Godwit Days Part IV: The Finale

What better way to end Godwit Days than with a Shorebird Spectacle at the marsh?

Shorebirds

Not a bad idea. Led by David Fix, author of Birds of Northern California, the spectacle trip started at the mudflats at Humboldt Bay. Unfortunately, the tide didn’t cooperate and most of the birds were pretty far in the distance.

Poor attempt at digiscoping

Poor attempt at digiscoping

The view was challenging especially for someone with limited shorebird experience, but I managed to at least identify a few Black-bellied Plovers in the faraway mix.

Black-bellied Plover

We moved to the nearby marsh for closer shorebird views.

Two godwits and a willet

Two godwits and a willet

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

And Semipalmated Plovers were a nice surprise! I wish I had gotten closer views, they’re so freakin cute.

Semipalmated Plover

I’m learning shorebirds, slowly but surely. Okay, way more slowly than anything. Their subtleties are overwhelming. I thought if I left this trip learning one new thing, I’d be happy.

So, the thing I picked up was that as with many birds, a trick to distinguishing Long-billed vs Short-billed Dowitchers, is with their distinctive calls. Long-billed has a short flight call (high-pitched keek), Short-billed has a long flight call (mellow tu tu tu). Here’s a video from the trip of those calls in action:

Whew, that’s tough. Taking it one peep at a time.

After my last official Godwit Days trip, Tomas and I had an entire afternoon free and we made the most of it. We first went to the North Jetty to look for Black Turnstones. We picked them out easily. Pretty bird.

Black Turnstone

We crossed Humboldt Bay to King Salmon and watched Pelagic Cormorant, Brant, Surf Scoter, and Red-breasted Merganser feed in the bay.

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

We also watched crabs battle on the rocks. Just as fun as you think.

Krabby Patty

Krabby Patty

It was around this time that I realized I hadn’t seen a Wrentit yet. It was one target speices I’d hoped to see while in California. So, we left to try our luck at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

On the drive there I read up on the bird, “common but difficult to see in dense brushy habitats,” the song an accelerating “bouncing ball.” I was excited to meet this bird. We turned onto the visitor center access road, drove slowly with the windows rolled down, and almost immediately, as if we’d somehow summoned the bird, we heard the bouncing ball!

Named appropriately, this bird looks like a mashup of a wren and a bushtit. And it’s just as energetic as both. I was stoked when I finally got a look at this sneaky little bird.

Wrentit

Wrentit

Mission accomplished.

The rest of our mid-day walk consisted of Song Sparrows, Barn Swallows, Black Phoebe, and I even got a quick look at a Merlin!

Merlin

A little later, I mentioned to Tomas that I hadn’t seen a hummingbird yet on this trip. To which he replied, you mean like that one there? And pointed to an Anna’s Hummingbird right next to us.

Anna's Hummingbird

Well, hello there

Poof, just like that. Hummingbird, check!

We walked and birded until the blazing heat forced us to retreat back to the local brewery where we toasted to all the fun times we had exploring Arcata. Cheers to a fantastic trip! Spotted owlSibley, Wrentit!…and of course godwits!

godwit family2

How cute is that?

Tweets and chirps!

Audrey

Crescent City. Redwoods. Birthday Birds Part II

The last day of my birthday weekend spent exploring California’s redwood coast was a sensational treat. Mostly thanks to two pygmy owls.

Redwoods

But before the owls.

On the way to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park I stopped at a small pond, Lagoon Pond, and found a Black Phoebe!

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

This chatty, energetic flycatcher is common in this area, but rare near Portland. I was happy I got the chance to see one.

Continuing along Highway 101 we passed herds of elk.

Elk

Staredown

Elk

Lawn ornaments

Elk

Elk moons rising

They weren’t in Elk Meadow like they’re supposed to be. Instead, I found an American Kestrel.

American Kestrel

Turning onto Davison Road, we continued past Gold Bluffs Beach, and proceeded toward Fern Canyon for a hike. Until we came across a small stream crossing in the road.

Puddle

Undeterred, we walked the remaining distance to the trailhead. This was a good call, because moments later we encountered two bull elk grazing by the road. Reminded of the moose in Alaska, we followed the same guidelines for the elk. We gave them space, and spoke loudly and calmly so as not to startle the animals, and we passed without incident.

Elk

Watching elk

Further down the road, I noticed a chubby song bird silhouette in the distance. Oh wait, I recognize that silhouette!

Northern Pygmy-Owl

A Northern Pygmy-Owl! The above picture is pretty much only good for perspective (the owl is about the same size as the Doug-fir cones on the tree to the right). So here are some better pictures.

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

What a cutie. The last occurrence of a NOPO I had was during Birdathon this summer. Our team heard and briefly caught a glimpse of one in flight high above the trees in an urban park.

I haven’t had this intimate a sighting since my first “official” day birding at Stubb Stewart State Park almost a year ago. In fact, because of that first encounter, I consider the Northern Pygmy-Owl the “spark bird” that ignited my passion for birding. It was thrilling to find another, especially in this beautiful setting.

Perspective

And we hadn’t even gotten to the trailhead yet. Honestly, I could have gone back to the car and been perfectly content, but I’m glad we continued on.

Fern Canyon

Fern canyon is awesome. Canyon walls covered in five types of ferns tower overhead while the trail meanders along the stream.

Ferns

It feels prehistoric. In fact, this was a film location for a scene in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World. Tiny Compsognathus dinosaurs attack and eat bad-guy hunter Dieter Stark. See that excellent film clip here.

No dinosaurs this time. But there was an American Dipper!

American Dipper

American Dipper

Ferocious if you’re a worm or aquatic insect.

We returned to the car via the beach where we passed flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the swampy bits.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

And found bird bones.

What bird

And yet another elk.

Elk

But that’s not how the story ends.

Driving back on 101, I spotted another Northern Pygmy-Owl on a small Douglas-fir as we whizzed by. Owl! I shouted. Tomas asked, Are you sure? Yes, of course I was sure. So he cautiously made a U-turn on the highway to get to the shoulder where we could get a better look and not be smashed by semis.

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl

I couldn’t believe it. What luck to run into two pygmy owls in one day. As if I needed another reason to love the redwood forests. Now I had two more.

Happy bird-day to me.

Birthday Owl

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey