Carson, a peregrine falcon, is the fastest animal on Earth. Photo by Tyrone McDonald.

Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival


Community members gather to watch the mesmerizing flights of shorebirds dancing on the wind at the Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival.

The natural habitat of the North Coast includes the Pacific Flyway. The Pacific Flyway spans the Pacific Coast from South America to the Arctic, making Humboldt Bay a stopover for millions of shorebirds on their migration.

Mark Colwell is a Humboldt State ornithology professor. While watching the spring migration at the Arcata Marsh on Sunday, Colwell describes the multitude of bird populations.

“Western sandpipers are one of the most spectacular aspects of bird migration in the Pacific Flyway,” Colwell said. “There are over 100,000 western sandpipers going north every day. They will spend three to four days in Humboldt Bay and then fly on.”

The Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival is a week-long event. Godwit Days has many ways to explore bird species, field trips, lectures, workshops and boat trips, led by expert local guides. The tours include rivers, bay mudflats, redwood forests and the rocky coast.

The Arcata Marsh is a great place to bird watch. The marsh is close to HSU and just a few minutes walk from downtown Arcata. There are hundreds of species of birds that visit and live in the marsh that can be seen from the trails that meander through it.

Samantha Bacon teaches Birding 101 for Godwit Days.

“The marsh is one of the premiere birding places in California,” Bacon said.

Bacon spends an hour in class with her group going over the descriptions, habitats and behavior of birds. Bacon pulls apart the bird families, characteristics and names so the group of beginning birders can learn them better.

Bacon also gave information on bird feeding.

“Hummingbird liquid is four parts water and one part sugar,” Bacon said. “Make sure to keep the hummingbird and other bird feeders clean. Birds can get conjunctivitis from bird feeders and go blind.”

Birding 101 then spends a few hours viewing and identifying birds in the Arcata Marsh. Part of the excitement of birding is identifying or confirming rare sightings of bird species that are not frequently found in this region.

A green heron local to the San Francisco Bay has taken up residence in a tree at the Arcata Marsh.

“The green herons have been coming to the Arcata Marsh for the last three to four years. There is between one to four green herons a year at the Arcata Marsh,” Bacon said.

Citizen science helps identify and maintain reviewed listings of bird sightings on eBird, an online collection of sightings, maps and bird migration routes.

After confirming quite a few bird sightings, the group ends at the Arcata Marsh parking lot. There are numerous tripods mounted with telescopes along the path by the parking lot where people are viewing the tens of thousands of shore birds lifting off, flying back and forth and landing back down on the bay.

“This is called shuffling the deck,” Bacon said. “A peregrine falcon will fly down upon a flock of shorebirds and try to pick one off.”

Rob Fowler is a HSU alumnus and local editor for the quarterly ornithological journal North American Birds, and the eBird reviewer for the area.

While at the marsh parking lot viewing the shorebirds, Fowler refers to the scope of what is visible in the distance.

“This is a sight you don’t see often in nature — 200,000 shorebirds at once,” Fowler said.

The Godwit Days keynote speaker Sharon Stiteler is from Minnesota. Stiteler has seen 1 million snow geese at once while in Hardy, Nebraska.

“Shorebird-wise, this is exceptional,” Stiteler said.

The Arcata Community Center was “birding headquarters” for Godwit Days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. At the community center, there were vendors, non-profit groups and government agencies. In addition, there were exhibits, workshops and live birds of prey on display.

Carson is a 16-year-old peregrine falcon. Carson was out in front of the community center with his handler, Amanda Harwood, a senior at Arcata High School. Carson is the fastest animal on Earth, reaching speeds up to 273 mph.

“Carson is named after Rachel Carson the conservationist,” Harwood said. “He was found in the Arcata marsh with a broken femur and taken into the Humboldt Wildlife Center.”

People were fascinated by Carson. Spike Ciotti attends Fuente Nueva Charter School in Arcata and thought Carson looked fast.

“I think Carson can build a nest in about a minute,” Spike said.

You can see the shorebird spring migration on Humboldt Bay from the Arcata Marsh until mid-May.

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