Monday, December 30, 2013

Arcata. That is all. And a funny binocular story. And more identification woes... (#276-277)

A cut inland, through the Redwoods and 400 kilometres later (or since we're in the USA, 247 miles), we're back to the ocean's edge. The visitor centres have been great handing out one-page maps pointing out the major natural areas. Arcata was pointed out as a great spot for birding. So far we haven't really been birding a lot, just an hour here and there. After all, this trip was never planned as a birding trip, and not timed with any migration or anything, so any sightings were just luck.

Well let me tell you just how lucky we got.


Matt took a little path off the main trail to the edge and I followed. We looked down the shore and saw a bunch of grey bumps that I thought were rocks. But Matt was taking pictures.

Because they were birds. ALL OF THEM. 
I started to pinch myself around this point.We sort of just stumbled on shorebird heaven. My previous shorebird excursions have been a little frustrating. The birds are so far away that you need a behemoth of a scope and still they can be hard to identify.

#276: Willet; Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary; California; August 2013
#277: Marbled Godwit; Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary; California; August 2013

Willets with Marbled godwits

Marbled Godwit

Willet. Note grey legs! Think it might be the only shorebird with grey legs that I can think of, except whimbrel---makes my life easy :)

Another willet, with dowitchers

This last image leads me to the next section. I could have either one or two life birds in addition to these...long-billed and short-billed dowitchers. There's enough resolution in these pics (the originals, at least) that I might spend some more time on this, but I've already spent hours it feels, comparing illustrations and reading articles and ripping my hair out and wondering if am slowly going crazy123456switch. I think, if they have to write super lengthy articles about distinguishing the two, I shouldn't feel so bad about not being able to tell them apart. On the upside, I'm getting a little better with my bird anatomy (I didn't actually now where a tertial was until...oh, five minutes ago....blush). It's all tertials an juveniles and breeding and worn breeding and tiger stripes and spring and fall and winter and how is fall in August anyway and on and on and none of it seems to be helping. Next time, I'll just make sure that I....listen!

These resources seem pretty good:

Dowitchers in flight

Apparently wider black bars on the tail tan wide is a surefire sign of a long-billed, EXCEPT on the West Coast. BAH.

Marbled godwits with dowitcher
Marbled godwit with dowitchers
Size comparison!

Least Sandpiper
The snowy egret was also there, and this time I managed a shot where it was lifting its feet out of the water so you can see its awesome yellow feet! This is one thing that makes it really stand apart from the egrets at home (plus the obvious size difference!)
Snowy Egret
 I love how the GBH stands over the other little shorebirds; I call him the Godfather. For sure if he could talk he'd have an Italian accent.
There was also a marshy/forest walk but it was a little bit quieter. This little sparrow stopped and said hello.

Song? I THINK....
Hawks. Hawks. Hawk. I believe we saw these on the road. I don't know if I could count the hours I've spent poring over my bird guides trying to sort these hawks out. I think there's only one consistent thing in this post.....

I'm most inclined to think red-shouldered hawk (, although there isn't an obvious red part on the shoulder. But the tail is striped and not the giveaway red of a red-tailed hawk. Out of range for Broad winged and doesn't have dark breast of rough-legged, but that would be my second choice.

Check out the spidey web on the bottom left! Red-shouldered again? maybe? much longer until I sort this out? :(

So here's another little anecdote. I decided to buy Matt (ahem...) binoculars for his birthday in August. Of course I left this to just a few days before we had to leave. So the first step was researching which ones to get. He had mentions Monarchs and I think he was already sold on the Nikon brand (obviously!) but I wanted to do some thorough research before throwing the cash down. I got some great input from a Facebook group (Eagle Optics Ranfer line came highly recommended).

I made my way to Focus Scientific in Ottawa. They closed at 6 so I had to really give it once I got out of work. I figured out the bus route and was making good time. I got off at Westgate Mall but didn't see the sign for the store or its listing in the directory. I then realized that I was quite off and assumed the store was in the mall but it was way back down the road, and there was no bus going in the other direction. I had a huge bag, and it was a typically warm August Day, and I silly stupid office shoes on (which were quite cute but not good for much else). I walked 20-30 minutes back in the other direction and ended up with a spectacularly painful blister. I must have been a sore sight limping down the street. And I bet I have scars to show for this story.

There was a really confusing intersection I had to cross to get to the store on the other side of the road. Some really nice and helpful guy helped me out. He showed me pics he had taken of some celestial body with a telescope mounted on his camera, and I wondered, "is it possible there is someone nerdier than me?" I was so surprised how different the binos looked/felt. Picking one was easier than I thought. Some of them just felt wrong and were easy to eliminate. Focus Scientific did not carry the Ranger line but I didn't have time to locate them somewhere else to try them out. I felt good about the Monarchs so that's what I picked up. (HEY SANTA I'M STILL WAITING FOR THAT SCOPE). As I was paying, a cyclist got hit by a car in that weird intersection right in front o the store window. The whole thing was just crazy.

So this is where it gets to the good part! I wanted to give the binos to Matt on the plane, which meant I had to bring a bigger carry-on on the plane, and had to hide it in my bag. As I approached the CATSA scanner, I signaled to one of the officers and tried to explain discreetly that I had a present in my bag for the next man in line and if he needs to search my bag could he please do it somewhere where that guy down the line wouldn't see? I wasn't sure if this would raise more suspicion but I was waved right through after my bag was scanned. I decided not to wait until we were on the plane because the stupid airline didn't even give us seats together and we had a bit of a wait. So he opened them up and we watched the gulls waddling around on the tarmac and I thought for sure the guard were watching us because of all the antics we were up to.

It was such a good move getting the binoculars for the trip. In fact Matt had a hard time getting them out of my hands. I liked looking through them so much sometimes I forgot to put them down....
I have no idea if my experience at Arcata was typical but it was pretty awesome. So if you are out that way, I'd recommend it!

I'd also like to give a shout-out to Dwayne over at Nerdy for Birdy for his input on the mysterious hummingbird in my previous post. I love getting feedback! His comment led me to the Cornell page on Allen's Hummingbirds (I think that is a real possibility and I hadn't even thought of it) which led me to the ebird sightings range map, which is AWESOME because I could choose a species, choose a date range (August 2013) and zoom right in to where we were (Garberville).

With this tool, it's easy to get a sense if a certain bird is in the area at a given time. Of course you are relying on other birders to submit sightings and to do so accurately, but definitely interesting results:


All this to say it could probably be any of the three of them. :P

Still have a few more posts to go and I'm moving through them rapid fire, so come back (real) soon!

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