"A mix of perfect weather and eager, capable participation brought a load of rarities and overall satisfaction in a job-well-done. Although the pelagic cruise didn't materialize, there was a respectable count total. I don't have all my reports, but the species total is in the neighborhood of 188. A belated report of Common Grackle, found on private property in the upper Salt River area, caught me by surprise.
Unusual reports include, in no particular order-Long-eared Owl, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Selasphorus sp., White-throated Swift (1st count record), Vaux's Swift (previous records?), Say's Phoebe, Wilson's Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow Warbler, Western Tanager, Vesper Sparrow, and Common Grackle (1st count record). Notable efforts included 8 warbler species total from 2 separate parties, a foraging Hermit Warbler on a Ferndale lawn, a dizzying mixed foraging flock of 1 Tree Swallow, 2 Violet-green Swallows, 2 Vaux's Swift's and 22 White-throated Swifts and a late-night owling effort on Graham/Tompkins Hill roads that produced 6 owl species including the infrequently reported Northern Saw-whet Owl...."
On Saturday, 5 January, I led my 3rd annual "Winter Rarities" field trip for Redwood Region Audubon Society. I always schedule this now annual trip to take place after the coastal Christmas Bird Counts--the Arcata and the Centerville to King Salmon--both of which tend to turn up some interesting rarities in generally accessible locations. This year was no exception as many "goodies" were turned up on both counts; especially the Centerville CBC! Read Centerville CBC compiler, Gary Lester's message to NWCALBIRD from 31 December:
Unfortunately, a lot of the best birds were reported on private property that wouldn't be accessible to a field trip, of which has had up to 20 participants in the recent years--especially the 2010 trip when the infamous BROWN SHRIKE was around. But, we did have possibility for the Long-eared Owl that had recently been reported by numerous observers from the Hookton Slough Unit of Humboldt Bay NWR. Also, THREE Northern Shrikes had been reported by 3 separate parties on the Centerville CBC so we had excellent chances to try and refind at least one of those birds, including a stunning adult found by Greg Chapman on Quinn Rd. (For some reason I REALLY like the name of that road!) We also had to make an attempt to look for the reported Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the town of Ferndale and had some other possibilities for lesser rarities like wintering Nashville Warbler, Long-tailed Duck, etc.
Ok, so waaaaay back in October (26 Oct., to be precise) I found a Worm-eating Warbler at my favorite local Humboldt County patch, Shay Park in Arcata. Myself and others present in the park that day were looking for a reported Canada Warbler that was reported earlier in the day by HSU wildlife student, John Oliver. Nobody else ended up refinding the Canada but, while looking for it, I lucked into finding the Worm-eating (WEWA, hereon) that day which was the first one to be found in the county since August/September 1995! This was only the 8th record for Northwestern California and obviously a Humboldt County bird for me since I've only lived in the county since 2003. All of the 8 WEWA records for Northwestern California have been in Humboldt County. The bird then was supposedly only present until 28 October. Another HSU wildlife student, Annie Meyer, was the last person to have seen the bird and report it to the birdbox on that last day. As far as I know only about 8 people were lucky enough to see the bird over those 3 days. The lucky observers besides myself were in order of seeing the bird: Camden Bruner, Daryl Coldren, Annie Meyer (who was the only other person who saw it at least twice!), Meghan Still, Rob Hewitt, Amy Patten, Matt Wachs and Melody Hamilton. Many others missed the bird. For some strange reason that was unbeknownst to me I saw the bird every day during that time and was able to share the bird with some of the others mentioned above during that time. I guess being the finder of the bird I had some kind of special "finders connection" to it. This sounds kind of hokey, I know. But, birders that have found rarities have probably had a similar story at some point in their birding career.
Anyways, like I said, a lot of people missed this bird. One person that I know missed it by a mere couple of seconds just because they didn't run as fast as the person that was right in front of them and DID see the bird. This same person also missed the summer '95 bird that was singing sporadically in the patch of willows on the north spit of Humboldt Bay that is now dubbed the "Wormhole Patch" since that bird occurred there. The WEWA has become the biggest nemesis bird for this long-time Humboldt birder. A LOT of other people spent many hours looking fruitlessly for this WEWA leaving tired and frustrated. I had birded the park at least 10 other times and completed at 2 3 hour surveys of the park and hadn't heard peep from this bird. I thought the bird was gone, though it really seemed like a perfect spot for a WEWA to winter with all the bundles of dead leaf clusters in the well developed understory in many areas of the park. I thought it was gone....
Fast forward to today, 11 January 2013. I had a meeting earlier in the morning to talk to HSU professor, Mark Colwell, about using eBird in his Ornithology class. After the meeting I decided to go do a brief survey of Shay Park since I hadn't made it there yet in the New Year to start my eBird patch list for the year. I was also hoping to run into a CASSIN'S VIREO that I had found on 31 December so I could add it to my 2013 year list.
Around 1050 i was beginning to work a chickadee flock at the southeast corner of the park when I heard a distinct "zeet, zeet...zeet." It took me a second to think about it and then I heard it again and it clicked: WORM-EATING WARBLER!!! Seconds later I had the bird in full view, completely unobscured. The bird then flew across the pond and out of sight. I pulled my phone out and saw that it was DEAD! i ran back to my car and plugged it in and started making calls. I first called Gary Bloomfield as he tried really hard for the bird back in October and missed it. I then called Tony Kurz who I knew needed it as a lifer. Birdbox next. Keith Slauson. Who else? Who else?.....
Gary and Tony were the first to arrive and soon after both were present I heard the bird calling again. It took a bit of time but soon enough we all had amazing views of the bird, sometimes in full view in nice lighting. It was really great to be able to get at least 2 people on it that hadn't had the opportunity to see it the last time around. Tony got some decent photos of the bird which was quite the feat in itself! Greg Chapman, who missed the bird last time around, arrived soon after the bird had moved on and then Daryl Coldren and Meghan Still also arrived. All of them got to see the bird after I had left! What a relief!
I hope in the coming days others that missed it in 2012 will be able to rectify that in 2013! Today was incomparably the best experience I had with the bird and I think it might be a bit easier now that some of the vegetation has gotten a bit sparser from the winter season. Here's a couple of photos from Tony Kurz today: