Bird­ers hon­ored for spot­ting species

Times Standard (Eureka) - - FRONT PAGE - By Sue Leskiw Con­trib­uted Sue Leskiw serves as the vol­un­teer me­dia li­ai­son for the God­wit Days Bird­ing Fes­ti­val.

“Af­ter chas­ing af­ter the first great horned owl ever seen at the Arcata Marsh, I con­tin­ued walk­ing my dog around Butcher Slough Log Pond,” said bird guide Rob Fowler. “I heard a song where I im­me­di­ately thought ‘No, I didn’t just hear what I thought I heard.’ But a cou­ple of yards down the trail, the bird sang again and it was in­stantly rec­og­niz­able as a white-eyed vireo, only the sec­ond record for Hum­boldt County.”

This song­bird, whose usual range is the south­east­ern United States, was the unanimous choice of the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee to be Hum­boldt County Bird of 2019. Be­cause the April 2020 God­wit Days Bird Fes­ti­val had been post­poned, there could be no for­mal cer­e­mony to present the plaque to Fowler. (It couldn’t even be en­graved with his new in­for­ma­tion, as tro­phy shops are not es­sen­tial busi­nesses un­der the COVID-19 statewide shut­down.)

This award is in­tended to honor the rare species that find fa­vor­able habi­tat here for pe­ri­ods rang­ing from a sin­gle day to sev­eral months and the ded­i­cated bird­ers that “pound the patches” to dig them out for oth­ers to en­joy. Some­times, the birds at­tract peo­ple from out of the county or even out of state to come spend their eco­tourism dol­lars here. In­ter­est­ingly, in 2019, four of the five fi­nal­ists were dis­cov­ered at the Arcata Marsh.

Fowler de­scribes how he found, iden­ti­fied and re­ported the vireo thusly: “On June, 21, I headed to the marsh af­ter Ge­orge Zimin­sky no­ti­fied me about the great horned owl. Upon find­ing the vireo, I got re­ally ex­cited and mes­saged Hum­boldt Bird­ers Face­book Mes­sen­ger. … Min­utes later, other bird­ers ar­rived, in­clud­ing the finders of the owl, who hap­pened to be clients I was to guide the next day. I worked to get record­ings and pho­tos of the bird. White-eyed vireos can be rather skulky. I think maybe half of the bird­ers saw it and half just heard it.”

The white-eyed vireo stuck around for three days and was in­cluded on 17 sub­mit­ted eBird check­lists.

2019 run­ner-ups

The species gar­ner­ing sec­ond place was the trum­peter swan (six of them!), seen on Nov. 30 by Mark and Lu­cas Stephen­son, Amaya Bech­ler and Lu­cas Cor­neliussen. Mark Stephen­son, a birder from Napa, de­scribes the ex­pe­ri­ence as such: “Around 7:20 a.m., Lu­cas … spot­ted a small flock of swans that we scoped for sev­eral min­utes. At first, we as­sumed that they were prob­a­bly tun­dra swans, given the rar­ity of trum­peters along the coast. Given the dis­tance, the ID was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. How­ever, Lu­cas per­sisted in ex­am­in­ing them, we took many pho­tos and we re­al­ized his be­lief to be correct: They were trum­peter swans. They had ex­tremely long necks, a dis­tinct V-shaped fore­head pat­tern, a rec­tan­gu­lar head shape and no yel­low lores (be­tween eye and beak) that would be present on most adult tun­dras.”

This was only the sec­ond

photo-con­firmed Hum­boldt County record for this large bird — which av­er­ages 23 pounds, 5 feet in length, with an 80-inch wing­span — and a first marsh record. Win­ter­ing trum­peter swans are usu­ally found in coastal Alaska and along the West Coast of Canada. Other bird­ers got out there quickly and saw the birds, which were re­ported on nine eBird check­lists. (Note: The first photo-con­firmed record won Hum­boldt County Bird of the Year for 2017.)

The re­main­ing three rare birds — black skim­mer, Ken­tucky war­bler and worm-eat­ing war­bler — tied for third place. The ini­tial black skim­mer sight­ing — a third Hum­boldt County record — was by Carol Wil­son at Big La­goon on July 26, fol­lowed a day later with sight­ings by Fowler at Clam Beach and Tony Kurz at the Elk River mouth. Wil­son saw an adult and ju­ve­nile to­gether, Fowler spot­ted a ju­ve­nile and Kurz an adult. It is un­known whether the same birds were in­volved.

The nor­mal range of this bird in the same fam­ily as gulls and terns is along the

At­lantic coast from Con­necti­cut to Ar­gentina, in­clud­ing the Gulf of Mex­ico, and up the Pa­cific Coast of South Amer­ica to Baja Cal­i­for­nia. Skim­mers were first ob­served nest­ing in Cal­i­for­nia at the Salton Sea and San Diego in 1972 and 1976, re­spec­tively. David Si­b­ley deems the black skim­mer “un­mis­tak­able,” with black-and­white plumage and a large, bright orange-and-black bill that it slices through the sur­face of the water, for­ag­ing for small fish mainly at night.

The sec­ond species tied for third place is Ken­tucky ear­bler. Gary Bloom­field recorded one singing on June 2 at the Arcata Marsh. This was only the fourth Hum­boldt County record for this no­to­ri­ously skulky bird and the first seen here since 1996. Bloom­field didn’t get to see the bird, but his record­ing was ac­cepted by state records com­mit­tee. No one else got onto the bird, which more prop­erly be­longs in the east­ern U.S., as far west as cen­tral Texas.

The fi­nal con­tender for Bird of the Year third place is worm-eat­ing war­bler, which was found by Alex Lamb at the Arcata Marsh on Nov. 11. A fifth Hum­boldt County and first marsh record, this bird stuck around for a long time, with 161 ob­servers fil­ing eBird re­ports, with the last sub­mit­ted March 23 by the orig­i­nal fin­der. Its usual range is the east­ern U.S., as far west as east­ern Texas.


Pic­tured is a white-eyed vireo, which made a rare ap­pear­ance in Hum­boldt County in 2019.


Lo­cal guide Rob Fowler is pic­tured with the Hum­boldt County Bird of the Year Award plaque.

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