The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
The WildeBeat edition 42: A Wild Bird Chase, part 1
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Experts at a bird watching festival give me a taste for the thrill of pursuing the sight of an endangered species. This week on The WildeBeat; A Wild Bird Chase, part 1.
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News from the WildeBeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
This is program number forty two.
I'm Steve Sergeant.
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STEVE: When you get into the wilderness, you're bound to see birds. But if you want to learn about birds, a bird watching festival can kick-start your experience. I went to one of the largest birding festivals in California, the Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival in Arcata. Rob Hewitt is the festival's chairman.
ROB HEWITT: It's been going 11 years, started by city of Arcata. They wanted to promote bird tourism as a way to built economic development into the future that's going to be sustainable. And so the city itself put some funding towards it. We had 16 attendees at the high point. We've grown every year since. [0:19.7]
STEVE: These festival attendees are really fanatic about getting out to see birds. They make lists of birds, and check off the ones they've seen.
ROB HEWITT: I really have kind of determined that, boy, I'm just going to try to see as many birds as I can, and I don't have to stop 'till I drop. It's amazing and what happens is you see a lot of these very elderly folks they're traveling around the world to try an come and see these birds, and I think what happens is, I think it's intellectually stimulating, together with outdoor activity, together with something that's quite appealing and visually attractive... I've got to travel to Africa or somewhere like that to see a new bird. So I'm kind of like, "Oh my fix!" I'm not getting my fix for new birds. However, if I just go out with some people who just started, their energy and enthusiasm, because you hear under their breath, "wow!" And you actually feed off that energy yourself. Because you remember what it was like when you were starting out, and how much fun you had with the activity.
STEVE: I see you have sort of a festival-wide checklist of what people have seen or haven't seen. Are there any real unexpected excitements or real disappointments so far on that list?
ROB HEWITT: For the first time we didn't get marbled murrelets on a marbled murrelet walk. And that's a threatened and endangered species, and we're all kind of like, 'what's going on?' Every spring they come flying in to the old growth forest, and we had people standing there today for two hours, and they didn't hear a peep. We're a little worried. [1:19.2]
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STEVE: The festival headquarters is in the city's community center. In the main hall, about two dozen vendor booths line the walls. Some of them are selling birding tools like optics and guide books. Others are selling bird-inspired art. Then in the middle of the hall, some live birds are leashed down to sawhorse sized perches. Nichole Monty is showing off an owl.
NICHOLE MONTY: This is Chihuly, and she is a western screech owl. Chihuly was hit by a F Ford 150 out on the 299, and the owner found her in the back bed of the truck with the dogs, and the owner called us up and so we took her in. And we rehabilitated her as best as we could. But her eyesight and her hearing was so badly damaged that she couldn't be released back in the wild.
STEVE: She looks pretty small compared to most of the owls I've seen. She's maybe about the size of two fists. Can you describe her coloration?
NICHOLE MONTY: She looks like the color of bark. Like a tree. And that's the whole purpose of her camoflage, her coloring. During the day time her predators can't see her and she can sit in the tree and be hidden and so no one can bother her and she's protected by those natural coverings. She only weighs about four ounces. She got little tufts on her head, a lot of people think she's a baby great horned owl, but she's not, she's an adult. [0:59.5]
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STEVE: I thought a bit more about Rob's comment that nobody had seen the marbled murrelet. Several people said that the Headwaters Forest Reserve was a good place see them. I signed up for a guided hike to try my luck.
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We're hiking on a trail along the South fork of the Elk River. The trailhead is about a half-hour drive from the festival headquarters. We aren't in old growth forest yet, that would be over three miles down the trail. David Anthon, a wildlife biologist from the Bureau of Land Management, co-led the hike.
DAVID ANTHON: The murrelet is the only sea bird that nests in the forest. Most other sea birds are in the family of alcids. And most other sea birds nest on offshore islands on the ground. While the marbeled murrelet is the only one who nests in the trees. They've evolved that habit and in the past it worked for them. So as we've logged out the larger trees which have larger limbs they need for nest platforms, they've lost that nesting habitat. And the marbeled murrelet is one of the reasons headwaters was purchased as habitat. I do surveys for murrelets in the old growth. They're actually quite active flying around in there. So they don't actually build a nest, they'll simply find a nest, or a tree limb that's wide enough to support their chick. And then they simply find a clump of moss to lay the egg in. And it forms a depression. And then once the egg is hatched then both adults take turns bringing back fish from the ocean. So they're on a constant food run back and forth to the bays or the off shore waters. Feeding the chick. They just have one chick per breeding season. And then later in the summer -- late July or early August -- the chick will fledge and fly out to the ocean and learn what it's like to be a sea bird at that point. [1:48.8]
STEVE: What's it like surveying them? I know that the bird watchers at the festival here consider it an amazing thing if they actually get to see one.
DAVID ANTHON: Yeah it is. They're most active right around dawn, so the official survey begins 45 minutes before sunrise. And it's a two-hour survey... It's a very active area, so you get quite a show in the morning. And then soon after sunrise, usually within that two hour period, the activity totally dies down. That's not to say the bird isn't active, because they make feeding runs out to the ocean to catch fish and return to the chick. So they have to be somewhat active during the day, but those early morning hours tend to be extremely active. And you get quite a bit of behavior -- quite a bit of variety of calls. [1:20.0]
STEVE: As we hike up the trail, we look and listen for any birds at all. But we really want to get lucky, and see one of those marbled murrelets.
DAVID ANTHON: You'll probably hear more calls than actually see the birds. [0:04.2]
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Next time -- A wild bird chase, part two.
The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to support future editions of The WildeBeat. Contribute your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.
This has been The WildeBeat, program number forty two. Thank you for listening.
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