Thursday, January 12, 2012

Binge Birding: Part 2

So...where was I?  Oh yes, the ominously approaching waves.  So I have about ten seconds to get back up onto the wall and not get drenched or worse, swept off the jetty entirely.  I sprinted up to the next section of wall and dove onto it, shielding my camera from spray and trying not to bash it against any rocks.  The waves came in one after another but I was protected on the wall.  I continued this method for the entire length of the jetty - walking along the wall, navigating over the rocks where possible and sprinting up the lower portion where the wall and rocks were too dangerous to endeavor.  After fifteen minutes of this I reached the end of the jetty.  I found a flock of roosting shorebirds including Semipalmated Plover and Western Sandpiper, but no Rock Sandpipers.  

The distant end of the breakwater was elevated and wide, surrounded by a barricade of rubble and cement.  I was safe of the waves, for now, but my scope was all by itself on the beach and I needed to find the birds fast to get back to it.  I walked around looking, but couldn't find my sandpipers.  Three male Harlequin Ducks drifted just twenty meters of so from the jetty, a good year bird, but my focal species wouldn't show.  I was getting anxious and checking every crevice for feeding birds, but none showed themselves.  Then as I was ready to give up, a flock of Surfbirds was roosting in the rocks.  I got closer and started taking photos.  I realized then that there were more than just surfbirds in this flock, but all the birds were sleeping.  I fabricated an alarm call that somewhat resembled that of a Greater Yellowlegs, whistling do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do.  The birds all stood up and lifted their heads from behind their wings.  Two Wandering Tattler, were lifers for me, and I was beyond happy to see them, but they weren't Rock Sandpipers.  I scanned the flock again, and there they were.  Four Rock Sandpipers stood in front of me wondering what the ruckus was all about.  Yes!  I continued doing the alarm call because they kept trying to go to sleep (I needed photos after all).  I crept up and braced myself on a rock, laying there and snapping off dozens of photos.  Luckily the fog disappeared for about five minutes so I could lower my ISO and get some quality photos!
Wandering Tattler, Humboldt Bay North Jetty, CA. 01/10/2012/ [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Rock Sandpiper (center) with Surfbirds. [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Surfbird (also notice the two sleeping Rock Sandpipers in the back ). [Photo by Lukas Musher] 
Rock Sandpiper (!) [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Harlequin Duck, through the fog and cropped. [Photo by Lukas Musher]
So now I had to get back.  I managed to get most of the way back without any problems.  But then I looked through my binoculars to check on my scope and saw a man standing around right by it.  CRAP!  I sped up my walk.  As I approached, the surf came up and washed over my legs, but luckily wasn't strong enough to knock me over.  Two large white SUV's pulled up and men in uniforms approached the man at my scope.  What on earth was going on.  I got back and explained that this was my scope, and I had merely left it so that I could safely make it to the end of the jetty to see a bird.  The man who had been with my scope had called the coast guard.  The coast guard proceeded to explain to me that people fall off the jetty ALL THE TIME and that locals call in anything suspicious in case somebody had slipped or been knocked off.  Last year a group of teenagers was washed off the jetty by a large wave.  When I asked if everyone was alright he said, "Yes, except for one kid had a broken arm and femur." Well, good thing I had such a good system for getting across the jetty (?).  Thankfully, I was fine, and even if something had went wrong, it's nice to know that the coast guard would have been there promptly.  A large coast guard vessel in the inlet turned around, and an orange helicopter flew over, back towards the base.  Whoops... Probably not the last time I risk it for a bird, but 'tis the life of a lister!

So after apologizing profusely and thanking them, and hearing, "No big deal, happens all the time," I made my way back up the beach to my car and continued birding.
Savannah Sparrow, Ferndale, CA. 01/10/2012. [Photo by Lukas Musher] 
Clay-colored Sparrow, Ferndale, CA. [Photo by Lukas Musher]
So I went to several spots looking for birds such as Red Crossbill, Northern Shrike, Gray Jay, Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and Snow Bunting, but struck out on all fronts.  I did manage to add Caspian Tern, Double-crested Cormorant and Bald Eagle, though, and followed up on Rob Fowler's tip out the Clay-colored Sparrow.  A beautiful bird.  I made it back to PRBO by nine and ended with 128 species for the trip.
Clay-colored Sparrow, Ferndale, CA. [Photo by Lukas Musher]
By Luke Musher

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