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 refuge complex has two interpretive trails: The SHOREBIRD LOOP and HOOKTON SLOUGH TRAILS are both good locations for observing wildlife on the refuge. If it is raining, people can watch birds from a covered deck or from inside, where spotting scopes are available. Beginners can also sign out a backpack kit with binoculars, birding guides and other educational materials.
The 1.75 mile Shorebird Loop Trail is a level trail that passes near some of the refuges’ best shorebird viewing areas. It also provides good viewing of diverse seasonal wetlands with a side trail that will take you to the refuge’s largest permanent freshwater pond. The trail begins at the parking lot of the interpretive center on Ranch Road and is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Hookton Slough Trial is located on Hookton Road about 1.2 miles from the Hwy 101 exit ramp. Look for a small refuge sign on your right, leading to a gravel road that will take you to the trail parking lot. Open seven days per week during daylight hours, this trail follows a tidal slough 1.5 miles out along the south edge of Humboldt Bay. It passes along grasslands, freshwater marsh, mudflats and open water. Look for herons and egrets as well as shorebirds, waterfowl, and harbor seals.
Wildlife viewing from a boat can be excellent. There is a dock for launching small, non-motorized boats at the Hookton Slough Trail parking area. Be aware that tides, wind, and weather change rapidly on Humboldt Bay.
Perhaps one of the most stunning events happens repeatedly in February and March, when once endangered Aleutian cackling geese descend in the thousands and even tens of thousands. The morning fly off has become a draw to the refuge as flock after flock after flock careen toward grassy fields. The Center opens early on these special occasions, please call for specific dates. Or check the "More Information" links in the upper right.
Directions: To reach the refuge, take the Hookton Road Exit off Hwy 101 about four miles south of Fields Landing. Turn right at the end of the off-ramp onto Eel River Drive and left again immediately onto Ranch Road, where a large sign directs you to refuge headquarters 1.5 miles from the highway exit.