Chasing Bar-tailed

There’s an undeniable intrigue when chasing rarities from across the globe. This time I was hoping for a shorebird off course from its typical New Zealand to Alaska migration called a Bar-tailed Godwit. Thanks to unusual weather patterns, a handful had shown up on the Oregon coast this spring.

I timed my trip to arrive in the coastal hills at sunrise to listen for Mountain Quail.

Since I was at the right place and the right time, I heard this life bird’s call pretty easily. A pair was calling back and forth across the valley. But no visuals this time, and I didn’t have much time to spend looking. Next time, quail.

I kept focus and made it to Lost Creek State Park while it was still early. I felt both relief and excitement when I saw shorebirds in the distance. This could be it.

But it wasn’t. The Bar-tailed had been seen in mixed shorebird flocks of Whimbrels and Marbled Godwit and those were both here.

Down-turned bill = Whimbrel

Upturned bill = Marbled Godwit

This godwit gave me pause. I realized then that I’d never seen Marbled Godwits in breeding plumage. More buffy-brown cinnamon colored, with barring on the chest, and an orange-ish coloring at the base of the bill (signalling increased hormonal levels). I had only seen them in non-breeding plumage with a pink base to the bill.

There were also some birds with intermediate colors.

This was getting more complicated. I had done my homework before arriving of course, Bar-tailed Godwits differ from Marbled in that they are slightly smaller, with a slightly shorter bill, and they lack the cinnamon underwing colors. They are slightly more reddish in breeding plumage and grayer in non-breeding. I began to doubt I’d recognize these slight differences.

So I looked at peeps instead. Hey, look! Western Sandpipers!

Bath time!

Dunlin in breeding plumage, look at that black belly!

Sanderlings! That one on the right is in breeding plumage (mottled, rufous head and neck).

And the best distraction. Semi-palmated Plover.

You’re cute, even when you’re digging in the sand.

That helped. I walked back to the car ready to try another location. As I was returning, a group of birders passed by and we exchanged information. They too were looking for godwits and hadn’t seen any Bar-tailed yet. At least I hadn’t missed anything.

I pulled over at another beach spot, and found only plovers and Whimbrels. The next stop was Newport’s South Jetty where I found no Whimbrels or godwits, but I did catch a distant glimpse of a black ghost. A Pacific Loon in breeding plumage!

Note to self: spend more time with shorebirds in breeding plumage. They’re beautiful.

It was late afternoon by now and I had time for just one more stop. Since it was close, and I’d never been there, I decided on Yaquina Bay State Recreation Area just across from South Jetty.

I approached the beach and saw shorebirds in the distance. This could be it.

OMG, this was it! I spotted one of the banded birds in my binoculars. Some reports had been of birds with multiple blue and white bands on their legs, part of a bird-banding program in New Zealand, and positively identifying them as Bar-tailed Godwits. It was the best-case scenerio BTGO to find.

But before I could snap a photo, a woman approached me, asking about the birds. She asked what the birds with the long bills were, “are they Long-billed Dowitchers?” Normally, I appreciate people’s interest in birds when I’m out, but this was terrible timing. But I explained what they were anyways. She thanked me, then proceeded to walk right towards the flock, spooking them all.

Seriously? I had told her about the rarity too. I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t have time to sulk, because I had to jog down the beach to keep up with the moving flock. Eventually, success!

Look at all the jewelry on that New Zealand bird! What a huge relief. And the stranger thing was, besides that rude woman, I was the only one on the beach. No other birders. I posted the sighting on OBOL and enjoyed my time. I’d actually hit the jackpot of shorebirds at this spot.

There were Black-bellied Plovers in breeding plumage.

I almost dropped my binoculars.

A Ruddy Turnstone.

And a pair of Brant casually on the shore.

Whimbrels, plovers, godwits, sanderlings, it was hard to keep up!

The tide came in further, many birds moved up to the jetty rocks to sleep in the warm afternoon sun. I regained and lost site of the Bar-tailed again, grateful for the time I had.

X marks the spot, I’d found the treasure!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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

GD Part III: Arcata

There is a lot to love about Arcata.

The small-town feel, lush surrounding forests, beautiful ocean views.

Arcata Mural

While I birded, Tomas explored nearby redwood forests by mountain bike. Arcata Community Forest is kind of like Portland’s Forest Park, but with fewer people and more hills. Bonus.

Mountain bike

When not birding or biking we ate yummy bagels at Los Bagels and drank beer at the local brewery. I also spent time admiring nature murals around town.

Taking a picture

Mural

One free afternoon I wandered around until I ended up at Woodley Island Marina on Humboldt Bay. Like you do. Here I got good looks of a few waterbirds.

Common Loon

Common Loon in breeding plumage. Oooooh, ahhhhh

Western Grebe

Western Grebe (Western Gull photo bomb)

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

And I finally had some quality alone time with shorebirds. Like the Marbled Godwit!

Marbled Godwit

What took me so long? It’s GODWIT Days. Here’s another!

Marbled Godwit

And here’s one next to a Willet!

Godwit and a willet

Honestly, I hadn’t seen a Willet since my Florida trip, so long ago that I forgot what they looked like. This trip was a good refresher.

Willet

Another (rougher looking) Willet

And here’s a Godwit with an upside down bill and a hat! Oh, no, wait. That’s a Whimbrel. New bird!

Whimbrel

Not a Godwit

I also saw Caspian Tern on the shore and a couple hunting from the air. Terns are always entertaining.

Caspian Tern

Later in the day, Tomas and I decided to return to the Arcata Marsh together. Quite a few good birds were on the scene.

Snowy Egret (look at that foot!)

Snowy Egret (look at that foot!)

Great Egret

Great Egret

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck, nice bill!

Just before we left, we came across this crazy looking bird.

Black-crowned Night Heron

A closer look at the chunky, red-eyed bird.

Black-crowned Night Heron

A juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron! We noticed adults perched nearby obscured by bushes. Good bird finds at the marsh!

Two out of four evenings on this trip, Tomas and I spent staring at old barns.

barn

Because that’s how couples spend romantic evenings together, right? Yes, yes it is. And rumor on  V St. Loop was that Barn Owls like to join the party. The first night we stared at the wrong barn, but the second night we got it right. Two hours before sunset we were in place and ready.

Where is the owl?

Where is the owl?

While we waited, a variety of birds entertained us.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallows swarmed the abandoned houses

A pair of Greater Yellowlegs happen to be in a field nearby

A pair of Greater Yellowlegs happened to be in a nearby field

Brewer's Blackbird (female)

Brewer’s Blackbird (female)

The Brewer’s Blackbirds were the best distractions.

Brewer's Blackbird

Brewer’s Blackbird

I hadn’t noticed before, but they scrunch themselves in a puffy ball and kind of wind themselves up before they “sing” a short tchup or chuk. Wish I’d taken a video. (Here’s someone else’s video of one in a parking lot.)

The other bird that was fun to watch was the White-tailed Kite.

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

My pictures don’t do it justice. I think local student Hanalee Hayes’s drawing is way better.

Kidlet Art

I had only seen one before on a recent trip to Tillamook, and now I’d seen three in a matter of days (four if you count this drawing). Winning at birding.

Things quieted down, and the sun set.

V-street Sunset

Moments later in the darkness an owl flew from the barn. Right on schedule. First Barn Owl of the year! Second in my life! So awesome! And totally worth the wait.

Barn Owl

It immediately set out hunting, caught something (presumed rodent), and returned to the barn. Not long after, it left again and flew over the field in front of us, and to our surprise, shrieked it’s hissing call, “cssssshhH!” Amazing.

We watched until it was so dark our eyes could barely focus as it flew off over hills far away. So good.

There is much to love about Arcata.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey