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[photo credit Dan Harding]
Out-of-staters and even most Californians don’t know about the California Grunion, a nocturnal beach-spawning fish. Like sea turtles, grunion come ashore to lay eggs at night but only at certain times. Dr. Karen Martin of Pepperdine University made a study of the grunion and the birds that change from daytime behavior to nighttime when the grunion are spawning. How do they know? How do the grunion know? Please come to our program to find out the answers to these conundrums.
Karen Martin is a Professor of Biology and holds the Frank R. Seaver Chair in Natural Science at Pepperdine.
Our meetings return to Christine Emerson Reed Park, 1133 7th Street. (between 7th St. & Lincoln Blvd., California Ave. & Wilshire Blvd.), Santa Monica. Previously known as Lincoln Park. If you’re coming from outside Santa Monica, exit the #10 Fwy at Lincoln Blvd., turn north and drive 5 blocks north to Wilshire Blvd.
Link to Google Map
Meeting Room: Mid-park in Joslyn Hall, accessible from Lincoln Blvd, California Ave. and 7th St. Its glass wall faces north towards St. Monica Church on California St. If you’re walking from Lincoln Blvd., it’s located directly behind (west) of the large Miles Playhouse building. Not accessible directly from Wilshire Blvd.
Meetings begin at 7:30 sharp with a little business, and then our main presentation. Refreshments are served afterward.
Parking: The entire block between Wilshire and California Ave, 7th and Lincoln, on the sides closest to the park, is metered. Meter enforcement ends at 6PM, so free parking for the meeting! We had almost 50 attendees in February and we know of only two people who couldn’t find parking. However, the local natives are engaged in a survival-of-the-fittest scramble for free parking, so the after-6pm free parking spaces disappear quickly. We suggest that you arrive no later than 7:15 pm.
If all those spaces are filled, go south of Wilshire, not north of the park, as resident-only permit parking zones abound to the north. The east side of Lincoln Blvd. is also by permit parking only. We found plenty of spaces on 7th St. or Lincoln south of Wilshire. Most of those seem to be “until 6PM” meters also. Wherever you park, please read parking signs carefully and avoid a big fat $40+ parking ticket.
The creaking calls of the large flock of Elegant Terns nearly drowned out the sounds of traffic from Pacific Coast Highway, and a few of the thirty birders present wondered if such numbers were unusual. Well, yes – and no. Forty years ago they were uncommon north of San Diego and, once or twice a year, you might see a few birds at the lagoon.
On 10-21-79, I found three Elegants on my very first Malibu Lagoon census. Twenty-two years later, on 3-25-01, they finally hit double digits with 10 whole birds. Only two years later, on 4-27-03, they hit triple digits at 250 birds. Then 700 birds on 4-26-09, and a whopping 3,100 birds on 4-26-15. To date, we’ve seen 12,423 terns of all species at the lagoon, of which 79% (9,795) have been Elegant. And 67% (6,585) of those were in April. Today’s count of 1,800 Elegant Terns is unusual, but considering the progression over time, not unexpected.
Elegant Terns have long nested primarily on Isla Rasa in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, but in May 1959, 31 pairs were found nesting in the salt works area of southern San Diego Bay. They began nesting at Bolsa Chica in Orange County in 1987, and in Los Angeles Harbor in 1988. Post-breeding, in late summer and fall, they migrate up the coast as far as northern California, with irregular appearances as far north as southwest Washington. All these migrants spend the winter in Mexico, but, as made apparent by their appearances at the lagoon, they do a lot of springtime moving around before settling down to breed. Since 1979, our lagoon records show the following winter totals: Nov. 16 birds, Dec. 0, Jan. 1, Feb. 1, Mar. 391. The single bird(s) recorded Jan & Feb 2010 could have been a misidentified Royal Tern, a wintering species which was present on both dates.
We don’t get a lot of Black-necked Stilts at the lagoon: 29 total birds in 7 sightings, including today’s 19 birds. Ray Juncosa captured them with some very interesting effects of lighting. Stilts, along with Avocets, are in their own family, Recurvirostridae (Latin – bent backwards bill). Our stilt ranges from the U.S. to the West Indies, Peru & Brazil, plus Hawaii, where it used to be considered a separate species, the Hawaiian Stilt. The five other Stilt species and ranges are: Black-winged – Eurasia & Africa; Pied – Indonesia to New Zealand; the critically endangered Black – South Island of New Zealand; White-backed – so. South America; Banded – Australia.
The “semipalmated” foot is partially webbed between the toes. The Semipalmated Plover is a regular Spring & Fall migrant visitor at the lagoon, but no one ever actually sees the webbing. Of the “stints” or “peeps” in the Calidris genus, two are also semipalmated – the Western (Calidris mauri) (Greek – “a gray speckled sandpiper” + mauri [Ernesto Mauri, Italian naturalist]) and the aptly named Semipalmated Sandpiper (C. pusilla) ( Latin – very small).
I could find nothing in book or on web about differences in webbing between the Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers (SeSa), so I checked with Kimball Garrett of the L.A. Co. Museum of Natural History. He replied, in short, “No difference.” “Then why,” you (dear reader) may inquire, “is one called semipalmated and the other isn’t?” The answer, I believe, is (as with “unusual” Elegant Tern presence) time-dependent. The SeSa was first described in 1766 by Linnaeus himself, based on a specimen from Santo Domingo, which he named Tringa (changed much later to Calidris) pusilla. The Western was described a century later in 1857, from a specimen from South Carolina. [Many Westerns winter on the SE U.S. coast.] The name Semipalmated was already taken, so Western it became.
So what about the rarely seen webbed feet of the Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)? I’ll spare you the gruesome details and say simply that it has visible – but short – webbing between all three toes. The very similar Ringed Plover (C. hiaticula) of Eurasia & Africa has visible webbing between middle and outer toe, and nearly invisible webbing between middle and inner toe. 10,000 Birds gives a great description, but the pictures of feet aren’t so hot. [Beware (!!) of Google Images – I’ve seen many misidentifications there.]
We didn’t have any Snowy Plovers; probably all have left for their various breeding grounds farther north. Grace Murayama snapped this nice photo of an adult Snowy on 4/13.
Bonaparte’s Gull is another species whose lagoon presence has changed significantly over the years. We used to get them in large numbers: 3-15-80 1,600 birds, 11-29-80 530, 12-12-82 1,095. Our last triple-digit count was 632 birds on 1-8-83, shortly after the first lagoon reconfiguration in late 1982. Since then, out of 180 census days, their numbers have reached double-digits only 6 times out of 62 sightings. I don’t know if their overall population has plummeted, or they just didn’t like the new (in 1983) lagoon and stopped coming.
Birds new for the season were: Black-necked Stilt, Semipalmated Plover, Common Murre (by Malibu Pier), Belted Kingfisher, Violet-green Swallow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Brewer’s Blackbird, and Brown-headed Cowbird.
As always, many thanks to our photographers: Chuck Bragg, Randy Ehler, Ray Juncosa, Grace Murayama and Joyce Waterman.
*Cotillion of Elegant Terns is the official collective noun for this species.
Our next four scheduled field trips: To be announced, 14 May; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 22 May; Mt. Piños, 11-12 June 8am; Malibu Lagoon 8:30 & 10am, 26 Jun.
Our next program: Grunion, Tuesday, 3 May, 7:30 pm, at [note location change] 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 viewing 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
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. [Chuck Almdale]
|Malibu Census 2016||11/22||12/27||1/24||2/28||3/27||4/24|
|Tide Lo/Hi Height||L+0.24||H+6.07||H+5.90||L+1.38||H+3.43||H+3.63|
|Great Blue Heron||3||2||3||4||3|
|Totals by Type||Nov||Dec||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr|
|Water Birds – Other||152||48||104||146||100||106|
|Herons, Egrets & Ibis||13||34||26||12||15||6|
|Quail & Raptors||2||4||2||4||2||1|
|Gulls & Terns||1703||775||472||939||219||1903|
|Water Birds – Other||11||9||9||10||9||4|
|Herons, Egrets & Ibis||4||3||3||3||3||2|
|Quail & Raptors||2||4||2||2||2||1|
|Gulls & Terns||7||7||5||9||8||8|
Another perfect day in paradise. This is tough, dirty, thankless, grinding work, sauntering through fields of flowers and grass waving in the breeze, snapping pictures, sniffing blossoms, spotting and identifying birds, chatting with friends and new companions, but, whatever the personal cost, someone has to do it, and you can thank your lucky stars you weren’t volunteered for this duty. Even worse, temperatures started at the frigid 58°F before soaring to a scorching 70°F, it didn’t rain and there were no bothersome insects.
We wandered, as usual, around the western town movie set of Paramount Ranch (free parking!), then set off up the remnant of the devil’s racecourse (3 deaths in 18 months of operation). The lupines were a bit scarce, but the still-to-be-identified feral Onion (see slideshow) was doing fine.
There were large spreads of Owl’s Clover and Goldfields in the grassy fields at the intersection of Cornell and Mulholland, where we cross kitty-corner to the Reagan Ranch portion of Malibu Creek State Park. Anna’s Hummingbirds, Acorn Woodpeckers, Black and Say’s Phoebes, Bushtits, Yellow-rumped Warblers in various stages of
plumage molt, California and Spotted Towhees, Song Sparrows, House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches kept us company. Several American Kestrels were hawking the larger insects from treetop perches, and small flocks of Mourning Dove and Nanday Parakeet flew overhead. Even after several years of seeing and hearing this last species ever more frequently, my ear still initially identifies their calls as those of woodpeckers, or small children yelling in the distance. Eventually some portion of my brain protests loudly enough, and I realize it’s those parakeets.
We avoid the tall grass surrounding the Reagan Ranch driveway – deer tick country – but spot Bullock’s Orioles, Cassin’s and Western Kingbirds, and Ash-throated Flycatchers in the sycamores, while Ravens and Red-tailed Hawks stick closer to Mulholland Drive, searching for flattened fauna.
As we reach the Yearling Trail beginning at the back of the ranch house area, and back on the ground, we find more and more flowers: Elderberry, Horehound, Wild Cucumber, sunflowers, fiddlenecks, Johnny-Jump-Up, Blue Dick, and the always aromatic Sages – White, Purple and Black. Miner’s Lettuce was in the shady damp area near the matates (First American acorn-grinding holes in rock). All along the trail, plenty of bees worked the flowers.
For once we managed to avoid the mystery detour not-a-trail down the rocky escarpment, and found the true Cage Creek Trail. Sage and nightshade love this area, as do various phacelias, Fiesta Flower, Golden Current, Green-bark Ceanothus, Toyon, and everyone’s favorite plant to I.D., Poison Oak. As usual, we discussed this plant’s effects on human skin. It’s an allergy, people! Most people have this allergy, but some fortunate ones (myself included) do not.
Near the bottom of Cage Creek Trail lies the eponymous cage, now almost unrecognizable, a relic of the time when humans were mute and uncivilized, easily captured and domesticated by the apes who ruled the world. [The film Planet of the Apes documents in depth this era.] And then we were on Crag’s Road, the main route to the M.A.S.H. film site and common destination for the hikers, bikers, runners and outdoor classes who frequent this area.
A short stop at Century Lake, from which swallows sip on the wing and Red-winged Blackbirds live among the Cattails, then up and over the hump and down towards Malibu Creek, which flows out of the dam which created the lake. Water in the creek was so low that only a few Mallards could survive among the stones. From here we usually dead-head – hot and thirsty – through the line of Live Oaks which border the road to the parking area, stopping for the occasional flower and the hillside chia patch. No chia pets here – all the chia is thoroughly wild and one may approach them only with caution.
We successfully car-shuttled back to Paramount Ranch via Mulholland Drive, got out our lunches and talked until it was time to go our various ways.If you check out the map link, our trail route runs generally SE from Paramount Ranch.
Links to previous trips: April 2014, April 2013, April 2012, April 2011, April 2010, March 2009
As always, the hike was led by Peggy Burhenn, Calif. State Parks docent specializing in native plants and wildflowers. I’ve also been advised – rather insistently – to mention that there are actually “several” small up and down slopes along our route.
Many thanks to our photographers: Lillian Johnson, Doug Waterman and Joyce Waterman.
The lists below give a seven-year comparison of what we’ve seen on this hike. There are significant differences from year-to-year, both in what we find and what is in bloom.
|PLANT TRIP LISTS – PARAMOUNT TO MALIBU CREEK|
|X – Seen NB – Not in Bloom * – Introduced Species|
|Big Pod Ceanothus||X||X||X||NB||X||X|
|Catalina Maraposa Lily||X|
|Lace Pod (green)||X||X||X||X|
|Onion – not specified||X||X||X|
|Collarless California Poppy||X|
|Prickly Pear Cactus||NB|
|Crimson Pitcher (Hummingbird) Sage||NB||NB||X||X||X||X||NB|
|Purple Owl’s Clover||X||X||X||X|
|Tom Cat Clover||X||X|
|Wild Sweet Pea||X||X||X|
|PURPLE / BLUE|
|Baby Blue Eyes||X||X|
|Green Bark Ceanothus||X||NB||X||X||N||X||X|
|Tansy Leaf Phacelia||X|
|Wooly Blue Curls||NB|
|TREES, SHRUBS, OR|
|NOT IN BLOOM|
|California Bay Laurel||NB||X||X||X|
|Coast Live Oak||X||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Total Plants – 118||75||52||66||73||60||70||56
|Paramount – Malibu Creek SP||2016||2014||2013||2012||2011||2010||2009|
|Great Blue Heron||1||3||1||2|
|Northern Rough-winged Swallow||12||15||25||35||24||X|
|Black-throated Gray Warbler||1||X|
|Total – 93 species||47||50||59||62||52||60||58|
No giant festival this year.
[A message from our compatriot, San Fernando Valley Audubon]
Good news. Sepulveda Wildlife Reserve gets a reprieve. Plans for Angelfest have been scrapped for October 2016. The marketing company that hoped to bring 65,000 people a day to the area surrounding the Sepulveda Wildlife Reserve has announced plans to try again next year, but of course none of the environmental concerns will be any different then. We will not resist future mega-festivals that are located in appropriate venues — but we will continue to vigorously defend the Sepulveda Reserve and the verdant ecosystem that nurtures it.
While the decision to cancel Angelfest 2016 was no doubt based on a number of considerations, there’s little doubt that the public outcry — that would be you — was an important one. If you signed & shared the petition, if you wrote or called your elected representatives, if you submitted comments to the Army Corps, if you urged your friends and neighbors to join the fight, we are enormously grateful to you. Please stay in touch with San Fernando Valley Audubon Society through our website (new one coming!) and Facebook. We’ll need you again.
We are dedicated to a better future — and more funding — for L.A.’s natural spaces. The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society will work with the community and L.A. Recreation & Parks Department to find solutions that work for everyone – including the wildlife that can’t speak for itself.
So, yes, there is still much to do. But for today, let’s rejoice. And what better way to celebrate than a bird walk at the Sepulveda Wildlife Reserve? Join SFVAS every 1st Sunday.
Thank you all for your cards, letters, calls, texts, emails, tweets, postings and whatnot against this ill-considered event.