Birding at the marsh may cure those mid-term blues

Graphic Illustration by Ali Osgood

By Ali Osgood

Right now you’re probably enduring the long, drawn-out end to a wet Humboldt winter. You’ve been cooped up inside for months and you’re almost certain that you are on the verge of a psychotic break.

A great blue heron. Graphic Illustration by Ali Osgood

Midterms are threatening to push you over the edge and you’ll do anything to get away from that 3-inches thick chemistry book. Have you considered bird-watching?

Just a mile and a half from the Humboldt State campus is a safe haven for over 300 bird species. According to its website, the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, located on the southwest corner of Arcata, is 307 acres of freshwater marshes, brackish ponds, salt marshes, mud flats, grassy fields and over five miles of trails. This makes it an excellent location to observe birds and enjoy a quick escape into nature.

HSU wildlife senior, Cedric Duhalde, walks through the Arcata marsh with his roommate, gripping a spotting scope over his shoulder. He has been coming to the marsh to bird watch since he was a freshman.

“It’s training grounds of what Humboldt birding is like,” Duhalde said.

He explained that because the marsh has open wetlands and easy viewing points with a large number of bird species, it is a great place to cultivate appreciation for avian wildlife.

A North American river otter track identified by the webbing between the toes. Graphic Illustration by Ali Osgood

The marsh is a popular stopover point for migratory bird species. This is a chance for birds traveling north or south to stop and rest for a while before taking flight once again. It also means that birders have a great opportunity to observe different birds throughout the seasons.

As walkers pass by George Allen Marsh or Klopp Lake in the marsh, they might see six different bird species foraging on the glassy waters. As the mallards pluck through grasses and a pair of ruddy ducks dive underwater in search of food, a Great Egret stands patiently waiting to strike at a juicy frog. Marsh wrens sing in the brush along the path, while groups of shorebirds pick through the muddy shoreline for bugs.

Sara Schneider, a recreation and administration major, regularly runs at the Arcata Marsh on weekends. However, on Saturday she walked around just to observe wildlife.

“It was cool because we were looking at this bird, and it was almost like it was looking at us, and then people were walking on a path behind it,” Schneider said. “It didn’t seem agitated by the people, but then after they passed the egret caught a fish!”

For those visiting the marsh who are unsure about where to go or what to look for, the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center is a great place to look for guidance. The center offers maps and brochures, field guides, interpretive exhibits and a log of recent bird sightings.

The Audubon Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to wildlife conservation, hosts a guided birding walk at the marsh every Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at Klopp Lake. It is free to join and helps visitors new to bird watching identify the many species inhabiting the marsh.

“It has great leaders and is always a good time,” Duhalde said of the guided walk.

Before you lose your mind studying what constitutes an alkaline earth metal or the quirks of quantum mechanics, try putting that textbook down and taking an hour to explore the marsh. Birding is a hobby that requires nothing more than an open mind and a will to be outside, though a field guide and binoculars may enhance your experience. Your mind will thank you, your roommate will thank you, and the birds will… well, they probably won’t care either way.

See how many species you can check off! Here is a list of birds currently hanging around the Arcata Marsh:

Arcata Marsh bird checklist

Arcata Marsh bird checklist.
Graphic by Ali Osgood

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