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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Birds of All Kinds of Feathers Flock to Malibu for Winter Season


Each year, millions of birds travel the Great Pacific Flyway along the coast of California.
Many birds are headed to their winter foraging grounds farther south. Some stop over only for a day or two. For other species, Malibu is the destination. The mild climate, protected coves, wetlands and mountains that make Malibu appealing to humans also attracts avian visitors.
According to the National Park Service, approximately 100 bird species winter in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, including Malibu.
Many species are garden residents. A birdbath has the potential to attract an assortment of winter warblers, sparrows, and songbirds like the Oregon junco, hermit thrush and oak titmouse—a small gray bird with a peaked cap and a feisty, scolding song—to even the smallest gardens. Other birds require more room to roam.
The Point Dume Headlands are a good place to see—and hear—the western meadowlark. Its distinctive yellow plumage, black arrow marking and lilting, soaring song are unmistakable. The western bluebird is another west Malibu visitor.
At the beach, a bewildering assortment of shorebirds can often be seen, ranging from the charcoal and white Heermann’s gull to the long-billed curlew, with its sword-like curved beak and mournful cry.
Malibu Lagoon State Park and Zuma Lagoon attract other winter species, including a wide variety of colorful ducks and wading birds, like the elegantly black and white ring necked duck and the Virginia rail-a bird with impossibly long legs and enormous feet.
This year, participants in the Audubon Society's Annual Christmas Bird Count identified a willow flycatcher in Ramirez Canyon, reportedly only the second winter sighting of the small insectivorous bird in Los Angeles County.
Malibu-area Audubon bird count compiler Larry Allen told the Malibu Surfside News that the volunteer bird watchers who braved the torrential rains on the day of the local count, also spotted red breasted nuthatches on Point Dume and in Malibu Creek State Park and an osprey—a large and impressive fish raptor—at Malibu Lagoon.
According to the Audubon Society, the Christmas Count, now in its 110th year, is the longest running citizen science survey in the world. The information collected by volunteer bird watchers is used by scientists and the U.S, Government to track bird populations.
Rockslides, road closures and torrential rains meant some teams couldn’t reach their assigned bird watching areas, but the Malibu circle managed to ID 149 species, despite the weather.
According to Allen, the winter storms have also blown some unusual species off course this year, including a red-necked grebe and a marbled murrelet—a north Pacific member of the auk family, spotted at Paradise Cove. “They were seen outside of the count period,” Allen said, “so we couldn’t include them [in the count].”
“I’ve been compiling the Malibu bird count for 20 years,” Allen said, “and this was only our second big rain out.”
Allen said that almost all of the Christmas bird counters are from out of the area. He travels to Malibu for the annual event from the San Gabriel Valley. One Malibu bird counter reportedly comes all the way from San Dimas to participate. Malibu residents are incredibly fortunate, bird watchers say. They have a bird watching Mecca in their own backyards every day.
Malibuites interested in learning more about winter birds can join one of several bird walks scheduled this month in the SMMNRA. The National Park Service’s event calendar is available online at
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s online bird guide offers easy identification for those who don't have the time to join a guided walk. Viewers can search based on taxonomy, name or shape.
A smartphone app lets bird enthusiasts access the Cornell digital field guide in the field, at least in areas where there is adequate cell reception.
Binoculars can be helpful, but birdwatchers say the most important thing is just taking the time to go out and look and listen.

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