Wildlife Viewing and Photography

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A spotting scope is an excellent way to get an up close and personal look at the wildlife of Humboldt Bay.


When and Where to Find Wildlife 

Dawn and dusk are generally the best times to observe wildlife. However, tide levels also have great influence on wildlife behavior and movements around estuaries. The best times around the South Bay are generally within 1–2 hours either side of high tide.  
Peak season for most species of waterbirds and raptors is November through April. Aleutian cackling geese, Pacific brant and migratory shorebird populations peak from March to late April. Summer visitors can see many terns, cormorants, and pelicans, as well as resident egrets, herons, and migratory songbirds such as warblers, sparrows, and swallows. For more animals through the season see Nature's Calendar. A list of Humboldt Bay Watchable Wildlife (344K pdf) is available. 
Most waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors can be found on the Hookton Slough and Salmon Creek Units. Each has a walking trail (see refuge map (478K pdf)). 
The Lanphere and Ma-le’l Dunes also offer a unique birding experience. The Tsoutsgish Trail at Ma-le’l Dunes combines opportunities to view unusually high densities of song birds in the adjacent riparian and swamp habitats with wading and shore birds on the adjacent flats and raptors cruising overhead.

Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge is part of a network of wildlife viewing areas dedicated to celebrating the State of California's wildlife and diverse habitats by acknowledging and elevating the value of wildlife viewing to benefit individuals, families, communities, and industries while fostering awareness and support for conservation and protection of wildlife and habitats. Visit the  California Watchable Wildlife website and learn about other wildlife viewing areas.


Guided Walks

Free guided walks are offered at Humboldt Bay NWR: 


Salmon Creek Unit: (68K pdf) Meet at Richard J. Guadagno Headquarters and Visitor Center, 2nd Sunday of the month, 9:00AM  with Redwood Regional Audubon Society; 1st Wednesday of each month with Refuge volunteer naturalist Louise Bacon-Ogden; 9:00AM 

•Lanphere Dunes and Ma-le'l Dunes: Visit www.friendsofthedunes.org for more information regarding guided walks at the dunes. 


A photoblind is available for use at the Salmon Creek Unit. For rules and reservation information: 

 Photo Blind Guidelines(252K pdf) 

Photo Blind Report Form (79K pdf)




What to Bring

Binoculars and scopes, field guides, insect repellent, water, and rain gear are recommended. Discovery Packs, containing field guides and binoculars, are available for loan at the Visitor Center.


Quick movements and noise scare away most wildlife. You will see more if you are quiet and listen. Look for tracks, nests, and other signs that can tell you interesting stories, then leave this evidence undisturbed for others. Please stay on trails to reduce disturbance to wildlife.


More Resources





Arcata Birding Map (288K) by Gary A. Bloomfield