The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
The WildeBeat edition 43: A Wild Bird Chase, part 2
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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 2.
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News from the WildeBeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
This is program number forty three.
I'm Steve Sergeant.
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STEVE: We're hiking in the Headwaters Forest Reserve near Eureka, California. This is a birding hike sponsored by the City of Arcata, as part of the Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival. We stopped in a grove of lodgepole pines between the trail and the South fork of the Elk River. Julie Clark, the park ranger for the Headwaters Forest Reserve, and David Anthon, a wildlife biologist, are co-leading the hike.
JULIE CLARK: So do you guys have guess what those large clumps of needles and things like that are in the trees?
WOMAN: A nest?
JULIE CLARK: Yes, it's a nest. Do you know who might live there?
WOMAN: Wood rat.
JULIE CLARK: Yes, a wood rat's. And the wood rats are actually food for the spotted owls. And so there's been sightings of spotted owls throughout here. And David has been doing spotted owl surveys lately.
DAVID ANTHON: Yeah, we've got several pairs of spotted owls in the reserve, and part of my job is to monitor them every year, and get their status on reproduction... We usually start around dusk to start the calling. And then if we get a response we try to get in early in the morning to mouse them. By mousing them we feed them live mice to determine if they're nesting or not. An owl that isn't nesting will simply continue to eat the mice. Whereas an owl that's nesting that may have young or a mate on the nest, would possibly take the mice back to the nest. And so we follow the owl in the mousing effort, and hopefully it takes us back to the nest, or the young... We immitate their four-note call. And it goes something like this. Hoot hoot-hoot, hoooooo! [1:42.2]
STEVE: It's been a nice 7 mile hike in a beautiful forest. We heard lots of birds, like David said we would. But we only saw a few really common ones, like stellars jays and ravens, but no marbled murrelets. So now, I'm on a mission. I'm going to see one of these marbled murrelets.
[Fade out forest.]
I didn't see them in the forest, but maybe I could see them in the ocean. So back at the community center, I signed up for a sea kayak tour of Trinidad Bay. Now, I'd never been sea kayaking before. I'm kind of a confirmed land lubber. But Marta Powell of Kayak Zax, from Eureka, put me at ease right away. She supplied me with a wet suit and taught me some kayaking basics.
MARNA POWELL: Humbolt country is always beautiful, no matter what... And if we look out here we've got fabulous calm water. It just really couldn't be better conditions for this time of year. It's sunny, we're all baking. And it's a water sport. Also, we're really lucky to have Michael Morris be our lead guide today... He's the very best kayak guide that I know, and not only that, he also leads bird trips for the Arcata Marsh, so he's also an official bird guide in addition. So... Just a few things because I want to launch. I know you guys are anxious to get on the water and look at some wildlife. Marine mammals; I just want to say you can see some seals sitting over there, those are harbor seals. There's lots of marine mammals we might see here today... California sea lions... We're not allowed to harass them, and in different waters there's a different distance, but here it's one hundred yards. They, however, can harass us. So if they swim up to us and say hello that's just fine and they often do... Quickly, you want to hold your paddle more or less so if you hold it above your head your elbows are at 80 or 90 degrees. The main thing is you don't want your hands too close. That would be kind of unwieldy, and out too far would be kind of uncomfortable... So when I take a stroke I'm just going to plant the paddle here and try and push with my feet and turn my torso, rather than bicycle with my arms... If you need to turn, when you plant a stroke here and paddle on the right, it will turn your boat slightly to the left.. If you want to stop plant the paddle in the water and push backwards. You keep doing that you will go backwards. And that's really about it for paddling today. This isn't any kind of a class — it's more of a, "let's enjoy the tour and look at birds." ... For getting-in, we're going to float these in the water a little bit, and all you're going to do is turn your butt, sit down, and pick your feet up... Any questions? ... What we're going to do to launch, we're going to send Michael out first and he'll be waiting for you. [3:03.6]
[Fade up KayakTour.]
STEVE: Getting out onto the water and out onto the bay was easier that I expected. I've seen the pictures of kayakers on extreme sports videos having to right themselves after turning upside down in the water. But I don't think I'll have to do that. The boat feels totally stable.
MICHAEL MORRIS: OK. Hold up here just a sec. Straight ahead of us, kinda behind a little flow right now, is a little bird on the water that just dove under. We'll just wait for it here. It's a marbled murrelet. One of our famous birds out here. I know it's a marbled murrelet because I believe so... It's really tiny, its all kinda brown. If we get a decent look at it or you can see the silhouette...
STEVE: I see a vaguely bird-shaped spec bobbing on the waves. It's got to be at least 150 feet away. It could be anything.
MICHAEL MORRIS: Off to our left there's a couple of birds on the water. That are marbled -- that I believe may be marbled murrelets. They kinda sounded like it. Little pair of birds on the water just about nine o'clock.
STEVE: Two specs. They could be rubber duckies for all I know. But it doesn't matter any more. I beat the odds, and saw the marbled murrelet. I can check this endangered species off my, still small, bird list. I'm getting a sense of the addiction of birding. And the kayaking is a blast as well. We paddle back along the rocky cliff of Trinidad Head.
MICHAEL MORRIS: We didn't see nearly as much as I was hoping to see. But we did see some of the little birds that hang out on the in-shore, near-shore rocks here. Oyster catchers, a bird that breeds around here locally and is actually here year-round. Black turnstones was another nice little bird that's a shore bird that pokes around and feeds on the rocks here, and will move on and move north to breed but they're where right now feeding on they're way north... Gulls are out there nesting right now. Oddly enough there's canada geese nesting on some of the off shore rocks. In fact we saw one that already raised a brood and was swimming out in the open ocean with goslings. That's sort of an anomaly, but what the heck! They're birds. We did catch some pairs of marbled murrelets out there in Trinidad Harbor; actually I ended up seeing quite a few pairs of them. There are pretty good numbers out there. Maybe a dozen pairs I got eyes on. And that's one of our featured birds on the north coast, of course. What else? A couple loons in the water -- common loons. [1:08.2]
[Boat coming ashore.]
STEVE: How would you rate the difficulty of this trip?
MICHAEL MORRIS: I would say this was an easy trip. On a one to ten scale — two or a three. We had perfect conditions, there was virtually no wind, which is probably the toughest thing to deal with, what little swell there is is coming out of the north west, and where we were paddling is almost completely shielded by Trinidad Head... And it was just perfect. This is just about ideal for a trip like this. [0:40.9]
STEVE: You can find out more about the Godwit Days Bird Festival, the Headwaters Forest Reserve, Kayak Zax guide service, and download a consolidated high fidelity stereo version of both parts of this show, on our web site.
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Next time -- Silicon Valley's nearby unknown wilderness.
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 three. Thank you for listening.
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