Monday, June 23, 2008

Our Local Bird Sanctuaries

One of the things that has made transitioning to our new hometown easy is this: Within a ten mile radius we have the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the Arcata Marsh Bird Sanctuary, Eel River Wildlife Area. In fact, check out this map. We're literally surrounded by everything we love. I used the search engine on California Department of Fish and Game's website, their Species List Search, and was blown away by the sheer numbers of different species that are resident here at some point during the year. There are seven species of amphibians, seven of reptiles, 53 mammal species, and a whopping 265 species of birds. That's just at Eel River. The wetlands provide an incredible diversity of habitat. It's truly an embarrassment of riches.
As I mentioned the other day we've already learned that summer is really not even the optimum birding season here, and yet we're seeing new birds. One of these is the Black-crowned Night Heron. The Cornell Bird Guide says this is a common heron, but I'll tell you, it doesn't look common the first time you lay your eyes on it.
We had been hiking around one of the marshes the other day and stopped in at the volunteer center to check out their exhibits. Roger was talking with the volunteer, swapping stories about birds we've seen, when the guide asked if we wanted a treat. A treat? Of course we do! He opened the desk drawer. We didn't know what to expect: Candy? Some earthy token? He handed us a key and told us if we could be back in ten minutes we could take it to unlock the gate to a private part of the sanctuary. There, he said, we would see the Night Herons. We checked the time, and said, "We'll be back in exactly ten minutes." That's how we had our first glimpse. Out there on a private floating dock, with the lushness of the marsh all around us. Such a scene added to the splendid features of the Night Heron with its long, thin, white plumes coming out of rear of its cap. What a beauty.

We had that key back in ten minutes, and had an experience we'll remember for life.

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