Community Hiking Club
*11 am ­ Climate Change in Southern Calfornia: What will  Happen to Your Favorite Birds?  —  Katy Delaney, National Park  Service
*12 noon ­ Common Birds of the Santa Monica Mountains:  Sights & Sounds  —  Don Klabunde, Conejo Valley Audubon
*1 pm ­ Beginner Birders: How to Maximize Your Sightings  —  Anthony Bevilacqua, National Park Service
*2 pm ­ Restoring Habitat, One Yard at a Time  —  Alan Pollack, San Fernando Valley Audubon, National Wildlife Federation
*3 pm ­ Malibu Creek: It’s for the Birds  —  Art Langton, San Fernando Valley Audubon

Santa Monica Mountains Interagency Visitor Center
King Gillette Ranch
26876 Mulholland Hwy
Calabasas, CA 91302
Just southeast of Las Virgenes Rd (Malabu Canyon Rd.)

* Representatives from these Groups will be present:
     California Wildlife Center
     Channel Islands National Park
     Conejo Valley Audubon Society
     Foundation for the Preservation of the Santa Susana Mountains
     Friends of the Los Angeles River
     Heal the Bay
     International Bird Rescue
     Kirsty Iredale, potter
     Mike Maki, falconer
     Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority
     Kerry Perkins, wildlife photographer
     Alan Pollack, M.D., Wildlife Habitat Steward
     Resource Conservation District
     San Fernando Valley Audubon Society
     Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society
     Topanga Canyon Docents
     Mathew Tekulsky, Backyard Bird Photography
     Viewpoint School
     Western National Parks Association
     Wild Birds Unlimited, Thousand Oaks
     Wild Wings Backyard Nature Store, Sherman Oaks
     Woodland Hills Camera & Telescopes

*Food truck – Greenz on Wheelz

Event co-sponsored by: Western National Parks Association, San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society, Conejo Valley Audubon Society, and the National Park Service
[Chuck Almdale]

Male Nuttall's Woodpecker at the nesthole - Solstice Canyon (J.Kenney 5/15/11)

Male Nuttall’s Woodpecker at the nesthole – Solstice Canyon
(Jim Kenney 5/15/11)

Since you’re taking out your lawn…

October 9, 2014

With our drought in full swing many of you are taking out those water-demanding lawns, and planting….NATIVES, of course!
What a better way to get a quick education in the ways and means of California natives than to go to the Native Plant Society’s annual fall sale. Yes, October is the best planting month for these new friends.

I just got the announcement, below.

Image 6

The line-up of speakers is enticing!

Image 5


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