Special to the Union
ARCATA – “Great birds can come at the most unexpected times,” opined Tony Kurz. “I had just a few things to do in the office [he works for California State Parks], then started thinking that I hadn't birded the Ferndale Bottoms in a while, and felt the itch to get down there.”
Although the weather on Jan. 18 was not the best – very cold, misty, and somewhat windy – birding from the car would be fine.
As Tony crossed Fernbridge on his way into the Bottoms, he bypassed Waddington and Goble roads, the usual areas he birds. He was drawn to Coffee Creek Road because of the flooding.
“The end of Coffee Creek Road usually washes out and birding is really good in high water years,” he explained. “Before I got there, I saw an impressive number of swans not too far off the road in a flooded graded pasture.
Of course, when you see that many swans, you start thinking about Trumpeters.”
The second or third swan Tony saw had something different about it. The head looked larger and the bill darker and heavier with no yellow like the Tundra Swans surrounding it.
“Then, I noticed there was another swan right next to it that looked identical. I couldn't believe it!” To confirm his ID, Tony took some pics with his phone and sent them to Rob Fowler, who agreed with his assessment.
The pair of Trumpeters stuck around until Feb. 25, allowing many people to see them. This was the first confirmed Humboldt record for this large bird whose normal range is from Alaska to southwestern Washington.
Tony received the fifth annual Humboldt County Bird of the Year award, sponsored by Fowlerope Birding Tours and tomleskiw.com, which was awarded during the April 20 opening reception at Arcata’s Godwit Days festival.
The Runner-up: A New Bird for the Marsh
Noah Sanday, a freshman at Humboldt State, was up before just about everyone else and decided that he would join the Saturday morning Redwood Region Audubon walk at the Arcata Marsh. As the Oct. 7 walk started, several species of sparrows were feeding along the edge of the Klopp Lake parking lot. As the group discussed the sparrows at hand, Noah wandered off toward Mt. Trashmore alone. After slowly walking around the Log Pond, he decided to head back to the parking lot.
He had spent a couple of hours birding when a few sparrows spooked and flew into Coyote Brush shrubs along the street. One stood out immediately. It was colored like a Savannah Sparrow but did not act like one.
“My reaction was Cassin’s Sparrow as soon as I saw it, but that was just too crazy to be true!” he exclaimed, as this would represent the third Humboldt record and the first for the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. The Cassin’s is described in the Petersen Guide as a large, drab sparrow of open arid country, whose usual western limit is southeastern Arizona.
Noah “pished” and the bird called and gave a few chip notes.
He played a recording of Cassin’s Sparrow and it matched. He snapped a few photos, continuing to watch it as it fed and hopped from log to log.
Noah sent a picture to the Humboldt Birders chat group, saying that he’d found a sparrow that he believed to be a Cassin’s and asked whether its members agreed with his ID. Several did and headed over immediately.
“Fortunately, the bird was not very skittish, which helped give many people a chance to see it. It seemed to be a very plain bird if you did not look closely and it gave great views if you were patient enough. With its subtle color changes between gray and rusty brown, it made for a beautiful bird and a wonderful birding experience.”