Godwit Days pelagic with Athena the Wandering Ultravid

Words and Photos by Rob Fowler

Howdy,

On the second day of the Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival I helped lead the “Mystery Tour” with Ken Burton and Leica Product Specialist, David La Puma (the “Mystery Tour” is just that: participants have no idea who the leader(s) is/are or the locations that are going to be visited during the trip). During the trip La Puma asked what other trips I was leading for the festival. When I told him I was leading one of the pelagic trips he asked if I would be willing to take “Athena the Wandering Ultravid” out to get her some pelagic lifers. Yup. I certainly would and she would surely be more fun to look through than the back-up pair of binoculars I was using while my main glass was getting repaired over in Rhode Island! I almost drove straight to Mexico with her and disappear once I looked through her crisp and bright optics but I figured that would put me in bad standing with La Puma and Leica (and the birding world in general!) so I quickly decided to stay in Humboldt County while Athena was in my possession. Good choice, I think.

Side Note: Before we get to into this post about Athena’s lifers I should note, however, that I had to leave the “Mystery Tour” early as I had to pick up some things for the pelagic (like a bucket o’ beef fat! Yum.) and had to attend to some other responsibilities before getting embedded into “Godwit Days” mode since I was going to be leading trips every day during the festival. Anyways, an hour after I left La Puma found Humboldt Counties’ first modern confirmed record of ROYAL TERN! AGGGGH!!! So, I ended up having to run back to Eureka to chase this bird, along with many other of the Humboldt County Birders who got there soon enough to see it. If you don’t know already, Royal Tern is ACCIDENTAL north of San Luis Obispo County in Central Coastal California with only a handful of modern records north of there.  The only confirmed Humboldt County record was from a specimen from Gunther Island in Humboldt Bay from November 23 1913! I guess this bird, though–the rarest find during Godwit Days– was NOT a lifer for Athena but I hope she appreciated it nonetheless, along with the many lifers she saw during the festival!

Royal Tern. 17 April 2014. Elk River mouth, Eureka, Humboldt County, CA.

Royal Tern. 17 April 2014. Elk River mouth, Eureka, Humboldt County, CA.

La Puma’s photos of the tern can be seen here and here. Way to shake Humboldt up on your first visit EVER, David!

Ok, to get back to the main topic of this post now…

I picked up Athena on the way back from chasing the tern and on my way out of the HOJO (Howard Johnson) motel David was staying at a flock of about 20 VAUX’S SWIFTS were flying overhead. Lifer #1 while Athena was under my supervision!

The Pelagic 18 April Alright! Pelagic Birding! Whew hew! Lifers for Athena and some newby pelagic birders booked on the trips! …..except there were a couple of hiccups with the Godwit Days pelagics this year.

Hiccup # 1:  The usual charter boat we use for our trips (basically EVERY pelagic that goes out of Humboldt County. We only have ONE!!!) just upped and decided that it didn’t want to do pelagics indefinitely. Bummer.

Hiccup #2: We had to hire TWO separate boats that could only take 6 people each so we had to split up into 2 separate boats. Both were great boats however and due to the smaller size the boats could go a bit faster which was a plus.

Hiccup #3: The meet time was originally scheduled for 0630 but due to a negative tide we had to reschedule the boat to 0830 to safely get out over the bar that is right at the entrance of the bay. But, considering that the Godwit Days pelagic trips have not gone out due to weather for the PAST THREE YEARS (!!!) these hiccups were minimal problems at best.

Honestly, the pelagic trip wasn’t super-exciting (overall low numbers of birds due to little food in the water) and you probably aren’t looking for a play-by-play of what the trip was like so I’ll save you the fine details.  Let’s just answer the big question: WHAT LIFERS DID ATHENA GET?! (in taxonomic order; numbers in parantheses):

Pacific Loon (230)

Black-footed Albatross (15; low numbers)

Northern Fulmar (5)

Sooty Shearwater (310; decent numbers)

Cassin’s Auklet (4 total, not a lot of krill around)

Rhinoceros Auklet (3 total; 1st lifer for Athena from the day)

Here’s some photos from the day:

south jetty of Humboldt Bay. Good spot for rocky shorebirds on the way out to the Pacific.

south jetty of Humboldt Bay. Good spot for rocky shorebirds on the way out to the Pacific.

Pacific Loons. After the Rhinoceros Auklet right at the entrance to Humboldt Bay these were Athena's second lifers.

Pacific Loons. After the Rhinoceros Auklet right at the entrance to Humboldt Bay these were Athena’s second lifers.

Black-footed Albatross. One of the 15 we say today = Athena lifer!

Black-footed Albatross. One of the 15 we say today = Athena lifer!

GIANT ALBATROSS!!! GIANT ALBATROSS!!!! Oh, wait...nevermind....'nother Black-footed flying in front of the other boat of the pelagic. The person in the red flannel is Daryl Colden, the other leader of the day and Humboldt Counties' Big Year record holder (330 non-introduced species!).

GIANT ALBATROSS!!! GIANT ALBATROSS!!!! Oh, wait…nevermind….’nother Black-footed flying in front of the other boat of the pelagic. The person in the red flannel is Daryl Colden, the other leader of the day and Humboldt Counties’ Big Year record holder (330 non-introduced species!).

Northern Fulmar paddling for takeoff. Another lifer for Athena!

Northern Fulmar paddling for takeoff. Another lifer for Athena!

I didn't get any photos of Cassin's or Rhino Auklets for Athena so here's another fulmar shot. All except one were gray morphs like this bird.

I didn’t get any photos of Cassin’s or Rhino Auklets for Athena so here’s another fulmar shot. All except one were gray morphs like this bird.

The pelagic was overall a bit slow with birds being seen few and far between but occasionally we'd find a nice flock like these Bonaparte's Gulls.

The pelagic was overall a bit slow with birds being seen few and far between but occasionally we’d find a nice flock like these Bonaparte’s Gulls.

Another lifer for Athena--Sooty Shearwater. You can't go on a West Coast pelagic and not see this species. You just can't.

Another lifer for Athena–Sooty Shearwater. You can’t go on a West Coast pelagic and not see this species. You just can’t.

View of the top of Bear River Ridge (fog bank obscuring the rest of it) while heading back in. Bear River Ridge is the location where Godwit Days founder and trip leader, Rob Hewitt, found the 1st Humboldt County record of SMITH'S LONGSPUR while leading a Godwit Days field trip there 2 years ago!

View of the top of Bear River Ridge (fog bank obscuring the rest of it) while heading back in. Bear River Ridge is the location where Godwit Days founder and trip leader, Rob Hewitt, found the 1st Humboldt County record of SMITH’S LONGSPUR while leading a Godwit Days field trip there 2 years ago!

For more information on North Coast birding, visit Rob’s business site, Folwerope Birding Tours, at the following URL: http://www.fowleropebirding.com