Skip to content

Free email delivery

Please sign up for email delivery in the subscription area to the right.
No salesman will call.

Malibu Lagoon Field Trips: Sunday, 26 July, 8:30 & 10am.

July 23, 2015
Artist's perspective of west channels view from SW corner (RestoreMalibuLagoon . com)

Artists 2012 perspective of finished project
(RestoreMalibuLagoon . com)

Lagoon looking east - compare to Artist's Perspective (R. Ehler 7/27/14)

Channel & Lagoon looking east on 7/27/14
(Randy Ehler )

The migrating shorebirds are starting to return in their bright colors and we expect that our Snowy Plover flock, beach residents for the 10 non-breeding months of the year, will be back.

Some of the great birds we’ve had in July are: Gadwall, Pied-billed and Eared Grebe, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, Snowy Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Western Sandpiper, Heermann’s & Western Gulls, Least, Caspian, Royal & Elegant Terns, Black Skimmer, Anna’s & Allen’s Hummingbirds, Belted Kingfisher, Rough-winged, Barn and Cliff Swallows, Oak Titmouse, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Common Yellowthroat, California Towhee, Savannah & Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Hooded Oriole, House Finch, American Goldfinch.

Prior checklists:
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.

Adult Walk 8:30 a.m. – Beginner and experienced, 2-3 hours.  Species range from 40 in June to 60-75 during migrations and winter.  We meet at the metal-shaded viewing area (see photo below) next to the parking lot and begin walking east towards the lagoon.  We always check the offshore rocks and the ocean.  When lagoon outlet is closed we continue east around the lagoon, and around to Adamson House.  We put out special effort to make our monthly Malibu Lagoon walks attractive to first-time and beginning birdwatchers.  So please, if you are at all worried about coming on a trip and embarrassing yourself because of all the experts, we remember our first trips too.  Someone showed us the birds; now it’s our turn.

Meeting place - What's that animal in the foreground?  See photo below of him heading the other way. (Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation 6/18/13)

Meeting place – Hey, what’s that animal in the foreground?
See him heading the other way in photo below.
(Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation 6/18/13)

Children and Parents Walk 10:00 a.m.   One hour session, meeting at the metal-shaded viewing area (see photo above) between parking lot and channel.  We start at 10:00 for a shorter walk and to allow time for families to get it together on a sleepy Sunday morning.  Our leaders are experienced with kids so please bring them to the beach!  We have an ample supply of binoculars that children can use without striking terror into their parents.  We want to see families enjoying nature. (If you have a Scout Troop or other group of more than seven people, you must call Mary (310-457-2240) to make sure we have enough binoculars and docents.)

Directions: Malibu Lagoon is at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Cross Creek Road.  Look around for people wearing binoculars.  Parking in the official lagoon lot is $12+ or by annual pass.  You may also park either along PCH west of Cross Creek Road, on Cross Creek Road itself but be careful – some parts of PCH are off-limits (read the signs carefully), or on Civic Center Way north (inland) of the shopping center.  Lagoon parking in the shopping center lot is not permitted.
Map to Meeting Place
[Chuck Almdale]

Locally known as 'Willie the Weasel' (Cal. State Parks 6/18/13)

Locally known as ‘Son of Willie the Weasel’
(Cal. State Parks 6/18/13)


Boomers, Birders and Hearing Aids

July 22, 2015
by

 I happen to be on the leading crest of an incoming wave of aging baby boomers, and my hearing is going, going…away. Behind me are millions more boomers: I wonder how prepared they are for the nuisances of aging which increasingly pester me, or do they still think themselves immortal? One nuisance, important for birders, is hearing loss. Like it or not, ready or not, many of you will get it, so here’s a few comments you may find useful.

Don't try this at home, Kids!(Vimeo - "The Reinvention of Normal" A Liam Saint-Pierre Film)

Not the best hearing aid design available.
(Vimeo – “The Reinvention of Normal” A Liam Saint-Pierre Film)

After about 5 years of progressively losing bird songs & calls – starting with Golden-crowned Kinglet and working my way well down into the range of human speech, I bit the bullet and bought a pair of hearing aids. I’d taken a few years for research and to psychologically prepare myself, and by the time I got them, it was no big deal.

Mine are ‘mini-behind-the-ear’ style, the Pure Caret CE0123 by Siemens. They aren’t cheap. Other manufacturers making the same style may use different descriptive phrases.

Advantages of this model: 15 volume settings, 5 modes, small, perforated plastic ear cups inside the ear canal permit air and sound to pass by the tiny speaker so you don’t have that “plugged-up” feeling, batteries last about 14-22 days; modes are designed for your individual pattern of hearing loss; the aids “talk” to each other, so one aid can select the mode for both ears, while the other aid adjusts volume for both ears.
Hearing Aid_SCR800
Disadvantages: not water-proof, visible by others (if you care) if you have little hair or no hat, not cheap, need daily wax removal, subject to “wind noise,” may increase difficulty of locating direction of sound.

I had the technician create a birding mode for me which really cranks up the volume for high frequencies – but I can’t use it if people are talking or there’s any ambient sound I can’t control (voices, traffic, music, etc.). Crunching through dry leaves is excruciating.

I’m very happy with them and had minimal difficulty adapting to them. It’s very nice to again understand my wife, hear musical overtones, hear TV and Radio without blasting them, and it’s especially rewarding to hear birds again. I didn’t know they were so noisy right outside my bedroom window, the pesky little critters. Warblers are great. Last year a California Towhee lived in our back yard and, pining for a mate, sang nonstop for a couple of months.

Common Questions answered:
How long have you had them? Any problems? I’ve had them about 3 ½ years. I think my hearing continues to diminish slowly.
Recently I concluded that the aids may emit a sound that honeybees (not solitary bees) don’t like – 3 stings in 3 years. Each time they seemed to home in on my ears. I asked if others had this problem: birders hadn’t, beekeepers have. From now on, when I see a honeybee heading my way, off go the aids.

Are they reliable? I’ve had no problems, but others, who may have gotten lemons, reported having problems within a few months.

How is birding with them? Far, far better, for the reasons given above. But there are two problems: wind and direction of sound.

Wind? Strong or gusty wind makes a loud rattly noise and I have to turn them off.

Direction of sound? My hearing loss and increasing tinnitus developed unequally in both ears, causing me to lose the ability to tell direction of sound from side-to-side or up-and-down. This has not returned, possibly because the sound pickups are behind my ears. I can tell that a bird is singing, but not from where. It’s very frustrating.

Cleaning? I brush them each morning before inserting them. Accumulated earwax hardens overnight at room temperature, making it easy to remove. I think my earwax production declined because wax buildup has dropped to nearly nothing. About once a year, when they’ve gotten a bit gunky, I take them to the retailer for a free cleaning and ear cup replacement.

Do they ever fall out? It’s easy to snag the behind-the-ear unit with your hat cord, glasses, etc. However, the plastic cup in the ear canal keeps them from popping out entirely. Once one fell onto a wood floor, with no damage. One birder lost an aid when – onboard a boat – the wind whipped his hat off, the chin cord snagged an aid, and into the water it went. They’ve also gotten damp from rain and humidity but suffered no damaged.

How long can you wear them? Do they irritate your ears? On birding tours, I wear them from bedrise to bedset. Occasionally, when an ear canal feels itchy, I pull out the aid, wiggle my finger in my ear, re-insert the aid and the problem is gone.

Any screeching feedback? My birding hat, always worn, has a 2-3″ brim which sits just above my ears, and reflects sound to the behind-the-ear microphone. At higher volumes, this creates a tinny ‘talking-down-a-metal-pipe’ sound, especially in birding mode. Either I remove the hat, turn down the volume or change the mode. No one has ever said that my aids emitted feedback.

How high in frequency do they go? I may have known at purchase, but no longer; web research made me no wiser. Other than the more distant songbirds, I seem to hear what people around me hear, except those annoying professional bird tour leaders with unbelievable wolfish ears. I recently heard Golden-crowned Kinglets calling, but they were about 30 ft. away.

What are the ‘modes’? 1) Normal conversation, 2) group, 3) tinnitus, 4) birding, 5) “sports.” I use #1 about 90% of the time. #2 is for noisy restaurants or groups. #3 is – for me – “off.” It’s white noise which I cannot hear, and is supposed to help adaptation to tinnitus, which I’ve had for over 35 years and already learned to ignore. #4 Boosts highs tones, greatly enhancing bird song, but can’t be used when people are (or are likely to be) talking, or when crunching over gravel or dry leaves. #5 is a mystery – I couldn’t get the aid retailer to coherently explain what it did, other than being “good for sports events.”

Can you understand group conversations? This never returned to pre-loss levels, but ‘group’ mode works pretty well most of the time. In places with highly sound-reflective walls-ceilings-floors (e.g. many restaurants), and thus a great deal of echoing ambient noise, it can be very difficult. I try to stay away from such places. [I hated those places before I lost my hearing, so no great inconvenience there.] I adjust the volume and try to face the speaker of the moment. Not being embarrassed about hearing loss means not caring if others see me fiddling with my ear.

Are your batteries rechargeable? No. Rechargers seem to start around $40 and go much higher, and a pair of rechargeable batteries at $20 ($14 at Amazon). One birder reported having two chargers die within a six-month period. If a rechargeable aid battery is anything like a rechargeable AA battery, the charge won’t hold as long.

How long do your batteries last? At first I averaged 21 days per pair of #13 non-rechargeable batteries, primarily because I inserted them when evening TV-time arrived. Now I usually wear them all day, and I get 14-16 days before they die. Others report getting 6-7 days per pair, 12 hours per day. Perhaps they have greater hearing loss and need stronger aids which use more juice per minute than mine. At $7 for an 8-pack, my batteries cost about $30/year and are certainly less hassle at possibly a lower cost than rechargables. Aid retailers commonly give you free batteries for a year or two. The batteries have a steep power-loss curve at the end, meaning that I don’t notice the power is diminishing until perhaps a day before they die altogether.

Will insurance cover the cost? Yours might, my HMO coverage didn’t. You’ll need a hearing test and a recommendation for aids from an audiologist before the insurance company will agree to pay. The hearing aid retailer will probably re-test your hearing for “free.” Such test results are necessary for the aid technician to adjust the aid’s internal computer to your hearing loss profile.

Is it possible to have one mode in one aid and a different mode in the second aid? Some people buy (or need) only one aid, so that aid must be able to adjust both volume and mode. With two such aids, it should be possible but that sounds to me like a good way to get a headache.

Telephone mode? I don’t have it: I wasn’t sure it would work with our ancient land lines and cheap cellular phone, it costs a couple of hundred more, and I don’t talk a lot on the phone. I hear phone conversation just fine 95% of the time – when I can’t, it’s not the aids’ fault, but because the other person has their mouth too far from their tiny microphone. They speak up when I ask them to, and I hear fine.

Do you have molded ear cups? No. The retailer gives me little saucer-shaped ones (see photo) for free, which work fine.

What about the SongFinder hearing amplification device for birders? I haven’t tried it. I don’t like the way they look and I wouldn’t want to wear one around the house or at the theater or restaurant. Reportedly they work well in the field; one birder said he loved his, but it cannot be used while wearing hearing aids.

What about TV hearing devices? I haven’t tried any “remote transmission from TV” gizmos. I thought about them, but the aids work fine 98% of the time.

Loud Travel Alarm Clocks? Research led me to Sonic Alert Model SBP100, $26.14 from Amazon. It’s loud, vibrates, can clip to your pillow, and got me up for those pre-dawn risings inevitable on bird trips. Many other options exist.
Alarm Clock_SCR800
Are there any web forums for hearing aid users? I entered “hearing loss chat room” into Google and got 814,000 hits, which seems sufficient to me.

Why did you buy this type (mini-behind-the-ear) rather than another?
1. I wasn’t vain about people seeing my aids, so I wasn’t dead set on the ones that hide completely-in-the-canal.
2. I’ve long had a problem with equalizing pressure in my inner ears, and I didn’t want anything which – by blocking the canal – might exacerbate it. (For reasons unknown to me, my aids seem to have nearly eliminated this annoying condition.) I’d read that in-the-canal aids or anything which projects sound through a hollow tube plug up your ear canal, making your ears feel “stuffy.” My aids have a sound pickup behind the ear; a little wire with a tiny speaker on the end runs into the canal.
3. I wanted to avoid aids which emit loud high-pitched feedback squeals audible to everyone except the wearer.
4. They were expensive – over $4k after the 20% discount they gave to patients of my HMO – but I figured, what the heck – I could afford it and if I didn’t like them, I had 30 days to get my money back.

As the tsunami of aging boomers continues to break, we’re going to be flooded with new products for old people. Hearing aids are no exception: expect continual introduction of new models with new features, and possible price decreases. If you have a few extra bucks lying around, you might invest them in a company that specializes in geezer goodies. I hear it’s a growing market.

Addition questions or information are welcome. If useful and pertinent, I’ll add them to this blog.  [Chuck Almdale]

Malibu Lagoon Field Trips: Sunday, 28 June, 8:30 & 10am.

June 25, 2015

NEXT MALIBU LAGOON FIELD TRIP WILL BE ON
SUNDAY, 26 JULY, 8:30am FOR ALL, 10am FOR FAMILIES.

Artist's perspective of west channels view from SW corner (RestoreMalibuLagoon . com)

Artists 2012 perspective of finished project
(RestoreMalibuLagoon . com)

Lagoon looking east - compare to Artist's Perspective (R. Ehler 7/27/14)

Channel & Lagoon looking east on 7/27/14
(Randy Ehler )

The wintering and migrant birds are gone, but the nesting birds are out and about feeding their young, and the gulls and waders who couldn’t be bothered to leave will be lounging around. The sun and sand is warm, and our picnic immediately follows the birdwalk. Come watch the jumping mullet perform!

The Picnic will immediately follow the lagoon walks, with set-up starting at 11am and chowing down at 11:30am. Location will probably be at the picnic area next to the beach path and next to the Colony wall, at the southwest corner of the channel.

Some of the great birds we’ve had in June are: Brant, Gadwall, Red-breasted Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe,  Pelagic Cormorant, Great & Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, White-tailed Kite, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Ruddy Turnstone, Heermann’s Gull, Caspian, Royal & Elegant Tern, White-throated Swift, Anna’s & Allen’s Hummingbird, Black Phoebe, Cassin’s Kingbird, Rough-winged, Barn and Cliff Swallow, Northern Mockingbird, Common Yellowthroat, California Towhee, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Lesser Goldfinch.

Prior checklists:
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.

Adult Walk 8:30 a.m. – Beginner and experienced, 2-3 hours.  Species range from 40 in June to 60-75 during migrations and winter.  We meet at the metal-shaded viewing area (see photo below) next to the parking lot and begin walking east towards the lagoon.  We always check the offshore rocks and the ocean.  When lagoon outlet is closed we continue east around the lagoon, and around to Adamson House.  We put out special effort to make our monthly Malibu Lagoon walks attractive to first-time and beginning birdwatchers.  So please, if you are at all worried about coming on a trip and embarrassing yourself because of all the experts, we remember our first trips too.  Someone showed us the birds; now it’s our turn.

Meeting place - What's that animal in the foreground?  See photo below of him heading the other way. (Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation 6/18/13)

Meeting place – Hey, what’s that animal in the foreground?
See him heading the other way in photo below.
(Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation 6/18/13)

Children and Parents Walk 10:00 a.m.   One hour session, meeting at the metal-shaded viewing area (see photo above) between parking lot and channel.  We start at 10:00 for a shorter walk and to allow time for families to get it together on a sleepy Sunday morning.  Our leaders are experienced with kids so please bring them to the beach!  We have an ample supply of binoculars that children can use without striking terror into their parents.  We want to see families enjoying nature. (If you have a Scout Troop or other group of more than seven people, you must call Mary (310-457-2240) to make sure we have enough binoculars and docents.)

Directions: Malibu Lagoon is at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Cross Creek Road.  Look around for people wearing binoculars.  Parking in the official lagoon lot is $12+ or by annual pass.  You may also park either along PCH west of Cross Creek Road, on Cross Creek Road itself but be careful – some parts of PCH are off-limits (read the signs carefully), or on Civic Center Way north (inland) of the shopping center.  Lagoon parking in the shopping center lot is not permitted.
Map to Meeting Place
[Chuck Almdale]

Locally known as 'Willie the Weasel' (Cal. State Parks 6/18/13)

Locally known as ‘Son of Willie the Weasel’
(Cal. State Parks 6/18/13)


NSF Grant and SMBAS Endowment Support LMU Study on Birds

June 16, 2015
by

This article is courtesy of the LMU/LA Seaver News.  A SMBAS research endowment at LMU also supports the work that Dr. Watts is doing.

National Science Foundation Funds Study on a Quirky SongbirdHeather Watts, Ph.D., holding a house finch, a relative of the pine siskin.

“I was very excited to get this grant,” says Watts, who received her Ph.D. in zoology and ecology, evolutionary biology and behavior at Michigan State University in 2007. “Without a grant, it might take a decade or more to do a project of this type and scale.”

Watts’ research investigates the relationships between environmental variation, life history patterns and the behavior of birds and mammals. She is especially interested in gregarious animals, completing her Ph.D. work on spotted hyenas. Pine siskins are also social creatures and are interesting because they’re nomadic and irruptive migrants, meaning that their migration patterns are relatively unpredictable. Unlike many other birds, they do not migrate according to highly predictable schedules and to the same places year after year. Pine siskins also have variable reproductive schedules.

“What I’m interested in trying to understand is how animals use the information in the environment to time their annual schedules, including reproduction and migration,” she explains. “What are they paying attention to in the environment in order to time these events? And what are the hormones that are important in making the transition between life stages?”

Swagger14932

While some field work is involved—Watts has been spending time trapping pine siskins in the San Gabriel Mountains, about an hour and a half from LMU—many birds will be housed in the lab for experiments. Watts welcomes the opportunity to expose undergraduate students to this type of research.

“The NSF encourages undergraduate involvement in research,” she says. “I think it’s cool that students get to be involved in research like this as undergraduates. I like the combination of research and teaching that we have here at LMU. There is support for faculty to do research, but we really value the undergraduates and that they’re involved in research.”

Elegant Terns at Malibu Lagoon

June 13, 2015
Elegant Terns (Jim Kenney 4/29/15)

Elegant Terns (Jim Kenney 4/29/15)

“Elegant Terns are…well, they’re just so elegant!,” founding chapter member Abigail King used to say. They certainly are.

Elegant Terns (Jim Kenney 4/29/15)

More Elegant Terns (J. Kenney 4/29/15)

We were recently treated to the sight of thousands of Elegant Terns dropping into Malibu Lagoon, and on April 29 Jim Kenney caught them in action. Often starting off slow, such gatherings can build over several hours, until suddenly you realize you’re in the storm-center of a swirling mass of wings, bills and cries.

Elegant Terns (Jim Kenney 4/29/15)

Even more Elegant Terns (J. Kenney 4/29/15)

Some of us have been looking at Elegant Tern – and its disconcertingly similar conspecific Royal Tern – for decades, and we still have trouble telling them apart. Here are some tips.

Elegant Terns (Jim Kenney 4/29/15)

Some of the Elegants get spooked (J. Kenney 4/29/15)

Bill shape and size is one of the best field marks.
Elegant: Very long and slender. Lower bill lacks any gonydeal angle (bump on lower bill, common among gulls and terns); bottom of lower bill curves slightly downward to tip.

Elegant Tern pair (J. Kenney 4/3/10)

Elegant Terns: bill long & decurved, yellow-orange, black legs and cap, pink breast on right bird (J. Kenney 4/3/10)

Royal: Lower bill has small gonydeal angle near middle; bottom of bill appears either straight or curving slightly upward to tip. Bill is stouter than on Elegant.

Royal Terns (J. Kenney 11/15/06)

Royal Terns: stout orange bill, small gonydeal angle on lower bill, non-breeding dark cap barely reaches dark eye (J. Kenney 11/15/06)

The juveniles of  both species will have shorter bills for a while. Species with large bills take longer to develop a full-sized bill.

Caspian (rear) & Royal (front) Terns (J. Kenney 4/14/10)

Size ranges of Caspian (rear) & Royal (front) Terns overlap (J. Kenney 4/14/10)

Bill color in both species range from pale yellow to bright orange, almost red. Juveniles have the palest bills; adults tend towards darker orange and near-red; colors are brighter during breeding. Royal tends towards orange, Elegant tends towards yellow, but colors vary and overlap so greatly, it is more misleading than useful.

Elegant Terns (Jim Kenney 4/29/15)

Elegant Terns have a variety of bill colors (J. Kenney 4/29/15)

Black Cap: In non-breeding birds, this is the best field mark. In breeding season both have black caps from bill to shaggy nape; the Elegant has a slightly shaggier nape-crest. After breeding, black caps are gradually and partially lost, beginning at the bill. The Royal loses a bit more of the black cap than does the Elegant, and in winter, the black eye of the Royal stands out noticeably from the black crest, whereas the black eye of the Elegant remains ‘buried’ within, or at the very edge, of the black cap.

Elegant Tern non-breeding (Joyce Waterman)

Elegant Tern with non-breeding cap, note black plumage in front of eye. Note decurved lower bill and pale yellow to deep orange bill.
(Joyce Waterman 6/14/14)

Elegant Tern with non-breeding cap (J. Waterman (9/22/13)

Elegant Tern with non-breeding cap; note orange legs (J. Waterman (9/22/13)

Calls are similar: The Elegant perpetually utters a “kreeeeek!” screech, and when the flock is large, it can be extremely noisy. Royals have a lower “koorrick” call, but at the lagoon seem to remain quiet. Maybe they can’t get a word in edgewise when Elegants are around.

Royal tern (left) with non-breeding crest, 3 Elegant with breeding crest. Royal is noticeably bulkier. Elegant with neck fully extended looks as tall as Royal. (J. Kenney)

Noticeably bulkier Royal Tern (left) before developing breeding crest which Elegant already has. Elegant with fully extended neck seems as tall as Royal.
(J. Kenney Apr’07 Playa del Rey, CA)

Dimensions: Elegant and Royal almost, but not quite, overlap. Royal and Caspian (world’s largest tern) overlap in size, not in weight. Royal and Caspian Terns overlap in all dimensions with Ring-billed Gull.[1]

Species Length (in) Wingspan (in) Weight (oz)
Least Tern 8.7 – 9.5 18.9 – 20.9 1.4 – 1.8
Black Tern 9.1 – 11 22.4 – 25.6 2.1 – 2.6
Common Tern 12.6 – 15.4 28.3 – 32.7 3.4 – 5.1
Forster’s Tern 13 – 14.2 28.7 – 32.3 4.8 – 6.8
Elegant Tern 15.4 – 16.9 29.9 – 31.9 7.6 – 10.6
Royal Tern 17.7 – 20.1 39.8 – 53.1 11.3 – 17.6
Caspian Tern 18.9 – 22 50 – 55.1 20.2 – 27.6
For Comparison
Ring-billed Gull[2] 16.9 – 21.3 47.6 – 50 14.1 – 20.8

 

Legs and feet: About 90% of adult Elegant have black legs & feet; 10% have orange legs & feet. Adult Royal have black legs & feet. Juveniles of both species often have yellow-to-orange legs & feet.

Royal Tern juvenile and adult (J. Kenney 8/4/09)

Royal Tern juvenile has spotty back & yellow-orange legs. The bill may also be shorter. (J. Kenney 8/4/09)

Breast: White, but breeding Elegant often has a pale pinkish cast. This comes from carotenoids (as in carrot) – specifically astaxanthin from fish and crustaceans in their diet, is in the feathers themselves, and does not occur on the plumage surface or in preen oil, as some have previously speculated. Carotenoids color the plumage of many other birds, including Flamingos and House Finches. (See above photo of Elegant Tern bill shape.)

Elegant Terns (Jim Kenney 4/29/15)

Anxiety spreads (J. Kenney 4/29/15)

Wings are long, slender and pale underneath with limited dark in the primaries; tails are noticeably forked.

Elegant Terns (Jim Kenney 4/29/15)

Waves of flight (J. Kenney 4/29/15)

Still confused? Join the club. Confusion is the proper attitude. The best way to differentiate them is to get them to stand side-by-side. Then – usually! – the differences in bulk, crest, size, bill shape and length, and eye location in the black cap become obvious. Sort of.

All terns are plunge divers, feeding on small fish. Most gulls will eat nearly anything, plucking their food from the surface of the water or ground, robbing other birds (especially terns) or hanging around pelicans, hoping for a freebie.

Royal Terns are not globally threatened. They nest along both coasts of North & South America, the Caribbean, and the west coast of Africa, totaling over 70,000 pairs. Our west coast populations have suffered crashes in the past 40 years due to the virtual disappearance of their staple food, the pacific sardine. The relatively large size of their prey also makes them especially susceptible to pesticides working their way up the food chain.

Elegant Terns (Jim Kenney 4/29/15)

They’re very noisy (J. Kenney 4/29/15)

Elegant Terns are considered near-threatened, numbering 30,000-50,000 pairs, about 90% of which nest on Isla Rasa, 1/3rd way down the sea of Cortez. [See map.] Such concentration on a particular breeding location makes them highly susceptible to local dangers, and gathering of eggs by local fishermen, before the island was declared a sanctuary in 1964, nearly wiped them out. Isla Rasa is also the primary breeding location of Heermann’s Gull, commonly seen at Malibu Lagoon.

Elegant and Royal Terns are not always at the lagoon. Our records show:

Royal Tern Elegant Tern
Month Times Present Total Birds
Times Present Total Birds
Jan 11 105 0 0
Feb 11 92 1 1
Mar 7 45 12 386
Apr 11 45 13 4785
May 11 53 13 430
Jun 9 40 10 460
Jul 6 25 9 1154
Aug 10 44 14 351
Sep 9 50 15 260
Oct 9 26 13 79
Nov 6 11 8 16
Dec 7 61 0 0
Totals 107 597 108 7922
Average 48.9% 5.6 49.3% 73.4
Notes. (1) (2) (1) (3)
1. Presence percentage of 219 census dates
2. Average present on 107 visits
3. Average present on 108 visits

The single Elegant Tern present in Feb. 2010 was an anomaly. Normally they are completely absent from SoCal December through February. As the above table shows, while both species are present nearly equally often, Elegant, absent in winter, still outnumbers Royal 13-to-1.

Elegant Terns (Jim Kenney 4/29/15)

Chaos reigns (J. Kenney 4/29/15)

Birders visiting from the East Coast and around the world often have Elegant Tern high on their ‘want list.’ Although it ranges from southern Washington State to Peru, SoCal is probably the most easily accessible place in the world to find it. Something to think about the next time you see this truly elegant bird on the sand.     [Chuck Almdale]

Notes:
[1] Handbook of Birds of the World (HBW), Vol. 3; Lynx Edicions, 1996; del Hoyo, Elliot & Sargatal
[2] There is wide disagreement on Ring-billed Gull length. Sibley’s & NGS field guides both give 17.5″; HBW 18.1-21.3″, Cornell Lab of Ornithology 16.9-21.3″, BeautyOfBirds.com gave averages of female 18.5″ male 20″, other web sources gave 16″, 17″, 18″, or 19″. I chose to use the Cornell lab length dimension as most inclusive.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 640 other followers