Malibu Lagoon is the only place in the Santa Monica Mountains where freshwater drains to the Pacific. Malibu Creek’s watershed is a valuable source of water for much wildlife and feeds the lagoon. The estuary’s water level fluctuates, depending on rainfall and the tides’ impact on Surfrider Beach. Water morphs from freshwater at the Creek, to brackish near the beach, to salt water when the tides have opened up the sand spit.
It was here, during a recent visit to Malibu Lagoon, that snowy plovers held court on Surfrider Beach.
The plovers are tiny when compared with other shore birds, and appeared unconcerned about my presence on their beach. When they weren’t foraging in the kelp at the wrack line, they roosted into dimples in the sand. These depressions are made by the birds, or are the residue of footprints or tire tracks made by beach grooming equipment.
In spring, they lay eggs in these scrapes on the sand. It doesn’t take much to spook the birds during nesting season, when the eggs and hatchlings are vulnerable. Once frightened, the parents tend not to return to their eggs. Also, if a Santa Ana wind should blow in and bury the eggs with sand, the parents will abandon the nest.
Forty-eight hours after my initial visit, I returned and noted that the tide was so high, it had inundated the beach where the plovers were seen. The US Fish and Wildlife Service listed them as a threatened species in 1993. These birds need year-round protection from many threats, including beach grooming equipment, dogs, raptors and predators, including raccoons who are attracted to the remains of picnics left on the beach.
Astonishing fact re: snowy plovers (from All About Birds)
“Young Snowy Plovers leave the nest within 3 hours of hatching and are able to forage unassisted almost immediately (though the parents still brood them periodically to keep them warm). If a predator approaches, the parent gives a signal and the chicks flatten themselves against the ground.”