2022-03-09&10 Into Redwood Country

Red-Breasted Merganser - Mergus serrator
On the advice from a local photographer, I visited a location new to me in the region around the mouth of the Eel River. 
North American River Otter - Lontra canadensis
The bridge to Cockrobin Island proved to be a worthwhile location to meet waterbirds and otters.
White-Tailed Kite - Elanus leucurus
The region around the mouth of the Eel River, including Hookton Slough, has been a productive place to meet a variety of bird species.

Since my last entry in this month’s journal, I’ve had two really amazing stops in Point Reyes and in Bodega Bay. As I pen these words, this morning I’m finishing up my third day and second night in Fort Bragg. I used my time here to finish weaving my Bodega Bay Yarn. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been pushing myself, and Fort Bragg had all the right services for me to get caught up with my backlog of story-telling and image preparations. It’s a beautiful morning here with clear skies and no wind.

On advice from other birding devotees, I’ve begun exploring the web-based tool called eBird. In the past, I’ve looked at the eBird website and found it confusing when viewed from my browser. I decided to try out their Android App, and I installed it on the tablet I mounted on my dash, which I use for navigation with Google Maps. When I found that eBird seamlessly integrates with Google Maps, and I could use it to set up the routes for each destination, I was sold.

I’m in Redwood country now. Many years ago, in 2001, I met a Northern Pygmy Owl in this region. I’ll be keeping an eye out for them, but my chances are slim. I can always hope! I used the eBird App last night to assign enough bird stops for the next couple of days. The route covers only about 130 miles and puts me back on the coast at the mouth of the Matinole River. Today will be a test of the eBird Hotspot tool. The lists show what other birders have seen, and the dates of their sightings. Where the list includes seasonal birds, I won’t be expecting to see these species. What I think the locations will provide me, are “birdy” places. I’ll be keeping with my mantra “I don’t chase birds as much as I chase places …”

With all the stops on my itinerary, I wasn’t expecting to reach the end of my route in a single day. After more than a half-dozen stops without finding much bird-life, I realized this was not an ideal time to find much in the way of bird activity. Local endemics weren’t breeding, and most migrants were well to the south. I revised my plans of extensively exploring those exquisite remote regions I targeted earlier, and I stuck closer to the more well-worn routes. I set my sights on the Humboldt Marsh, a place I’ve enjoyed several times in the past.

From my Wednesday night camp near Hookton Slough, I woke early and drove eight miles south to “Trish’s Out-of-the-Way Cafe”. I liked the whimsical name. I discovered it to be the classic mom & pop place that provides me opportunities to sample the neighborhood. The community clientele were construction workers and fishermen who complained in their right-wing fashion about politics and how the moratorium on whaling should be lifted. None of which marked them as the sharpest knives in the drawer.

After a pretty good omelet, I drove back to Hookton Slough. I clung to the slim hope of running into the Northern Pygmy Owl sighted here a month ago. On this, I had no luck. I cast my eyes over the lagoon that had blessed me in the past. There wasn’t much in the way of bird-life in sight. While I was still sizing up my options, another photographer drove up, and we began a conversation that endured the whole morning. We each grabbed our gear and wandered the trail out into the slough. Steve Baker is what I’d call a ‘local’. His love of nature was clear. I dare say he loved his otters more than his birds.

As the morning began and we started our trek on the trail, it was clear, calm, and cool. Then, when we reached our far point and reversed course, the wind picked up. During our return leg of the walk, a White-Tailed Kite entertained us from across the marsh. It was a beautiful thing to watch as it hovered while searching for small rodents from their eye-in-the-sky. The wind was this bird’s friend. I took way too many pictures, but the distance remained a frustration, preventing the image results one hopes for.

As Steve and I prepared to go our separate ways, he suggested a nearby location called Crab Park. I’d surveyed Google maps the night before, and the location caught my eye, so off I went to poke my nose into a new place. The park itself did not yield any worthwhile results, but a nearby location at the Cockrobin Bridge provided views of Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers on the water below. An otter foraging on baitfish and crabs joined the party.

When it seemed like my photo-ops were dwindling, I turned around and drove into Eureka to look for a safe harbor for the night. I found a parking lot behind a Denny’s and settled in for the night to begin preparations of the day’s images. The subjects that surrendered to my camera included the California Scrub-Jay, Canada Goose, Common Merganser, Double-Crested Cormorant, Eared Grebe, Great Egret, Greater Yellowlegs, Long-Billed Curlew, Red-Breasted Merganser, North American River Otter, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Song Sparrow, Spotted Sandpiper, Steller’s Jay, Western Gull, White-Crowned Sparrow, and White-Tailed Kite.

Friday morning I woke to a foggy morning and enjoyed a Veggie Omelette at the Denny’s. I found a promising location for my next stop on my map, but with still much work to finish on my images, I considered it prudent to finish up, or at least continue with the work to prepare for my story-telling task.

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