Trip Report: Humboldt Bay Birding Tour
From Arcata, California
October 10-13, 2002

by Greg Gillson

Steve Shunk and I teamed up to lead this 4 day tour. One of the prime birding areas in northern California, we concentrated on the marsh and marine birds of coastal Humboldt County during the fall migration. This tour included a pelagic trip from Eureka out to the Eel River Sea Canyon.

Day 1. Thursday, October 10.

We met our 3 guests at noon at the motel in Arcata, Bill & Mary and Bob. After lunch at a Greek Deli ("Falafel"? A new experience for me not knowing 3/4 of the words on the menu!) we headed over to the nearby Arcata Marsh on the Humboldt Bay estuary. We tallied over 80 species for the marsh over the 4 hours, or so that we were there. I am always impressed with the number of MARBLED GODWITS and AMERICAN AVOCETS at this marsh in fall. Other shorebirds included WILLET, LONG-BILLED CURLEW, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, PECTORAL SANDPIPER, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER. Of course there were other waterbirds as well: BROWN PELICAN, GREEN HERON, CANVASBACK, GREATER & LESSER SCAUP, SURF SCOTER, RUDDY DUCK, VIRGINIA RAIL, BONAPARTE'S GULL, HEERMANN'S GULL, MEW GULL, and FORSTER'S TERN to name only a few. Several raptors were present, including a PEREGRINE FALCON that made repeated stoops on the waterfowl. There was a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, and WHITE-TAILED KITE. Other good birds included ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD, BLACK PHOEBE, singing migratory Sooty-type FOX SPARROWS, LINCOLN'S SPARROW, YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD, and LESSER GOLDFINCH.

As the daylight drew to a close we went out to Fairhaven on the north spit of Humboldt Bay. BLACK TURNSTONES and an early THAYER'S GULL were along the jetty. In the pine grove was a late WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE and a migrant HERMIT THRUSH.

Our evening meal was at a local brew-pub.

Day 2. Friday, October 11.

We started the day by heading up the coast to Patricks Point. We did some seawatching, spotting PACIFIC and RED-THROATED LOON, some distant PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS, PELAGIC CORMORANTS, GREAT and SNOWY EGRETS flying offshore, SURF SCOTER, and a BLACK OYSTERCATCHER. A walk though the park revealed a rare WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, several WRENTIT, HERMIT THRUSH, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE, ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD, BROWN CREEPER, HUTTON'S VIREO, and other forest birds.

Patricks Point
Patricks Point. Scan of Video by Greg Gillson.

Our next stop was some riparian and forest birding at Redwood Creek, near the town of Orick. Another PEREGRINE FALCON was here, also a MERLIN soaring overhead. WESTERN MEADOWLARKS and AMERICAN PIPITS were in the horse pasture. The river edge had CALIFORNIA QUAIL, GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS, and a migrant ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER. As we made our way up the hill into the giant redwood forest we found GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, HUTTON'S VIREO, WINTER WREN, BAND-TAILED PIGEON, and RED CROSSBILL.

Next was the picturesque village of Trinidad. This must be the most beautiful ocean cove in the world. No camera can do justice to the amazing landscape.

Trinidad Pier
Trinidad Pier. Scan of Video by Greg Gillson.

Trinidad. Scan of Video by Greg Gillson.

Birding at Trinidad
Birding at Trinidad. Photo by Bill Walker.

Later in the day we stopped at the Azalea Reserve and added a quick flyover PILEATED WOODPECKER. Several CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES were in the park.


Dinner was at another local brew-pub before getting to bed for our next big day.

Day 3. Saturday, October 12.

This was our pelagic trip day from Eureka. The 44-foot "Shenandoah" could carry 14 passengers, but only two more people joined our group for the trip. We started in the bay with RING-BILLED, CALIFORNIA, and HEERMANN'S GULL, COMMON LOON, BLACK TURNSTONE, SURFBIRD, and a RUDDY TURNSTONE on one of the piers. A few miles offshore we started entering the Eel River Sea Canyon. Here we found numerous gulls, including WESTERN, GLAUCOUS-WINGED, and HERRING GULL, and hundreds of NORTHERN FULMAR. SOOTY, PINK-FOOTED, and a few BULLER'S SHEARWATER added to the excitement. And then the fun began. Spouts and splashes led to the first of what became nine HUMPBACK WHALES cavorting around. And the first BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS sailed past. Steve attracted them near the boat with his saltine crackers. Back near shore we spotted MARBLED MURRELET, CASSIN'S AUKLET, and RHINOCEROS AUKLET. A distant LONG-TAILED DUCK flew past. As we entered the harbor a flock of 8-10 thousand DUNLIN swarmed over the shore--an amazing spectacle.

Humpback Whale spout
Humpback Whale spout. Scan of Video by Greg Gillson.
Dall's Porpoise
Dall's Porpoise. Scan of Video by Greg Gillson.
Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale. Scan of Video by Greg Gillson.

But we weren't done birding for the day. No, far from it. It was everyone's desire to participate in the California Fall Challenge--to see as many birds as possible in a single day within one county in California. I think everyone was pretty tired by the end. We got to learn about each other during this long day. Steve and Mary and Bob had all worked at REI in the past. So there were lots of stories. Bob was quite the jokester, and it got pretty silly. "A priest, a rabbi, a duck, and a monkey walked into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, 'What is this, some kind of a joke?'." It went downhill from there.

We walked about a mile into the redwoods at Headwaters Park. A very unusual CLARK'S NUTCRACKER called from the hill. Several RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKERS worked some snags. We also found DOWNY and HAIRY WOODPECKER, BROWN CREEPER, GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, TOWNSEND'S WARBLER, HERMIT THRUSH, HUTTON'S VIREO, aand WINTER WREN. We stopped along Elk River Road and added PURPLE FINCH and DARK-EYED JUNCO. As usual, we ended the daylight hours at the Arcata Marsh. The day's tally was 103 species.

We found yet another brew-pub for our evening meal.

Day 4. Sunday, October 13.

Our final day had arrived. In Humboldt Bay we observed RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, RED-NECKED GREBE, AMERICAN PIPIT, HORNED GREBE among others. We tried for a couple of rare warblers reported in Eureka, but only came up with BEWICK'S WREN, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, TOWNSEND'S WARBLER, and other common birds. We drove around the bay to the Humboldt Bay NWR where we got fairly good looks at ALEUTIAN CANADA GEESE. We drove out to the Eel River mouth where the highlight was a PEREGRINE FALCON. At another little roadside puddle were dozens of COMMON SNIPE a few GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, and Mary got good looks at a VIRGINIA RAIL, while the rest of us only heard them.

Our parting lunch in a small community was at (you guessed it) another quaint brew-pub!

The group
From left to right: Steve, Mary, Greg, Bob, and Bill. Photo by Bill Walker.

Send e-mail to Greg Gillson at The Bird Guide to find out more information about our next tour to Humboldt County, California.

Go to The Bird Guide's Pelagic Page.

Send e-mail to Steve Shunk at Paradise Birding to find out more information.

Go to the Paradise Birding web page.