Directions To Some Humboldt County Birding Sites

By David Fix

Fairhaven / North Spit of Humboldt Bay

From downtown Arcata, drive westward on Samoa Boulevard (= 4th St., or Cal Hwy 255) through Manila, past the west end of the Samoa Bridge, and out the North Spit. This road takes you directly past several willow patches that are frequently birded, and all the way to the end of the spit.

Zero your odometer as you pass the Samoa Bridge (do not take the bridge!) At 5.6 miles past the bridge you come to Lincoln Avenue, the access to the tiny community of Fairhaven. Fairhaven per se is only occasionally birded; the attractions are to be found south of the Lincoln Avenue intersection. The large bed of willows immediately south and east of the intersection is the 'Horse Pasture' patch. Park on the east side of the road at an informal pullout, just south of a blue FIRE STATION sign which faces south.

Duck under the wire fence and bear left. Take the second little path to the right, which will take you on a loop tour through the heart of the patch. At forks in the path, simply take the more well-trodden trail.

There is no poison-oak on the North Spit and only the occasional garter snake. On summer and fall afternoons after the dew has disappeared, be mindful of fresh webs of spiders across the paths (these little spiders are ENTIRELY innocuous, and are clearly terrified of birders' blunderings!) WARNING: One cannot leave the road in the vicinity of the Fairhaven willow patches in May and June more than momentarily without wearing insect repellent. The mosquitoes here are pernicious and aggressive. This problem has abated by July.

If you happen to become disoriented in Horse Pasture, the patch is actually quite small, and any exit puts one in the open, from which Samoa Boulevard or Lincoln Avenue may be reached by a short (if brushy) walk.

Among the best birds found in the Horse Pasture patch was a juvenile Black-billed Cuckoo, present 18 Sep - 2 Oct 1996. Black-capped Chickadees are routine and reasonably common in this area. The smaller willow thicket to the west can be birded from the outside, or from several rudimentary paths off the main road. Watch for raptors and fence-wire-type birds along the entire North Spit.

From the Horse Pasture, it's about a fifth of a mile or so south on the main drag to a bright yellow fire hydrant on the east side of the road. Park here, cross the street, and access the 'Airport' willows by finding an obvious opening in the willows about fifty feet west of the road on the north side of the patch. This trail leads all the way through the length of the patch, exiting at the west end. Upon emerging from the willows, you're standing at the edge of the City of Eureka's Fairhaven airstrip. Walk to your right (east) along the outside of the patch to return to your vehicle. A pay phone can be found just south of the bed-and-breakfast, which is visible to the north.

Thirty-five species of warblers have been seen here, among them a Golden-winged X Blue-winged type (1973) and the northernmost Cerulean Warbler yet found on the Pacific Coast (1976).

The impressive eucalyptus-and-cypress woodlot east of the road here is PRIVATE PROPERTY. Do not enter.

The large patch of willows which stands south of 'Airport', and which is nearly confluent with it, is the 'Satellite' patch. It can be penetrated partway by walking in around the southwest side.

At 6.3 miles from the bridge, you will come to Samoa Boat Ramp County Park. There is a bathroom and a telephone (BirdBox: 822-5666). The south end of the Eureka shipping channel opens into 'Entrance Bay' here.

Across the street to the west is a rather small but sometimes productive willow thicket called the 'Entrance' patch. This patch is best accessed by walking directly across the street from the turnoff to the park, and ducking in to the south along an obvious path through the sedge clumps along a two-cable fence. The surprisingly birdable west portion of the patch, which becomes a bit more gallery-like, is accessed by crossing this fence and working west about fifty feet. The main north-south path also wends through the breadth of the thicket, so that return to the boat ramp parking lot can be accomplished while checking the outside/opposite side of the patch.

At 7.2 miles from the bridge, beyond several speed bumps and the end of pavement, the road forks. The left fork leads to the 'Cypress' patch, a circle of cypresses and exotic understory at a BLM picnic area. Best birds here include a Spotted Owl, and Yellow-green Vireos in 1984 and 1997.

The right fork leads to the north jetty of Humboldt Bay. From the parking area, it is about fifteen minutes' easy walk to the ocean beach, and another ten minutes out to the end of the jetty. Do not walk out the jetty within two hours either side of high tide.

The BLM gate across the main road is locked one-half hour after sunset; lock time is posted there.

Arcata Marsh Project

There are three accesses to the Arcata Marsh Project: From the intersection of Samoa Boulevard (= 4th St. or Cal Hwy 255) with I Street in Arcata, go south about one mile to the dead-end of I. This puts you at the west side of Klopp Lake, the largest water body in the Marsh Project. Parking at the first dogleg in I St. puts you between Allen (to the east) and Gearhart (west) marshes.

From Samoa Boulevard and H Street, go south a short distance on H and, at the left dogleg in H, there is access via several parking spaces just across Jolly Giant Creek from the northeast corner of the Butcher Slough log pond.

From Samoa Boulevard and G Street, go south 0.8 mile to a large parking area, signed for the Arcata Marsh Project Interpretive Center. The interpretive center is off the southeast end of Butcher Slough log pond.

The trees along the north side of the capped landfill ('Mount Trashmore') and the alders and willows fringing the Butcher Slough log pond generally offer the best landbirding in the Marsh Project. Shorebirds are best during the narrow window of limited mudflats in north bay, usually about two hours before and after high tide.

Eel River Wildlife Area (aka 'Ocean Ranch')

To reach this singular and significant tidal wetland (often referred to, through its acronym, as 'Er-wuh'), go south from Eureka on Hwy 101 to Hookton Road. Follow Hookton Road to the west for 4.1 miles, then turn left on a side road, Indianola Res. Rd. (sign down in Sep 98, but marked by a junker car at the intersection). At road's end, another quarter-mile or so, park (hide valuables) and walk westward on a dike to access a large 'east pond' and the expansive open tidal marsh farther to the southwest. This area is administered by California Dept. of Fish and Game.

Another access may be found at 4.6 miles out Hookton Road, where a gated access road leads southward at a right dogleg. Park out of the roadway, hop the gate, and walk around the north and west side of the huge barn one-third mile to the south to access an old levee which offers close-up views of excellent shorebird flats. Note that waterfowl hunting takes place here in season. Beware cattle, and leave all gates as you find them.

Good birds that have been found at ERWA include Garganey, Mongolian Plover, Hudsonian and Bar-tailed godwits, and multiple Ruffs, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, and Stilt Sandpipers. Red-throated Pipit, and White/Black-backed and Yellow wagtail have also been seen.

Ferndale / Salt River

Ferndale is a town characterized by Victorian architecture and ornamental birches which sometimes support an odd warbler or (late fall, winter) a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Nashville Warblers winter in some numbers in the Eel River delta, and the muddy dairylands are simply stuffed with Black Phoebes. Ferndale is reached easily by following highway signs south from Eureka; exit Hwy 101 at the Fernbridge/Ferndale exit, cross historic Fernbridge, and proceed several miles to Ferndale.

Local birders generally prefer to check the riparia along the outer Salt River, shortly northwest of Ferndale. Before reaching Ferndale, turn from the Ferndale road west onto Port Kenyon Road at the Port Kenyon / Arlynda Corners sign. Although the riparia along the absurdly tiny Salt River is privately owned, it can readily be birded from along Port Kenyon Road all the way to its dead-end several miles west of Arlynda Corners. At Dillon Road intersection, one may turn right and then immediately left onto Riverside Road, passing through Jersey-cow pasturage and the best stretch of willows along the Salt River. Respect private property rights while birding the Eel River delta, and take care not to block roadways.

Locking up the car and slowly walking stretches of the road in search of mixed-species flocks is the best approach. 'Spishing' and pygmy-owling work well here. The Salt River marks the presently-understood southwesternmost limit of the range of Black-capped Chickadee in California. A few can usually be turned up with a bit of effort. Presence of chickadees often--though not always--signifies presence of a mixed-species warbler flock. Vagrant season here extends into December.

Good birds found along the Salt River have included any number of warblers, the fanciest of which was a Blue-winged Warbler present a bit upriver from Port Kenyon Road from 2 Jan - 6 Mar 1993.

Mad River County Park

This park offers the birder a combination of outer-coastal willow riparia and views of the muddy banks of the Mad River estuary, best for shorebirds at low water. To reach Mad River County Park, exit west onto the Giuntoli Lane interchange off Hwy 101 north of Arcata proper, then turn north onto Heindon Road. At 0.4 miles on Heindon, turn left (west) onto Miller Road. At 0.8 mile on Miller Road, turn right (north) on Mad River Road. At 2.7 miles turn right into a large parking lot with a bathroom and boat launch ramp. At the northwest corner of the parking lot, a trail winds through the willows, eventually allowing access to mudflats about one-eighth mile downstream from the boat ramp. Watch for roosting Barn Owls in holes in the high bluffs across the river. Black-capped Chickadees (common all year) often signify a mixed-species warbler flock.

American Redstarts have nested here, and good vagrants have included Philadelphia Vireo, Connecticut and Worm-eating Warblers, and Summer Tanager.

Little River Drive

Those interested in searching through chickadee-and-kinglet flocks for unusual landbirds in fall can pursue this craft along a disused, barricaded (as of fall 1998) county road called Little River Drive, a few miles north of the Arcata Airport and immediately east of Hwy 101. At Clam Beach County Park exit, turn right (east) onto the foot of Central Avenue, then immediately left onto Little River Drive. Do not take the first right-hand turn up the hill, but continue around the corner (sign will advise the road is closed in one mile). Park at the barricade and walk northward along the abandoned, partially overgrown roadway beyond the barricades. A more-or-less continuous slough between the road and Hwy 101 supports Green Herons, Wood Ducks and Virginia Rails regularly.

The objective here is to locate flocks of Chestnut-backed and Black-capped chickadees and kinglets, looking through them for vagrants. A Red-eyed Vireo, a Prothonotary Warbler, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, a Black-throated Blue Warbler, and two Blackpolls were found here in limited birding in fall 1998. This stretch of road is perhaps a mile long, and ordinarily requires about one hour to work thoroughly. Freeway noise is considerable, but, obviously, the bulk of searching is done by eye. Devote minimal effort to birdfinding where flocks are not encountered.

A handy two-car approach involves parking a pick-up vehicle at the junction of Crannell Road and Little River Drive. Crannell is the first exit north of Clam Beach. The north end of Little River is similarly barricaded (fall 1998) and will be obvious. About one hundred feet of the roadway just south of the north barricade has been obliterated by a small slide, but is easily traversed on a well-established footpath.

Elk Head

Elk Head is a wooded promontory in Trinidad State Beach. To reach Elk Head, exit Hwy 101 at Trinidad and take a right turn (north) onto Patricks Point Drive (in front of the gas station). At 0.5 miles, turn left (west) onto Anderson Lane. When it ends, turn right onto Stagecoach Road and drive just over a tenth of a mile up a rise to a gap in the trees on the left. Follow the dirt road to the parking area. Lock the vehicle and hide valuables; break-ins have occurred here.

At the west end of the right-hand or more northerly parking lot, follow a well-used trail toward the ocean, pausing to inspect chickadee-and-kinglet flocks for unusual migrants as well as routine Humboldt County forest birds. Vagrant-hunting is nearly as productive in May and June--even into July--as it is in fall, although each year is different. At the terminus of the point, one has a nice view of the ocean, as well as of College Cove to the south. In spring and summer, a few Tufted Puffins might be seen with a scope at burrow entrances on Green Rock, the farthest sea stack to the northwest, in EARLY morning. Though reported annually, puffins are not a sure thing on a given visit.

Northern Pygmy-Owl and Gray Jay have been found at Elk Head a few times, and Ruffed Grouse, though exceptional, has been reported. Pileated Woodpecker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, and Red Crossbill are frequent, and Band-tailed Pigeons are routine and variably common from March to October. Keep an eye on the sky in late May and early June for possible Black Swifts. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, multiple Red-eyed Vireos, and Blue-winged Warbler are among the vagrants that have been found here.

Patricks Point

To reach this attractive state park, one may either continue north from Elk Head on Stagecoach Road about 4.5 miles, or take Hwy 101 to the Patricks Point exit. There is a small per-vehicle fee.

Woodland bird flocks here support occasional vagrant warblers as well as apparently-resident Red Crossbills and Gray Jays. Varied Thrushes nest here and are easily found. Rufous Hummingbirds are readily found here in March, with some males engaging in displays (though they are not known to breed here). Winter Wrens are common, and their incessant singing on spring mornings dominates the passerine chorus.

The Wedding Rock viewpoint offers a superb seawatch venue regardless of tide stage. Marbled Murrelets occur regularly just beyond the surfline (but often require some minutes' intensive scoping to begin to detect). It's also a good site from which to look for migrating Gray Whales. Very small cetaceans surfacing and as quickly disappearing, usually seen in ones, twos, or threes, and showing a neat curved black dorsal fin, are Harbor Porpoises.