The Bar-tailed Godwit, Arcata Marsh Bird of the Year

Bar-tailed Godwit. Photo by Rob Fowler

Sue Leskiw
Special to the Union

ARCATA – “It was the most exciting and most frustrating experience I’ve had birding,” Max Brodie told attendees of the Friends of Arcata Marsh (FOAM) annual meeting on Sept. 24. As a relatively new birder who wasn’t able to get a photo of the rarity he spotted on July 9, Max was hoping for independent verification of his sighting, which came on July 23 from veteran birder Rob Fowler.

Max’s Bar-tailed Godwit – a shorebird normally found from northern Eurasia to Siberia and sparingly in Alaska – was the first seen at the marsh since 2004 (where there were two previous records) and only the eleventh accepted record for Humboldt County. FOAM recognized Max and Rob with its fourth annual Arcata Marsh Bird of the Year Award, modeled after the Humboldt County Bird of the Year Award first given out at Godwit Days 2014.

Its purpose is to recognize rare birds (and their finders) spotted within or from the marsh that are subsequently enjoyed by other observers. So that FOAM could present the award at its annual meeting, the window for birds to be considered was Sept. 1, 2016 through Aug. 31, 2017.

In his eBird report, Max explained that “my initial intention that day was to casually check out the shorebird flock, but I ended up spending several hours trying to re-find one in particular among the Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers, Long-billed Curlews, Whimbrels, and Western Sandpipers.”

Max Brodie accepts his award from Selection Committee Chair Tom Leskiw. Photo by Sue Leskiw

Using binoculars, he spotted the Bar-tailed Godwit from 20 meters away between McDaniel Slough and the South I Street parking lot. The single grayish godwit stood out among the flock, lacking the warm cinnamon tones of our common Marbled Godwit. He noted other field marks concerning the bird’s bill and plumage color and pattern.

“Then, the entire flock flew up together as the tide reached a critical point, passing within 15 meters of me,” wrote Max. He observed that the bird showed pale whitish underwings and tail, with a pale V-shaped patch extending up the rump.

His close friend Nora Papian brought out her spotting scope and helped Max’s effort to re-find the bird, to no avail. “Seeing this bird was completely unexpected and warranted careful study of all field guides at my disposal before confirming its ID.”

Rob Fowler relocated the bird at the mouth of Jacoby Creek as he was out counting Black-bellied Plovers. He got photos that identified the bird as an adult female Bar-tailed Godwit. Max and Nora raced out after Rob’s sighting report came in, both got to see the bird, and Max confirmed that it was the same individual he’d spotted three weeks earlier. Other observers reported the Bar-tail at the Marsh Oxidation Ponds and at the mouth of Jacoby Creek over the next week.

This year’s runner-up for the Arcata Marsh Bird of the Year award was California Towhee, which Jude Power spotted while leading a Redwood Region Audubon Society Saturday morning field trip to the marsh on Aug. 19. The bird, a juvenile with a streaked breast, was seen at the east end of “Sparrow Alley,” first on a large log lying in the saltmarsh near the Butcher Slough bridge. It then flew across the trail and moved low through the pines, calling. It turned out to be a first confirmed marsh record for that species, which is regularly found in drier, inland areas of the county like Willow Creek and colonized the Blue Lake area about 12 years ago.



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