Local birders are atwitter at the sighting of birds rarely ever seen in this part of the world over the past few weeks—a white wagtail that would normally winter in Southeast Asia but somehow ended up in Malibu and a black throated sparrow passing through on its way south.
“Every now and then, a stray bird from far, far away drops by Malibu Lagoon,” wrote Chuck Almdale of the Audubon Society. “We don’t know when the white wagtail arrived, but it was first spotted on Oct. 5 by members of the Southwest Bird Study Club on a field trip led by club president Ed Stonick—the one who identified the bird.” Shortly thereafter, local birder and photographer from Topanga, Chris Tosdevin, arrived at the lagoon and took photos.
According to Almdale, the breeding range of the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) stretches from Greenland and across Asia to Alaska. The species winters from West Africa through southern Asia. He thinks this bird is most likely an Alaskan bird that for some reason flew southeast for the winter, rather than southwest to Malaysia or the Philippines.
As he watched the bird with his binoculars, its long tail was almost constantly wagging up and down (hence the name), and it would hop, jump and run to catch tiny insects.
A black-throated sparrow, which normally lives in the very dry desert, was also spotted in the Malibu Lagoon as well as in Solstice Canyon in mid-September. These birds are normally seen in the winter in places like the Antelope Valley, Carrizo Plains and Joshua Tree, and are one of the few birds that don’t have to drink water. They breed in the northwest and winter in the southwest.
Audubon members speculate that the bird was on its way farther south, but a little off course. The Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society’s only other recorded Lagoon sighting of this species was July 19, 1987. Two other Black-throated Sparrows were spotted at Solstice Canyon on Sept. 13.